St Mary’s Church (Anglican)

School Road, Tuatini, Tokomaru Bay

  • St Mary's Church (Anglican), Tokomaru Bay. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 26/03/2018.
  • St Mary's Church (Anglican), Tokomaru Bay.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 6/09/2003.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 801 Date Entered 25th June 2015 Date of Effect 24th July 2015


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Tuatini Maori Township Sec 5 Blk X (RT 387352), Gisborne Land District, and the building known as St Mary’s Church (Anglican) thereon, and the following chattels: altar, lectern, font, pews and war memorial board. (Refer to maps in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Gisborne District


Gisborne Region

Legal description

Tuatini Maori Township Sec 5 Blk X (RT 387352), Gisborne Land District

Location description

St Mary’s Church is located within the graveyard/urupa at Tuatini Marae, Tokomaru Bay. The church is visible on the approach along SH35, and from the corner of Waitangi Street and School Road, Tokomaru Bay.


St Mary’s Church sits within the Tuatini marae grounds in Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast. It is situated next to State Highway 35 and is a place that is highly visible throughout Tokomaru Bay. Probably erected in 1883-6, the building is likely to represent an early surviving Anglican church on the East Coast. It is also a rare example of a church in New Zealand that is clad in corrugated iron.

Since at least 1844 there have been Anglican religious structures at Tuatini marae. An original 1840s chapel appears to have been replaced in timber in 1861 by a local Pakeha man. This church may have been burnt in the New Zealand Wars. The St Mary’s Church that stands today is likely to have been erected in the 1880s by Duncan Stirling, a prolific builder of East Coast churches in the late nineteenth century. Anglicanism arrived on the East Coast in the 1830s, and for much of the nineteenth century formed the main religion among Maori in the region. In the mid-1860s, Tuatini had become the first Anglican parish on the East Coast.

Of Gothic Revival appearance, the church encompasses a nave, chancel and porch, all with gabled roofs. A south transept is situated towards the east end of the nave. Renovations occurred in 1918, 1959 and 1989. It is currently unclear if a distinctive and unusual feature of the building - its corrugated iron sheathing - formed part of the original design, or was a later modification, perhaps in 1918.

St Mary’s Church is of historical significance because it can tell of the Anglican Maori Mission’s campaign in spreading Christianity throughout the East Coast region, and the role of Maori themselves in the spread of the religion during that time. It is particularly significant for reflecting the resurgence of Anglican faith and church-building among local peoples in the Waiapu Diocese from the late 1870s onwards, following a period of turmoil within Ngati Porou and the East Coast through the spread of the Kingitanga movement and Pai Marire faith. In Tokomaru Bay, as elsewhere, the church was a way in which some Ngati Porou leaders held their people close. The place is connected with several people of note, including the local leader Henare Potae and Anglican church minister Matiaha Pahewa.

St Mary’s Church is of considerable architectural significance for being one of very few corrugated iron-clad churches remaining in New Zealand. It belongs to a small group of such churches on the East Coast that evidently reflects a specific Anglican architectural tradition among local Maori. That St Mary’s Church continues to stand in a town where other Anglican churches have been deconsecrated, highlights its special place in the history of Tokomaru Bay, and the important role of Maori in the Anglican Church today.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

St Mary’s Church is historically significant for its connection with the invigoration of the mission to Maori and church building in Waiapu Diocese in the late nineteenth century. The site is also significant for its connections with the adoption of the Anglican faith among Maori during the earliest missionary work on the East Coast, and the changing relationships between Maori and Pakeha after the 1860s. The place is historically significant as a focal point of the oldest parochial unit in the original Waiapu diocese.

The place is also significant for incorporating what is possibly the oldest surviving Anglican church erected by and for a Maori community on the East Coast. St Mary’s Church also has local historical significance because of the commemorative elements within the church which honour families of the community.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

Within its rural setting, St Mary’s Church has considerable aesthetic significance. In particular, the use of corrugated iron cladding makes the church visually unusual and distinctive. The building is of simple design, and many original features remain unchanged. The interior of the church is visually impressive in its use of timber. The woven tukutuku panels and a number of other fixtures and chattels inside the building additionally contribute to the place’s aesthetic significance.

