A great coloniser : the Rev. Dr. Thomas Burns, pioneer minister of Otago and nephew of the poet
Chapter XXI. — Educational Progress
We think it expedient that in everie notable town, and especiallie in the town of the soperintendent, be erected a colledge in which the artis, at least logick and rhetorick, togedder with the toungis, be read by sufficient maisteris, for whome honest stipendis must be appointed, as also provision for those that be poore, and be nocht able by themselvis, nor by thair friendis, to be sustened at letteris.
John Knox, The First Book of Discipline.
After God had carried vs safe to New England and wee bad bvilded ovr hovses provided necessaries for ovr liveli hood reard convenient places for God's worship and setted the civill government one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetvate it to posterity dreading to leave an illiterate ministery to the chvrches when ovr present ministers shall lie in the dvst.
—New England's First Frvits.
The fact that Dunedin is a strong centre of education to-day, and perhaps the most pronounced University town south of the Line, is mainly due to the influence which Mr Burns and his colleagues exercised upon the life and purposes of the early settlers. Many references have already been given from the pen of Burns himself to his ambitions for the Scottish Colony in this regard. The Session fostered the schools and looked forward to a college. The Presbytery at its first meeting passed a resolution appointing a committee for this purpose, and decided to "offer every encouragement to efforts for promoting the establishment of elementary and superior schools, founded on a broad and liberal basis for affording instruction based on religion, with a view to establishing a satisfactory system of education."page 246
On December 18, 1854, the superintendent (Captain Cargill) had brought in recommendations " for providing a liberal education to the whole of the children of the province, and that a public grammar school or academy should be maintained at Dunedin, wherein will be taught all the branches of education necessary for qualifying the pupils for entering a University." In 1856 the Provincial Council, realising the needs of the increasing population, passed an ordinance establishing public schools to provide secular instruction, together with "the reading of Holy Scripture and instructions in the principles of religious knowledge." An Education Board was to be formed, consisting of the Superintendent, the members of his executive, the Rector of the High. School of Dunedin, and two members of each of the school committees. The High School which was proposed in this ordinance in 1856 was for the higher education of male and female students, and this was the first enactment of its kind in New Zealand.
In a letter addressed to Mr James Macandrew on April 14, 1854, Mr Burns showed a prophetic sense of the danger to religious teaching in the schools which would arise once the matter came before the General Assembly or legislature of New Zealand, and he urged that provincial control of the schools, especially in relation to religious lessons, should be allowed by the General Assembly. His strong views are shown by the following extract.1
I have great objections to the governing body having no mind of its own as to the religious teaching that is given in the school which it supports. It is a system that is infidel in its essence, and no good can come of it.
With the abolition of the provincial system in 1876 the way was opened for legislation in the direction feared by Dr Burns, and the Education Act of 1877 was passed by the Colonial Parliament, by which, among other changes, education was made purely secular. Dr Burns did not live to see the abolition of religious teaching in the schools, an innovation which might be said to create a moral breach of trust with the assurances on which Otago and Canterbury were founded. Such a departure from the principles of the pioneers was enough to make the angels weep. The nearest approach to the practices for which Dr Burns contended is to be found in the schools and colleges which open with worship, and those that are in association with the Church.
In 1857 Mr Burns gave a general account of the progress of Otago in a letter printed for a book which Mr James Adam was then about to issue under the title of "Description of the Province of Otago."2 Burns reviewed the progress made in " the higher interests " of the people. He paid a well-earned tribute to the zeal and devotion of his colleagues, Will and Bannerman. He continued:—
My own church, after all its successive additions, is again become too small. Subscriptions have been set on foot for erecting an entirely new church on the top of Church Hill— the highest eminence in Dunedin. So far as they have gone these subscriptions have been most liberal, considering the means of the people. An independent congregation has been formed in Dunedin, consisting of those holding independent, Baptist, and the voluntary principles. The officiating minister is a Mr Jefferies, an excellent man and a faithful preacher. The whole of the parents have been greatly gratified by the arrival of the four excellent teachers from Scotland, and are eagerly looking forward to the arrival of the other six that have been sent for. If the scheme of education that has just page 248been set on foot can be carried out in the spirit in which it has been started it will result under God, I have no doubt, in Otago being one of the best-educated colonies in this part of the world.
