Dunedin Presbytery Records

"When I became Session Clerk in 1948, I had the utmost difficulty in finding out what the duties of that office included. However I did discover that one of his duties and responsibilities was that of the safe custody of Church records.
I therefore set about primarily to find out where these were kept. The revelation came as a complete shock, to put it mildly. Many of the Church's irreplaceable records and archives were scattered about the building, here, there and anywhere..... I found a heterogeneous collection scattered about in chaotic confusion....., all suffering from their incarceration in an atmosphere of dampness, mildew, deterioration and decay..... I spent many nights sorting out this conglomeration, separating the grain from the chaff, and I took some of this material home to be dried out and renovated. Some, however, was beyond restoration..... It (Burns Hall) is quite unsuitable for its purposes [of Archives storage], and considering that we have had two serious fires in Burns Hall, renders it the more unsuitable, and indeed quite vulnerable." - The First Church of Otago Session Clerk's annual report, c.1965.

[Four years later, in 1969, Burns Hall did indeed suffer another fire, more serious than the previous two. Refer below for more on this subject]


Andersons Bay Presbyterian Church, Dunedin -

  • 18 Baptisms which took place in North Otago during Nov 1862 to Sep 1863 including one at Saddle Hill in Jun 1863 were entered in the back of the Anderson's Bay Baptismal Register by the Rev James McNaughton.
  • Six pipes from the organ were lost through theft in 1966 (apparently other organs in the city were also targeted.) The Pipes are now "under lock and key".

Brighton Presbyterian Church -

  • No Baptism register 1883 to 1907; No Marriage registers 1883 to 1905; no Communion roll 1883 to 1907 (all noted missing in 1954).

Caversham Presbyterian Church, Dunedin -

  • A fire on the Friday afternoon of the 27th January 1882, destroyed the first Church building. Interestingly, this building had been built as the first [St Andrew's] "Walker Street Church" in 1862, later moved to Caversham in early 1869. It is recorded as seating 400 persons. A neighbouring dwelling had caught alight and sparks blown by a very strong wind ignited the shingle roof of the Church. It is believed that children playing with matches set the house on fire and in total, three buildings and a stable were totally destroyed. All the contents of the Church including the communion ware were lost except the Pulpit Bible (which survives in the Church Archives), a Psalm book belonging to the Rev JN Russell, a few seats, and a small table in the vestry. Church records, which had been placed inside a cupboard in the Church and were thus lost, included Management Committee Minute book 1875 to 1882, Sustentation Fund Collection book, Sabbath School records, Hymn books, music, and a number of Bibles belonging to members of the congregation. The building was insured. The Session Minute book, which was believed to have been destroyed in the fire, "appeared" for sale in a second hand shop in Sydney in late 2010. This has since been purchased and is safely in our custody. How it ended up in Sydney is unknow but it was apparently found in a skip [dumpster] !
  • All marriage registers have survived as these must have been stored off-site.
  • No Baptismal register 1875 to Jan 1901; no Communion rolls 1875 to 1887.

Chalmers Church Dunedin -

  • Baptismal Register missing 1867 to 1888
  • A fire in the Chalmers Sunday School room was reported in the "Otago Witness" of the 6th Feb 1907, an accompanying picture showing flames coming out of the building. The extent of damage or loss of contents is unknown but the Deacon's Court minutes record that the charred wood from the building was "given to the Church Officer".

Chinese Church, Dunedin -

  • Session and Managements Committee minute book covering the period Apr 1961 to May 1972 missing. Despite a concerted effort to locate this book, it was never found and is now believed to have been destroyed while being held in private hands. (noted as missing in 1980)
  • No Baptism register c.1896 to 1950 [for adults] and to 1954 [for children] (noted as missing in 1980).
  • A report in 1935 suggested clearing the Church of many unnecessary 'additions' : "There are too many large photographs on the wall, making the church look like a photo shop rather than a church. There are many wooden tablets with texts on them. This is an old Chinese idea, used in the old temples, and is not suitable for a Christian church. If these things are not changed and an educated man were to visit the church, he may think that it was not a church where God is worshipped but only a hall half full of ornaments." The Church was thus cleared of these superfluous items and most appear to have been 'dispersed'.