Architectural Significance or Value

The building stands as an example of nineteenth-century construction methods on the East Coast, and - particularly as seen internally - is a testament to the superior workmanship used in its construction. The use of corrugated iron cladding, in a Gothic style church, is a point of architectural difference, and the church is one of a small number of corrugated iron churches remaining in New Zealand. The building is also notable for its likely connection with Duncan Stirling, a prolific church builder on the East Coast.

Social Significance or Value

St Mary’s Church has played a role in the community at Tokomaru Bay for over a hundred years. It was the focus for important religious and social milestones for the community, such as baptisms, weddings and funerals. Conservation work at various points in its history have been undertaken by members of the community, and donation of objects such as the tukutuku panels, are further evidence of community regard for the church.

Spiritual Significance or Value

St Mary’s Church has a long and important association with the Anglican Church. St Mary’s Church has survived in a town where other churches have been closed and deconsecrated, emphasising its importance as a place of spiritual significance to local people. The woven tukutuku panels reflect the spiritual significance of the place to the community.

Traditional Significance or Value

The church has been a significant part of the life of the marae at Tuatini since its construction, and its survival in the area where other churches have been closed illustrates its continued importance. The woven tukutuku panels, carved altar and pulpit and other church elements reflect the traditional value of the place.

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

St Mary’s Church is significant for its associations with the Anglican Maori Mission’s campaign in spreading Christianity throughout the East Coast, and more particularly with these efforts continuing into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is particularly significant as one of the earliest surviving Anglican churches on the East Coast, and as possibly the oldest remaining Anglican church created by and for a Maori community in the region.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

It is likely that St Mary’s Church and the surrounding area has potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand history through archaeological investigation. This applies to the built fabric of St Mary’s Church and to its associated land. St Mary’s Church is situated within a cemetery/urupa where prominent early members of the Maori community are buried.

(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua

St Mary’s Church is associated with a number of people important to the local tangata whenua, particularly Henare Potae and its first minister Matiaha Pahewa, both of whom are buried close to the church. St Mary’s Church is generally highly valued by the local Maori community, especially by the Anglican parishioners, and efforts have been made over time to raise funds to maintain and repair the building, and significant work has been done on the church by individuals for no fee.

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

St Mary’s Church celebrated the centenary of being a constituted parish of the Waiapu Diocese in 1963, and again celebrated in 2013 as being the ‘oldest parochial unit in the original Waiapu diocese’. That the church has survived through the depopulation of the surrounding area, when other churches have been deconsecrated, is a demonstration of its continued public esteem in a small rural community.

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

The place is significant as a well-preserved, remaining example of a small group of corrugated iron clad Maori churches on the East Coast. Although corrugated iron is a mainstay of New Zealand vernacular architecture, it has been rarely used for New Zealand churches, and even fewer of these have survived.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

As a place of worship, St Mary’s Church has many religious symbolic values. It also has commemorative values through the plaques installed in memory of various members of the community. The large memorial plaque at the entrance to the church also commemorates those members of the Tokomaru community who lost their lives in the First World War. The church is located within a graveyard/ urupa.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Stirling, Duncan

Having received his education in Riverton, Stirling went to Dunedin to work for the Williams Construction Company learning building and carpentry. He was then employed on the East Coast by Sydney Williams. He built the woolsheds at Kuhirerere Station and Pakihiroa Station for Williams, and soon established a good reputation as a carpenter. He went on to build many residences around Tolaga Bay. He also built a church in Tolaga Bay which led to similar contracts in Tokomaru Bay, Tuatui, Mangahanea, Te Horo, Torere, Tikitiki and Te Araroa. One of his most attractive church buildings is Christ Church, Raukokore (1894-95). Stirling also built the old Kemp homestead at Ruatoria and the Ngai Tai meeting house "Te Roroku" which stood at Torere.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

St Mary’s Church is located at Tuatini marae in Tokomaru Bay, a small rural community situated approximately 92 kilometres north of Gisborne. It is thought that St Mary’s Church is the third Anglican church to stand at Tuatini marae, and was probably built in the 1880s. It is unusual as a corrugated iron-clad church, and is likely to be one of the oldest surviving churches on the East Coast. Tuatini has long been the centre of Anglican Maori mission work in the bay, and once also included a mission house. All of the churches on the site have been paid for by local Maori and the site has been maintained by that community ever since.