The following teachers arrived in consequence of applications from Otago:—Messrs Alexander Ayson, A. Livingston (for the High School), John Hislop (afterwards secretary and inspector of schools), Colin Allan, Wright, Andrew Russell, A. D. Johnston, Alex. G. Allan, A. Grigor, R. S. Gardner, R. Peattie, W. Duncan, A. Stott, V. Graham, and Miss Jane R. Dods. The example of Dunedin in planting down the schoolhouse for both religious and educational purposes before proceeding to build a special place of worship was followed in the districts of Otago. A manse was also provided as soon as possible to accommodate the minister, who was then able to itinerate according to the distribution of the population. After the Company ceased to function, the school fees and special calls upon the liberality of the people were the main sources of the teachers' income until the Colony became more stabilised. Additional revenue was, however, provided by rural areas, the profits of which were dedicated to education. Mr Alfred Eccles, a grandson of Mr John Jones, gratefully acknowledges the debt which Otago owes to the founders, led by their high-minded pastor, in these words: "Of the many heritages which the farsighted pioneers of Otago bequeathed to posterity probably none has been of greater value to the general community than the provisions that they made in the interests of scholarship."3
Meanwhile the Church continued to establish itself in the land. In the summer of 1854-55, acting under page 249instructions from the Presbytery, the Rev. W. Bannerman and Mr John M'Glashan visited Waikouaiti, Goodwood, and Moeraki, and were favourably received by the settlers in that fine district. They reported to the Presbytery that a subscription list of £111 had been made towards the support of a minister and the building of a manse and church. Green Island was joined on to East Taieri by the authority of the Presbytery in the following year. The care of the Natives was fostered by the Church, and by a "Society for Elevating the Condition of the Maoris," of which Mr John M'Glashan was the indefatigable secretary. In response to appeals for help the Colonial Committee, under the convenership of Dr John Bonar (who had succeeded the Rev. John Sym), pledged itself to raise about £1000 in aid of Church extension and supply of ministers in Otago. Southland began to be occupied with runholders, and Invercargill was marked as the southern capital. The official list of early ministers is as follows, with the charge and date of settlement in each case.4
Rev. Thomas Burns, Otago Settlement, April, 1848; Rev. William Will, Taieri and Waihola, June 17, 1854; Rev. William Bannerman, Tokomairiro and Clutha, June 17, 1854; Rev. William Johnstone, Port Chalmers and North, June 25, 1858; Rev. John M'Nicol, Waihola, August 19, 1858; Rev. Alexander Bruce Todd, Tokomairiro, July 7, 1859; Rev. D. M. Stuart, Knox Church, Dunedin, May 16, 1860; Rev. James Urie, West Taieri, October 3, I860; Rev. A. H. Stobo, Invercargill, June 29, 1860; Rev. L. M'Gilvray, Riverton, April 11, 1861; Rev. J. H. M'Naughton, Anderson's Bay, July 9, 1863; Rev. John Christie, Hawksbury (Waikouaiti) and Goodwood, August 16, 1863; Rev. Donald Meiklejohn, St. Andrew's, Dunedin, August 19, 1863; Rev. James Kirkland, Inchclutha and Kaitangata, September 10, 1863; Rev. James Connor, Oamaru and district, December, 1863; Rev. James Urie (from West page 250Taieri), Pomahaka and Mataura, March 23, 1864; Rev. James Clark, Riverton, April 6, 1864; Rev. John Allan, Waihola, May 26, 1864; Rev. Michael Watt, Green Island, June 1. 1864; Rev. Thomas Alexander, Oteramika and Long Bush, August, 1864; Rev. William Gillies, West Taieri, December, 1864.
This is truly a most remarkable record of the spread of religious ordinances, perhaps unrivalled in the history of colonisation! Within 10 years from the foundation of the Presbytery and 16 years from the arrival of the pioneer minister, 21 parishes with their own minsters, Sessions, and organisation had sprung into existence. To that list must be added a large number of out-stations, Sunday Schools, and other agencies, including day schools and the distribution of tracts, which had been nurtured under the fostering care of the Church. And the inspiring genius of this whole movement was the venerable Thomas Burns. His devotion had never faltered, and his wisdom and genius for organisation had never failed to elicit the best services from his followers and colleagues in the work of God.
