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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 13

A Brief Account of the Origin and History, And also the Income and Expenditure, of the Presbyterian Church of Otago

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A Brief Account of the Origin and History,

And also the Income and Expenditure, of the

Delivered by the Rev. Dr. Burns,

Mills, Dick and Co., Printers, Stafford Street, Dunedin 1865.

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The Presbyterian Church in Otago.

The following address was delivered by the Rev Dr. Burns, at the congregational soiree of the First Presbyterian Church, on Thursday, Feb. 16, 1865.

In rising to perform the duty which now devolves upon me, I have first of all to express the lively gratification I feel in meeting so large a body of my congregation on an occasion so well fitted to call forth the mingled feelings of congratulation, and thankfulness, and joy. It is not often that a Christian congregation finds an opportunity of meeting together for the purpose of interchanging their mutual gratulations over the all-important acquisition of a new and commodious and comfortable place of worship. And when such an occasion does arise, there are many various elements that combine to increase and enhance the general rejoicing. The foremost of these is a deep feeling of gratitude to God, that sufficient provision has at length been made for the accomodation of every individual worshipper in the congregation. The next feeling is one that arises from the first perception and experience of the very palpable contrast between the old state of things and the new—the discomfort and defectiveness of the old place and the thorough completeness and comfort of the new. This at least is more especially our own case. We were all sufficiently alive before to the utter want of convenience in the old church. But it is only since our brief experience of our present pleasant accommodation, that the old and battered condition of the old fabric rises up before our page 4 imaginations in all its dirt and deformity. But I must be cautious when I approach such a subject as that of the infirmities of the old church, for it will not do to speak disrespectfully of the dead. There is an old Latin adage, of well-established reputation, which says "De mortuis nil nisi bonum," that means—When you have occasion to speak of the dead, be sure to mention only their good points. Now, I can safely say that our defunct old friend had many good and some very great points of character; and it would savour somewhat of black ingratitude and wilful disrespect if on such an occasion as this I were to pass them by without notice.

The poor old church! Never was there an honester, a more faithful, or a more useful servant. I may say that it was a good servant of all work. It could cleverly turn its hand to anything. Its sacred, its proper work was on Sunday. But from Monday to Saturday it held itself ready for any 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, to many a musical party. And then it was without pride, and it had no ambition; from the highest to the lowest, it was equally at the command of all. It was possessed at least of one great quality that should not be left untold; it utterly disdained a mercenary spirit, it never would work for wages, and it was this great quality that hastened its fall; adversity came—and so soon as its last trials began, they came thick and fast. The first trial was indeed hard to bear-our congregation turned its back on it for ever. A handsome new church arose under its very nose; page 5 and last of all it was itself let out for hire. For seventeen 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 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.

Let me now, however, pass from the words of lightness and of humor, and let me address myself to a topic of somewhat graver and more serious character; it is this—When it was proposed at this time to hold a social meeting of our congregation, my office-bearers requested me to take advantage of the opportunity of going once more into the history of the First Church of Otago, and explaining the position of the church properties; they assured me that many amongst my own congregation needed information in regard to it, and that they would be only too happy to receive it.

They told me also that the old cavils are still flung in their faces as they mingle amongst the people—that our missionary in his visits, our collectors of the Sustentation Fund in going their rounds—are tauntingly asked what becomes of all the secret wealth that accrued from the Trust Fund to the Minister and Deacons' Court of the First Church. In complying with this request, I have to express my regret and apology to the strangers who have honored us with their presence this evening, that I shall have to make a demand upon their patience by dwelling upon a topic that cannot be expected to have much interest for them.

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In the first place, then, I shall set before you as brief an account as I can of the origin and history of the fund for religious and educational uses in connection with the Presbyterian Church of Otago. It is well known that the settlement of Otago, in common with that of Canterbury, was founded upon those special principles which gave it the designation, and in some respects the character, of a class settlement—principles which have always been recognised as essential and indispensable elements in any properly devised scheme of systematic colonisation. One of these principles consists in a suitable provision for the maintenance of religious ordinances and for the education of the young.