Tokomaru Bay is an anglicised version of the original name Toka-a-maru. Toka-a-maru refers to a rock in the ocean and is a landmark for one of the hapu of the area, Te Whanau-a-Ruataupare, a hapu of Ngati Porou. The town is overlooked by the sacred mountain Marotiri. There are four marae in Tokomaru Bay, of which Tuatini is one. The respective marae and their surrounding settlements were once seen as quite separate entities. The marae and church were set aside as a native reserve in 1899 under the Native Townships Act 1895. A number of people important to the history of Ngati Porou, including Henare Potae (?-1895, Te Whanau-a-Ruataupare), have lived at Tuatini. Later, the Tuatini area became part of the main township of Tokomaru Bay, and today the marae complex contains the Tuatini Marae wharenui, St Mary’s Church, an urupa (Waho o Te Uru) and associated marae buildings.

The Anglican Church began its mission in New Zealand in 1814 in the Bay of Islands. However, by the time Henry Williams (1792-1867), a prominent early missionary for the London-based Church Missionary Society (CMS), assumed leadership of the mission in 1823, there had been no Maori converts to the faith. The talented linguist William Williams (1800-1878) joined his brother in 1826. Both brothers realised the importance of teaching in the Maori language if there were to be successes in converting Maori to the Anglican faith. In the following years, there were inroads made in these conversions, and the subsequent movement of people meant that Christianity increasingly spread from the Bay of Islands and into the East Cape during this time. In 1838, the first ‘native’ teachers arrived, and along with Piripi Taumata-a-Kura preached the Christian faith in the area.

Maori on the East Coast enthusiastically embraced the Anglican faith, and its genesis in the area was largely driven by local Maori. For much of the nineteenth century, Anglicanism formed the main religion among Maori in the region. It has been estimated that among Ngati Porou there were ‘congregations of more than 1,000 (sometime 2-3,000) at many early missionary services.’ William Leonard Williams (1829-1916, known as Leonard), the son of William Williams, noted:

‘The Ngatiporou at Waiapu had shown considerable activity in the matter of church building. Within a year after the arrival of the first accredited native teachers in 1838, a large raupo building had been erected in each of their principal settlements to serve as a chapel, in which many of the people assembled regularly for Divine service.’

A chapel at Tuatini

William Williams visited Tokomaru Bay in 1840 and recorded that a chapel had been built there: ‘At this place there is much improvement since I last visited it. Most of the people come together regularly for prayers and school, and a chapel is building [sic] 40 feet by 24. We had about 250 at service’. In the same year, a signing of the Treaty of Waitangi took place at Tokomaru Bay. Four years later, in 1844, when Williams visited again he specifically mentions the chapel at Tuatini: ‘The chapel at Tuatini is well built and is furnished with a communion rail of very homely construction but which answers the purpose well.’

Leonard Williams notes that in 1858 large raupo buildings in the Waiapu area were being replaced ‘with buildings of a more substantial character, the requisite timber being brought, in some cases, from a great distance with very indifferent carriage.’

In 1860, Reverend Robert Burrows and the Bishop of Waiapu travelled through a great number of settlements on the East Coast. Burrows wrote that Tokomaru Bay was a sort of place of division where the ‘substantial weather-board churches’ in the settlements from Hicks Bay to Tokomaru ceased, and then from Tokomaru to Turanga ‘the places of worship, which are built of rushes or reeds, are falling to decay, and I saw no preparation for the erection of new ones…’.

A year later, Leonard Williams noted during his trip to the East Coast that in Tokomaru the local Maori were currently building a new place of worship: a ‘boarded (?) church, upon which they have spent a great deal of money, paying Gilmore for the work, is falling down before it is finished and they wisely concluded to pull it down and rebuild it a little smaller’. The ‘Gilmore’ he referred to is likely to be Charlie Gilman, a joiner who came to New Zealand in 1836 and moved to the East Coast in the 1840s. This building is presumed to be another predecessor to the current St Mary’s Church.

