St Ninian’s Church of Avondale

150 Years 1860-2010

A compilation by the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society


St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010

The Presbyterian Church in Avondale Knowledge in the Wilderness (the first Whau School) A wrong step in the dark: the death of Rev David Hamilton The legend maker: Rev Alexander MacKenzie 3 6 9 11

This collection of articles has been compiled by the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Whau Presbyterian Church, 8 April 2010. The building still stands, although it ceased to be part of the Avondale Union Parish in 1984, and has been closed to the public since 2007. We acknowledge and appreciate the generous assistance of the Avondale Community Board, who funded the printing of 200 copies of this collection for free distribution to the public. Our thanks also to Jane Hammond for the kind permission to use her photograph, to the Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries, and the Avondale Business Association for permission to reuse “A wrong step in the dark” first published in the “Spider’s Web”. Front cover sources: (Top) St Ninian’s Church, 1963. Ref. 7-A416, Sir George Grey Special Collections; (Bottom) St Ninian’s 2009, courtesy Jane Hammond, St Jude’s Photographic Collection. Last page sources: Article from ew Zealander, 14 April 1860 Photo: Pews from St Ninian’s Church, photographed at 103 Avondale Road by Bruce Spencer (2002) from Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Collection Other reading: Our First Century, the centenary booklet for the Avondale Presbyterian Church (1960) The Presbytery of Auckland, by W J Comrie (1939) Presbyterian Archives website: “The Avondale Princess”, Athina Tsoulis, Epitaph II (2001) St inian’s Presbyterian Church, St Georges Road Avondale, A Conservation Plan, Dave Pearson Architects Limited (2007) This collection printed by: Words Incorporated, 557 Blockhouse Bay Road, Blockhouse Bay, Auckland Published 2010 by: Avondale-Waterview Historical Society. All rights reserved.

St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010


The Presbyterian Church in Avondale
John Shedden Adam, along with his sisters, held a large estate comprised of lands in what is now the New Windsor and St Georges Road areas, and even parts of the present shopping centre. On 4 January 1859, from Sydney where he then lived, Adam formalised the dedication of just over 1¼ acres of his land at Allotment 13 of the Parish of Titirangi to the Crown for use as part of the Great North Road. This however cut off a semi-triangular piece of land bounded by the Great North Road, Allotment 86, and a “road to the Manukau” (St Georges Road). This was to become the site of the district’s Presbyterian Church. It is likely that St Andrews Church dealt directly with Adam with regard to obtaining possession of that piece of property. While traditionally the Avondale parish had asserted that church elders John Lamb and John Buchanan donated the land, this is incorrect. John Lamb was not in the country at the time that tenders were advertised for the building of the Whau church, arriving in Auckland in August 1859 to settle in Freeman’s Bay and then Riverhead by November that year. As for John Buchanan, he did not reach New Zealand until 1861. Instead, newspaper reports of the opening of the church describe the site as “the liberal gift of John S Adams, Esq.” [sic] The “liberal gift” was the transfer of the title of the 3 ½ acre piece of land from Adam and his sister Margaret to Rev Bruce for the sum of five shillings in October 1859, just before construction commenced the following month. Initially, the Whau district was part of the Onehunga parish, but with the arrival of Rev Andrew Anderson in 1865, he arranged to hold services as far away as Riverhead and Helensville, as well as West Auckland, and the connection with Onehunga ceased. From the time of the church building’s opening until the completion of the Whau Public Hall across the road, the church was used as a schoolroom for the district’s children. “A hinged table fastened along the eastern side of the Church was lowered against the wall out of the way for the Sabbath services.” In 1872, the church was lined and a new pulpit added. A vestry was added in 1889, causing some controversy as Rev Alexander McKenzie (see page 11) apparently insisted on placing his wife’s grave “on the one place which the managers of the church had told him would be required for additions to the building.” The church was renamed St Ninian’s in the 1930s. The kauri church building originally rested on large scoria boulders, and was reblocked prior to the 1960 centennial celebrations. In 1950 a portion of the church was divided off to form a minister’s room. The two front frosted glass windows were replaced by ecclesiastic-styled memorial windows supplied by the Ingram family in memory of Mr and Mrs Christopher Ingram, and Mr and Mrs William Ingram c.1949. These were later removed by the Union Parish authorities and installed in the Avondale Union Parish Church on Rosebank Road in 1984. On 8 October 1972, the churches at St Ninian’s Victoria Hall on the corner of Orchard Street and Rosebank Road, and Avondale Methodist Church on upper Rosebank Road agreed to become one parish after several years planning. St Ninian’s closed for services on 18 August 1984. Two years later, the Union Parish advised that they’d have to sell the old church, and the local community made an effort to prevent the building’s demolition and removal. Auckland City Council purchased the church site and adjoining cemetery later that decade, and converted the old building as a community centre. In 2007, the building closed again, and to date (April 2010) remains closed. The 150th anniversary year is overshadowed by questions raised as to its structural integrity and concerns regarding lead contamination of the surrounding