Notwithstanding the obvious importance of this principle, however, it was entirely overlooked on the part of the N.Z. Company in their first endeavors to carry out their great enterprise of the colonizing of the Islands of New Zealand. For example, Wellington was the first established of the Company's settlements in New Zealand, and in the original scheme of that settlement no provision whatever was made for either church or school, an omission that was so severely felt by the body of the settlers on their first arrival, and in regard to which such strong remonstrances were sent to the Home country at the time, that the Company at once resolved to guard against any similar oversight in the case of any of their subsequent settlements. Accordingly, in the next succeeding settlement of Nelson, an ample fund was provided for religious and educational purposes. But here, again, another mistake was committed, for the Company forgot to say how this fund was to be divided, or what particular religious body or bodies were to have the preference. Accordingly it so happened that when the first body of settlers had arrived at Nelson, and were proceeding to allocate the fund, the applicants were discovered to belong to so many different religious denominations, that when page 7 each separate church should have received its proportionate share, the fund would be found to be so frittered down, and separated into so many small sub-divisions, as to be of little or no value to any individual denomination. It was under such circumstances that the New Zealand Company found the principle of colonizing by class settlements forced upon their acceptance, and in consequence they resolved that their third settlement should, in the first starting at least, consist mainly of the united adherents of some one particular church, with a provision for religious and educational institutions suited to that individual denomination. It was in the course of looking out for some such religious body from among whose members they might select the first settlers for their new settlement, that the New Zealand Company's attention was attracted to the notable events of the disruption of the Church of Scotland and the formation of the Free Church—events that were just taking place at that particular time.

So much for the operative causes and the peculiar circumstances which led to the N.Z. Company—as the actual founders of the Otago settlement—to impart to it the special type and character of a class settlement in connection with the Free Church of Scotland, and provided with Religious and Educational Institutions in accordance with the wants and requirements of the Free Church.

It were a very superfluous task in me were. I at this day to attempt to prove the great advantages that have resulted from the adopting of this particular mode of colonizing in New Zealand. We need only point to the two settlements of Canterbury and Otago, and to the very superior class of emigrant laborers that have been attracted to them, and more especially to the high moral and religious character of our own working population as conclusive evidence of these advantages.

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But the taunting reply that is made to all this is, "Nobody is finding fault with your favourite scheme of colonizing; it may be all very grand and patriotic for anything we know or care—but what we want to know is this, viz., what business have you as a Church with so much land both in town and country?" In reply, we beg leave to propound another question, viz., "What business had the New Zealand Company to determine that the settlement of Otago should be a class settlement? Give me a satisfactory answer to my question, and in so doing you will furnish me with a conclusive answer to yours."

But these disaffected parties express their meaning more plainly, and they ask why do these Collectors and Deacons of the First Church come dunning us for money when the rents of the trust estate, if they were honestly dealt with, would be found amply sufficient for all that is wanted? You have a very large landed property, what becomes of all the rents? Well, the explanation is as follows—The terms on which the N.Z. Company offered the wilderness lands of Otago for sale was at the rate of 40s. per acre, of which 40s. only one-quarter went into the pockets of the Company, the remaining three-fourths being expended on public purposes for the benefit of the settlement. For example, 15s. per acre was to be expended on emigration from the home country; 10s. per acre was to be laid out in surveys and other expenses in founding the colony, including roads and bridges; and 5s. an acre was to be expended on religious and educational uses. The proceeds of this 5s. an acre as they came to hand, and after repaying the necessary advances made by the Company, were invested in land within the settlement and paid for by the Church Trustees. I may add that it was the N.Z. Company who originated this proposal of purchasing a church estate; the Company no doubt finding it more convenient to hand over the 5s. per acre in the shape of wilderness page 9 land in Otago rather than in the shape of hard cash. So much for the question as to how the idea of the Church's landed estate ever came to be thought of. The next question is as to the extent of this landed estate which the Church in this way came into the possession of.

The whole landed property acquired by the Church Trustees up to the retirement of the New Zealand Company, amounts to 22 town sections, of one-quarter acre each; 22 suburban sections, of 10, and 22 rural sections, of 50 acres each; in all, 1325½ acres. This is exclusive of minister's glebes and sites for churches and manses.

The next question is the amount of revenue derived from these lands, and the objects on which that revenue has been expended.

At my request the Factor of the Church estate has furnished me with an abstract from his books showing a complete summary of the receipts and disbursements connected with the estate for the period of 13 years ending 31st December, 1864, and commencing in 1852. The accounts from the period of the first founding of the colony to 1852, are not accessible to the Factor. So far as I know, a complete and accurate statement of accounts up to the time of the New Zealand Company's retirement could only be obtained from the Company's records in London. In so far, however, as regards the subject of the present enquiry, I am enabled to state that the total income of the Church resulting from the Church lauds from the founding of the settlement to 1852, amounted to £33 3s.

I shall now proceed to lay before you a brief summary of the receipts and disbursements connected with the church estate from 1852 to 1864 inclusive, that is for 13 years.