Tuatini becomes the first parish on the East Coast

From its beginnings on 27 September 1858, the Anglican Diocese of Waiapu was almost entirely a Maori Diocese. To become a parish in the Waiapu Diocese, £200 was needed as an endowment for the minister. A large hui was held at Tokomaru Bay in 1862 to raise the money for a minister, organised by Henare Potae who lived at Tuatini. In this year the Resident Magistrate William Baker reported the hapu’s motto was ‘Neither King [n]or Queen, but God alone’. This meeting, as well as raising money for the minister and to become a parish, is likely to have been part of Potae’s attempt to hold his people fast to the Anglican church and away from both Pai Marire and the Kingitanga movement.

The hui, which lasted five days, was attended by people from the Bay of Plenty, Hicks Bay and many from the Waiapu district; it was estimated that there were 1,200 visitors and 800 hosts, including people from Tolaga Bay and Turanga (Gisborne). Two Maori ministers already working on the East Coast, Raniera Kawhia and Rota Waitoa, led the visitors onto the marae. Tensions regarding the Kingitanga movement were evident at the meeting: a deputation from supporters of the Maori king was apparently refused a hearing. The lengthy report in the newspaper about the meeting does not mention a church; instead it says that the money was being raised for a minister for the town, and to become a parish. The meeting raised £160 for the minister’s endowment, plus a number of horses. Baker reported that Potae was ‘fully satisfied with the result of the meeting’.

As a result, the inhabitants of Tuatini and nearby settlements, wrote to the Synod of the Diocese of Waiapu stating that they had collected £183 2s 3d for their endowment fund for a minister, and that they would ‘set apart Friday as a day on which we may work for our Clergyman, that he may be at liberty to do his own proper work without hindrance’, and duly asked to become a parish, extending from Anaura to Waimahuru. Permission was given at the second synod of the diocese in January 1863, and as a result Tokomaru Pastorate became the first properly constituted parish of Waiapu.

Towards the end of 1863 Matiaha Pahewa (Te Whanau-a-Rua hapu) was ordained and placed at Tokomaru Bay where he ministered for the following forty years, almost until his death in 1906. His work was based at the church at Tuatini, but also involved a great deal of travelling to other areas within his district. In 1864, the Bishop described him as a ‘good and useful man’. His son, Hakaraia Pahewa (1870?-1948), followed in his footsteps into the Maori Mission in Waiapu, and was vicar in Te Kaha on the East Coast for 44 years and the first Maori Canon.

East Coast Civil War

Ngati Porou historian Monty Soutar has written that this period was one of civil conflict and internal factionalism within Ngati Porou. Having watched, from their relative isolation, the process of colonisation and war elsewhere in the country, some in the iwi believed that the Kingitanga movement was the best way to achieve independence, while others believed that the best path lay with alignment to the British Crown. At Tokomaru, Henare Potae was unable to dissuade some of his followers at Tuatini from joining Kingitanga – William Williams wrote in April 1864 that Potae was ‘very pouri [distressed] about his people. He says a large number are going [to the Waikato War] and he has done reasoning with them’.

Into this already difficult and complex situation, the Pai Marire religion came to the East Coast with the arrival of the religion’s emissaries at Opotiki in February 1865. Less than a month after their arrival, the missioner Carl Volkner was killed by Pai Marire adherents, and a month after that, Bishop William Williams and much of his family left Poverty Bay.

Ngati Porou and its associated iwi and hapu were split in complex ways, sometimes as a result of animosities that were generations old, and sometimes dividing families. As as a result civil war arrived on the East Coast in June 1865, firstly in northern Waiapu. In Tokomaru the community, which Henare Potae had managed to hold together despite the incursions of Kingitanga influences, was divided by the new religion. While Potae remained committed to his Anglican faith and to defeating Pai Marire adherents (also referred to as Hauhau), many in Tokomaru joined the new religion; as a result Potae removed himself to his home at Te Mawhai and entrenched a hill pa there.