St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010

grounds. The community awaits the decision by Auckland City Council as to the future of this, Avondale’s oldest surviving building. Lisa J Truttman The following is taken from "The Presbytery of Auckland", by W J Comrie, A H and A W Reed, 1939. It covers the history of the church down to 1885 only. Among the early settlers in the Whau district were several members of St. Andrew's congregation, but the distance was so great and the roads and the means of transport so poor that regular attendance at the central Church was not possible, and services were desired in their own neighbourhood. The first of these of which there is a record were held in the dwelling house of Mr James Comrie (later of Pukekohe), and were conducted by his brother, Rev William Comrie, of Auckland, who preached on 16 January and 6 February 1859, from the texts John 3:7 and Phil. 3:13,14. From that time a weekly service was aimed at, and, subject to a good many breaks owing to weather and other conditions, services were held there until the Church was built. Mr McCall and other laymen from Auckland gave valuable assistance. The Rev D Bruce, who had previously visited the district on week-days, preached on Sabbath afternoon, 3 April 1859, from the text Jeremiah 10:23, and thereafter gave a monthly afternoon service until the settlement of the Rev G Brown, as recorded under the heading of Onehunga. The little band of worshipers faced the question of a building and bravely set to work. There was at first difference of opinion as to the best position, but ere long, with general approval, the site on which the Church still stands was secured. Plans were prepared, a contract was let, and the erection of the building was begun on Monday, 14 November 1859, without ceremony of any kind. An entry in Mr Comrie's diary may interest present-day students of the weather:-"Friday, 2nd December: Had a terrible wind and rain last night which drove the carpenters who were working at the church here for refuge." Mr. Brown conducted his first service in Whau on

26 February 1860, and the Church building, while still unfinished, was used for worship by him on 11 March. It was formally opened on 8th April 1860 by Rev John Macky, who preached from Psalm 45:11 to a congregation of over sixty hearers. It was opened free of debt. The quality of the timber used and the soundness of construction are evidenced by the building as it stands to-day. This was the first church building in that locality, and members of other churches assisted both in raising the building fund and by attendance, their preachers also taking a share in conducting the services. In November 1864, the Rev Andrew Anderson, a Cameronian minister from Scotland, applied to the Presbytery for admission, and on the favourable report of a committee, he was admitted on 4 January 1865. Having received the right hand of fellowship he took his seat as a member of Presbytery. A Committee appointed to consider his sphere of labour reported on 22 February 1865:- "That making Whau his headquarters he might arrange to hold divine service more or less regularly in the Manakau, Lamb’s Mill, and Helensville, in addition to Titirangi and Henderson and Macfarlane's Mill. That having communicated with parties in these districts, the Committee are of opinion that £200 might be raised without difficulty. But in the event of the sum falling short of that amount, they recommended that the deficit be made up from the Home Mission Fund." The Presbytery adopted the report, and though there is no record either of a call from the district nor of any induction service, Mr Anderson's name appears on the Presbytery records as Minister of Whau, and he was accepted by the people as such. Mr Anderson was not strong physically, and on 24 October 1866, he gave notice to the Presbytery of his intention to resign present arrangements, with a view to a new arrangement much more limited. The Revs J Hill and J Wallis were appointed to arrange supply. To anticipate a little it may be stated that on 13 February 1867, Mr. Anderson resigned his charge, and after giving temporary supply for a few months he left for the Homeland. A long vacancy followed during which services were supplied chiefly by laymen,

St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010

5 flourishing suburban congregations." However, the difficulties were overcome and services resumed in the Church. In 1887 Rev. MacKenzie left for Australia but returned some years later to live at Blockhouse Bay. He died in 1920 and is buried in the Church cemetery. 1888-1893: Rev Charles Warboys. Little is recorded of his ministry except that after fulfilling the duties of his arduous parish for five years he left to become minister at Opotiki, and for three years the parish was again dependent on layman for supply. 1896-1910: Rev Alexander McLean, BD Rev McLean's ministry lasted 15 years, the longest of all. During that time his earnest preaching and faithful pastoral work resulted in a great increase in growth and spiritual power. His horse and trap were constantly on the road, carrying him to attend to the duties of his widespread preaching places, and on the Sabbath the church was crowded with earnest worshipers. 1910-1911: Mr James Dawson Crawford Madill (Student): For a few months, while Knox College was in recess, a student (later Rev J D C Madill, MA) gave extremely acceptable supply and church members regretted that he could not remain longer. Other ministries (including Presbyterian Church: 1911-1912 1912-1916 1916-1920 1920-1922 1922-1924 1924 1925-1929 lay) at the

Mr R Sommerville taking a large share. When the Rev D Bruce returned from the Homeland there came with him the Rev D Sidey, who settled in Napier, and the Rev D Hamilton from Ireland, and they were welcomed by the Presbytery on 7 February 1872. After preaching in several vacant charges, Mr Hamilton received a unanimous call from Whau, which he accepted, and he was inducted there on 21st May, 1872. Though the conditions were new and strange to him, he set himself strenuously to supply services from Whau to Riverhead and Manukau Heads. His ministry was proving very acceptable, but it was short [see page 9]. In October 1875, a call was given to Mr. Robert Sommerville, who, a few months previously, had been licensed by the Presbytery. It was signed by 109 persons and was supported by Messrs John Lamb and John Buchanan. On 12 January 1876, it was accepted, and on 9 February the Presbytery met in Whau Church, when the Moderator, the Rev R F Macnicol, preached from the text 2 Cor.5,14, and Mr Sommerville was duly ordained and inducted. The occasion is noteworthy because it was the first when a man from the local business circles had been trained and was ordained to the ministry, and because of the prominent place which Mr Sommerville took in the life and work of the Church as the minister of two charges, Clerk of Presbytery, one of the Church Property Trustees, and as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1883. After more than nine years' service, during part of which Mr Sommerville's health was not good and riding became painful, a call to St. Peter's Church was accepted and the Whau Charge became vacant on 16 July 1885. The following comes from "Our First Century", the centenary booklet for the Avondale Presbyterian Church, 1960. 1885-1887 Rev Alexander MacKenzie, MA, BD: When Rev Sommerville left Avondale, the Rev A. MacKenzie was appointed. His ministry seems to have been a stormy one, and at one stage the congregation even took the extreme measure of meeting for worship in the public school at the same hour as the minister officiated in the Church. The newspaper of the day commented that, "If the trouble is not settled, the Presbyterian Church will lose one of its most

