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Academic Research :

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  • all researchers across the disciplines at Universities and Polytechnics,
  • writers, poets, media journalists,
  • film makers, actors,
  • politicians
  • policy makers

Have you considered exploring what the Presbyterian Church might have to say about your research topic?

Since the arrival of both Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand there has been an interplay between religion, spirituality and culture. Recent New Zealand research within history, sociology and ethics reflects an increasing acceptance of the points of intersection between religious experience and the multi-faceted elements that underlie social and cultural identity. Religious belief is persistent, there is a continuity and adaptability that slots into the so-called secular society and it requires to be interrogated. The purpose of research across disciplines is to map change, to understand what motivates our behaviour as individuals and as a nation. The Presbyterian Archives Research Centre has rich and diverse resources for the researcher who wishes to dig deeply into New Zealand aspects of culture and society.

What resources make up the Presbyterian collections?

The Presbyterian archives can be defined as the records that accumulated naturally in the work of the National church, its regional bodies called Presbyteries, its local parishes and congregations and its national organisations such as the Women's groups and young people's Bible Classes, Sunday Schools and social groups and not least the personal papers of ministers, deaconesses, and prominent laypeople. In the course of its activity the personal and corporate spiritual and faith experiences led the national church to form a vast array of Committees to deal with issues that affected the fundamentals of a free, just and Christian society. These committees which had a diverse membership, along with the regional and local parish committees created records.

What do Church records inform us of?

  • Spiritual endeavours and developments
  • Pastoral and charitable activities
  • Education and its outcomes
  • Economic activity
  • Social issues and the dynamic
  • Missionary outreach
What are the key themes found in the collections?
  • Overseas Missions, NZ Maori & NZ Chinese Missions
  • Social and ethical issues
  • Race and ethnicity in a multicultural environment
  • Gender, economics and citizenship
  • Global interactions

Overseas Missions Collections :

The vast majority of papers in the missions collection originate at the administrative level. The Presbyterian collection is extensive on Australasian standards. Missionary interests were established among NZ Maori (1840) although the most intensive mission activity began in 1895; in Vanuatu (1863); among NZ Chinese Mission 1878; Canton Villages Mission, later South China Missions (1901); and North India, Punjab, (1908). Post WW2 missionary activity developed in South East Asia, Papua/New Guinea, and the Pacific and is now on a co operative basis where the NZ Church gives support as requested by the indigenous churches.

Our Mission Resources consist of Committee Minute Books, inwards/outwards correspondence, field reports, annual reports, individual staff files, applications, financial records, property and legal documents, maps and plans, photographs, translations of bibles, hymns and teaching materials. Supporting educational papers can be found in the Woman's Training Institute records where Deaconesses were trained for missionary employment, and among the Theological College records. National papers from the support networks, PWMU, and Girls' Auxilary, the junior mission movements in particular the Busy Bees give a valuable insight into the immense support given by the women for Mission. Missionary records found among parish collections are generally those from the support networks which reflect the many hours of fund raising, education programmes, and prayerful enthusiasm of the women.

Our databases of Mission Photographs will be found by scrolling down to "Mission Photos" on our Mission Resources page. Our Mission Photographic collection comprises of some 16 000 photographs, lantern slides and negatives dating from 1880. From 1936 the Missions Committee cautiously supported the making of cine-films, now stored in the National Film Archives in Wellington.

How can I use Missionary Records?

The Presbyterian mission archives, like others, give us a unique picture of trends in mission theology, policy and practice. It is possible to gain some insight into what has shaped Presbyterian Missions, its relationship, and its understanding and prosecution of mission activity. At a broader level the records highlight early indigenous cultures, emerging nationalism, the positive and adverse effects of foreign colonialism and Christian evangelism, pioneer medical work, industrial training, children's education, and relationships with other missionary organisations. The individual correspondence tells of sacrifices, success, problems, tragedies and the occasional heroism.

Resources for Maori Mission

Resources NZ Chinese Mission

Social Political and Ethical Issues :1840-1890

The concerns to establish a new society based on Christian principles in New Zealand is reflected from the outset of Pakeha settlement. Thomas Burn's diaries and visitor's book, for example, see him attempting to keep his flock on the straight and narrow. As the population grew so did their concerns. Initially to ensure that settlers had the religious ordinances, Church extension dominated their agenda as the settlers moved into new and remote areas. The records although sparse for this period give some insight into settler communities, their struggles and attempts to live a godly life and useful for rural studies. The influx of settlers with the gold rushes and the Vogel immigration programmes forced the Church to look at what they believed was the fall of their "new Jerusalem". Issues of Temperance, Bible in Schools, Gambling and Sabbatarianism took much attention in the first 50 years of settlement.


