St Stephen's Church (Presbyterian)

75 Jervois Road And Shelly Beach Road, Ponsonby, Auckland

  • St Stephen's Church (Presbyterian), Ponsonby, Auckland. Image courtesy of -
    Copyright: geoff-inOz. Taken By: geoff-inOz. Date: 18/11/2009.
  • St Stephen's Church (Presbyterian), Ponsonby, Auckland. Interior 2015 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: © Crown Copyright. Taken By: John Halpin.
  • St Stephen's Church (Presbyterian), Ponsonby, Auckland. Image courtesy of the National Library of NZ. Photographed in 1907 by an Auckland Star photographer. Ref. No: 1/1-002855-G .
    Copyright: National Library of New Zealand.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 652 Date Entered 24th June 2005 Date of Effect 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes part of the land in RT NA93A/193 (as shown on Map C in Appendix 4) and the church, its fixtures and fittings thereon. The registration does not include the Church Lounge to the east of the church, or the hall to the northeast.

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Part of Lot 1 DP 155740 (RT NA93A/193), North Auckland Land District


Unlike Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism or Wesleyanism, Presbyterianism reached New Zealand as a settler faith rather than as a missionary movement. Rev. John Macfarlane of the First Church of Scotland established the first settler congregation in New Zealand for those of the Presbyterian faith, at Port Nicholson in 1840.

From the outset, Presbyterians were among the leaders of the new settlement at Auckland. The first vessels to bring immigrants direct from Britain to Auckland, the Duchess of Argyle and Jane Gifford, arrived in October 1840 with 535 passengers. Both sailed from Greenock, Scotland and their passengers were almost wholly Presbyterians. Members of the faith were well represented among the first public servants in the new capital and among the leading settlers and businessmen. It was not until 1847 (the same year that the Scottish Free Church Lay Association arrived to found the Otago settlement) that any definitive progress was made towards establishing a Presbyterian Church in Auckland. St Andrews opened for divine worship in April 1850. The first minister, Rev. George Ann Panton, left Auckland in late October 1850 after little more than a year, having fallen out with his congregation.

Following the arrival of the Rev. David Bruce in June 1853 several charges, fostered by the parent congregation, were formed in and around Auckland. In the earliest days Auckland's population was located chiefly on the eastern side of Queen Street, and the Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches were all built on that side. During the 'fifties rapid growth occurred on the western side. The second Presbyterian congregation in the city was established in 1862. St James' Church seating 550, opened in March 1865.

In 1876, the Presbyterians took steps to provide a place of worship in the emerging western suburb of Ponsonby, paralleling a similar move by Wesleyans in the same year. Both groups went on to build timber churches in the Gothic Revival style in the suburb, in 1879 and 1882 respectively. There had been an Anglican church on Ponsonby Road since 1866, and the Baptist and Roman Catholic faiths were to each build new churches in the locality in 1885 and 1887. Ponsonby's population of 1,640 in 1874 had more than doubled by 1881, and was to double again by 1886. This was the result of a speculative surge of house-building on Auckland's suburban fringe, which occurred during a protracted economic boom in the 1870s and early 1880s.

A new charge, called St Stephen's, was created in Ponsonby in 1876. The congregation's first minister, the Rev. David Runciman from Dunoon, Scotland, was inducted in February 1878. Services were initially conducted in the Ponsonby Hall. The site on which the building now stands was purchased in 1878 for ₤130 and plans were prepared by architect 'Mr Mahoney' for the erection of a building to seat 275 people. The tender of Mr J.W. James, for ₤1,190 for erection of the building, was accepted and the Church was opened on 28 December 1879. The new building was eventually to become part of a larger complex of religious and educational structures built on the site to serve needs of the local Presbyterian community.

With the continued growth of the western suburbs, St Stephen's shed part of its parish in 1884 to the new parish of St Peter's. By 1907 there was insufficient space for the ever-increasing numbers attending worship. Sunday school work was being hampered for lack of adequate accommodation and there was, as yet, no official manse. Extension of the church building became the first priority. From October 1906, services were again conducted in the Ponsonby Hall, the church being closed for seven months for enlargement and remodelling. The building's seating capacity was almost doubled to hold 523 worshippers. At a cost of ₤2250, the back section of the church was severed and placed behind the new transept addition. The architect for this work was congregation member Robert Watt, who (by a similar design in 1903-1904) had enabled the enlargement of the Presbyterian Church at Howick (NZHPT registration # 7087, Category II historic place). Watt died, aged 47, two weeks before the Church re-opened for worship on 28 April 1907. The parson's chair on the dais in the sanctuary was presented in his memory as 'Friend and Architect of St Stephen's Church'.

