Marlborough's Early Churches

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There was a tradition of tolerance and goodwill between Marlborough's Christian churches from the earliest days when dedicated ministers and priests covered hundreds of miles of the undeveloped and far-flung province to meet the needs of their respective flocks.

Samuel IronsideSamuel Ironside. Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives. Click image to enlarge

Marlborough's first Christian missionary, Samuel Ironside, quickly became fluent in Maori,1 and was no doubt surprised and delighted with the ‘intense desire of the natives' for Christian instruction when he established the Cloudy Bay Mission at Ngakuta at the end of 1840.2

Within two years of Rev. Ironside and wife Sarah's arrival, the Methodist missionary reported 16 chapels, 30 local preachers and leaders, and more than 600 members throughout the Marlborough Sounds- they were mostly Maori or European whalers. During those golden years Ironside married 171 couples, and baptized 613 adults and 155 infants.3

Rev. T.D. NicholsonRev. T.D. Nicholson. Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives Click image to enlarge

But the Wairau Affray of June 1843 saw the majority of Maori flee north with Te Rauparaha. When Ironside returned to the mission station after courageously going to the site of the Affray to bury his countrymen, he found the Mission deserted. "So the pleasant, well sheltered cover of the Sounds, which had been the happy homes of hundreds of Christian natives, were left to solitude," he wrote before the Ironsides left for Wellington.4

There was little further religious activity in the region, until the Rev. Thomas Nicholson began to visit from Nelson in 1853.5 When his beloved wife, Alison, died in 1856, the bereft Presbyterian minister moved his large family to Renwick6 where   the region's first Presbyterian Church was built.7  Nicholson soon began to establish regular services throughout his far-flung parish, and he regularly journeyed from Picton to Wairau Valley to the Awatere.8

Travel was difficult with rough terrain, poor, or non-existent, roads, frequent flooding and a widely scattered population. Nicholson had been described as a strong, boisterous man,9 but ill health overtook him and he died in 1864 aged 47.10   He was not to see the first Presbyterian church to be built in Blenheim - St Andrews was opened in May 1868.11

Rev. Dr Henry Butt came to Blenheim from Nelson soon after Nicholson12 and Blenheim's first Anglican Church of the Nativity was dedicated in December 1861.13   Butt, who became Archdeacon in 1868 when the Archdeaconry of Marlborough was established by Bishop Suter,14 was also worn out by the hard work of ministering to his parish: "neither flood nor trackless waste prevented the good Archdeacon from visiting the scattered settlers."15

St Mary's, BlenheimSt Mary's Catholic Church, Maxwell Road, Blenheim. Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives Click image to enlarge

Nelson's Father Antoine Garin ministered to a parish which stretched from Kaikoura to Cape Farewell and he would journey on foot over Tophouse, fording swift and treacherous rivers to visit his flocks in Cloudy Bay and Kaikoura.16  Father Augustine Sauzeau  was the much loved  parish priest between 1864 and 188117, when the first St Mary's church opened in November 1865.  Blenheim's first Catholic schools were opened in 1872 and the Sisters of Mercy arrived to take over from the lay-teachers in 188518. Their new convent in Maxwell Road was opened in August of that year.19

Blenheim's Methodist Jubilee,1915Celebrating Blenheim's Methodist Jubilee,1915. Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives Click image to enlarge

While the region's first missionary, Samuel Ironside was Methodist, it was not until 1865 that the first Methodist Church was built in Grove Road. It was relocated to Sinclair Street in 1872 due to flooding. In 1879, the Government gave notice that the site was required for the new Blenheim Railway Station and the church moved to High Street - where the newly built church was burnt down soon after completion in March 1881.20 The Salvation Army arrived in 1883, with their first meeting held in the Wesley Hall.21

There was a tradition of tolerance and goodwill between Marlborough's Christian churches from the earliest days when services were held in private homes, and the Courthouse on the banks of the Opawa River served the needs of Presbyterian, Anglican and Catholic alike. Every pioneering family belonged to some religious body.22

By the 1870s all the main Christian denominations had churches in Blenheim and towns throughout the region.

