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Life and Times of D. M. Stuart, D.D.

Chapter X. — Dunedin

page 69

Chapter X.

The advancing years of Dr Burns, the pioneer minister of the Otago Settlement, combined with the steadily increasing dimensions of Dunedin, forced the conviction on some of the people that the time had come for the establishment of a second Presbyterian Church in the town. The question was taken up at several meetings and fully discussed in all its aspects. About this time the Rev. Mr Jeffreys, an Independent clergyman who preached to a small congregation which statedly assembled in the Mechanics' Institute, was constrained by ill-health to discontinue his public ministrations, and his people resolved to take steps to appoint a successor. But, when they heard of the movement in the First Church, the two congregations met in conference, and wisely decided to act in concert in the prosecution of their common aim. A Committee was accordingly elected, with instructions to make application for an additional minister for Dunedin. The interests of the Sustentation Fund were protected by a formal pledge which guaranteed it against diminution or loss; and the movement being thus sufficiently encouraging on its financial basis, steps were taken to secure a suitable site, and subscription lists were opened for the erection of a second church. Dr Burns gave the proposal his heartiest concurrence page 70and support, and, with the sanction of the Presbytery, the selection of a minister was entrusted to a Commission consisting of Dr Bonar, Convener of the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland; Dr Guthrie; and Professor Miller, of the Edinburgh University. In their letter of instructions, the Committee clearly enough indicated the sort of minister that was wanted. It was required that he be "a pious, energetic, and godly man: one willing to take a particular interest in securing the hearts of young men for public good, and who would allure the people to church-going habits." In order that he might be able to adapt himself to the circumstances, and to the varied ecclesiastical proclivities of a Colonial population, it was required that he be "large-minded, prudent, affable, gentle, yet firm, and ready for every good work." Stress was laid upon good, vigorous health and experience in the ministry; and it was expressly stated that the founders of the second church were less anxious about his denominational connection than they were to have an experienced and devoted minister, who would heartily co-operate with the Presbytery. The Committee, in the true spirit of Christian men who had put their hands to a great and momentous work, were accustomed to meet weekly for prayer to the Great Head of the Church that He would guide their Commissioners to a good and wise selection. And while they prayed that a suitable minister might be sent to them, they set energetically to work to erect a church and a manse for his accommodation. The plan of the church which was originally built provided for seating 600 people.

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The Commissioners appointed by the founders of the second church in Dunedin to select a minister for them held their first meeting about the middle of 1859. Dr Hislop, in his interesting "History of Knox Church," has placed on record a tradition which is believed to have some foundation in fact. It is to the effect that at the first meeting of the Commissioners Dr Guthrie said: "Some years ago I felt much interested in a young minister whom I met while attending the induction of the Rev. Thomas Duncan into Trinity Church, Newcastle. He had a strong flavour of the Grampians, and had the advantage of some travel. I would suggest that Dr Bonar make inquiries concerning his work, and report." The suggestion was acted upon, with the result that at the following meeting it was resolved to offer Mr Stuart, the young minister referred to, the appointment in Dunedin.

Mr Stuart cordially accepted the position, and prepared for emigration to the new land. His heart ached at the rending of the ties which had bound him during ten happy years to his first congregation. But he had chafed somewhat within the narrow limitations of his field of labour at Falstone. He felt in him the throbbings of an indomitable energy, which yearned for new conditions and larger scope for his activities than could be found in the territorial confinements and ecclesiastical prescriptions of the Old Country. Besides all that, Colonial life had a powerful attraction for him. He had. a glowing admiration for the pioneering labours and the wise patriotism of the founders of the American Colonies, and he frequently page 72referred to them as illustrating the truth that nation-building required the steady co-operation of the family, the school, the Church, and the factory. Emigration to distant lands was a subject that had been kept before his mind from early boyhood by the voluntary expatriation of the flower of the manhood of the Highland glens, and his imagination had been kindled by the glowing accounts which had come back of the splendid successes which had crowned the industrial labours of the emigrants who had made homes for themselves in the great, wide, free Canadian Colonies: and now, when the opportunity had come to him, not of his own making or seeking, the noble ambition was stirred within him to have a hand in laying the foundations, and in shaping the destinies of a young nation under these Southern skies. He had scored his mark deeply by universal acknowledgment in the Old Land, and left behind him not only a name enshrined in all hearts as a faithful minister of Jesus Christ, but also noble monuments of work performed, which powerfully contributed to the intellectual and material advancement of the people.