At a meeting of the Kirk Session held on December 29, 1856, the Moderator drew attention to the urgent need of a new building, and mentioned that the resources of his church had provided no less than six new churches in other places, besides two manses. A considerable delay ensued, however, before effect was given to this recommendation. It was not until the end of 1864 that the second church building was ready for occupation. It was situated in Dowling street, where the King's Theatre afterwards stood.
On December 20, 1858, a deputation from the Dunedin congregation presented a memorial to the Presbytery praying for the appointment of an additional minister for the town of Dunedin. The members of the deputation and the Rev. T. Burns having been heard, the Presbytery page 251cordially approved of the object, and resolved that the Moderator communicate with the Colonial Committee and others (named) for the selection of a minister.
Intimation was duly received from Scotland that the services of the Rev. (afterwards Doctor) Donald M. Stuart, of Falstone, Northumberland, would be available for the new charge, with the result that this honoured minister commenced his ministry in the second church of Dunedin, called Knox Church, on May 16, 1860, the building in which worship was then held being located at the corner of Frederick and Great King streets, the site of the present Knox Sunday School. Mr Burns was Moderator and read the edict, which is preserved in his writing in the John M'Glashan collection of manuscripts. The new minister soon gathered a large and influential congregation around him, including many of the office-bearers who had served their apprenticeship in the Session and Deacons' Court under Mr Burns.
Another important piece of work had just been accomplished by the veteran minister. He had visited Invercargill, leaving his pulpit to the care of Mr Stuart early in 1860. At Invercargill Mr Burns preached for seven consecutive Sundays, and once at Mataura Bridge. He called upon several families at Invercargill, and in the Waihopai and Oreti districts he made up a Communion roll of 105, and dispensed the Sacrament in the presence of 83 communicants. The upshot of this tour was that the First Church of Invercargill was formed under the Rev. A. H. Stobo's able ministry, which commenced on June 29, 1860. Writing about this time Burns referred to the intense pressure of work, "partly due to the increased population, partly to the formation of the second church in Dunedin, with the consequent rearrangement of Sessions, Deacons' Courts, and the Sustentation Fund. He page 252stated that his time had not been absorbed to such an extent since the Disruption in 1843. He added: "My three months at Invercargill set me up in health. Despite my advancing years I am able to tramp all over my wide parish in a way that really surprises me."5
In 1861 the signal distinction of the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon the Rev. Thomas Burns by his "alma mater," the University of Edinburgh. The degree had been suggested in Scotland before the first party left for Otago, but it came at a far more fitting time as a recognition of the worth and ability which had characterized his labours in the Colony, as well as in Scotland. The proposal to confer the degree upon Mr Burns received the strong support of the Principal of the University, Sir David Brewster, and Professor Miller. The honour was received in Otago with much rejoicing, and the friends of Dr Burns felt that the Church and province shared in the honour which his own genius had rightly secured.
One of the greatest events in the history of Otago was the discovery of gold. In May, 1861, William Gabriel Read found rich deposits in the tributaries of the Tuapeka and Waitahuna Rivers. Soon "Gabriel's Gully" became a city of canvas tents. Thousands of men came from far and near to the vicinity of the present town of Lawrence. Other fields were discovered, and "rushes" continued for many years. Dunedin was transformed by the influx of population. Hundreds flocked to the diggings, while thousands poured into the port. The harbour was crowded with vessels. The revenue advanced from £97,000 at December, 1860, to £470,000 in 1862. Writing to his brother, Burns described the change in terms which reflected the excitement of the times, and he revealed a tinge of sadness because of the passing of the old order of things.6page 253
You will have seen by the papers accounts of the goldfields discovered in the north of Otago, and can see that it will very greatly change the character of the population. Otago is suffering from an extreme paroxysm of gold fever. Every male who can get away has gone to the diggings. The blacksmith's forge is blown out, the carpenters have bolted, the sawmill is silent. It is a most marvellous upturn, and working men have been literally shovelling gold. Why, the freight from Port Chalmers to Dunedin is equal to half the whole freight from London to Otago. There must now be about 8000 or 9000 men engaged in the various Otago diggings, and all this in six months' time! It would have taken 12 years of the old order of things to have put Otago in the position that six months of the gold diggings have done. So far as the diggers are concerned the bulk of them are quiet, civil, hard-working fellows, but it is the non-worker who comes with them who causes all the trouble. They will not work, but they manage to exist in some way, and incidentally keep our police force very busy. But things in general are not good. Overtrading in Dunedin has run its course, and everyone is a storekeeper or owns a gin palace. The consequences of all this are looked for every day with rueful apprehension.