2009 

Sources used in this story

  1. Oldfield, C.B (1965)  Methodism in Marlborough : 1840-1965, Blenheim, N.Z. : Wesley Church, p. 6
  2. Provincial Centennial Supplement 1859-1959 (1959, November 1) The Marlborough Express, 19
  3. Smith, F. W. (1952) Samuel Ironside and the Cloudy Bay Mission, Blenheim, N.Z.: Wesley Historical Society, p. 10-11   
  4. Smith, p. 15
  5. Buick, T.L. (1900, 1976) Old Marlborough, Palmerston North, NZ: Hart and Keeling. Reprint published by Capper Press, Christchurch, p. 356
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/7342837
  6. Miller, R.S. (1960) Blue Banner : the life story of the Rev. Thomas Dickson Nicholson, first Presbyterian minister of Nelson and Marlborough, Christchurch, N.Z. Presbyterian Bookroom 
  7. Kerr, L.G. (Ed)(2007) A Founding Ministry, Blenheim [N.Z.] : St Andrew's and St Ninian's Presbyterian churches, p. 34
  8. Miller, p. 151
  9. Miller, p. 127
  10. Kerr, p. 41
  11. Robb, H. & Kerr, L. (Eds) (2004) The course of St Andrew's Church the story of the Presbyterian Church at Blenheim's riverside and by Seymour Square, Blenheim, N.Z. Parish Council, St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, p. 20
  12. Buick, p. 358
  13. Ault, H. F. (1958) The Nelson narrative, Nelson, N.Z.: Standing Committee of the Diocese of Nelson, p. 238
  14. Vercoe, S.I. (1961) Pioneer Church: The Centennial History of the Church of the Nativity: 1861-1961 Blenheim, NZ:  Marlborough Express Newspaper Co, p. 22
  15. Buick, p. 359
  16. McIntosh, A. (1977) Marlborough: A Provincial History. Christchurch, N.Z.: Capper Press, p.  327
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/154763562
  17. Cahill, P. P. (1964) St. Mary's Parish, Blenheim, Marlborough: 1864-1964, Wellington, N.Z: John Milne, p. 8
  18. Provincial Centennial Supplement 1859-1959, 9
  19. Furness, J. G. (1985) Sisters of Mercy, Blenheim: 100 years of service..., Blenheim, N.Z.: St Joseph's Convent
  20. Oldfield, pp. 12, 19, 22
  21. McIntosh, p. 330
  22. McIntosh, p. 319

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  • Found this interesting as family has links to Cloudy Bay in the early days

    Posted by beverly williams, 27/02/2014 5:53pm (4 years ago)

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Further sources - Marlborough's Early Churches

Books

General
  • Gregory, K. [1972]Stretching out continually = Whaatoro tonu atu: a history of the New Zealand Church Missionary Society, 1892-1972, Christchurch, N.Z.: K. Gregory with the authorisation of the New Zealand Church Missionary Society http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/714803
ANGLICAN CHURCH
CATHOLIC CHURCH
METHODIST CHURCH
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
  • The course of a church: centennial souvenir 1968 St Andrews Presbyterian Church Blenheim (1968) Blenheim, N.Z.: Express Printing Works
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/153697452
  • Dickson, J. (1899) History of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, Dunedin, N.Z, J Wilkie
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/9637390
  • Fleming, A. F. (1951?) The Awatere Presbyterian Church 1850-1950, Blenheim, N.Z. :The Marborough Express
  • Hale, A. J. & Bythell, N. J. (1963) Holy Trinity Church Picton, N.Z.: 1863-1963, a centennial history, Blenheim, N.Z. : Parish of Picton
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/154145929
  • Harris, A. & Harris, K. (2007) Fifty years of mission: reflections of the Wairau Presbyterian Parish, 1957-2007, Blenheim, N.Z.: Wairau Presbyterian Parish
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/190859870
  • Kerr, L.G. (Ed)(2007) A Founding Ministry, Blenheim [N.Z.] : St Andrew's and St Ninian's Presbyterian churches
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/174081669
  • Robb, H. & Kerr, L. (Eds) (2004) The course of St Andrew's Church the story of the Presbyterian Church at Blenheim's riverside and by Seymour Square, Blenheim, N.Z. Parish Council, St Andrew's Presbyterian Church
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/156324710
  • Miller, R.S. (1960) Blue Banner : the life story of the Rev. Thomas Dickson Nicholson, first Presbyterian minister of Nelson and Marlborough, Christchuch, N.Z. Presbyterian Bookroom http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/154223921
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