Within a few months of completion of the church project, a contract was let for construction of the Sunday school hall at a cost of ₤714. Following its completion in March 1908, a decision was taken to build a manse on church land on the Cameron Street frontage. Eventually a tender for ₤1074 was accepted and the work was put in hand. Completion of the extensive building scheme that the church complex represented was celebrated with a concert in the church for the opening of the new pipe organ. Built in Auckland by well-known organ designer George Croft, the organ was the gift of 'faithful friend of the congregation' who was also one of the church's oldest members, Thomas Peacock. Peacock, an optician and mathematical instrument-maker was an elder of St Stephen's for 40 years, and session clerk for 16 years until 1920. He was a Member of Parliament from 1881 to 1890.

In 1910 Peacock took the initiative in a campaign to raise funds for clearing the substantial debt that had been incurred during the extensive building programme of the previous five years, by offering to subsidise any money collected by 50 per cent. By March 1913 the debt had been reduced to ₤375, but the Sunday school hall then had to be enlarged. Abolition of pew rents in 1914 suggests that the church was financially secure by this time. In 1919 a hall to accommodate infant and Bible classes were built (now the remodelled Church lounge).

Rapid growth continued so that by 1925 there were over 2000 people under the minister's pastoral care. During the 1920s there was great development in the social and recreational life of the Bible class, which continued until the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-1945). Week-night clubs and fellowship meetings were popular; a gymnasium group was well supported and there were Bible class teams in cricket, athletics, rugby and soccer. The Great Depression of the 1920s and early 1930s severely affected many church families. With the outbreak of the Second World War, most of the men between the ages of 18 and 45 in the congregation joined the armed forces. A baptismal font in the church is dedicated to the memory of the seven congregation members that lost their lives in the conflict, while a lectern honours those who served. Recovery of Bible class membership after the war was slow.

Like other churches in the older suburbs of New Zealand's larger cities, St Stephen's suffered a substantial decrease in its congregation following the Second World War. By the 1950s the church exterior required extensive repairs.

The manse was subdivided from the site and later sold in 1997 to finance the $300,000 modernisation of the church precinct. Ponsonby architect William Algie was given a brief to create a complex utilising the existing buildings on the site in a manner sympathetic and complementary with the church. The complex provided an administration headquarters, a minister's lounge and reception area. The second stage was to integrate a kitchen block and a new toilet block with the old hall, to better provide for the activities of the congregation and other community groups. The church continues to be used for religious services.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The building is of historical value for reflecting the growth of Presbyterianism in the late nineteenth century and the development of Ponsonby/Herne Bay as a suburb of Auckland.

St Stephen's Church has high aesthetic importance for its visual aspect as a landmark, and for its contribution to the streetscape of Ponsonby/Herne Bay. It is also aesthetically significant for its ornate interior. The church has architectural significance as a fine example of a timber ecclesiastical building in the Gothic Revival style, designed for a Presbyterian congregation by Edward Mahoney - a notable nineteenth-century architect in Auckland - as enlarged and remodelled to the design of architect Robert Watt, a respected Auckland architect.

The church has continuously occupied the site for 125 years, and is the focal point of a complex of church buildings on the site that have developed to provide for the social and spiritual needs of the local community.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

St Stephen's Church reflects the development of Presbyterianism in Auckland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The building is also associated with the growth of one of Auckland's surviving early inner city suburbs.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The building is closely associated with congregation members of some note, including Thomas Peacock, Member of Parliament, and Robert Watt, architect of its 1907 remodelling.

(e)The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

As a place of worship, the church has a strong association with the Ponsonby/Herne Bay community.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

As a prominent building beside Jervois Road, the main thoroughfare in Ponsonby/Herne Bay, St Stephen's Church has potential for public education on the role of religion in past society in general and the development of Presbyteriansim in particular. It can provide education about New Zealand architecture, particularly the historical use of Gothic Revival in ecclesiastical architecture.