1930-1936 1936-1941

1941-1949 1949-1950 1950-1955 1955 1955-1963 1964-1971

Mr David James Albert Rev William Marshall Mr J Charteris Rev Angus MacDonald, OBE Rev George Paterson Campbell Mr R Ashton Rev Frederick Arthur Thompson, Rev Michael Bawden Harris Rev John Hemingway Combes Rev C H Lowden, Rev John Weir Smyth, Rev James ewbold Lea Andrew, Mr O Baragwanath, Mr John orman Christie Rev Leonard John Hodson Rev Frederic Lang Smart Rev Sefton Windsor Campbell, MA, BD Rev W Anderson Rev Stanley Tamatea icholls, BA Rev Keith Lawrence Sellar


St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010

Knowledge in the Wilderness
On 15 December 1853, a new Auckland Provincial Council set up a sub-committee looking into the state of education in the province. It wasn’t until 12 January 1855 when the committee were to report back to the Council. They expressed a firm belief that the provinces were best suited to dealing with education needs in the province, rather than the colonial government or General Assembly, and that £1,000 should be set aside to fund “religious bodies that were maintaining public school for the education of European children and that the distribution of this fund be made according to the proportion of Children in attendance at these Schools, to be ascertained by Quarterly Returns furnished to His Honour the Superintendent by the respective Clergymen who superintend the schools.” The recommendation wasn’t taken up by the Council immediately, although the report was accepted. A group called the Freedom of Religion Society opposed the funding proposal, as they saw it as a threat to the independence of religion from the state. Instead, they advocated that denominational schools were funded solely from voluntary contributions. The driving force behind the setting up of organised education facilities in the province in the 1850s came from those religious groups, such as the Presbyterians, who saw the acquisition of knowledge as being just as important as the promotion of their faith. “An Act to Promote Education in the Province of Auckland” was passed by the Provincial Council on 6 February 1857. A Board of Education was set up. Those schools which reported to the Board and requested grants were to have sums voted on by the Council, and in those schools supported by the Board, apart from infant schools, the following subjects were to be taught: reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, geography, history, grammar and “the theory and practice of vocal music.” In mixed schools, plain needlework was to be encouraged. The schools were to be superintended by patrons or committees of management, and these were to be at liberty to make what provision they saw fit with regard to religious instruction. They did, however, have to ensure provision of a matching pound-for-pound

payment toward the cost of teachers’ salaries, and payments made by pupils in the form of school fees was not to exceed 1/- per week per pupil. To qualify for provincial aid, the district had to provide “a sufficiently large and wellventilated schoolhouse supplied with the necessary furniture together with an open space attached to it for playground and the requisite outbuildings.” Teachers and assistant teachers at these schools had to be of good moral character, and received certificates of first or second degrees, indicating their fitness to conduct a school. The maximum salary for a headmaster was £75; £50 for a headmistress and second-degree teachers. Presbyterian schools were started by the local congregations, not the Auckland Presbytery. At the Whau district the first roll of pupils in 1860 when the Presbyterian Church opened amounted to ten, according to recollections published years later. The first teacher appears to have been Miss Chalmers. There were two Misses Chalmers, both mainly working in Presbyterianadministered schools in the Auckland area in the late-1850s to early 1860s, and one received a first class, second grade certificate in music and needlework at an Education Board “Examination of Teachers” held in the year ended 30 September 1860. This Miss Chalmers was appointed to the “Whau School.” The school was listed as a successful applicant for an extension of Provincial Government aid in that year. But then, the school seemed to have vanished for a time from official records. I was delighted to have found an inspector’s report on “Whau School” from 17 December 1860 in Auckland Provincial Council papers held in Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries as I compiled this history – but, alas, it may have been a report describing the “Whau Road School”, managed by the Wesleyans in Mt Albert at the time, rather than our Whau School at the Presbyterian Church. While the teacher named was the skilled and capable Miss Chalmers, the superintendent or school manager was “Rev J Harding”, likely to be Rev Isaac Harding, the Wesleyan superintendent for the Auckland Wesleyan circuit in the early 1860s. Sadly, it appears that the first Whau school was short-lived, lasting a matter of perhaps only seven months at most. On the 15th July 1911, John Bollard was presented with an illuminated address by the residents of the Avondale school district, in the