Concord Presbyterian Church -

  • The Church building, which had been opened in July 1911, was destroyed by fire in the latter part of 1931. It is unknown if any records were lost. As the church came under Green Island Presbyterian Church at this time no Session or Deacon's court records were lost. 

East Taieri Presbyterian Church -

  • No Communion roll 1880 to 1903 and from 1905 to 1918.
  • PWMU (Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union) minutes missing 1904 to 1923 (during the presidency of the Mrs Kinmont the Minister's wife).
  • An unknown number of marriages appear to be missing from the first East Taieri Marriage Register coverning the period 1854 to 1860. The marriage certificates appear to have been bound together at a later date, having come from more than one register, the number not running consecutively, and with gaps in the numbering.

First Presbyterian Church, Dunedin -

  • Baptism Register 1905 to 1950 missing (no record of when last seen).
  • Deacon's Court minute books 1851 to 1856 and Sept 1862 to Oct 1900 missing and despite an extensive search in recent years cannot be found. The books were noted as missing in an M.A. Thesis compiled in 1930 by IR Wallace on the "History of the First Church of Otago" (Presbyterian Archives Mansucript files 3/295). Secondary sources such as newspapers were used to fill in the gaps in her thesis. As the loss of the minute books pre-dates the Burns Hall fires we now definitely know that their loss did not take place due to any of these events.
  • The Session Minute Book 1879 to 1902 has been through a fire with singed edges to the pages and has been rebound in recent years. There is also minor evidence of water staining to the page edges. It can be assumed that this book did indeed perhaps suffer in one of the Burns Hall fires.
  • The first minute book of the "First Church Branch of the Young Men's Christian Association" covering the period 1868 to 1876, which had apparently ended up in private hands, appeared in a book auction in Dunedin in 1998 and we had no option but to bid for it at some cost so that we could 'rescue' it for the First Church collection and ensure that it was available for future historical research.
  • In February 1875, the pulpit from the First Church of Otago was donated to the new St Andrew's Church in Dunedin. This pulpit, which was constructed of pitch pine in an octagonal shape with handsome arches of Australian cedar added at a later date, had been in use in the [second] First Church building in Dowling Street. That part of the pulpit contructed of the pitch pine formed the pulpit from the original First Church building over which the Rev Thomas Burns preached to the early settlers of Dunedin from as early as September 1848. The donated pulpit, while not overly attractive, served St Andrew's until about the mid 1880's. In 1887, on the occasion of a St Andrew's Church Bazaar, the old pulpit, including the later cedar additions were cut up and made into picture frames and fancy cabinets which were sold in aid of Mission funds. We know of no surviving portions of the original pulpit.
  • The stage area and part of the roof of Burns Hall were damaged by fire on the 1st July 1947 causing £497 pounds worth of damage. This was noted as a "substantial loss". 
  • A further fire on Guy Fawkes Day 1954 destroyed a considerable portion of the stage end of Burns Hall, causing £1,117 pounds worth of damage. Seating was also replaced. 
  • Another fire in Burns Hall is believed to have occurred about 1959 but may have been minor. 
  • A devastating fire on the 26th March 1969 destroyed the stage and much of the roof and upper areas of Burns Hall causing 60% damage overall. The Convener of the First Church Archives Committee commented on "the good fortune that archives had not been lost in Burns Hall fire". The records of the Church, including those of the Synod of Otago and Southland, had been stored in an upper room of the Hall. Some pictures hung on the walls suffered water damage from water flowing down the inner walls from the fire hoses but the archives appear to have miraculously escaped almost unscathed. Some First Church records including many photographs continued to be stored in Burns Hall (due to lack of space) until about 1998. These items are now finally in secure storage.
  • The Rev Thomas Burns' chair was stolen from Church premises, possibly in the early 1970's. His table survives in the First Church of Otago Heritage Room.

Green Island Presbyterian Church, Dunedin -

  • No Baptism register 1864 to 1889; no Communion roll 1864 to 1903.