The late 19th century also saw the church taking on officialdom to deal with labour & industrial conditions, poverty and the condition of children. Rev. Dr. Rutherford Waddell is well known for his work with the Commission related to the Tailoress Union, issues of Larrikinism, the care of orphans, and rehabilitation support. Rev. Dr. James Gibb became involved in promoting the nationalisation of public utilities, and advocated a system of profit sharing between employers and employees. He took up the problems emerging between capital and labour after WW1 and the increasing unrest and distrust between the various protagonists. An issue the Church continued to lobby the Government for the next decades.


The Depression brought the church face to face with real stress and poverty and resulted in fascinating concerns such as the development of a citizenship training programme that had overtones of the 1930s Eugenic movement.
The rapid rise of suburbs from 1943 created unease among Church leaders and the New Housing Commission was established to assist with developing churches in these new suburbs The papers relating to the Commission are a valuable record of the fear associated with rapid growth and change


Issues in this period fall roughly fall into four groups and overlap with many other areas of activity such as the Youth Organisations and Presbyterian Social Service.

  • Family, Youth, Marriage, Housing, Employment;
  • Health, care of the aged, birth technologies, use of leisure
  • Gender issues, women's role, birth control, sexualities, consumer culture & advertising.
  • Political issues — trade Unions, constitutional reform, SIS, Bill of Rights, law changes, ACC, Armed Forces

Race and ethnicity in a multicultural environment.

The Presbyterian Church was late entering the debate on race relations, bi-cultural and multi-cultural relationships. In 1974 The Race Relations Committee looked specifically at the church's understanding of race relations. Its aims: to give affect to matters affecting race relations in NZ; to provide the church with information to make an informed decision; and to represent the church's position to Government. The next 20 years the church entered into all the debates from Bastion Point to Waitangi day troubles, to land, to Springbok tour of NZ and keeping track of the protester trials the followed. They produced published material for church members, encouraged them to study the Treaty and Maori Rights.

  • Resources covering these debates are exhaustive, including reports from a wide number of participants both secular and religious, surveys, publications, study material, documentation supporting the submissions to select committees, publications and Government communications.

Gender Issues :

Issues of gender are across the collections from missions to local ministry to education to international and social and ethical collections. The family was the cornerstone of society. Therefore it required to be protected in all its aspects.

  • Resources define the changing role of family life through the debates around marriage and divorce, birth control and birth technologies, parenting practices including spirituality, adolescence and leisure, divisions of labour and inequality both in the home and outside it. Issues of violence, poverty, employment & unemployment, wages, and economic influences on the family are just some of the topics covered.

At a broader level there are the debates around sexualities, and the role of women in the church which also gives insight in the understanding of masculinity.

Global Interaction :

From 1938 with the consequence of WW1 and the Depression, the effects on missionary work, and the rise of immigration and refugees into NZ, lessening effects of the League of Nations the Church made the decision to link up more closely with the international community and formed a Committee on International Relations.

  • Resources: These papers reflect an emerging globalism as they dealt with Aid to developing countries, atomic and nuclear war, disarmament and peace issues, South Africa and apartheid, communism and cold war issues, immigration and as a result a separate Committee formed to deal with the settlement of immigrants especially relating to the Dutch.

From the 1970s on they tackled the issues arising from the Vietnam war human rights and nuclear testing in the Pacific, race conflict in South Africa, Rhodesia, Uganda and their despotic rule, South America upheavels, trade concerns, overseas investments, Middle East crisis, NZ Defense & ANZUS, Rainbow Warrior, and health issues particularly HIV Aids/Africa and Fiji.

Presbyterian comment dissipated after the restructuring of the Churches activities in 1995.



Miss Mary Salmond, circa 1915

Miss Mary Salmond M.A., taken after her graduation approx 1915. Miss Salmond went on to serve as a Missionary in India before lecturing at the Deaconess College in Dunedin, later becoming Principal. She had the honour of laying the foundation stone of Salmond College in Dunedin.


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