These predictions of a slump were realised in 1864 and the following years. Dr Burns referred to these strenuous times in an impartial, critical, but unsparing manner, and his expression of views conveys a clearer impression of the actual position of affairs than most of the other sources of information of the day. Despite the extra-ordinary depression, Dr Burns maintained that when Otago was forced back upon her natural resources she would continue on her old steady and prosperous way. And so it proved to be, although he did not live to see Otago reach maturity. "Dr Burns was half a century in advance of his time."7
The travelling in the early days was a severe test of endurance. The journeys on foot were over tracks sometimes knee deep in mud. Folk carried their purchases home page 254on their backs. Horses were scarce, and bullocks were often used to draw sledges. The roads of Dunedin were a byword for many years. The Rev. A. B. Todd's journey to Tokomairiro was typical of many undertaken by Burns and his colleagues. Accompanied by his wife from Dunedin, four different modes of travel were used. The first stage to East Taieri 10 miles) was accomplished by Mrs Todd on a sledge drawn by a couple of bullocks, while Mr Todd walked on foot. The second stage, to Taieri Ferry (12 miles), was in a bullock dray. But old Tom, the bullock, soon "struck work" in a creek. Fortunately, a man with a horse dray rescued the "new chums" and took them on their way. The next stage was by punt across the Taieri River and thence by boat rowed up the Waihola Lake. At the head of the lake Mr John L. Gillies met the travellers with horses, and they rode through the slush and mud to their future home, which completed the fourth stage of their 40-mile journey, the time taken being four days.8 On one occasion Burns was being rowed across Lake Waihola by a carpenter when the boat had to lie out beyond a muddy bank. The carpenter insisted on carrying "the body of divinity" to the shore, but the weight of the Ayrshire minister was so great that he, too, sank knee deep in the mud. Mr Chisholm in his own witty way continued9:—" Had the minister been a Pliable he would have wriggled back to the solid earth and wiped his feet and legs on the tussocks that he might appear respectable; but he was intent on doing his duty, and he sacrificed not a particle of his usual dignity, although for the rest of the day, like the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, his feet were partly page 255clay."Mr Will and Mr Bannerman and the other, pioneer ministers experienced all the hardships of the work "in journeyings often in perils of rivers," and Mr Bannerman was so severely injured through an accident that he had to retire eventually from the active work of his large parish and confine his labours to clerical work for the Synod and the convenership of the Foreign Missions Committee. Even travelling by sea was full of dangers and delays. The devoted wife of Dr Burns took nine days to make the voyage to the Bluff in order that she might visit her daughter, Mrs Elles.10
The rise of the Synod of Otago is described at some length in the fine book "Fifty Years Syne," which was written by the Rev. James Chisholm on the occasion of the Jubilee of the Presbyterian Church of Otago, and therefore the events leading up to it need not be described in this biography at any length.11 The rapid increase in the population following upon the gold discoveries led to the erection of the Presbyteries of Clutha and Southland in addition to Dunedin, and prepared for the creation of the Synod, which began its official history on January 16, 1866. The honoured minister of Dunedin was appointed Moderator of the higher court. His address was full of weighty counsel, in view of the situation in which the province found itself with its 57,000 people of varied types living together in a district that had once been dedicated to the ideals of a class settlement. Without wavering in his loyalty to that ideal, or minimising in the least degree the value of the early standards of religion, education, and destiny, Burns sadly recognised that the day of an exclusive Scottish Colony had passed away. He declared that the hope of future progress could be found only in page 256the Church of the living God. Other things have their place, such as "timely legislation," the "humanising influences of civilised society," but "the spiritual forces " represented by the Church alone can further God's Kingdom in the world. "Let it be our part, then, fathers and brethren," he urged, "through the grace of God, fully to realise to our own hearts the grandeur of that work to which in God's providence we have been called in these the utmost ends of the earth."
The Synod advanced the cause—ever dear to the heart of a living Church—of the education of her ministers. A College Committee was appointed to consider and report as to "the best method of encouraging young men to give themselves to the work of the ministry and of securing for them a thorough literary and theological equipment."