Iona Presbyterian Church, Port Chalmers -

  • No Baptism register 1858 to 1892; no Communion roll 1860 to 1880.
  • The manse at Port Chalmers occupied by the Rev William Johnstone was destroyed by a "bush fire" about October 1859. What if any personal posessions or records were lost is not recorded. There had been a lack of rain in October and the dry state of the native vegetation led to a number of fires being reported in the region, many being lit for the purpose of bush clearing then getting out of control in the dry conditions. The manse had only be purchased from Mr David Millar in July 1859 for £650.0.0 and debt of £200.0.0 still remained on the property. Repairs and "weatherboarding" of the manse amounting to £32.0.0 had only been completed earlier in the month. After much fund raising, a tender for a new manse was let for £425.0.0 in early 1861.
  • Prior to 1962, a Session member found children in the street playing with a heavy metal object which turned out to be the die from which the old Port Chalmers Parish metal Communion Tokens dated 1848 had been struck. The Minister, the Rev FR Belmer, believed that they had taken it after gaining access to an old rusty metal safe in the Church vestry : "It is an alarming thing that pieces like this could so easily have been lost forever..... One wonders how much other material of this kind is hidden around New Zealand and in danger of being lost".
  • Delighted with his historic find, it was decided that the die, including a dozen original Communion tokens and other historical relics which he located, would be placed on exhibition, under conditions of safety, in the beautiful old Church.
  • Unfortunately, the Church was broken into about 2001, the collection of valuable Parish Communion tokens on display in their glass case being stolen. These were later offered for sale to a dealer but as the Church had no proof of ownership of these particular tokens it is understood that no criminal charges could be laid, nor could the Church reclaim ownership. This was a 'targeted' crime by someone who was obviously aware of their existence, whereabouts and value.

Kaikorai Presbyterian Church, Dunedin -

  • No Baptism register 1868 to 1882 and from 1892 to 1908; no Communion roll 1868 to 1878 and from 1884 to 1905.

Knox Presbyterian Church, Dunedin -

  • Session minutes May 1860 to June 1887 missing. This Session book has been missing for many years. In the early 1930's the Church contacted all the firms of which former Knox Session Clerks had been associated and asked them to search their old ledgers incase the Minute book should have been inadvertently overlooked but to no avail. The Membership Roll from 1864 and the Funeral Register from May 1860 to December 1896 are also missing however names of new members (only) and funerals were listed in the "Quarterly Reports" which took the place of a newsletter in those early years. 
  • Knox Church's first and also long serving Minister, the Rev Donald McNaughton Stuart, was not particularly organized and would be prone to write notes, including Baptisms, on scraps of paper which were then likely to go missing. In one Baptism register he eloquently alluded to his lack of proper record keeping with the following note - "Appendix - In this appendix I insert names of children whom I certified from memoranda [i.e. scraps of paper!] which were allowed to slip into forgetfulness". It is more than likely that some Baptisms did indeed permanently "slip into forgetfulness".

Maori Hill Presbyterian Church -

  • No Communion roll 1907 to 1922.

Maungatua Presbyterian Church -

  • An historical account of the Church prepared in 1949 includes the following comment "Fairly early on in it's life the Maungatua Church had a bad accident - It was blown over in a gale and the props put in to save a recurrence of such a disaster are still in position". This historic church, which had been designed by the eminent Architect Mr RA Lawson and opened in 1879, no longer exists.

Merton Presbyterian Church -

  • The Church was totally destroyed by fire in May 1906. Session minutes books from 1886 onwards survive however we are unable at this time to ascertain if any other records were lost.