The clergyman at Tuatini, Matiaha Pahewa raised the ire of Potae for continuing to administer to ex-parishioners who were now Kingitanga supporters. A notice was even put in a Maori newspaper stating that the former had gone over to the Hauhau. Fighting broke out in Tokomaru in August 1864 between Hauhau and Potae’s men, who were provided with government arms. After a number of skirmishes, Potae travelled towards Turanga (Gisborne); while he was absent Hauhau attacked his pa at Te Mawhai but the small number who remained there managed to defend it. Fighting continued in the northern part of the East Coast until early October 1865, and then in Poverty Bay until the end of October when the government captured Waerenga-a-Hika, the former mission station which had been transformed into a Hauhau fortification. Many of the prisoners taken in this battle were transported to the Chatham Islands, and other Hauhau were sent out of the district. Potae’s biographer Stephen Oliver notes that after these events, at Tokomaru Bay ‘resettlement took place and all Maori inhabitants were gathered into village units, leaving the central part of the district empty’.

It has been suggested that the church that had been built in 1861 by Gilman may have been destroyed during this civil war period; certainly a number of Anglican churches were burned down at this time, including one at Rangitukia, near the mouth of the Waiapu River, considered to be the birthplace of the Anglican religion on the East Coast. However, the fate of the Tuatini church is not clear. In 1872, the Bishop of Waiapu expressed his thanks to the eight Maori Anglican clergymen who lived through these difficult times on the Coast and who supported the faith in the face of the growth of ‘Hauhau superstition’, and who ‘though often placed in very trying positions, have for the most part been faithful to the trust which was committed to them’. Matiaha Pahewa must have been rehabilitated after the war, as he remained at St Mary’s Church until 1906.

The reinvigoration of the Waiapu Diocese, and its work in Tokomaru

There is record of another church being built at Tokomaru in the 1880s, which is probably the current St Mary’s Church. Kerehona Piwaka, minister at Whangara, stated in May 1883 that there were eight new churches under construction in Waiapu Diocese that year, including one at Tokomaru. The Bishop of Waiapu then reported in his annual report to the CMS that the new church in Tokomaru was to be opened in February 1886. Probable confirmation that this building was in use by March 1886 is provided by Gisborne’s Resident Magistrate, James Booth, who noted in his latest census return that ‘in many of the principal kaingas where timber can be obtained [local Maori] have erected substantial churches, fitted up in European fashion. At Tokomaru the church is furnished with a large American organ, which is ably performed upon by a Native girl, who was educated at the Hukatere school, Napier.’

Construction of a new building occurred at a time of invigoration of the mission to Maori and church building in Waiapu Diocese. This process began in 1877 when Leonard Williams returned to Poverty Bay and resumed his duties as archdeacon of Waiapu. In 1879, the new Bishop of Waiapu, Edward Stuart, noted a distinct difference between the work of the mission on the coast: ‘with its Native clergy and its Churches, the work is of a settled pastoral character’, while in the Bay of Plenty churches of the Pai Marire religion still held sway. Church-building was particularly vigorous among members of Ngati Porou, with three such structures evidently being erected on the East Coast in 1885 alone.

The new Tokomaru church is likely to have been built by Duncan Stirling, the father of Eruera Stirling. Duncan Stirling, a builder of Pakeha, Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe descent from the South Island, came to live on the East Coast in the 1880s. He was a devoted Anglican and built a large number of houses, woolsheds and churches on the East Coast. It was while building a church at Te Horo that Duncan met and married Mihi Kotukutuku (1870-1956) of Te Whanau-a-Apanui. One of his most attractive church buildings is Christ Church, Raukokore (1894-5).

Duncan’s son Eruera, a kaumatua of Te Whanau-a-Apanui listed the large number of churches his father built, including one at Tuatini, Tokomaru Bay. Eruera records in his history of his father’s work that while building these churches, Duncan ‘ordered all his timber from the Kauri Timber Company in Auckland’, and mentions that Captain Skinner, who for many years ran a fleet of vessels down the East Coast, would bring it down for him from Auckland on his trips down the coast. As it seems likely that St Mary’s Church is built of kauri framing, this may certainly be the way in which the timber for the church arrived on the coast.