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Net receipts after deducting incidental expenses connected with the trust:—
£ s. d,
1855 38 11 0
1853 33 8 11
1854 14 16 0
1855 28 10 6
1856 40 3 3
1857 48 16 0
1858 120 9 7
1859 112 19 9
1860 180 5 8
1861 477 12 5
1862 363 3 1
1863 548 2 3
1864 932 17 6
Total £2940 5 11
£ s. d.
*Land purchased for sites 428 16 6
Grants towards the building of Manses, &c 1734 10 0
Interest and money borrowed in aid of Manse Fund 418 0 0
Minister of First Church, stipend, years 1852 to 1855 123 10 8
Balance in hand, 31st Dec., 1864 235 7 9
£2940 5 11

Memo.—A considerable amount of arrears was paid in 1864.

I may mention that a new trust deed is in course of preparation, by which a division will be made in the fund, two-thirds of the proceeds will be devoted to church purposes, and one-third to educational uses, the latter to be applied in aid of a fund for a college.

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It thus appears from the Factor's accounts that, with the exception of the few first years of the colony, when there was no misister but myself, and no congregation but my own, and when both the colony and the church were manfully breasting up against the hardships and toils which every young settlement has to encounter before it can effectually strike its roots into the soil of its adopted country; with exception of this period—the mere infancy of the colony—the congregation of the First Church has not only never touched one farthing from the rents of the Church Estate, but, on the contrary, by means of private subscriptions amongst its wealthier members, and by collections at the church door, it has so largely supplemented the resources from the Trust Fund, that but for that supplement the earlier country congregations could never have erected their churches at all.

Nothing but the grossest ignorance of the whole matter, prompted by something greatly worse than ignorance, could have originated and promulgated so many absurd and scandalous insinuations. Be it known, therefore, that from first to last, the congregation of the First Church has acted the part of a fostering parent to all the other Presbyterian congregations in the colony. She has not only sent them money as God had enabled her, but she has sent them members and office-bearers in no small numbers out of her own body. There are not many Kirk Sessions or Deacons' Courts or congregations in the colony where there are not a pretty considerable sprinkling of old First Church elders and deacons, members and adherents to be found.

Whilst the foregoing statement comprehends a succinct account of the origin and history, and also of the income and expenditure of the landed estate belonging to the Presbyterian Church of Otago, it may at the same time be proper to append thereto a similar account of the three properties page 12 commonly known as—1st., "The Old Manse Site," at the head of Jetty Street; 2nd., "The College Site," on the site of the present Interim Church; and 3rd., "Bell Hill," originally called The Church Hill.

These three properties—immediately on the arrival of the first party of settlers, in March, 1848, and consequent upon express instructions to that effect, on the part of the New Zealand Company to Colonel Wakefield, their principal agent in New Zealand at that time—were selected and set apart by Capt. Cargill, the Company's agent in Otago (and subsequently approved of and sanctioned by Col. Wakefield) as the most suitable and appropriate sites for—1, a Manse; 2, a School and Schoolmaster's House; and 3, a Church, as the property in all time coming of the Congregation of the First Church of Otago.

Of these three properties, the first (No. 1) was instantly taken possession of, and a ready-made Manse brought out from London in the "John Wycliffe," was planted down upon it with so much despatch, that the Minister and his family, alone of that first pioneer party, enjoyed the rare luxury of stepping from the ship's side at once into their new Colonial abode, beneath their own roof-tree, and by their own fireside.

The occupancy of No. 1 was soon followed by the occupancy of No. 2, by the erection of a commodious and comfortable School-house—not large indeed, but more than adequate to the accommodation of our then small handful of a population. This same School-house (together with certain strange and fantastic looking additions and enlargements, which our growing necessities and requirements compelled us from time to time to make to it), continued from motives of economy to be, for well nigh seventeen years, our stated place of worship down to the beginning of 1865, when, unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire; but, most page 13 fortunately, not before we had been already for a few weeks put in possession of our new interim Church.

The occupancy of site No. 3 commenced in this wise. A few kind friends of ours in the home country subscribed for and sent us out a most excellent Church Bell. But when the Bell arrived, it was thought to be far too good for our old queer-looking fabric of a Church. Our office-bearers, accordingly—partly with a view to its being better heard, and partly by way of taking legal possession of the site of our future Church—proceeded forthwith to plant our Bell on the top of Church Hill. As an accommodation to the inhabitants of Dunedin, leave was granted to the authorities, on week-days, to make use of the Bell to regulate the working people's time. This use of the Bell on week-days, from the circumstance of its greater frequency, came gradually to be regarded as its proper and principal use, and the Hill itself to be spoken of as if its only use was to be the site of the Bell. Time passed on—and the appropriate name of the Church Hill came at last to be super seded by the depreciatory cognomen of the Bell Hill.