Mornington Presbyterian Church, Dunedin -

  • A fire in the home of the Session Clerk Mr JB Brugh in St Anne's Road (now Carson Street) in 1911 destroyed the Session minutes from April 1902 to 1910, possibly including other Session records and, according to a recent Parish History, also the Deacon's Court minute book April 1893 to 1895. The Deacons Court Minute book 1895 to May 1906 is also missing and may have been lost at this time as well.
  • No Baptism register 1923 to Mar 1929. On the 2nd January 1939, the Minister was authorized to procure a new Baptismal register "in place of the lost one". Baptisms from Apr 1929 to Dec 1938 have all been transcribed into the front pages of the new register (all at once) from another unknown record. 
  • The Maryhill Church strongroom, where the Mornington Parish records were then stored, was reported as being under water in October 1976, presumably due to a broken water pipe.  The following records are water damaged : 
    Deacon's Court minute book 1880 to 1893 and Marriage register 1882 to 1897 (this item is extremely fragile and the details have been transcribed) and Subscription book 1896 to 1905 (this item is illegible). It is presumed that these records were damaged in the 1911 fire.

Mosgiel Presbyterian Church -

  • No Deacon's Court minute book 1905 to 1928; no Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union minute books prior to 1942.
  • The Session minute book dating from Oct 1883 to Aug 1903, which had been held in private hands for many years, was recently located and returned to the Parish.

North Taieri Presbyterian Church -

  • Management Committee minutes 1928 to 1967 inadvertently thrown out after the death of the Management Committee Clerk in 1967, the minute books having been stored in his house. 
  • No baptism roll 1866 to 1886; no Communion roll 1866 to 1903; no Marriage registers 1866 to 1873 (Rev J M Davidson).

Otago Peninsula Parish -

  • Marriage registers 1881 to 1890, 1904 to 1910, and 1924 to 1933 missing.

Portobello Presbyterian Church - can you assist us ?

  • The Deacon's Court Minute Book from 1868 to 1887, although the property of the Parish, had been in the possession of a Parish member, Mr RR Seaton (unfortunately now deceased), up to the late 1970's. Mr Seaton's family have confirmed [Oct 2008] that there is no trace of the missing minute book and that they do not recall having found it. While a photocopy is held by the Hocken Library, the original minute book was unfortunately not included in the Portobello Parish Collection when it was transferred to the Presbyterian Church Archives in the 1980's. We hope that this historic Book may have been passed onto someone and that it may yet be found and rejoin the rest of the Portobello Parish Records.

Presbytery of Dunedin -

  • As at Feb 1931, the "Custodian for Historic Records & Relics" for the Presbytery of Dunedin submitted  a return of historic Records and Artifacts to the Convenor of the PCNZ Historical Records Committee, such items at that time being located in his house but would soon be placed in a strongroom being constructed by Presbytery in Burns Hall. He lists a number of items which cannot now be found. Such items include an extract minute of the Free Presbytery of Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland anent the Ordination of the Rev William Will on 6 Sept 1853; Communion tokens for Chalmers Church Dunedin; an issue of the "Otago News" dated 6.10.1849 and an issue of the "Otago Witness" dated 8.2.1851. It must be stated that other items are accounted for and that we are aware that many paper records were irreparably or seriously damaged by damp while stored in the Burns Hall safe over many years (refer First Church of Otago notes above).

Roslyn Presbyterian Church :

  • No Baptismal Register 1901 to Aug 1910 (this is during the ministry of the Rev James Chisholm).

St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Dunedin -

  • No Baptism registers 1863 to Dec 1884, March 1885 to Sept 1889, Nov 1889 to Dec 1890, March 1892 to 1919.
  • The very well respected St Andrew's Minister, the Rev Rutherford Waddell, apparently never recorded the majority Baptisms he performed, despite more than one "reminder" about record keeping.
  • A letter to the Clerk of the Deacon's Court dated the 13th May 1907 states that Messrs McNaughton and Paterson "carefully examined the various books, documents and papers connected with the business of the church". Correspondence, banking slips, vouchers, receipts and papers that could not now possibly be of any use were destroyed "but any that might have any bearing on the history of the church or otherwise be of value we took to preserve."
  • A footnote written on the above letter dated 1942 states : "Old documents, books etc examined, and such as had no historical value and were over 6 years old were eliminated. Jas. Allan July 1942."

