Significant Personal Papers & Artefacts

Should you be aware of or locate any additional records for the following individuals, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Rev George Barclay :

  • The residence of the Rev George Barclay of Geraldine containing ten rooms was totally destroyed by fire in October 1889, due to a "defective" chimney in the kitchen. The Rev Barclay lost his "valuable library [which] fell a prey to the devouring element, as the room in which it was kept could not be approached". No mention is made of personal papers but it can be assumed that these were lost as well. Only the stables at the back of the house were saved. Mr Barclay had been on a ministerial visit to the Mackenzie Country and returned later that day to find his house burnt to the ground. Mrs Barclay had also been away, returning shortly after the Rev Barclay. While Mrs Barclay had ascertained before departing that all fires were out and no embers remained in the grates the origin of the fire was a mystery. Additionally, the Rev. John (?) Archibald, who had been residing with the Barclays for some time, also lost all his posessions. The Rev Barclay retired from his charge in December 1889, possibly due to having lost everything in the fire, while there is no record of the Rev Archibald having gone onto another charge.


Rev Thomas Burns :

  • Personal papers belonging to the Rev Dr Thomas Burns, Minister to the early European settlers of Dunedin from 1848 until his death in 1871, were destroyed almost immediately after his death "To the irreperable loss of New Zealand history" by his son Arthur Burns.

    "When Dr Burns died in 1871 his son, for some unscrutable reason, destroyed most of the valuable papers which had been preserved by his father. The loss to the history of the province [of Otago] by this catastrophe is irreparable." From "A Great Coloniser - Rev Dr Thomas Burns", by Rev EN Merrington, 1929.

  • Between 1848 and 1865, the Rev Dr Burns wrote numerous full and varied letters to his Brother Gilbert in Scotland. These contained many personal comments and observations from his voyage to New Zealand on the "Philip Laing", to his work in Otago, and included many first-hand references to the early days of the Province. After the rediscovery of the letters in England in 1915, a Grandson, Mr JWH Bannerman of Bluff asked that they be returned to New Zealand so that he could compile a booklet of excerpts. This book was published as "Early Otago and Genesis of Dunedin : Letters of Rev T Burns, D.D., 1848-1865" (RJ Stark & Co. Ltd, publishers, Dunedin). Sadly, those original letters from 1852 to 1857 were lost in transit to New Zealand when the ship they were being carried on, the unarmed British passenger liner "Arabic", en-route from Liverpool to New York , was torpedoed by German U-boat U24 off the Irish Coast on the 16th August 1915. Although the submarine commander Lieutenant-Commander Schneider had orders not to sink passenger ships without warning, his excuse was that he mistook the Arabic's defensive zigzagging as an attempt to ram him. One torpedo was fired, and the ship sank within about 10 minutes. Of the 429 people on board, 389 were saved. Thus the content of the letters is unknown. As at 1929, the location of the remaining original letters were unknown, Mr Bannerman having lost his life in Belgium in Dec 1917 during the First World War. It appears that the remaining letters are still missing.

  • In March 1871, and after the death of the Rev Thomas Burns, his widow "presented to the Presbytery [of Dunedin] the pulpit gown and cassock of the late Dr Burns for the use of the Moderator pf Presbytery & Moderator of Synod." [Reference Dunedin Presbytery Minutes 1871] We do not know what eventually became of these items.

Rev Alexander Don :

  • Although some personal papers, photographs and diaries have survived, his family have reported that a large amount of his remaining personal papers were destroyed by a flood which swept through his son's house [possibly in the School house at Pleasant Point] sometime after Rev Don's death in 1934. This presumably included Rev Don's collection of nearly 500 tinted glass lantern slides of photographic images taken by himself and others which illustrated places visited by him on his travels around South China in 1897-98. The Rev Don had the images made into coloured lantern slides at Yokohama in Japan on his way home, being a world renowned centre for the manufacture of quality coloured lantern slides. While a descendant could remember the wooden slide boxes in the 1950's the actual slides were not in them. Being produced in Yokohama, the slides would have been of exceptional quality. Although an album of sepia images taken in South China by the Rev Don survives in private family hands the loss of these slides is a tragedy.
  • At the time Rev Don died on the 2nd Nov 1934, he was travelling on the train from Oturehua to Ranfurly carrying with him the completed manuscript of his book "The History of the Presbyterian Church of Central Otago". The manuscript was lost at this point and has never been found. His son-in-law Mr William Bennett, a Teacher in Dunedin, ably re-construcuted the book as best he could from Rev Don's rough notes.


Rev James Duncan :

  • The Rev James Duncan was sent out by the Scottish Reformed Church in 1843 to minister to the Maori people. In June 1844 he moved into a house at Kapahaka across the Manawatu River from Foxton. In late 1844 disaster struck when his house, "a fine example of local workmanship", together with property valued at £100 was destroyed by fire. Fortuitously his family were unharmed and his library was still safely held in Wellington. Returning to Wellington to purchase further provisions and collect a number of Maori Testaments supplied by the Wesleyan Mission, all were loaded on board a ship bound for the Manawatu. Disater again struck when the ship was wrecked at the mouth of the Manawatu river. "It was no small trial to see my library such a wreck.... No pain were spared in drying and repairing my books, and I have reason to be thankful they are mostly in readable condition. May the Lord sanctify this dispensation and enable me to make better use of my library than heretofore."
  • Appointed to the Foxton Parish in 1861, Rev Duncan served 'officially' until 1897 but 'unofficially' until nearer his death in 1908 (a matter of contention in the Parish), a period of close to 47 years. One year before his death in 1908 he requested his daughter to destroy all of his personal papers. (also refer entry for Rev HJ Fletcher)