St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010


presence of fellow members of parliament both from his side of the House and from the opposition benches, celebrated in the Avondale Public Hall. The occasion was to mark the 50th anniversary of Bollard stepping forward to join a school committee in a country district in 1861. A district which, at that time and by what reports we have to hand, seemingly had no school in operation. John Bollard (1839-1915) came to Auckland from County Wicklow in Ireland in 1860, but was diverted by the opportunities of the Australian goldfields, according to his obituaries. He returned in 1861, met his future wife and married her at St John’s College on 9 May that year. They then immediately settled in the Whau district, on a farm which began just down from present-day Elm Street and was leased (from 1863-1882, when Bollard bought it outright) from Tamaki horse-dealer and farmer William Innes Taylor. It bordered on another farm close to the line of today’s Riversdale Road. That farm belonged to a doctor from Dublin named Thomas Aickin (1814-1897), who had bought his land further down on the Whau Flat towards the end of 1859. The 21-year-old Anglo-Irish farmercum-horse trader Bollard probably had considerable discussions with the 46-year-old Scots-Irish doctor, academic, and experimenter that winter in the Whau, 1861. Between the two of them, they formed the nucleus of a school committee for the district that year, even if only with a total membership of two, to start off with. But, what they had in mind was to ensure that there was a school where the children of the countryside around them, stretching up even to the Waitakeres, could learn in an organised fashion. It is possible that they restarted the school as early as July 1861. We may never know for sure exactly when they were able to get the students back in the room at the church, and when they convinced the families to send their children there and pay a contributing fee towards the cost of someone teaching them. The Presbyterian parish at Onehunga may have been able to help, but the Whau part of the parish was far-flung to the west, and Onehunga was busy with the building of their own church at the time. We know the names of only two teachers during the period down to 1865: a Mr. Knox, who worked at the school only from March to September 1865, and a Mr. Spicer, who succeeded him. But during the year before, ended 30

September 1864, the school applied to the Education Board for an extension grant as a new school. That breakthrough probably came about through the slight increase in settlement around the district in the wake of the Whau Canal proposals; the start of local industries such as Pollen’s brickyard on the Whau Flat around 1863 and Gittos’ tannery at the end of 1864; and the revitalisation of the Whau Presbyterian parish leading up to the breakaway from Onehunga in 1865 which was likely to have been driven by three men. These were parish elders John Lamb of the Riverhead flour mills, John Buchanan (who arrived at the Whau in 1863), and another newcomer to the district: Rev Andrew Anderson. Rev Anderson arrived in Auckland 12 October 1863 on the Ganges from London. He had initially headed for the Pollock settlement, but by the end of the following year, when he applied for admission to the Presbytery, he was living at the Whau. He made his application for admission into the Auckland Presbytery at this time, and he took his seat as a member of Presbytery in January 1865. In the first quarter of 1865, the school had 17 pupils enrolled, with an average attendance of 9. It appears to have closed while staffing issues were dealt with: from 13 May, Rev Anderson had employed Knox as a teacher at the school, serving for a time as superintendant. Dr Aickin served as the school’s patron, tasked to obtain a government grant for the school — but he appears to have been unsuccessful, so Rev Anderson resigned as superintendant. Dr Aickin took over that role. Despite this setback, Aickin advertised for a public meeting in the Whau Church on 12 October 1865 for the election of a district school committee. The names of the first formal school committee were: Rev. A. Anderson Dr. Thomas Aickin O. R. Rayson J. McLeod, J. N. Copland J. Bollard A H. Spicer “A vote of thanks was passed to the Rev. A. Anderson, for allowing the use of the church, and for his efforts in forwarding the cause of education in the district.”


St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010

By the end of the following year, Rev Anderson reported that a school in the district was superintended by Miss Marks, “a most efficient and painstaking teacher”, but “he regretted to say the people had not availed themselves of [the school] to the extent he desired. It was the duty of parents to attend the education of their children by which they would prove an honour to them” This may well have been the church’s Sunday School. The main district school remained at the Presbyterian Church until 1868, when it was moved into the new public hall, and a new chapter of our district’s education history began.

Lisa J Truttman

Painting of St inian’s on display at afanua Hall foyer, Avondale Union Parish Church, Rosebank Road 2002. Photo: Bruce Spencer, Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Collection

St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010


A wrong step in the dark: the death of Rev. David Hamilton (c.1844-1873)
In a corner of the little graveyard beside St Ninian’s, a sturdy obelisk monument stands guarded by rusted metal railings. Once this monument was in danger of collapsing, but former Avondale resident and then-Minister of Internal Affairs, Richard F. Bollard, noticed and saw to it that the foundation around the stone was strengthened. And so, it has survived to stand today in a quiet suburban churchyard. This is the grave, hard between the old church hall and modern playgrounds and the presentday picket fences, overlooking the Mobil Service Station, of the Rev David Hamilton. He came from Belfast, and arrived with noted St Andrews minister the Rev. David Bruce to New Zealand on 7 February 1872. He was an enthusiastic minister of the Presbyterian Church in this country; he was well known for travelling widely to outlying areas, and preached even on the Coromandel Peninsula in late May 1872, the month after the parish at the Whau (Avondale) called for him to be their new minister. The little country church had been without a minister of their own since 1867. Once word had reached them of this fine young enthusiastic Irishman, and Rev. Hamilton had visited them to give service at one point in the Whau and at Titirangi, the parishioners convened a meeting on 18 April 1872, and put Rev Hamilton‘s name to a “call“ or formal request from the congregation to the Presbytery. The “call” read: “We, the undersigned elders, other office bearers and members of the united congregation of the Whau and neighbouring districts, in the province of Auckland, being Protestants, desirous of promoting the glory of God and the good of His Church, being satisfied, by good information and our own experience of the ministerial abilities and of the suitableness to our capacities of the gifts of you (the Rev David Hamilton) have agreed to invite, as we hereby do invite, and call you to undertake the office of pastor among us, promising you all dutiful respect, encouragement, and obedience in the Lord, and engage to pay a stipend of not less than £160 per annum, in witness whereof we have subscribed the call before the Presbytery of Auckland, on the eighteenth day of April, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-two years.” There were 141 signatures to the call. A collection of districts contributed toward the stipend, as these were then the areas of the total parish: the Whau, £60; Riverhead, £40; Hobson’s Villa (Hobsonville) £30; Henderson’s Mill £15; Titirangi £15; Huia, £20; and Cornwallis, £7. As can be seen, this added up to £187, £27 more than the base stipend, and didn’t include contributions from the likes of districts in the Kaipara, to which the vast parish extended. The Auckland Presbytery agreed to the call, and appointed Rev. Hamilton to the vast Whau Parish. They joined the congregation on 21 May 1872 for the formal induction service at the Whau Church. During the remainder of his life, Rev David Hamilton applied himself diligently to the task of supplying ministration to the outlying districts of the parish, from the Whau to Riverhead and the Manukau coastline. But as later came to light, his parishioners and friends found that he was not a good horseman, having fallen from his horse more than once along the road; he was also absent-minded and not very observant, with little “bush sense” (hardly surprising, coming directly from Belfast to the wild colonies). His health was given as good, but he was not “robust”. At the annual meeting of the congregation in July 1873, Rev Bruce remarked on the


