Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The old stone church at Mangere

St James' Church, Mangere, c.1860s, on the top of a rise in the middle distance, with a body of water in the right foreground. Reference E-572-003, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Edit and update 17 October 2023.

Along Church Road in Mangere Bridge, there is a remnant of the Land Wars which coloured three decades of Auckland's history, from the mid 1840s through to the 1860s -- the stone church of St James, along with its associated urupa.

The story of the church goes back to 1845, when the church site was part of 486 acres established by Governor George Grey, after Te Wherowhero of the Waikato sent a petition to Queen Victoria, in the wake of the unrest in Northland, that he had no intention of violating the Treaty of Waitangi. Governor Grey wrote to Earl Grey in London that he thought a force of friendly (to the colonial government) Maori would be advantageous as a defence force, and so set about establishing the Mangere Militia Settlement, strategically placed to be close to fencible settlements at Onehunga and Otahuhu as both back-up and first line of defence. Under an agreement in 1849, nine chiefs under Te Wherowhero were to occupy the Government land rent free, the land becoming freehold with the their houses thereon after seven years of service, similar to the Fencible scheme. Among those who signed the agreement on the Maori side was Tamati Ngapora. The Maori Militia itself was headed by English officers.

A raupo whare served as the first church in the militia settlement at Mangere, but it was intended from 1850 to replace the temporary structure with one made from the stone of Mangere Mountain, Tamati Ngapora being the one to suggest it. It is believed that the vicar of St Peter's across the harbour at Onehunga, Dr. Purchas, designed the resulting stone church, with Reverend Robert Burrows overseeing the construction, but the primary documentation relating to the church's origin is sparse at best. According to Margaret Edgcumbe, Burrows was the son of a stone mason from the Cotswolds in England, so was well acquainted with the skills required. Work on the building began in 1859, after a donation of £10 from Bishop Selwyn, and the raising of a total of £200 from other subscribers towards the project. Burrows reported to the Church Missionary Society in December 1858 that a total of £130 had been raised for the project up to that time. By May the following year, in a letter to Rev. George A Kissling, Burrows priced the project to that date as being a total of £391: £110 for native labour (apparently including hauling the stone from the mountain on their backs using flax ropes), £46 for extra timber, £120 for the stone mason, £80 for the carpentry and £31 for windows. There was the hope of completing the project before winter set in -- but it wasn't until 1 January 1860 when the new stone church at "Mangarei" was officially opened.

One of the neatest and most substantial Churches we have seen in New Zealand, is that recently erected in the native village of Mangarei. It is built of scoria, dug from the neighbouring quarries — the natives giving their labour, not only in providing the stone, but also in burning shells and supplying the lime, in rafting and conveying timber, and in furnishing the interior fittings. On Sunday last, a fitting day, the Church was opened by his Lordship Bishop Selwyn ; a more attentive native audience we doubt if he ever had, certainly a more interesting one could scarcely be met with. The Mangarei natives are widely spread; from the banks of the Waikato they sent their representatives, and well known faces from the numerous native settlements all along the shores of the Manukau were also there, not only to join in the services of the day, but also to contribute their offerings on the completion of a work they have had so long at heart. Under the guidance of the Rev. Mr. Burrowes (sic) this creditable edifice has been carried on and completed, and whether viewed from Onehunga, or from any point along the opposite shore, we doubt much if in any native village a more purely English scene can be met with than that presented by the homely aspect of the Church and spire at Mangarei.
Southern Cross 3 January 1860

The church in 1927. Reference 4-3854, Sir George Grey Special Collections

History, though, moves on. Even while the church was being erected then celebrated, events such as Te Wherowhero's election as first Maori King in 1858 took place, one of a number of elements adding to colonial settler fears in Auckland leading into the 1860s, and the start of the Waikato War in 1863.

Tamati Ngapora had become a Christian, joining the Anglican Church, but he also supported the power of Maori chiefs, seeing a strengthening in that direction as beneficial to both Maori and Pakeha. Ngapora was, apparently, one of those who might even have succeeded Potatau Te Wherowhero as Maori King when the latter died in June 1860. Governor Grey disagreed.

When the Government demanded that the Maori at Mangere sign an oath of allegiance, Ngapora and his fellow chiefs decided not to sign, and instead took their people south to the Waikato in the winter of 1863. Their land at Mangere was confiscated by the Government and set aside for immigrants. Some land was returned to Maori ownership in 1865, but a swathe, including the church site, was not.

"Plan of Confiscated Block, Mangere", 1868, SO 234, LINZ records, crown copyright

Tamati Ngapora took refuge in 1864 in Ngati Manipoto country, and lived until 1885, changing his name to Manuhiri (visitor, guest, stranger), as he was a guest in another tribe's territory.

The stone church came to be used by Pakeha local settlers as an Anglican church from 1863. A land confiscation court was apparently held within the church, adding insult to injury. By 1893, however, those alienated from their lands won the right to claim them back -- and made a bit of a point.

It will be remembered that the old stone church at Mangere, built many years ago, was erected for the Europeans and natives, and for some years public worship has been held in it. Lately, however, the confiscated lands at Mangere have been returned to the natives, and last Sunday week the natives, as a mild reminder that the church was theirs, quietly locked the doors and removed the bell-ropes. It is not expected that any serious misunderstanding will arise. 
Auckland Star 7 March 1893

"The exterior of St James' Church, Mangere Bridge with a car and driver parked in the street in front of the church", reference 4-8562, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.

Part of the near three acres of land on which the church and cemetery sits was subdivided in the late 1920s. By 1930, there were five trustees: Mangere clergymen Selwyn Marson Ivan Salt and Hector Alfred Hawkins, James Jones also of Mangere, Tumata Mahuta from Huntly and Te Paeo Paro from Mangere Bridge (Title, NA 575/5, LINZ records).

 Reference 4-3857, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.

Reference 4-3858, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.

The interior has changed a bit since the 1920s.

What struck me about the mortar between the blocks is not only how rough it looked, like you'd find in someone's garden wall after repairs -- but also how new it looked. I suspected that there's been some re-mortaring over time. After just over 150 years, I'd be surprised if there wasn't!

Beyond are the cemetery grounds, looking towards Mangere Domain.

A church so important -- it needs two signs! It is registered as category II with NZ Historic Places Trust. There has been confusion as to exactly how old the church is. The 150th birthday was celebrated in July 2009, when most likely it was still in the process of being finished back in the past. I can't see them waiting nearly 6 months from completion to have it opened by Bishop Selwyn. Not unless he was quite busy around that time ...

The Maori Militia Settlement at Mangere, Alan La Roche, Monograph No. 6, 2000
The Selwyn Churches of Auckland, C R Knight, 1972
Living Legacy: A history of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland, 2011
Conversation with Margaret Edgcumbe, local historian


  1. Oh lovely post! And YES i have looked at every single headstone there lol..

    I photographed a headstone a few years back very similar to the one with the anchor you have there. A contact used it on his blog... here it is


  2. I did think of you, Sandy, while I was there -- heh! :-)

  3. LOL! We are like ships that cross in the night!

  4. I am looking for my Great Great Great Grandmother who is buried here around 110-120 years ago. Her name is Pakewa Tamainu born (Wakatomo) She isburied in an unmarked grave here. If anyone has any information can you please contact me

    1. I hope someone comes along who can help. However, the early records do not appear to have survived intact.

  5. this is brilliant work. thank you so much. we are descendants of Katipa Te Awarahi