The Presbyterian Church has always insisted upon a broad base of culture for her ministers. The regular course includes a full curriculum in arts at the University as an essential foundation for specialised training in theology. Hence, the establishment of a seminary for her ministers involves the Church in the promotion of University education. This motive was at work when the plans of the Scottish Colony were being drawn up in the Homeland. The tradition of the Scottish Church and the example of the founders of the puritan colony of New England, as expressed in the quaint words of the extract from the old records given at the head of this chapter, ever shone before the eyes of the founders of Otago. That vision inspired the paragraph which appeared in the very first number of the Otago Journal:—
Ample provision will be made for teaching every branch of a liberal education. The instruction will not only comprehend all that is given in the best institutions of the kind in this country, but will embrace many of the higher branches of page break page 257literature and philosophy which are usually taught at the Universities. A thorough English education will be made the basis of a sound knowledge of the classics, mathematics, and mental and physical science, while the modern languages, drawing, and other accomplishments will not be neglected. Great efforts will be made to render the instruction solid and substantial, such as befits a Colony which aspires to become a centre of civilisation in the southern hemisphere. The whole institution will be conducted on Christian principles, and the doctrines and duties of religion will be carefully inculcated. In the house every care will be taken to provide for the health and comfort of the pupils, who will be taught to regard themselves as members of a well-regulated Christian family. The domestic arrangements will be managed by a lady of respectability and piety. Out of doors the pupils will be continually under the superintendence of a master.
The article concludes with a most ambitious expectation that such an establishment will afford the greatest satisfaction not only to the settlers in Otago, but also to "many of high respectability in India, Australia, and Van Dieman's Land, since it will assure them that, though far from their native land, they can still obtain for their children the blessing of a sound and liberal education." Such a grandiloquent scheme was propounded by the leaders of the enterprise, abandoning altogether their national canniness, and laying themselves open to the charge of having "a guid conceit o' themselves." And yet, leaving aside the closing scene which, like Joseph's dream, represented all the sheaves bowing down to the Otago sheaf, we find here the germ of a great idea. When Maitland, of Lethington, heard of Knox's scheme for education he characterised it as "a devout imagination," but in essence the system actually came into being in the parish schools and Universities of Scotland. For after all, "ideas have hands and feet"; they do things and they walk upon the solid earth. From an idealistic scheme the page 258Colony of Otago sprang into being, and from the educational vision of the founders of a Scotland beneath the Southern Cross the present institutions of religion and learning in the province have derived their origin. In the University of Otago, as an integral part of the University of New Zealand, and the pioneer institution of learning in the Dominion; in Knox College of residence, and Theological Hall; in St. Margaret's College, the High Schools; in John M'Glashan College for boys, Columba College and Archerfield School for girls, one can find the fulfilment in the spirit, if not in the letter, of many of the early hopes of the planters of the Church and province of Otago.
At the Synod of 1866, definite steps were taken which led to the beginning of a Theological Hall, and greatly assisted in the establishment of the University of Otago. The measures which were adopted led to the appointment of Professor William Salmond as the first Theological professor.
Before reviewing these important developments, however, it is necessary that we should fill in the story of Dr Burns up to the closing years of his life. The first reference may well be to the passing of his old friend and colleague, William Cargill, whose death took place on August 6, 1860. In many respects the joint service of Cargill and Burns was eminently useful in the building up of the Colony, as it was vital to the initiation of the enterprise. The two men had much in common as patriotic and courageous leaders in the establishment of the Free Church settlement. They had different commissions in the army of the Empire. Cargill was an old soldier, with a gift for leadership and administration on the provincial scale. He was a man of affairs, with financial and legal experience. His election to the post of Superintendent of page 259the Province without opposition showed the respect in which he was held even by those who chafed at times under his rod. The settlers had already shown their loyalty to their chief by a hearty public dinner, at which the toasts of Cargill and Burns had been most enthusiastically received. But Cargill undoubtedly had his limitations. His prejudices may not have been more intense than those of his ministerial colleague, but they ran through narrower channels, finding their way through ruts of sectarianism and provincialism which wore deeply into the surface of common life. As we take leave of William Cargill, the keen scion of the Covenanters, and the old campaigner who led the band of settlers to their future country, we realise that he was a man who sincerely tried to do his duty, and that he succeeded where nearly all would have failed in ruling a primitive settlement and in accomplishing a most difficult task.