Although the dates in Eruera’s oral history about his father are unclear, it seems likely that the church referred to by Piwaka and the church built by Stirling were one and the same, and is therefore probably the St Mary’s Church that stands today. Furthermore, a woman who attended the centennial of the parish in 1963 remembered attending the opening of the church when she was around 11, which would accord with the church opening in the 1880s.

The Gothic Revival design of the timber-frame church encompassed a nave, chancel and south transept. It is unclear if current corrugated iron cladding on the church exterior formed part of a nineteenth-century arrangement or is a later modification.

Corrugated iron was used extensively for churches in the United Kingdom, particularly from 1860-1920, and in Australia. However, although the material was introduced to New Zealand in the 1840s, corrugated iron clad churches are comparatively rare in this country. There are iron churches surviving in Central Otago that date to the 1860s-1880s. In the North Island, there remains one on the Te Horo marae complex near Ruatoria, and another at nearby Reporua, erected in c.1905. A third, the St Matthias’ Anglican Church at Te Ariuru in the Waima area of Tokomaru Bay, was opened in 1925. In conjunction with St Mary’s Church, the latter group may suggest a local tradition of corrugated iron cladding for Maori churches on the East Coast, although at this stage it is unclear if this applies to original construction, later modification, or both.

St Mary’s Church is situated within a cemetery/urupa that was present in the nineteenth century. Henare Potae and his father Te Potae-aute, also known as Enoka Potae, who signed a copy of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, are buried there; Matiaha Pahewa, the first minister of the church, is also interred close to the church at the western end. The Church Mission Society maintained a mission station in Tokomaru from 1910 until 1956. The mission station’s house was also on Tuatini Marae, next to the church. From 1910 until 1933, it was run by Florence Davis; her work entailed teaching children, caring for the sick and helping the needy, and she was very involved in church work such as the Mothers’ Union. In 1919, the Bishop of Waiapu praised the work of the women running the string of mission houses on the East Coast, saying that ‘these houses are a valuable adjunct to the Maori Mission, and I cannot speak too highly of the work done by our devoted lady workers.’ The building remained on the Tuatini Marae grounds, next to St Mary’s Church, until 2007 when it was pulled down.

In 1910, the local Pakeha community began to raise money for a new Anglican Church in the settlement, after William Busby, son of James Busby, who owned the Tokomaru Bay sheep run, gave money and a freehold site for the church. The construction of the brick church was slowed by the First World War, but eventually completed in 1928, and named All Saints’. On occasion this church was referred to as the ‘English Church’, to distinguish it from St Mary’s Church. It was deconsecrated in 2010. There was also the corrugated iron clad St Matthias’, in Waima, in the northern part of the town, which was erected by the local Maori community in 1925.

In 1918, improvements were made to St Mary’s Church, although it is not clear what these were. The Waiapu Church Gazette reported that Maori had spent £30 on this work, and ‘it is hoped that the Europeans would paint it’. However, later in the year the diocese notes that it had paid for the painting, and the church was now looking neat and tidy, and would like the money repaid ‘straight away’. One possibility is that this work involved re-sheathing the building in its current corrugated iron cladding, if such material was not already in place.

Until All Saints’ Church was built, St Mary’s Church was used for both English and Maori services: for example, in 1921, on the day that the vicar of St Mary’s Church, Reverend Eruini was being farewelled from the district, he conducted an 8.00 am service in English, then two Te Reo services, one at 11.00 am and another at 3.00 pm, at which times the church was ‘packed to overflowing’ and then an English service in the evening.

In the 1930s, Tokomaru Bay flourished, supported by the freezing works, a brick factory and other industries, which provided significant employment for locals. One part of the town was considered the ‘Pakeha’ part of town. The freezing works closed in 1952, and the town has since struggled with depopulation as young people have moved away to work.