St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010

difficult roads Rev Hamilton travelled on his ministry, and “how fortunate (Rev Hamilton) had been in escaping accidents so long.” A week later, Rev Hamilton was reported missing. The reverend set out on Wednesday 9 July 1873 from the Whau to conduct service at the Manukau Heads, at Whatipu. He reached Huia safely that day, then headed on horseback for Robert Gibbons’ new sawmill at the Heads. The distance between Huia and Whatipu was only four miles, a relatively short distance, but it involved travelling through dense bush, in the midst of a rainy, cold West Auckland winter. When he hadn’t arrived back at the Whau on Saturday 12 July, the alarm was raised. Whau settlers James Archibald and J Todd started out on Sunday the 13th along the route believed to have been taken by the reverend on his last journey. Six miles out, they reached Little Muddy Creek (near Laingholm), and found his tracks. They followed the creek, up over ranges to Big Muddy Creek to the southwest, finding the track about five feet wide and “a very bad one.” Following Hamilton’s trail, they arrived at Woodman’s Hotel, learning there that Hamilton had passed by on horseback. They then followed the beach track, and saw signs that Hamilton had dismounted at that point, leading his horse because of the hard, stony nature of the beach. At Mill Bay, south along the coast at Huia, three miles from Woodman’s Inn, the two searchers were advised by the workers at the mill there that Hamilton had passed safely by. His footsteps were traced two miles further on, to Kakamatua Stream and the site of the Cornwallis Sawmill. At that point, the reverend was remembered has having passed, “all right, and well”, as far as the workers recalled. From Kakamatua Stream, he travelled west to “Big Huia”, or the Huia Stream, and Mrs Bates’ hostel. He’d remained there the night of 9 July, in good health and holding a service there that evening. Reports said he was heading for Onehunga, but this is odd, as why would he have been heading for Onehunga when he was supposed to be visiting the mills at Huia and the Manukau Heads? The searchers picked up Hamilton’s tracks leading towards the Manukau Harbour, leading his horse through dense bush, towards Karamatura and Gibbons’ Sawmill there. He had been expected there on for divine services on

Thursday 10 July but hadn’t arrived. The countryside in the area was described in 1873 as being “rugged and broken, nothing but barren rocks and bleak cliffs; a dense bush and dangerous sidelings running along the edge of the Manukau Heads. Precipices from 400 ft to 500 ft abound …” The manager at Gibbon’s Sawmill at Huia claimed to have seen Hamilton passing by on the afternoon of Tuesday the 15th in one report. If so, that is odd as well. The reverend may have been wandering around in the bush, disorientated -- but why didn’t the sawmill manager help him as he would clearly have been seen to be in distress by that stage? It is doubtful that this report was correct. After two and a half miles from Huia Stream and the first Gibbon’s mill, the tracks stopped. With the help of the men from the Karamatura mill, Archibald and Todd found a fresh set of tracks leading to a log where the reverend apparently sat down to rest, possibly as night was closing in on him, and tried feeding himself on the inside of nikau ferns. His horse was located 400-500 yards from the log and the reverend’s last known footprints, tangled up in supplejack, starved, and obviously stuck there for some time before the searchers found it. On Tuesday 15 July, over 40 men from the mills engaged in the search for the missing man. John Bollard, Hepburn and Harper from the Whau joined the search parties the next day. On Thursday, the search continued along the coast, between where the horse was found and the log, and then from the coast back to the mill. Local Maori reported that they’d heard “cries in the bush” on Thursday the 10th, and thought they were the call of an “atuati” (the report may have meant “atua” or spirit) so would not go out to investigate, though their dogs barked loudly. The reverend’s body was discovered on Sunday 20 July, face-down in a waterhole in Foote’s Creek, Destruction Gully, near Whatipu beach, about a mile from where his horse was found. He was fully clothed, but minus his hat, and a white handkerchief was tied around his head. It was theorised that he wandered about for a while near where he had left his horse, then decided to follow the creek to the sea, but had missed his step in the dark, fallen, and drowned. His skin was reported as sodden, so he had been in the water for some time.

