The Early Days Of Canterbury: 9. The Presbyterian Mother Church of the Canterbury Province: St. Andrew's

CHRISTCHURCH,  2009

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CHAPTER 9

 

 

The Presbyterian Mother Church

of the Canterbury Province:

St. Andrew's

 

 

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, which in 1931 celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of its existence, is the Mother Church in Canterbury of the Established Church of Scotland, and has cause for satisfaction and thanks to the Almighty Architect of the Universe for the long and honourable place it has maintained in the history of Presbyterianism in this Dominion. Up to the year 1854, the Scottish Church had no corporate existence in Canterbury, and in October, 1853, a visit was paid to Lyttelton by a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. John Moir, who had come to New Zealand to settle in Wellington. Advantage was taken of his presence to hold the first Presbyterian service, which he conducted in James Johnston's Carpenter’s shop in Cashel Street. The late John Deans, then two months old, was baptised by Mr Moir, and this visit led the small band of Scotsmen to consider the necessity of endeavouring to provide for their spiritual needs by the erection of a small church, and the securing of a minister from Scotland to take pastoral charge of the congregation.

 

William Wilson was keenly interested in the project, and called a public meeting of those

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people favouring the erection of a Presbyterian Church in the Settlement. This meeting took place on January 31, 1854, at which the minutes record a considerable attendance, many people having come four to eight miles to be present. The chair was taken by Mr W. K. Macdonald, who read a letter from Mr John Deans, Senior of Riccarton, expressing regret at not being able to attend owing to ill health, but requesting that his name be placed on the subscription list for £10 towards the cost of a suitable site, which he would increase to £100 as soon as a reasonable prospect could be entertained of their being able to commence the building of a manse and church, besides which he pledged himself to contribute annually towards the support of a clergyman.

 

Mr Wilson, moving the first resolution, said "It is a pleasing feature in the character of those of you who have assembled here to-night that you have met for the purpose of endeavouring to restore to yourselves in this land of your adoption, the ancient Church of your forefathers, a love of which you have carried with you to this, the Antipodes of the land of your birth - the Church to whose teaching you are mainly indebted for the Christian principles you have imbibed, for the principles of morality which have governed your lives, and restrained you from many of the vices peculiar to erring human nature - the Church which has taught you to be loyal to your Queen, faithful to your country, and indulgent towards every denomination of professing Chris­tians, whose principles, and especially whose

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forms of worship may happen to differ from your own - in short, to respect the religious prejudices of your fellow Christians, by whatever name their form of church government may be called. That these, gentlemen, are the sentiments you entertain, I infer, not merely from having the pleasure of your personal acquaintance, but from the liberal nature of the several resolutions about to be submitted, the first, and most important of which I now beg to move, namely: ‘Resolved, that in the opinion of this meeting, it is highly desirable that a Scottish Church should be estab­lished in the town of Christchurch, to meet the requirements of a considerable portion of the inhabitants of the Settlement who have been baptised, educated, and brought up under the Presbyterian form of worship.' It is a gratifying feature in your character that many of you con­tributed liberally towards the erection of the Episcopalian Church in Lyttelton, some of you having subscribed towards the proposed enlarge­ment of the Church of St. Michael in this town, and several of you have promised assistance for the erection of an additional Episcopalian Church in Riccarton, besides which many of you were generous in the support you gave to the erection of the Wesleyan Chapel in Christchurch. These pleasing traits of liberality on your part promise to be generously reciprocated by churchmen and Wesleyans on theirs, for already voluntary offers of support have been made by both denominations. The mutual assistance thus rendered exhibits the true principle of Christian liberality, and must

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inspire you with fervent prayer to Heaven that every blessing sought upon this land, and upon this people, may be heard and granted, whether such prayers proceed from a place of worship recognised by the name of church or chapel."  This motion was seconded by Mr James John­ston and carried unanimously. Mr John Anderson then moved, "that with a view to effecting the foregoing object, a committee be appointed to obtain subscriptions, to select an area of town land for a site, to procure a suitable design for a building, to ascertain the best means of obtaining a minister, and to call a public meeting, before which they will lay a report of the result of their exertions."

 

Seconded by Mr John Miln, this proposition was carried, and an animated discussion followed as to whether the minister should be a Free Church parson, or of the Estab­lished Church of Scotland, it being resolved that this point be left to the decision of a future public meeting. It was resolved that whatever decision was ultimately decided upon by public vote, the minority pledge themselves to conform to the wishes of the majority.

 

The meeting then appointed the following gentlemen as officers, namely, Treasurer, John Deans; Secretary, William Wilson; Committee, W. K. Macdonald, James Meldrum, John McFarlane, John Anderson, James Johnston, William Stewart, Charles Young, William Rankin, Douglas Graham, Ebenezer Hay, Hugh Buchanan, Samuel Manson, John Grubb, David M. Laurie, James Stout, Simon Hossack and George Duncan.

