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

The First Church of Otago

The First Church of Otago is situated on the reduced level of what used to be known as Bell Hill in the centre of the city. The name “First Church” designates rather the congregation than the building itself. The congregation—for several years the only religious communion in Otago—at first occupied a building partly of wood, and partly of stone, which stood on the site now occupied by Messrs Sargood, Son and Ewen's warehouse in Lower High Street. A second building was erected in Dowling Street where the City Hall now stands. During the occupancy of this second or interim church, the erection of the present imposing building was undertaken, and in November, 1873, it was ready for the uses of public worship. The original cost of the building was £16,000; but various alterations, including a gallery, afterwards erected, brought the amount up to about £20,000. The church, in the opinion of Sir Julius Vogel, the fairest and most chaste of the ecclesiastical buildings south of the line, is one of the most prominent features of the city of Dunedin. It is built of Oamaru stone, in the Norman-Gothic style of architecture. A graceful spire runs up to a height of 185 feet. The pulpit and baptismal font are of stone, the carvings of which are much and justly admired. The organ, which was introduced in 1889, is situated in the gallery. The church is seated for about 1000 worshippers, and is usually well filled. The membership in full communion numbers over 700; and there is also a considerable roll of adherents. A large number of agencies are connected with the congregation, and there are three Sunday schools. One is conducted in the hall adjoining the church, another in a mission hall (the property of the church) in Russell Street, and a third in Roslyn. The total number of scholars is between 500 and 600.

Since its institution in 1848, First Church has had only five pastors in full charge; namely, the Rev. Dr. Burns, the Rev. George Sutherland, the Rev. Lindsay Mackie, the Rev. W. H. Guthrie, and the Rev. James Gibb. Towards the end of 1903 the lastmentioned accepted a call to St. John's Church, Wellington; and so far (February, 1904) no successor has been permanently appointed to First Church.