St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010


At first, it was intended that the body be taken to Onehunga, and then overland to the city, but the sawmill workers took it upon themselves to carry the body overland by way of the ranges themselves. They reached the Whau on the evening of 22 July, and were met with warm gratitude and refreshments. A coffin was prepared and the body conveyed to St Andrews Church for inquest the next day, followed by the sombre journey back out to the Whau and the little church at the five roads intersection. The hearse, decorated with black plumes, was followed by around a dozen carriages. Several shops closed along the route from the city, and extra mourners joined he procession as it passed. “These,” said one report, “as the destination was neared, numbered close upon 50, and assumed the appearance of an attendant escort of cavalry.” By the time they reached the Whau township at 3 pm, the procession stretched for nearly a quarter of a mile, numbering 200-300 people. “A number of foot passengers had come out to meet the funeral, and remained ranged on either side of the road with raised hats as it passed … Every shop [in the township] was closely shut, and business was suspended in sympathy with the solemn occasion.”

The words around the four stone sides directly beneath the obelisk, now faded and damaged by time and perhaps vandals, reads: “Rev. David Hamilton B.A., Clergyman of the parish, who after a pastorate of 15 months, died from exposure in the Manukau Forest, in the month of July 1873, a. 29. ‘To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ The above words, which aptly describe his career, are those from which he last preached the gospel to his people. He left his home on 9th July for Huia, to conduct Divine service, and proceeded on the 10th for Manukau Heads, but missed his way in the darkness. His body was found on the 20th and interred here on 23 July 1873. “Erected by his parishioners and friends, in affectionate remembrance of his goodness as a man and his devotedness as a Christian minister.” Lisa J Truttman

The Legend Maker: Rev Alexander MacKenzie (1842-1920)
After the progress and stability of the ministry of Rev Robert Sommerville from 1876 until 1885, his successor to the Avondale Presbyterian Church in 1885 was welcomed heartily. Under Rev Sommerville the country church bought land in New Windsor and constructed a manse for their ministers, and had seen the coming of the railway to the district. Rev Sommerville himself had been School Committee Chairman, in 1882, when the Avondale Primary School was settled into their purpose-built accommodation on the Great North Road property. But the ministry of Rev Alexander MacKenzie who followed him was to prove the stormiest and most controversial in the whole history of the little country church. And the legacy continues on, in the form of a headstone in the churchyard’s cemetery. Alexander MacKenzie was born in Bonar Bridge, Sunderland in 1842. Evidence points to him being a learned and meticulous man in early life, especially when it came to his own achievements. In Row, Scotland, he married Jessie Eva Hort Huxham, daughter of Hortensius Huxham and Eleanor Emma Huxham ne MacCorguodale in June 1880. Some sources say he may have been a tutor of hers. There was indeed 17 year gap between their ages. Jessie herself was born (oddly enough for the legends of her being a Scottish Danish Princess) in Glamorganshire in Wales. She resided with her father at Swansea, but must have returned to Scotland briefly for her marriage to MacKenzie. The couple with their two-year-old son Torquil George headed for New Zealand some time in 1885. They’d arrived around November of that year, and Rev MacKenzie was warmly welcomed by the Auckland Presbytery on December 1, 1885. Immediately, there was a call “by 77 members and adherents” put forward from the Avondale Church for Rev MacKenzie to provide service to their parish. Rev Sommerville had, for some time, been unable to provide any more than basic and sporadic service to the country parish for some time. His health had been poor, riding too painful, and


St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010

since 1883 he had the extra roles of being minister of two charges, Clerk of the Presbytery, being one of the Church Property Trustees, and Moderator of the General Assembly from 1883. He accepted a call to St. Peter’s Church in July 1885, and so the charge at Avondale fell vacant. The seeds of trouble were planted right from the start – and the first one was that of money. Presbyterian ministers relied, for their incomes, on the stipend paid by the parish to which they gave service. But Avondale was in a bit of a cleft stick at the time. It already owed Rev Sommerville an amount of his stipend in arrears; the mortgage was still being paid for the manse and lands up at New Windsor (and wouldn’t finally be paid until 1897); and possibly the building of the St Jude’s Anglican church meant a diversion of income away from their parish, seeing as the Anglicans had used the Presbyterian Church for some of their services. The Avondale Presbyterians said from the outset that they couldn’t promise MacKenzie the minimum stipend of £200 (such a huge sum coming from the fact that his parish stretched from Avondale to Helensville and Kaukapakapa, taking in the whole of West Auckland and included Riverhead. All covered by horseback). They offered instead at least £150, and asked the Presbytery for a grant of £30 or £35. Rev MacKenzie was formerly inducted on 17 December 1885 at a soiree in Avondale, “thanking all those who had taken part in the warm reception that had been accorded to him. He would do his best, “he said, “in his new sphere, and he hoped to be supported by those among whom his lot had been cast.” The Avondale parish seemed, from the outside, to be doing well under Rev MacKenzie. The Sunday School featured prominently on prize lists at regional competitions in October 1886. In January 1887, MacKenzie as Chairman of the church committee reported that “the Church services had been regular and well attended”, that there was “a Communion roll of 72 members, about 20 of whom joined the church during the year, and 10 others not yet enrolled,“ the manse had been painted and papered, grounds and fences improved, while the church itself had been repaired and graveyard laid out and improved. However, this may have been deceptive optimism. Rev Alexander MacKenzie has in sources since been described as “harsh”, “domineering”, “a miserly man” whose style caused the large congregation built up by Rev Sommerville to dwindle sharply. The Z Herald, at the time of the 75th anniversary of the church in 1935, reported:

“At one time the school had been held in the church, and, as the sequel to a dispute, the parishioners reciprocated by holding services of their own in the school. It is recorded that when Mr. McKenzie vigorously rang the bell of the church the summons was responded to only by the members of his own household.” The church committee, knowing that the church’s existence relied heavily on donations, grew increasingly discontented, and had apparently demanded in December 1886 at a meeting possibly chaired by Rev Sommerville that MacKenzie resign, declaring that any claims from the reverend for his stipend would not be recognised from the 17th of that month. The battle began between the reverend and the church committee that was to continue until 1889. The stir of discontent amongst parishioners at Avondale that was kept private and out of the media’s eye finally blew up in February 1887. An event within the Presbyterian community occurred around this time which may have given fuel to the discontented parishioners at Avondale. In early February 1887, at the meeting of the General Assembly in Wellington, clause 216 to the book of order and rules was voted on and passed. This proposed: “That if it appears after Presbyterial visitation that from any minister’s inefficiency, remissness in duty, or unsuitableness to the sphere, spiritual or general interests of his congregation are being sacrificed, the Presbytery should be entitled to dissolve the pastoral tie, and declare the charge vacant, or report the matter to the General Assembly for its decision.” Two weeks later, some unknown member of the presbytery whispered into the ears of the Z Herald reporter. “We are informed that the state of affairs in the Avondale Presbyterian Church is not at present very peaceful or comfortable. A number of the congregation are much dissatisfied with the Rev Mr McKenzie, the minister, and all efforts of the Presbytery hitherto have failed to heal the breach. The malcontents form a majority of the congregation, and they are now meeting in the schoolhouse. We do not know the causes of the dissatisfaction, but it is said that the minister’s faults are those of “manner”, not of doctrine. So far as we can ascertain, he is quite sound on the Westminster confession.” The Herald then published an angry rebuttal on 16 March 1887 from Rev MacKenzie, accusing

St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010


Rev Sommerville and Avondale church elder John Buchanan, as well as the Auckland Presbytery itself, of being the instigators of a breach between him and the parish, possibly the one which began the previous December. This included, apparently, Buchanan telling a lady of what the Presbytery planned to do, and this was duly circulated around the parish by her, and Rev Sommerville asking the parish treasurer about the church’s financial position. He accused Sommerville of failing to hold communion during the last two years of his Avondale service, something Sommerville pointedly denied in a letter of his own to the paper the next day. A parishioner of Avondale, Mr A Morrison, wrote in a letter published in the Herald on 18 March that it was neither Sommerville nor Buchanan’s influence on the parishioners which created the rift. “The cause of dissension arose in the congregation, and Mr MacKenzie was the sole cause of it. He was not long moving about among us when we began to look at each other and express fears for the future, and these have been more than realised. We could not respect him as our minister, so rather than go wandering about we had a meeting and resolved to have services among ourselves until we see what action the Presbytery will take. It will give you some idea of the state of matters when I state that we have an attendance varying from 70 to 92, while Mr MacKenzie has an attendance (so I am informed) verging from 4 to 16. We are the congregation, and we are perfectly united in our aims and desires … That letter of Mr. MacKenzie’s is sufficient, by its spirit, to show the outside public the man we are supposed to respect as our guide in matters religious. In addition to its statements being at variance with facts, his characteristic sneering at men who hold a place in our esteem he never can raise himself to is its own condemnation.” The reverend’s wife Jessie, described by parishioners as a gracious little lady of delicate health, died on 12 April 1887 of tuberculosis, 5 months after giving birth to her second son George (who died the following September). Mrs Forsythe, Jessie’s nurse, described how Jessie was only fed porridge during the pregnancy, until Mrs Forsythe stepped in and corrected the diet. Stories like this, and one of the reverend placing Torquil down a well for 24 hours for some misdemeanour, did little to enhance the reputation of Rev MacKenzie in the eyes of the parishioners, and Avondale. In the midst of the dispute he had with the church committee and parishioners, Rev MacKenzie used

his wife’s passing to create a legend that continues to this day here in Avondale. He had inscribed on Jessie’s headstone that she was Baroness MacCorquodale, of Loch Tromley, Scotland, and Princess Torquil of the Royal House of Denmark, and so started the rumours of a Danish royal connection with the little church cemetery. The Z Herald in 1935 wrote about the grave in the church burial ground, which often attracts interested visitors, serving curiously to perpetuate one of the acts of her husband. He is said to have insisted on placing her grave on the one place in the graveyard which the managers of the church had told him would be required for future additions to the building. Consequently when the vestry was added it had to be built with a recess in it so that the grave might not be covered. This would explain why Jessie’s grave is today almost hard up against the south wall of the extension, a damp place with hardly any sun. MacKenzie may have taken much of his belief in the royal links of his wife from a book published back in 1869, William Anderson’s The Scottish ation. Like many such “genealogies” of the Victorian era, it was as much comprised of traditional speculation and belief as it was of hard fact. Through her maternal grandfather John MacCorquodale, Jessie was said to have descended from Torquil who had fought in the army of Kenneth the Great and been granted extensive lands by Loch Awe in Argyll. Torquil was said to have been from the stock of Danish princes – hence the belief that Jessie in turn was a “Danish Princess”. But in fact her grandfather was merely a factor on an estate (or in other words an estate agent, one who acted on behalf of the landowner in collecting rents, maintaining the estate, etc.) He owned four properties, mainly cottages and allotments, one of which he left to Jessie in his will. Chances are that Rev MacKenzie sold this land on Jessie’s death, and the proceeds went towards his incremental purchase of land at Heaphy Street in Blockhouse Bay and the building of his own house there. A week before Jessie’s death, the Auckland Presbytery met. They did not seem to be in a patient mood with regard to the shenanigans at Avondale, or with Rev MacKenzie. MacKenzie sent them a telegram asking to be excused attendance, “his wife and child being unwell” and asked that the meeting be deferred so he could attend at a later date and speak against any resolution by the meeting. This, after much discussion, the meeting agreed to, but plainly some members doubted MacKenzie’s reasons for not attending. A Mr. Huston “thought that there should be a medi-