St Mary’s Church was rededicated after renovations were carried out in 1959. The church celebrated the centenary of being a constituted parish of the Waiapu Diocese in 1963. The granddaughter of the first minister, Matiaha Pahewa, attended the celebrations, as well as the Bishop of Aotearoa, W. N. Panapa. There were so many attendees for the celebrations that St Mary’s Church could not be used for the church service led by the Bishop; instead an altar was erected on the verandah of the wharenui at Pakirikiri Marae. By the 1980s, the church was not being used, but was again renovated and painted in 1989, and this is when the tukutuku panels were added inside. In 2013, the church celebrated its 150th anniversary as the ‘oldest parochial unit in the original Waiapu diocese’. Despite the closure of many other churches in the Waiapu Diocese, St Mary’s Church is still used for regular worship; in 2010, the East Coast Parish missioner was still holding monthly services at the church. St Mary’s Church is open to inter-denominational use and worship and is used by locals of other faiths. The services are generally conducted in a combination of Te Reo and English; marriages and baptisms are held there on occasion.

When the area was set aside as a Maori Township in 1899, the block named Tuatini was noted as containing a church and 'native dwellings' and was not available for lease, unlike most of the surrounding sections. The part of that block containing the church and urupa was divided off from the area containing the wharenui and other buildings, and the church portion was gazetted as a ‘native reserve’ in May 1917. That church and urupa portion was amalgamated back into the whole block along with the marae in 1973, in order to allow the cemetery to be enlarged and to bring the whole area back into under one control, and the entire block set aside as a Maori Reservation.

Physical Description

Current Description

St Mary’s Church is located at Tuatini Marae inside the urupa/graveyard area called Waho o Te Uru. The Marae buildings are to the west and north. The church is visible from some distance away when driving north on State Highway 35, and clearly from the corner of Waitangi and School Roadsin Tokomaru Bay. To the east of the church, Tokomaru Bay is clearly visible, and the surrounding hills and cliffs add to the rural and picturesque setting of the church. The surrounds of the church and graveyard are fenced in part with corrugated iron and timber palings.

St Mary’s Church is a corrugated iron clad, timber-frame church with an irregular floor plan. The church has a rectangular nave running east-west with a projecting chancel at the east end and a smaller porch at the west end. A transept acting as a vestry extends from the chancel end of the south side. The roof is corrugated iron, with open eaves and crosses attached at each end of the nave ridge. There may once have been crosses on the chancel, transept and porch gables also.

Most of the windows are gothic-style point-arched two-lights in which the upper light swings open from the bottom. There are three in the north and two in the south side of the nave, and one in the end of the transept. They are also found at each end of the nave, one on each side of the chancel and the porch, and one above the porch ridgeline. The windows in the end of the chancel and porch each consist of three point-arched lancets, the centre one tallest, with a total of seven lights. In each side of the chancel is a small rectangular one-light window.

The main entrance to the church is through a point-arched vertical-board French casement door in the north side of the porch/narthex. The similarity in design between the entry doors and the windows is aesthetically pleasing. Several plaques in the entrance to the church commemorate members of the local community. The porch is currently carpeted. Unlike the remainder of the roof in the interior, the roof of the porch is not clad in timber but is exposed corrugated iron.

Above the entrance to the church from the porch is a wooden memorial plaque to members of the Tokomaru community who died in the First World War.

The interior walls of the church are white painted tongue and groove timber to the ceiling, which is also timber, painted brown. The floors are tongue and groove, which have been left bare save a carpet runner down the centre of the church. The roof of the church is held together by metal pull rods.

Lining the walls of the sanctuary are woven tukutuku panels, the work of local members of the community. The three point-arched lancets in the end of the chancel are filled with opaque glass. The altar in the chancel is intricately carved with Maori motifs and inlaid with paua shell, there is likewise a similarly carved small shelf inlaid with paua on the southern wall of the chancel. There is a white painted baptismal font in the chancel, and a wooden pulpit.

There is a single point-arched door in the west side of the transept. This area is currently used for storage. The church was sympathetically renovated in 1959, and in 1989.