(g)The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The building can be considered of value for its technical design as a large timber building of ornate Gothic Revival design, and as a local landmark.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

St Stephen's Church lies within one of Auckland's most valued heritage precincts, which incorporates a historical landscape of mixed religious, commercial, domestic and institutional buildings along Ponsonby and Jervois Roads. These include the former Newton Police Station (NZHPT registration # 541, Category II historic place); the Auckland Unitarian Church (NZHPT registration # 7178, Category I historic place); Allendale (NZHPT registration # 4581, Category I historic place); the former Ponsonby Post Office (NZHPT registration # 628, Category I historic place); and, the former Auckland Savings Bank (NZHPT registration # 5454, Category II historic place). Ponsonby is particularly noted for its ecclesiastical structures of nineteenth-century date, which additionally encompass St John's Methodist Church on Ponsonby Road, the Ponsonby Baptist Church on Jervois Road, and several Roman Catholic buildings in New Street and St Mary's Bay Road, including the Bishop's House, St Mary's Chapel, and the former Bishop Pompallier's House.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mahoney, Edward

Edward Mahoney (1824-1895)

Edward Mahoney emigrated from Cork, Ireland with his wife Margaret and three children. The Mahoneys arrived in Auckland in 1856 where Edward set up as a building and timber merchant. In 1876 he established the architectural practice that later became Edward Mahoney & Sons, which for over thirty years designed and supervised construction of many Catholic buildings as well as churches for other denominations.

The Church of St John the Baptist, Parnell (1861) and St Mary's Convent Chapel (1866) are two of the earliest surviving ecclesiastical buildings designed by Edward Mahoney and reflect the gradual evolution from simple Gothic Revival structures to more ambitious and creative use of the Gothic form such as may be seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Khyber Pass (1881); and St Patrick's Cathedral, the latter completed in 1901.

Edward Mahoney was a founding member of the Auckland Institute of Architects, attending the first meeting in December 1880 where he was appointed honorary treasurer. He became president of the Institute in 1883. His sons Thomas (1855?-1923) and Robert (1862-1895) joined him in practice in 1876 and the early 1880s respectively.

Upon Edward's retirement in 1885, Thomas and Robert carried on the practice. After Robert's death in 1895, Thomas changed the firm's name to E. Mahoney & Son. The Mahoneys designed a wide variety of buildings including the Auckland Customhouse, hotels, commercial buildings and houses, their best-known surviving domestic buildings being the Pah, at Hillsborough (1877) and the Dilworth Terrace Houses, Parnell (1899). Their ecclesiastical buildings included St Mary's Church of the Assumption, Onehunga (1888) and St Benedict's Church, Newton (1888).

The firm of Edward Mahoney & Son continued to practice for a short period after Thomas Mahoney’s death in 1923, but was eventually dissolved in 1926.

Source: NZHPT Registration Report for Bank of New Zealand (Former), Devonport (Register no. 4511).

Watt, Robert Martin

Watt (1860-1907) was born in Scotland and studied architecture in Glasgow with the firm of Barclay Bros. He immigrated to New Zealand about 1878 for health reasons and practised in Auckland both on his own account and, from about 1892, with John Mitchell (c.1859-1947). Mitchell and Watt were appointed architects to the Auckland Education Board in 1892 and while Mitchell undertook new work, Watt was responsible for rebuilding projects and renovations to existing buildings. In 1960 Watt was elected president of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Watt was responsible for the design of the Ley's Institute, Ponsonby (1905-06), and the partnership of Mitchell and Watt was responsible for schools at Te Mata (1905) and Maungatautari (1905), additions to schools at Cambridge (1900) and Dargaville (1905), the Seddon Memorial Technical College (1903-13), and Mt Eden Congregational Church (1900).

James, J.W

1879 construction - register number 652

John James

Little is known of builder John William James. A trustee of the Ponsonby Baptist Church, Auckland, his name appears with others on the deeds of conveyance for the two lots purchased for the church in Jervois Road in December 1874 and November 1885. James, who lived in Russell Street, Ponsonby, built St Stephen's Presbyterian Church at the corner of Curran Street and Jervois Road in 1879. He subsequently erected the Anglican Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Auckland, in 1880-81. Both these buildings were designed by Edward Mahoney and Son.

Fortzer & Trevarthen

Contruction 1907 - register number 652

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

St Stephen's Church is a nineteenth century, timber Gothic Revival building in the inner western suburb of Ponsonby, Auckland. It is prominently located on the northeastern corner of the intersection of Jervois Road and Shelly Beach Road. Shelly Beach Road is commonly used by traffic entering the city from via the Auckland Harbour Bridge, while Jervois Road is also a major urban route for traffic travelling west from Auckland's Central Business District (CBD). Occupying a slightly elevated position relative to street level, the building is a local landmark.