The work of First Church was strenuously carried on by Dr Burns through the years of the gold rushes. In 1862 Mr James Roy arrived from Scotland, and became catechist to the congregation. The fostering care of the Mother Church was shown in the suburbs which grew up around Dunedin. Mr Roy started Sunday Schools in Kaikorai, Anderson's Bay, and Caversham, and, with the help of the office-bearers of First Church, assisted in laying the foundations of these and other strong charges of today. An effort to obtain an assistant after Mr Roy left at the end of 1865 did not succeed. In the meantime the change to the new and temporary church building in Dowling street had taken place. Burns's description of the fate of the old structure, as given in his published address delivered at a soiree on February 16, 1865, is too good to pass over:—
It is only since our brief experience of our present accommodation that the old fabric rises up before our imagin- page 260ations in all its dirt and deformity. The poor old church! Never was there an honester, a more faithful servant. I say that it was a good servant of all work. Its sacred, its proper work was on Sunday. But from Monday to Saturday it held itself ready for all service. It was a school-room; it was a public lecture room; it was long the humble servant of the Dunedin Land Investment Company; it lent itself to many a stormy political meeting; it was the willing servant of the Horticultural Society; with patriotic zeal it accommodated the Provincial Council; it gave an honourable reception to his Excellency the Governor-General; it lent itself to many a concert, many a musical party. It was equally at the command of all. For 17 long years it had occupied, with the utmost credit to itself, the high and honourable position of the First Church of Otago. In one sad hour it fell from its high estate. The First Church of Otago was converted into a woolshed—it sank down to the level of a common hired drudge of the lowest grade. The poor thing never recovered the blow; it died of a broken heart; it perished like a martyr at the stake; it breathed its last in the midst of a devouring fire. Peace be with the ashes of our poor old church! It faithfully served its day and generation, and when its work was done, like Caesar under the refulgent stroke of Brutus, it folded its mantle with dignity, and gently bowed itself beneath, the disastrous blow of fate.
In the interim a new manse had been built on Church Hill, and on August 15, 1862, Dr Burns and his family left their old dwelling near Jetty street to occupy the loftier site. A year later, however, much to the chagrin of the pioneer minister, this house had to be given up, in consequence of the decision of the Government to cut down the hill and utilise the material for reclamation purposes. Dr Burns claimed compensation for this interference with his rights, and he wrote a very strong letter denouncing the action of the authorities as being opposed to honour and equity. His representations resulted in a grant from the Government by way of compensation. Dr Burns occupied Mr John Logan's house in London street, and afterwards took up his residence at Bankton, higher page 261up in the same street, but did not live to see the completion of the fine scheme for building the church and manse.
The "special reserves" referred to in Chapter XVIII had been already transferred to the Presbyterian Church of Otago, with permission to lease or mortgage the properties and appropriate the funds in the following manner:— All rents from the old manse site and Church Hill were to be applied to the erection of a church and manse on the hill, and thereafter to the erection and repair of any manse or church under the care of the Presbytery, and all rents from the college site were to be directed to the erection and maintenance of a college, or other educational institution in Dunedin (ordinance passed on July 3, 1861). The Provincial Council also declared that in erecting a new church on Church Hill the building should be "such in style and architecture as to be in unison with so commanding a site, and an ornament to the town of Dunedin." The Synod now acts for the old Presbytery.