St David's Presbyterian Church, North East Valley, Dunedin -

  • No Communion rolls 1918 to 1961; papers re extensions to the Church 1911 to 1912 water damaged (This appears to have been an isolated case).

St. Margaret's Presbyterian Church, South Dunedin -

  • The manse was damaged by fire in 1940.

St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Dunedin -

"The sight was a grand one, the whole town being illuminated by the great glare"

  • The original wooden Church building was completely destroyed by fire on the 8th July 1898 (apparently during a snow storm) with the (uninsured) Church and Sunday School Libraries, organ music valued at £20, and a recently installed organ valued at £300 being lost. As the gas had been left on in the Church, it took some time to get the fire under control as the pipes melted and escaping gas hindered the fire brigade's ability to get the fire under control. The adjoining Church Hall was saved despite fire damage to the roof and water damage. An iron fire-proof door prevented the spread of the fire directly to the Hall but the fire managed to find a vulnerable spot via skylights in the hall roof. Most Church records were thankfully saved. 
  • The St Stephen's manse which was occupied by the Rev JK McIntyre also burnt down in December 1898. The Rev McIntyre left a note in the Baptismal Register (1881 to 1999) that his record for Baptisms during the period 1896 to 1897 were lost in this fire. He had apparently never entered the details in the 'official' Baptism Register.
  • A record compiled in 1984 states early Baptismal entries (ie, pre 1882) "lost in Manse fire". Complete from 4.4.1882". The Rev A Gillies noted that the Baptism register for the Parish was not completed until his arrival in 1881. Dunedin Presbytery records for 1881 noted the need for the Parish to commence a Baptismal Register. Therefore Baptisms from 1871 to 1881 were never recorded.

Sawyers Bay Parish -

  • The Church Hall burnt down between 5am and 6am on New Years' Day, the 1st January 1933. Although the Session and Deacon's Court registers survived the fire, no marriage registers are held for Sawyers Bay prior to 1931. The cause of the fire was a mystery. The fact that persons were noticed leaving the grounds sometime before the outbreak introduces an element of suspicion. A further strange feature is that a pile of grass a few feet from the Methodist Church was found burning, but fortunately discovered and extinguished about an hour before the outbreak at the Presbyterian Church. Nine pews (which had to be torn from the walls) were saved, the Pulpit Bible, hymn books, and the organ. The losses included a small pipe organ, the choir music, a presentation Pulpit Chair, the Communion Service, Sunday School equipment and the newly renovated Bible Class room.

Waikouaiti Presbyterian Church -

  • During a gale in 1866, the roof of the Church was blown off, including other damage in the district.
  • Marriage register Feb 1919 to Feb 1922 missing.
  • Early baptismal register missing

Waipori Falls Hall -

  • An insurance claim was made c.1954-55 for £13.6.0, being for the loss of "Church supplies" used in the Public Hall at Waipori Falls.

Waitati Presbyterian Church (Also known as Blueskin) -

  • The Church and adjoining Hall were totally destroyed by fire on the morning of the 21st April 1909 after having been set alight by a mentally deranged person. It is believed that no records were lost.

West Taieri Presbyterian Church -

  • No baptism register 1865 to 1883.
  • PWMU (Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union) minutes missing Aug 1898 to Feb 1904. The previouis minutes from 1892 to July 1898 are extant.
  • Marriages from 4th Sept 1861 to 26 June 1863 were found in the Tapanui Marriage registers as the Minister of the time obviously took "his" register with him to his next Parish. 
  • Due to a gale on Thursday the 26th February 1914, "the south gable of the Church was blown out". The Rev Spence William Spence wrote that "practically the whole side had to be rebuilt." Some corrugated roofing may also have been damaged and replaced. Bricklaying and wages to repair the damage to the west wall of the church cost £95.0.0, there may have been other costs. All costs were "met by straight out giving". The brick work on the west end of the Church appears to have been repaired then roughcasted (?) and painted. The rest of the church remained in the original, and very attractive, polychrome brickwork. The church was demolished in the early 1970's after becoming vacant and an attraction for vandals.
  • After closure some of the pews were obtained for use in Fairfield Presbyterian Church.

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