Rev. Dr. John Elmslie :

  • In 1905 the long-serving Minister of St Pauls Church in Christchurch, the Rev. Dr. John Elmslie, was persuaded by the the well-known painter, Mr Sydney Thompson, to sit for his portrait which was painted life size in oils. As he was beginning to make a name for himself, it was the painter's intention to paint a portrait of a well known personality and exhibit it in various parts of New Zealand. "It was considered a clever likeness, and was colorful and arresting, as [Rev Elmslie] wore his gown, and over it his D.D. scarlet and purple hood of Aberdeen University". After exhibition, the painting was sold by Mr Thompson to Mr Joseph Ballantyne of Christchurch. He bequeathed it to the Timaru Art Gallery however, before it was delivered, it was unfortunately lost in the disastrous fire which swept through Ballantynes Departmental Store in Christchurch in 1947. With some luck at least, the painting had been photographed, although only in black and white. A clear copy is held by the Presbyterian Church Archives. This image still exhibits a quiet and elegant dignity.


Rev. Henry James Fletcher :

  • Due to a fire (presumably in his manse) at Oruanui about 1910, the Rev Fletcher lost his Communion vessels which he used in his work as Missionary to Maori around the Taupo region. Through an appeal in "The Outlook", Miss Duncan, being a Daughter of the late Rev James Duncan, then generously offered the Rev Fletcher, through the Maori Missions Committee, those Communion vessels which had been given to her late Father by the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland c.1842 for his Mission use among Maori. The General Assembly of 1911 acknowledged "The gift of this historic service". This communion service is now safely held by Te Aka Puaho at Ohope.
  • It unknown what else may have been lost in the fire at Oruanui.


Rev. Oscar Michelsen :

  • The Mission house on Tongoa in the New Hebrides (now known as Vanuatu) was blown over during a hurricane in January 1922, and with it went not only clothing, furniture & books, but also Oscar's large and significant photographic collection : "Forty years collection of photographic [glass] negatives was to me a greater treasure than all the rest put together, and most of these were lost." This loss is indeed unfortunate as it would have included not only family related images but also images of Tongoa and the native people as well as mission activities. Early Tongoa related images are thus very rare and we are now the poorer for this loss of history.


Rev Thomas Norrie :

  • The Rev Thomas Norrie served as Minister to the Papakura-Drury area from 1855 to 1870, continuing part-time in his retirement up until a few weeks before his death in 1905. At various times he was the sole Presbyterian Minister in the Waikato and thus travelled widely, also serving in 1864 as Chaplain in the Waikato during the Maori Wars. He kept a record of his travels in copies of Brett's Almanac. When he died in 1905, a large number of them reposed in the Papakura manse however neither a later occupant of the manse or his son, the Rev Arnold Norrie, knew what had become of them. It was also noted that at some point after 1905 the Papakura manse had burnt down and that this may account for their fate.


Rev Donald Ross :

  • The Rev Donald Ross, the pioneer Minister to the Wakatipu and Queenstown area in Central Otago from 1869 to 1891 kept a diary recording his daily travels and events. His son, writing from Nelson in the early 1930's, noted that he could "... remember as a boy seeing stacks of my Dad's diaries, but the only ones I have now are for the twenty years after the Wakatipu days. I do not know where the earlier ones have gone".
  • Those diaries from 1897 (when he was a Minister at Rotorua then in Australia) up to 1911 when he died (except 1909 which is also missing), including a collection of sermon notes dating from 1901 to 1911, are all held in the Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown.


Rev Thomas Smaill :

  • The Rev Thomas Smaill, a Missionary, was stationed on Epi in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) from 1889 up until the time of his death in 1902. During this time he kept a diary which his Brother-in-Law, the Rev William Grant , later used to begin writing a history of Rev Smaill's life entitled "A New Zealand Student Volunteer". An excerpt was published in "Quarterly Jottings From The New Hebrides" in 1908, however no further progress appears to have been made as support for publishing it appeared to wane. Rev Grant himself died at Gallipoli during his service as a First World War Chaplain and all trace of the manuscript has been lost. Rev Smaill's widow, Mrs Helen Smaill, held the original diaries until approx 1960 when she was being moved from the Wellington area to a retirement home in Hastings. Without her knowledge, family members disposed of the diaries which caused her some distress. She was, however, able to save their photograph albums from harm by hiding them. She hurriedly placed these albums into the safe care of her good friend, the late Rev Graham Horwell, who treasured them for many years before later entrusting them to the Presbyterian Archives where they have proved of significant value.


Rev Rutherford Waddell :

  • While a variety of papers relating to the Rev Rutherford Waddell remain, these relate mainly to published material, sermons, children's talks, a travel diary (1874-77), transcribed lecture notes (by the Rev GF Inglis), and scrapbooks of newspapers cutting that he compiled. There is however a paucity of personal papers of note or correspondence. His biographer, the Rev John Collie, refers to Waddell's "Fixed belief in purification by fire" to explain the lack of surviving papers. Seán Brosnahan who in recent years wrote an article of Waddell, "An Ulster Radical in Otago's Scottish Kirk", writes : "Waddell disapproved of biographical construction from surviving written material, asking his readers in one of his parish publications [St Andrew's Church Monthly, September 1885] : Would any of us like to be judged by the letters we have written during our life? .... a shadow of our real selves would emerge from them.' "

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