The church in Dowling street, which stood opposite to the present Dunedin Savings Bank, was occupied until 1873, two years after the death of Dr Burns, while the present First Church was being built. The present manse was completed before the walls of the new church had risen above the foundations. I have in my possession a photograph which shows the cruciform foundations of the church on the levelled site, the manse apparently ready for occupation, and on the further side the cliff-like wall of rock where quarrying was proceeding, with one or two small houses perched up on the remnant of the original peak. The church cost altogether £14,200, which was authorised by the Synod as a recognition of the services rendered by the intrepid minister and his congregation to the wider cause of the Church of Otago and education.page 262
The noble building of First Church was opened for public worship on November 23, 1873, by the Rev. Dr James Begg, who had been one of the friends of the Colony from its foundation, and whose descendants have filled an honoured place in the life and work of Church and province to the present day. In the opinion of Sir Julius Vogel, First Church is "the fairest and most chaste of the ecclesiastical buildings south of the Line." The glorious spire is indeed like a psalm in stone. It towers from a broad and elaborated pedestal to a height of 185 feet. The design is Norman-Gothic. The building is of Oamaru stone, and it is seated for about 1000 persons. The architect was Mr R. A. Lawson, who came from Melbourne and served the church as Session Clerk for many years. Competitive designs had been called for in Australia and New Zealand, and Mr Lawson gained the award. For 10 years, however, the building was delayed in consequence of the decision to cut down the hill, and because of a feeling of dubiety in the minds of many members of the Synod regarding the need of "such a wonderful creation!" The claims of struggling Bethels in the wilds of Otago and Southland were raised in opposition to the building of a cathedral-like edifice for Dunedin. Mr Lawson has attributed to Dr Burns the idea and the fulfilment thereof. The idea of Dr Burns was to erect "a monument to Presbyterianism at the Antipodes." He informed Mr Lawson that without his "valiant assistance he could not have prevailed against a hungry phalanx of truculent desperadoes!"12 Here is the most wonderful thing in Dunedin—an altar to the Ideal. It is Burns's truest monument, although he never saw its piercing, cleaving, uplifting spire.page 263
In 1867 the Rev. George Sutherland, from the Free Church of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, arrived in Dunedin, and was secured by the Session as assistant to Dr Burns for two months. At the end of the period the congregation proceeded to call Mr Sutherland to be the "colleague and successor" to Dr Burns. The Presbytery requested a special meeting of Synod, and Mr Sutherland was inducted into the office on October 16, 1867. Dr Burns was then in his seventy-second year, and showed signs of failing vigour. He was able to live more quietly at home, although he continued for some time to take a lively interest in all matters affecting the Church, education, and the progress of the Colony. His medical advisers recommended that he should not continue to preach, and his last sermon was given on September 22, 1867. The pastoral side of his work did not altogether cease, for he officiated at baptisms, marriages, and prepared young communicants for the Sacrament. The interest of Dr Burns in educational matters helped to complete the preparations for the establishment of the Theological Hall of the Presbyterian Church, and the inauguration of the University of Otago.
An Act was passed by the General Assembly of New Zealand in 1866 for the consolidation and regulation of the legal provisions for administering the Church Trust lands and revenues. Trustees were appointed—viz., Dr Burns, Edward M'Glashan, John Hyde Harris, Arthur William Morris, William Hunter Reynolds, John Gillies, and James Paterson. It was decided that two-thirds of the proceeds of the funds should be designated "The Ecclesiastical Fund," and he devoted to the uses of the Synod in regard to "building or repairing manses and churches in the provinces of Otago and Southland, and for endowing or page 264aiding in the endowment of any theological chair or chairs in connection with the said Presbyterian Church of Otago in any college or university which may hereafter be erected in the said province of Otago." The remaining one-third was to form "The Educational Fund," which was to be invested and used by the Synod, under certain regulations, in "the erection or endowment of a literary chair or chairs in any college or university which shall be erected or shall exist in the province of Otago." These provisions were framed on the recommendation of Dr Burns as an expression of the spirit in which the original Trust for Religious and Educational Uses had been founded and executed in the early days of the settlement. As the result of Dr Burns's early activities and later counsels in connection with these important purchases of lands for the objects named the Church gained its Theological Hall besides distributing aid to manses and churches, and the way was made easier for the creation of the University of Otago. The whole of New Zealand has profited by the endowments so wisely used by the trustees and their successors in Synod and the Church Board of Property.
3 "Records of the Early Days," by Alfred Eccles, p. 11.
4 "Proceedings of the Presbytery of Otago," p. 53.
5 "Early Otago" (Bannerman), p. 14.
6 Ibid., p. 14 to 15.
7 Ibid., p. 16.
8 "Memorials of the Past, Being the Ministerial Reminiscences of the late Rev. Alex. B. Todd, Oamaru, New Zealand." Dunedin: Otago Daily Times and Witness Office, 1905. Mr Todd was inducted into Oamaru charge in 1869.
9 "Fifty Years Syne," p. 136.
10 "Early Otago," p. 15.
11 ."Fifty Years Syne," p. 181 and ensuing chapter.
12 From information given by Mr J. W. Lawson.
13 History of the Otago University, by G. E. Thompson, pages 13, 15, 17, and 19.