The church shares its site with two other timber buildings: the church hall (1907), sited to the northeast of the church; and St Stephen's Church Lounge (1919) to the east of, and parallel with, the church. The church and church lounge are linked by a covered way. The church building consists of three main parts: the tower/entrance/nave area (1879); the transepts (1907); and the vestries (1879). It is orientated on a north-south axis and is a cruciform shape in plan view. A timber-framed building, it is clad with rusticated weatherboards and has decorative timber buttresses and a decramastic tile roof.

Overall, the church has changed little from its 1907 form. The dominant element of the church is the tall tower and steeple at the southwest corner of the main elevation. Large doors are located at the base of the tower on its south and west sides, with Gothic windows occupying the stage above. The second stage of the tower is octagonal (as is the spire) and has lancet-shaped timber louvres. There are decorative shallow gables above the louvres on the spire. Similar gables also occur above major entrances, and the gable ends of the Church are similarly embellished.

The main body of the church is rectangular and broad. The gable fronting Jervois Road bears a large Gothic window comprised of four lights, with a three-light window in the bays on either side. There are three Gothic windows in the central bay of each transept end, with a large circular window above. There is a third circular window on the north wall of the 1907 addition. The four bays of the side walls of the nave have paired lancet windows.

Internally, the church's elaborate trusses are a major feature. The carved thorns that appear in profile on inner surfaces of the beams are distinctive and are also found on some of the doors in the church. The pressed metal ceilings in the transepts and the central area of the nave have circular motifs representing entwined thorns. The remainder of the cove ceilings and the interior walls are lined with tongue and groove timbers. The ceilings in the vestibules and vestries consist of board and batten. There is half-height decorative kauri panelling at the south end of the nave, north wall of the sanctuary and at the southern entrance to each transept. A colonnade of three pointed arches marks the transition between the nave and transepts. The pipe organ behind the altar table is framed by the central arch, as is the large circular window in the north wall above.

The altar area is slightly raised. An ornate kauri pulpit is located on the east side of the sanctuary, while an organ console is positioned towards the west side. The seating layout of the church is unusual. Pews near the back of the nave are set out in two banks with a central aisle. Closer to the front the layout changes to a central bank of pews flanked on either side by a narrower bank. Closer in again, the pews are set out in semicircular rows around the dais. A door towards the east end of the back wall of the sanctuary provides access to the vestries and to the exterior.

The church's west porch at the southwest end of the building is now a prayer room. A sink bench and cupboards have been added in the central vestibule. The entrance door in the west transept is no longer used. The entrance in the east transept is sheltered by a porch addition, which forms part of the covered link to the Church Lounge. The vestry area at the north end of the church dates from 1879 and is little changed.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1879 -

1907 -
Transept built; rear section original building lifted in behind new transepts; new sloping floor in nave; slightly raised steps for pews in side aisles

1909 -
Pipe organ installed

1923 -
Electric lighting installed

Spire re-roofed and rotten timber replaced

Roof replaced; windows repaired

1994 - 1995
Addition of covered way from east transept door to Church Lounge

Foundations renewed, door removed from vestibule interior east end; sink bench and cupboards added in central section of the vestibule

Construction Details

Concrete foundations; timber frame; metal tile roof

Information Sources

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

31 July 1909, p.9 (2)

Bulletin of New Zealand Art History

Bulletin of New Zealand Art History

Sister Gael O'Leary, 'St Mary's Convent Chapel', Vol. 6, 1978, pp.18-30

Comrie, 1939

W. Comrie, Presbytery of Auckland; Early Days and Progress, Wellington, 1939

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Peter Shaw, 'Mahoney, Edward 1824/1825?-1895 & Mahoney, Thomas 1854/1855?-1923', updated 16 December 2003 URL:

McEldowney, 1990

Dennis McEldowney (ed.), Presbyterians in Aotearoa, 1840-1990, Wellington, 1990

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

31 December 1879, p.5(5); 15 April 1907, p.6(4); 26 April 907, p.7(8)

St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, 1976

St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, St Stephen's Presbyterian Church Ponsonby Auckland: Centennial History 1876-1976, Auckland, 1976

St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, 2001

St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, A Statement in Colour: 125 Year Celebration, St Stephen's Presbyterian Church 1876 - 2001, Auckland, [2001]

Stone, 1973

R. C. J. Stone, Makers of Fortune: A Colonial Business Community and its Fall, Auckland, 1973

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.