Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bottle in the stone

Image: Old St. Paul's Church, by Edward Ainsworth, 1843, Auckland City Art Gallery.

To me, one of Auckland's great historic tragedies was the demolition of both Point Britomart from the 1870s, and the old St Paul's Anglican Church which once sat on the point at the end of Princes Street, overlooking the harbour. Today, the point is an amputated stump, with memorial plaques the only reminder that there once was a church on what is now empty chasm falling to Shortland Street and Emily Place below. The foundation stone was laid in 1841, completed with a bottle as a time capsule to mark the occasion. The church lasted just 44 years, before it had to make way for the city's progress.

Auckland Star, 23 February 1885
Yesterday the final services in St Paul’s Church, prior to its demolition, took place, and were largely attended by those interested in that ancient landmark of Auckland. There were twenty-two communicants at the early communion service, and eighty-four at end-day … In the evening, the incumbent, Rev. C. M. Nelson, preached to an overcrowded house … the rev. gentleman gave some interesting reminiscences of the early history of the church.

He stated that the foundation stone was laid on Wednesday, 28th of July 1841, by His Excellency Captain Hobson, first Governor of the colony. The church then planned for erection consisted of that portion of the building which extends from the present vestry, which was then the altar, to the choir seats and organ gallery. On 27th October 1841, Bishop Selwyn was consecrated first Bishop of New Zealand, and an impetus was given to the work by funds raised by him in England, and his subsequent arrival in the colony on the 30th May, 1842. In the papers of that day it is stated that in August, 1842, £100 was granted by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel “for the purchase of an organ for the first church now building in New Zealand.” The church was consecrated on St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, 1844, by Bishop Selwyn.

The Rev. J. F. Churton died on 26th January, 1853, after twelve years’ service in Auckland, during nine of which he conducted service in the church. The Rev. F. Thatcher was assistant of St. Paul’s after Mr. Churton’s death, and for a few months carried on the work, when he was appointed to the newly-formed doistrict of St. Matthew’s. In June 1853, Mr. Lloyd became incumbent, and was subsequently raised to the archdeaconry, with the title of Archdeacon of Waitemata. On February 24th, 1861, Bishop Patteson was consecrated to the Bishopric of the diocese of Melanesia. Mr. Dudley (now Archdeacon Dudley) was ordained to the Melanesian Mission in this church.

Extensive additions were made to the church in 1863 by the erection of the present nave and chancel, at a cost of £2,500, and the church was re-opened on September 6th, 1863. On October 5th, 1868, the only General Synod as yet held in Auckland was opened in the church. In 1869 Bishop Selwyn left the colony, and the service prior to his departure was conducted in the church.

In 1870 Archdeacon Lloyd left Auckland, having been incumbent at St. Paul’s seventeen year. After a short space, during which Bishop Cowie cared for the parish, the present incumbent succeeded to the charge on June 1, 1876. Bishop Cowie held a primary ordination service in the church on November 30 (St Andrew’s Day), 1870. On the 10th of June, 1873, Bishop Cowie ordained to the priesthood George Sarwin, the first and only native deacon ordained by Bishop Patteson.

In 1876 the interior of the church was cemented and the churchyard fenced at a cost of £700. In 1879, the old organ and choir gallery were removed, and the organ considerably enlarged. The organ was purchased at a cost of £300, and it was then 70 years old.

St. Paul’s, when the troops were here, was always the garrison church, and it was where every Governor of the colony when in Auckland has worshipped. During the Northern Maori War, the church was strengthened and barricaded as a refuge for the women and children when the natives threatened the town. The rev. gentleman stated that the marble tablets and brass memorial plates erected in the church in honour of Governor Hobson, Lieut.-Governor Dean Pitt, and a number of other worthies, would be carefully stored until the new church was erected. The large congregation listened with close attention to the historical reminiscences. The demolition of the church will, we understand, commence at once, as its removal is to be consummated within a month.

Image: Old Saint Paul's, Auckland, by Charles Heaphy, 1853. Auckland City Art Gallery.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 18 September 1841

The interesting ceremony of laying the Foundation Stone of the Metropolitan Church of St. Paul's, at Auckland, was performed by His Excellency the Governor, on Wednesday last. By twelve o'clock all the principal gentlemen of the town had assembled outside the Government Domain. The gentlemen in Auckland, who are free masons, appeared with the decorations and insignia; of their order. A Guard of Honor from the 80th regiment, in Garrison, were present, under the command of Lieutenant Best. His Excellency was received by the military, with the usual honours; and the procession, arranged by Mr. Terry, as M.C., moved off to the site of the Church, which is beautifully situated at a short distance from Government House…

The ceremony commenced by Mr. George Clark, addressing the natives in their own language …

The Governor then said, "I trust my friends, that there are none here who shall view the ceremony of thus commencing an edifice to be dedicated to the worship of the Almighty God, without feelings of deep reverence for the sacred purpose to which it is to be applied. This is the first stone of the first Metropolitan Church in New Zealand, to be denominated the Church of St. Paul; and let us heartily pray God to sanctify and bless our labours. With a view to instruct the Natives, Mr. Clark has explained to those present, the nature of this ceremony, holding up the white population generally, as an example of holiness and piety, which I trust will be sufficient to extend from end to end of these islands, the truths and blessings of the Gospel."

The Attorney General then addressed his Excellency: " I have the honor lo present to your Excellency this sealed bottle, containing coins of the realm of their late Majesties George the Fourth and William the Fourth, and also of Her present Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. There is also an inscription, slating the day and the year on which your Excellency, as first Governor of this colony, laid this foundation stone; together with the names of the Clergymen, the Trustees, and the Architect. The bottle also contained one of the earliest newspapers published in Auckland, the capital of New Zealand."

The following is a copy of the above inscription:
A.D. 1841. -- A. H. 5841.
Rev. J. F. Churton, Clergyman.

Hon. W. Shortland, Esq., Colonial Secretary,
Hon. F. Fisher, Attorney General,
Hon. George Cooper, Colonial Treasurer,
Felton Mathew, Esq , Surveyor-General,
Mathew Richmond, Esq., Captain 96th Regt.

William Mason, Architect.

His Excellency then took the bottle, and deposited it in a cavity of the stone, prepared for its reception. Mortar having been spread over the surface of the foundation stone, another, of similar dimensions, was laid over it. His Excellency completed the ceremony, by using the level and mallet.

Image: Auckland, Old Saint Paul's, by John Kinder, 1861. Auckland City Art Gallery.

Auckland Star, 26 March 1885

Late yesterday afternoon, the workmen engaged in the demolition of St. Paul’s Church discovered the foundation stone of the building under the eastern wall. A broken bottle was found in the cavity of the stone, the contents comprising two shillings and three sixpences of the reign of their late Majesties, George IV and William IV, and of her present Majesty Queen Victoria.

There was also a copy of the New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette of July 24th, 1841, No. 3, Volume 1, and a piece of parchment shriveled and faded to such an extent that the writing is undecipherable. It was apparent that the cavity in the stone had been too small originally, or that too much mortar had been placed over it, thus causing the breaking of the glass in the bottle, and the consequent damage of the parchment by damp.


  1. Happy Easter Lisa. I hope you are having a good weekend. :)

  2. Hi there, leechy. It's going okay. The history helps a lot! :)