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At a subsequent meeting held on March 14, 1854, the Secretary reported that quarter-acre sections in good situations were obtainable, but an acre in one block could only be procured on the outer boundary of the town, which at that time extended to Salisbury Street on the north, St Asaph Street on the South, Barbadoes Street on the east, and Antigua Street on the west. None of these acre sections, however, could be recom­mended for consideration, but the committee asked for an extension of time in which to make further inquiries. At the succeeding meeting Mr Wilson reported that he had accidentally learnt that the land on which the Nelson Presbyterian Church stood, had, on application, been granted by the government, and further inquiries by him had disclosed the fact that similar grants had been made to the Presbyterian Church in Wellington, and also in Auckland.

 

On gaining this information, he had waited upon Mr W. Guise Brittan, Commissioner of Crown Lands, and narrated these facts to him, and asked whether, in the event of his being instructed by his committee to address an appli­cation on the subject Mr Brittan would grant a similar favour. The Commissioner expressed his willingness to forward any such application to the willingness to forward any such application to the government, with a strong recommendation that the application be granted. The application was forthwith made, the grant asked for being four acres for the erection of a church, schoolhouse, and manse. By May 23, the subscriptions promised amounted to some £430, and a public

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meeting was held at the Royal hotel on July 11 at which Mr Charles Sidey presided. In the short period which had elapsed since the initial meeting was held, Mr John Deans and Mr David M. Laurie had passed away, their respective offices being filled by the election of Mr Charles Sidey and Mr Robert Waitt.

 

It is interesting to read that at this meeting the Secretary was unable to report any progress with the committee's application for a govern­ment grant of land, and it was suggested that it would be best to secure at once, a well situated site of a quarter acre not far from the centre of the town, on which to place the church merely, whilst the land which might possibly be given by the government, would be available as sites for a manse and schoolhouse, which need not necessar­ily be contiguous to the church. Two sections over which options had been obtained were the quarter acre on Cambridge Terrace where the Limes Hospital now stands, the price of which was £20, and the section of similar size in Tuam Street east, upon which Messrs Smith and Smith have their premises, the price being £30.

 

Three designs had been submitted by Mr Cridland, the architect, and the consideration of these was relegated to a committee consisting of Charles Sidey, John Anderson, James Johnston, John Ferguson, Robert Waitt, William Wilson, John Grubb, William Stewart, and Ebenezer Hay.

 

On July 27, the Secretary was authorised to write to Rev. John Bonar, convener of the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland, Edinburgh,

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praying, on behalf of the 324 Scottish Presbyterians in Canterbury, that he would select and send out with as little delay as possible, a minister, stipulating that none, but a really clever man should be sent - one not only fluent in speech and a good ex-tempore preacher, but capable, if it should seem desirable, of giving an occasional week-evening lecture on astronomy, geology, natural history, or other secular subjects of popular and instructive interest. A young or middle-aged man would be preferred - a likely man, in the estimation of several of the petition­ers, being the Rev. John Hunter, of Ayr, Scotland. The stipend offered was £200. In September, the Government made a grant of three acres, valued at £150, and asked for the names of trustees in whom the land, after selection, would be vested, and the Building Committee advised that they had chosen the portion of waste land on either side of the west end of Tuam Street, and specially asked, in view of the Presbyterian population being so widely scattered, involving the necessity of the minister keeping a horse to carry out his pastoral work, that the extent of the grant be as nearly as possible four acres as originally applied for.

 

From the records, it appears that instead of the four acres asked for, Mr Guise Brittan recom­mended the transfer of only one acre or at most two, but this was afterwards increased to three acres.

 

At the behest of Rev. John Bonar, the new church was earnestly recommended to blot out all

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discrimination between the tenets of the Free Church and the Established Church of Scotland, the points leading to the disruption having been mainly on patronage and endowment, neither of which would interest the Church of Scotland in this new land.

 

The Church of Scotland appointed Rev. Charles Fraser, an M.A. of Edinburgh, an F.R.G.S., and a fluent French scholar, who arrived in the Oriental in November, 1856, some two and a half years after the constitution of the original committee for the establishing of a Presbyterian Church in Canterbury.

 

The Church was named St. Andrew's and was completed and opened on February 1, 1857, the three services being attended in the aggregate by 691 persons, the offertories totalling £74/8/6, the largest collection yet taken in one day by any of the churches of the Province. As showing the absence of any bigotry between the several denominations it is interesting to learn that on Sunday, June 24, 1860, two special collections were taken up in St. Andrew's Church in aid of the cost of the bell turret about to be erected at St. Michael's Episcopal Church, intimation of these special offertories having been made on the two previous Sundays.

 

To William Wilson, primarily, the Scottish residents were indebted for the initiation and consummation of the scheme which secured the land grant, and devoting the necessary time and energy to bring the building and settlement schemes to fruition, for he was the mainspring of

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 the organisation in its process of development. The spade work connected with the scheme was ably executed, and the small band of Scottish patriots who longed for the materialisation of their beloved Church in their adopted home, rejoiced to see the project brought to fruition. Those who collaborated in carrying through the scheme deserve to have their names placed on record for the information of future generations. They were John Anderson, Douglas Graham, George Duncan, William Wilson, John Ferguson, John Miln, Charles Sidey, Robert Waitt, Simon Hossack, James Johnston, John Grubb, William Stewart, and William Rankin.