On the 27th January, 1860, Mr Stuart with his wife and three children arrived in Port Chalmers, on board the ship Bosworth. They were accompanied by Margaret Hedley, a native of North Tyne, who had entered Mr Stuart's service in 1850, and had become so strongly attached to the family that she refused to sever connection with them, and accompanied them to Dunedin at her own expense. The kindness of the welcome which he and his party page 73received deeply touched him, and his grateful sense of it never left his soul. Captain Thomson and the Rev. Wm. Johnstone, both of Port Chalmers, stepped on deck when the ship let go her anchor inside the Heads, and they had not only words of glad greeting on their lips for the new minister and his wife, but also choicest products of garden, and field, and pasture in their hands—loaves of white bread, rolls of sweet butter, and large supplies of strawberries and cream—gifts which, Mr Stuart said, were "as considerate as they were appropriate, after their voyage of one hundred and twenty days;" and both greeting and gifts quickened in Mrs Stuart, who was an invalid, a pulse of hope which kindled some colour in her cheek, and a new light of gladness in her eye.

Mr Stuart's gaze lingered with delight on the harbour scenery that passed before him in his sail from Port Chalmers up to Dunedin, and as he approached the town he was greatly charmed with the natural beauty of its site. The narrow strip of land which ran along the base of wooded hills was occupied by the humble stores of merchants and traders, while the dwelling houses were perched higher up among clumps of greenery, with here and there plots of cultivation appearing in the clearings which had been made in the dark native bush. The settlement at that time was only about twelve years old. It had made slow progress, and the population did not exceed 2,600 persons. On stepping ashore, Messrs John Gillies and John Hyde Harris, "welcomed him with a warmth," he said, "which secured thence-forward his constant affection." Under their guidance page 74"he visited the church and manse which were then in course of erection, and they gave him assurance of hearty assistance in every work which he might undertake for the spread of the Gospel and the building up of the Church of God." Dr Burns had left for the south with the main purpose in view of organising a congregation at Invercargill, but Mrs Burns received the new minister kindly, and loaded him with fruits from her garden, which were greatly admired and relished on board the Bosworth.

On the arrival of the whole party at the jetty, on the following day, the late Messrs James Paterson and George Hepburn were there to meet them; and as it had become known that Mrs Stuart was in feeble health, they had provided, with kindly forethought, an arm chair, in which they placed her, and carried her to the quarters temporarily secured for Mr Stuart and his family in the hospitable home of Mr John Duncan. There, during their three weeks' stay, under the medical care of Dr Purdie and the skilful nursing of Mrs Duncan, the invalid's health made rapid improvement. They then removed to a pleasant cottage, which was given rent free by the late Mr James Wilkie, sen., which they continued to occupy until they entered the Manse, on 3rd April, 1860. Before he had been a week in Dunedin, Messrs Gillies and Wilkie waited on him, and placed in his hands a purse containing seventy sovereigns—no insignificant sum in those early days of the settlement. When Mr Stuart communicated the fact to his wife, she advised him to set apart twenty pounds of the amount as a contribution to the building fund page 75of the church. That was done, and they found their way to the plate on the opening day.

The welcome extended to Mr and Mrs Stuart by the settlers was hearty beyond expression, and assumed many cheering and refreshing forms, and as they talked over the goodness and favour so copiously showered upon them, there sprang up in their souls the resolution to devote themselves to the ministry of grace and beneficence to which they had been called in the providence of God in New Zealand.