Our unfriends, in the meanwhile, began to take advantage of all this. Bold assertions began to be made to the effect that the right of property claimed by our congregation either in the Hill or in the Bell had no just or lawful foundation whatever. Even members of the Provincial Council in their place publicly maintained in that assembly that to their certain knowledge the Bell was the property of the Provincial Government, and had been originally bought with the public money. Unluckily for the credit of these trusty councillors, it so happened shortly afterwards that the Bell needed repair—and the tradesman, whilst he was up on the Belfry, copied out the inscription which had been originally stamped on the Bell at the page 14 foundry when it was cast. This inscription bore that the Bell was the gift of a few friends in Scotland to the Minister and Congregation of the First Church of Otago.

This of course settled the question as to the proper ownership of the Bell. Then, again, as to the ownership of the Hill, that question also was shortly after settled in an equally satisfactory manner by the issuing of a Crown Grant to the Church Hill "As a Site for the First or Principal Church of the Presbyterian Church of Otago." The only other kind of occupancy of the Church Hill by the First Church was when the Minister and his family (5th August 1862) finally left the original old Manse in Jetty-street and took possession of the handsome new Manse erected on the top of the Church Hill: this occupancy, however, continued only till August 1863, when both the new Manse and the Bell were removed in order to make way for the operations of the Government in levelling the Church Hill.

So much then for the origin and history of these three properties, which, at the original settlement of the Colony, in 1848, were granted and made over to the Congregation of the First Church by the New Zealand Company.

These three properties were at the time, and for a number of years continued to be, the most suitable sites the town afforded for the several purposes for which they were wanted. But so soon as the sudden and rapid prosperity of the Province of Otago, but more especially of the town of Dunedin, arose, these properties acquired a mercantile value so great as rendered it inconsistent with the position of any one Congregation, that it should be the recipient of so large a revenue as they held out the prospect of. Accordingly, an Ordinance was passed by the Provincial Council, 5th July, 1861, and assented to by the Governor of New Zealand, to transfer the management and page 15 administration of these three properties from the Superintendent of Otago to the Presbyterian Church of Otago; and to authorise the leasing and mortgaging of said properties, and to direct the appropriation of the funds arising therefrom.

By the terms of this Ordinance, all rents, &c., &c., accruing from the old Manse site (No. 1), and from the Church Hill (No. 3), are to be applied to the following purposes, viz.:—first, towards the erection of a Church and Manse on the Church Hill; and thereafter to the erection and repair of any Church or Manse in connexion with the said Presbyterian Church of Otago; and all rents, &c., accruing from the College site (No. 2), shall be applied towards the erection and maintenance of a College or other Educational Institution in Dunedin.

Thus it appears that the sole benefit which the First Church will derive from these three valuable properties, with which that Church was originally endowed, is that the expense of erecting the Manse, and our own permanent Church, on Church Hill, shall be defrayed out of the first rents from the old Manse site. There is just one point more to be mentioned in this connection, and that is, that it was an express condition made by the Provincial Council, in consenting to pass the above mentioned Ordinance, that in erecting our new Church, on Church Hill, the building should be such in point of style and architecture as to be in unison with so commanding a site, and an ornament to the town of Dunedin.

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Subjoined is a statement, furnished by the Factor, of the Receipts and Expenditure connected with the Old Manse Site, down to 31st December, 1864:—

£ s. d.
Rents 5310 9 0
Net proceeds of Old Manse 59 16 0
Interest 21 7 8
5391 12 8
£ s. d.
Auctioneer's and Advertising Account 119 17 0
Solicitor's Account to date 93 10 0
Surveyor's Account 21 15 0
Building New Manse on Church Hill 1922 15 6
Paid to First Church on Account of New Church to be erected on Church Hill 53 7 6
Rates, &c. 18 17 6
Commission 268 9 6
Loan to First Church 2000 0 0
Loan to Walker-st. Church 600 0 0
5101 12 0
Balance in hand 290 0 8
5391 12 8

Mills, Dick and Co., Printers. Stafford Street.

* Land has been purchased for sites at South Clutha, Tokomairiro, Waihola, Dunedin, West Taieri, Kaitangata, Oamaru, Molyneux, Lawrence, Peninsula, Palmerston, Pomahaka, Herbert, Balclutha.