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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Otago & Southland Provincial Districts]

The History of The Presbyterain Church

The History of The Presbyterain Church in Otago is so inseparably connected with that of the province that much of its story has already been told in the general introduction to this volume. Therefore it may be sufficient to say here that in 1843, two years after the New Zealand Company had obtained its charter of colonisation from the Imperial Government, a movement to form a Scotch settlement in some part of the Middle Island of New Zealand was begun, and it was proposed to arrange for religious and educational endowments on the basis of Presbyterianism. Owing to trouble in connection with the disruption of the Church of Scotland, considerable delay was experienced in carrying out the scheme of settlement. However, in 1845, the Lay Association of the Free Church brought the scheme again before the General Assembly of the Free Church, which gave the project its full approval. An agreement was then entered into with the New Zealand Company, providing that the Association should be recognised as the party to promote the settlement. Emigrants were to be selected, and lands were to be sold to persons approved by the Association, which was to carry out the enterprise on its own principles and lines. A portion of a 400,000 acre block of land, previously bought from the Maoris, was secured and divided in properties of certain areas, and the proceeds of the sale were to be appropriated in various defined ways. The settlement was to consist of a block of 146,000 acres to be divided into 2,400 properties, each to consist of sixty acres, and one quarter; namely a rural allotment of fifty acres, a suburban allotment of ten acres, and a town section of one quarter acre; and the price to be paid to the New Zealand Company was £2 per acre. One hunderd properties, or 6,025 acres, were to be held by Trustees for religious and educational purposes, and these Trustees were also to receive one-eight of each pound sterling realised from land sales within the Association's block: the money so received to be administered likewise in the interest of education and religion. The great advantage held out by the Association attracted numerous people who had families, as well as unmarried persons, who had hopes of bettering their condition in a new country, provided from the first with means for the maintenance of education and religion. Accordingly, the “John Wycliffe,” with ninety-seven emigrants under the leadership of Captain William Cargill, and the “Philip Laing,” with 247, under that of the Rev. Thomas page 174 Burns, sailed from Gravesend and Greenock respectively; the first on the 24th of November, 1847, and the second on the 27th of the same month, but both were delayed through stress of weather. The “John Wycliffe” reached her destination on the 22nd of March, 1843, after a passage of 116 days, and the “Philip Laing” on the 15th of April, after a passage of 139 days. The first religious service of the new arrivals was held in a building which served as a survey office. On the 25th of March, 1849, four Presbyters were elected; namely, Mr. Henry Clark, Mr James Blackie, Captain Cargill, and Mr. Alexander Chalmers. In 1850 the New Zealand Company surrendered its charter, and the Imperial Government undertook, through its Land and Emigration Agent, to observe and discharge all the obligations to the Otago Association. According to the original agreement, the Association was allowed five years to effect a sale of its block of 146,000 acres, but, unfortunately, up to the time of the Company's cessation, only 18,000 acres had been sold. Out of the one-eighth part of these sales, £4,500, the stipend of the minister and salary of the teacher had been paid, and a considerable portion had been invested in real estate. By the year 1853 the population of the settlement numbered sixteen hundred souls, of whom eleven hundred were Presbyterians. The spread of population to the country districts made it necessary to get new ministers, and the Rev. Messrs Will and Bannerman arrived in Port Chalmers, in 1854, by the ship “Stanley.” Mr. Will took charge of the Taieri district, and Mr. Bannerman of the Clutha district. As time went on it became clear that the formation of a second charge or pastorate was needed in the city. After attending to the customary preliminaries, it was agreed to apply to the convener of the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland for an experienced minister. The first Knox Church was built, and on the 27th of January, 1860, the Rev. Donald Macnaughten Stuart arrived by the ship “Bosworth” to take charge of it. The discovery of gold in the province led to an unexpected increase in the population, and to meet the changed conditions still more ministers were brought out in 1863, and others arrived in 1864. To facilitate the business of Church government, three presbyteries were formed; one for Dunedin, one for Clutha, and one for Southland. Before this time the Church had begun to make provision for the training of its own clergy. The Rev. D. M. Stuart acted as tutor in Church History and Historical Theology, and the Rev. John Watt in Hebrew and Biblical Criticism, up to the time of the installation of the Rev. W. Salmond, of North Shields, as the Church's first Professor of Theology. Mr. Salmond held this position for ten years when he was appointed Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at the University of Otago, and was succeeded in the theological professorship by the Rev. Dr. Dunlop, of Free St. David's, Dundee. From the various properties which came into its possession, on trust, in virtue of the original agreement between the New Zealand Company and the Lay Association, the Presbyterian Church of Otago derives considerable revenues, which the Board of Property administers on the principle of two-thirds for ecclesiastical, and one-third for educational purposes. Under the second head three chairs are maintained at the University of Otago; one for Mental and Moral Philosophy, one for English Language and Literature, and one for Physical Science. Each of these chairs carries a salary of £600 a year, so that the Church gives £1800 of her revenue for purposes that have not the slightest tinge of denominationalism but are for the benefit of all.

First Church, Dunedin.

First Church, Dunedin.

From the early days of the colony a feeling existed for the union of the Otago church with her sister church in the North Island. After much negotiation, dropped and renewed page 175 from time to time, the churches agreed to the terms of union on the 31st of October 1901, when the General Supreme Synods of both were sitting in Dunedin; the one in Knox Church, the other in the First Church, with the Rev. J. Kennedy Elliott of Wellington. Moderator in the one case, and the Rev. James Gibb, of Dunedin, in the other. An Act of Union was agreed upon, and in the evening both Synods met in the Agricultural Hall, where in the presence of one of the largest assemblies ever held in Dunedin, the union was consummated under the designation of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, and the Rev. James Gibb was elected Moderator.