The Saga of Rev John Dickson's Non-Existant 1930 History of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand


The Rev John Dickson completed a History of the [Northern] Presbyterian Church of New Zealand in 1899 which covered the period from 1840, when the Rev John MacFarlane preached on the Petone Foreshore, up to 1899.

Initiated and supported by the Historical Records Committee of which he was Convenor, the Rev Dickson advertised widely during 1928-29 for Church photographs, manuscripts, historical letters and Jubilee pamphlets for an updated history. An historical sketch of a large majority of Parishes had been completed by 1930 and many articles had been submitted on such subjects as Church Union, Education, Home Mission work, PWMU, as well as 'striking facts and figures', while others had been promised on Maori Mission work, Foreign Missions, Social Service and Youth Work.

Upon the Historical Records Committee's request to the March 1930 Assembly to then formally appoint an "Editorial Committee" with full access to all Church records, the Rev J Paterson moved and the Rev WW French seconded "That the present time is not opportune for the production of a history of the Church". Thus abruptly ended this worthwhile project. Finance may have been a prime consideration however assurances had been given that Assembly would have been free from the responsibility of both content and of finance.

The Historical Records Commitee report of 1930 appeared to foreshadow such a negative response by stating gravely "If no history is to appear somebody must bear the onus for many a broken contract, and all photos, MSS, Jubilee pamphlets muct be returned to their owners at the expense of the Church."

The prime mover in this history, the Rev John Dickson, died not long afterwards in Dec 1930 after a brief illness. A short notice in the February 1931 Church "Outlook" magazine then invites any who have sent documents or photos to the Rev John Dickson for the proposed history to claim same from the Presbyterian Bookroom having apparently been left there by Rev Dickson's widow.

The Rev WJ Comrie wisely lost no time in writing to the Convenor of the Historical Records Committee asking if any record was being kept of these important and historic papers lest all trace be lost of them. The Convenor was quick to assure him that a list would be made (it does not survive).

In the Feb 1932 report to Assembly, the Historical Records Committee recommend "That all data received, including the records, photographs, etc., collected by the late Rev John Dickson, M.A., be sent to the Church Offices in Wellington...".

It can be confirmed that the remaining photographs are now held by the Presbyterian Church Archives in Dunedin. The "data" referred to appears to relate to a New Zealand wide return of Parish records.

It appears unfortunate that a greater effort was not made to retain the information gathered by the Rev Dickson and it cannot be discounted that all trace has indeed been lost of some information he collected. The recorded history of our Church may be the poorer for this loss.

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