St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010

cal certificate put in, and not go upon the mere statement of Mr MacKenzie.” MacKenzie’s letter to the paper was described as “imprudent”, and now meant that the private matter was being discussed “in open court”. In speaking against postponement, Mr. Morris reported that the congregation at Avondale was indeed “getting supply at present”, but McKenzie had been preaching for the past nine Sundays to only three persons in the morning, and eight or ten in the evening. Two weeks after Jessie’s death, the Presbytery met again, this time with MacKenzie in attendance, but “at considerable inconvenience”. No mention was made of the passing of his wife. He accused Sommerville and Buchanan of having financial interest in the Avondale Church, which they denied (the Church did still owe Sommerville £50, but he hadn’t pursued this), and he railed against members of the Presbytery meeting, declaring that a number of them had no right to meet in judgment of him. He queried whether the matter was being dealt with by the old book of rules, or the new. There was some confusion over this, but it appeared that the Presbytery, despite being brought in to sort the matter two months before the new rules, decided to use them anyway. The meeting decided to ask McKenzie for his resignation, and gave him until the 7th of June to make his decision. In June, the Presbytery voted that MacKenzie’s resignation be accepted (although he refused point blank to tender his resignation until he’d received arrears of payment from his stipend plus costs incurred by him in doing up the manse). They did agree to provide him with a certificate on his application for same, but did not respond when he asked for a recommendation to the Church Extension Committee for further employment. Plainly, the Presbytery had now tired of him, of the troubles at Avondale, and of being accused by him of being at fault and for meddling in Avondale’s affairs. The Avondale church committee continued their efforts to have Rev MacKenzie resign all during 1887, and only succeeded on 31 January 1888. The parish regained possession of the manse dining room 3 days before, and found the dining room in which MacKenzie had stubbornly locked himself away “uninhabitable”, in need of thorough cleaning and repapering of the walls. This did not end matters, however. At a meeting of the Auckland Presbytery on 7 February 1888, as the Avondale parish asked for a moderator for a meeting to issue a call to Rev Worboys to take over the charge, a letter was received from

MacKenzie again requesting payment of the arrears of stipend he claimed was still owed to him, being £70 4s 7d, or around half a year’s pay (possibly from December 17 1886 to June 7 1887). Mr. Morrison from Avondale reported that the congregation refused to pay the arrears, claiming that MacKenzie’s service had ended from the date of their letter to the Presbytery. The parish apparently offered him £15 in lieu of claim, which he refused. At the call meeting itself in March, MacKenzie protested right through the meeting that no call could be issued to Rev Worboys until his arrears had been paid. He later protested to the Auckland Evening Star that he hadn’t caused disruption to the meeting at all, and claimed that one parishioner later “followed me to the door to have a fight”. The dispute over his stipend continued until at least October 1889 when a certificate was signed by Sommerville stating that MacKenzie’s Avondale ministry terminated officially on 7 June 1887. He left for Australia soon after this, with his son Torquil and his housekeeper Jane Sophia Field. In Australia, Rev MacKenzie married his housekeeper, but the family didn’t stay long in Australia, returning to New Zealand after a few years. Torquil ran away from home to live in Hillsborough in 1895, and Rev MacKenzie is believed to have ended his days somewhere in Blockhouse Bay, outliving his second wife who died in 1913. He buried her in the grave plot at Avondale, with her headstone perpetually facing that of Jessie’s. It has been suggested that he ran a small school from his home, the property later becoming Hilltop School in Heaphy Street, and in the 1960s a girls’ secondary school. The writer of the St Ninians centenary booklet said that it was remembered that Rev Alexander MacKenzie attended Avondale Church in the mornings, and evening services at Blockhouse Bay. No doubt not quite as cantankerous towards the church members as he had been in the previous century. He had nothing to do with his son Torquil or with Torquil’s family after 1895. Torquil apparently tried to make contact twice – first to take his firstborn baby daughter to visit MacKenzie, but was not allowed to cross the threshold. The same happened when Torquil took his 11 year old son along. No word, it is said, ever passed between grandfather and grandson. Alexander MacKenzie died in 8 October 1920 in a private hospital in Grafton, the only one to identify his body being his undertaker. He is buried beside his wife Jessie, the posthumously famous

St inians Church: 150 Years 1860-2010


“Danish Princess”, and his second wife. He left Torquil £5 in his will, out of an estate valued at £1800. Torquil contested the will, and was awarded £800. MacKenzie did leave the remainder of his estate, after £100 went to a Martha Uren (possibly his last house keeper), including all his books to the Auckland Public Library. Out of all the controversy during his time at Avondale, and of all the players in the drama acted out at the little country parish, it is after all Rev. Alexander MacKenzie’s fanciful legend in the cemetery at St Ninian’s Church, born out of Victorian pride and a need to be special and “better” than those around him, that has outlived them all. Lisa J Truttman

As they are today: the grave stones of (from left): Rev Alexander MacKenzie, his first wife Jessie, and second wife Jane. Originally, these three were side by side. During the late 1980s conversion of the building by Auckland City Council, however, the stones were reconfigured to this position, the two wives facing each other with Rev MacKenzie in the middle.

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