The Naseby Athenaeum, Naseby (List No.4369, Category 1 historic place) is a similarly designed corrugated iron (former) church, built in 1865. It has been considered architecturally significant as ‘an early church building showing early use of vertical corrugated iron walls’. While this building is on a smaller scale than St Mary’s Church, both employ elements of the Gothic Revival in their use of gothic-style point-arched windows. St Mary’s Church retains a point of difference in its use of point-arched doors, and the fact that it is still used for its original purpose. It is also considered likely to be later in date. The Church of St Alban the Martyr, St Bathans (List No.2252, Category 1 historic place) is also a corrugated iron church, erected in 1883. It was built from an imported prefabricated kit, and has particular importance in that regard.

St Mary’s Church is one of a small group of corrugated iron churches on the East Coast used by Anglican Maori communities. One survives at the Te Horo marae complex near Ruatoria (not listed by Heritage New Zealand), as does the c.1905 corrugated iron St Andrew’s Church at Reporua (not listed by Heritage New Zealand). St Matthias’ Church (opened in 1925), in the Waima area of Tokomaru Bay, has been demolished. St Marys’ Church can be considered a well-preserved example of a small surviving group of corrugated iron churches on the East Coast that evidently reflects a specific Anglican architectural tradition among local Maori.

In terms of the age of St Mary’s Church, the building is likely to be one of the oldest remaining churches in the region, and possibly the oldest created and used by a Maori community on the East Coast. Older identified churches include Matawhero Church, Matawhero (List No.796, Category 1 historic place), built in 1865 or 1866 as a settler schoolroom and Anglican church, which is probably the oldest European building on the East Coast and also notable as one of the only survivors of the raid on Matawhero by Te Kooti in 1868: since 1872, this building has been a Presbyterian church. Similarly, Holy Trinity Church Hall (Anglican), Gisborne (List No.809, Category 2 historic place), was erected in 1875 as the first Anglican church in Gisborne, and since the construction of a replacement church in 1913 has been used as a hall.

Surviving later churches on the East Coast include many erected by or for Anglican Maori communities. Some of these, such as Christ Church, Raukokere (1894-5; List No. 3471, Category 1 historic place), were also constructed by Duncan Stirling. A relatively high proportion of remaining Maori Anglican churches appear to date from around 1900 or later. These include St Paul’s Church, Te Kaha (1899-1900; List No.3505, Category 2 historic place); St Matthew’s the Apostle, Tuparoa, (date uncertain, but probably 1903/4); St Andrew’s Church, Reporua (c.1905) and St John’s Church, Rangitukia (c.1906). All Saints’ Church, Waituhi, was built in 1903 as the chapel at Te Rau College, and has since been moved twice. Among later Anglican churches, St Mary’s Church (Anglican), at Tikitiki (List No.3306, Category 1 historic place) was constructed in 1924-6 as a memorial to the Maori soldiers of the East Coast who died in the First World War, and is of outstanding significance to the Ngati Porou people.

St Mary’s Church can be considered significant as probably one of the oldest remaining churches on the East Coast, and possibly the oldest created and used by a Maori community in the region. It is also of significance as the earliest of a group of corrugated iron churches built and used by Maori communities on the East Coast. The full extent of its importance in the latter regard is currently unclear due to uncertainties about whether the cladding is an original feature, or a subsequent modification.

Construction Dates

Construction of first church, in raupo

1861 -
Construction of second church

Original Construction
1883 - 1886
Construction of the current St Mary’s Church

1918 -


1959 -

1989 -

Construction Details

Timber frame with corrugated iron wall and roof cladding, and concrete piles

Completion Date

18th March 2015

Report Written By

Elizabeth Cox and Katharine Cox

Information Sources

Rosevear, 1960

William Rosevear, Waiapu: The Story of a Diocese, Hamilton, 1960

Chapple, 1983

G Chapple, Maynard. Mitchell & Viscoe. Corrugated Iron in New Zealand. Reed 1983

Bluck, 2009

John Bluck (ed.), The Gift Endures: A New History of the Waiapu Diocese, Waiapu Diocese, 2009


Mornement and Holloway, 2005

Adam Mornement and Simon Holloway, Corrugated Iron: Building on the Frontier, New York, 2005.

Thomson, 2005

Thomson, Stuart, Wrinkly Tin: The Story of Corrugated Iron in New Zealand, Wellington, 2005.

Other Information

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Lower Northern Office of Heritage New Zealand.


Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.