Historic Place Category 1
The Church is located on the south side of State Highway 8 on the outskirts of Burke's Pass. It is near the cemetery on the left as you head out of town towards Mt Cook.
Pt RS 6285 (CT CB2/163), Canterbury Land District
Extent of Registration
Extent includes the land described as Pt RS 6285 (CT CB2/163), Canterbury Land District and the building known as St Patrick’s Union Church thereon, and its fittings and fixtures and the following chattels: four timber pews; brass cross; two blue candleholders; timber lectern and font; organ; timber chest; cast iron burner (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).
Built in 1872, St Patrick’s Union Church at 2133 Fairlie-Tekapo Road in the small Mackenzie District settlement of Burkes Pass appears to be the only purpose-built union church still in use as a church and still situated in its original location. Described in 1877 as 'a very pretty little church situated on the high ground overlooking the village', it has served as the local church for almost 140 years. It was erected as a place of worship for Anglicans, Presbyterians and Catholics and, although there is no early record of the Catholic Church using it, both the Anglican and Presbyterian churches did. This was a practical response to the needs of a small, scattered and isolated community of differing denominations.
St Patrick's is a very simple, small, rectangular timber church, clad in weatherboards, with a steeply gabled roof sheathed in corrugated iron. There are three lancet windows down each side of the church and a triple lancet at the rear. The church has pointed arches over the door and the lancet windows and a Gothic style front porch, notable for its decorative woodwork. Small crosses surmount both the main door and the entrance to the porch. On the interior, the chancel is indicated by a small raised platform. Chattels include original organ, lectern, font, brass cross, candleholders, timber chest, and cast iron burner. In addition, of the pews in the church, four are made from the eight original pews.
The church is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the Mackenzie District and is the first and only church erected in Burkes Pass. Being the first union church to be established in South Canterbury, St Patrick’s Union Church inspired the erection of other union churches in the area. Its authenticity, in situ location and ongoing use as a church differentiates it from others around the country.
Historical Significance or Value
St Patrick's is significant as one of the oldest remaining buildings in the Mackenzie District, as the first and only church erected in Burkes Pass and as the first union church to be established in South Canterbury.
The history of its use by more than one denomination illustrates the cooperation between denominations, which occurred in small pioneering settlements where the population was small and scattered. It inspired the erection of other union churches in the area and was cited as a good historical example in the national debates about church unionism in the 1970s.
Architectural Significance or Value
Architecturally St Patrick's Union Church is typical of many small country churches erected throughout New Zealand, although its Gothic porch provides it with a measure of distinction. Its style and simplicity illustrates the type of church thought suitable for country congregations with little money and its origins as a union church may have also influenced its style, having to cater for different congregations with markedly different ideas about the features appropriate for a church. It is also a rare example of William Williamson's architectural work. While it is known Williamson ran an architectural practice as well as his engineering and surveying one, little remains of his architectural work and this is the only known church. The building retains a reasonably high degree of authenticity.
Cultural Significance or Value
St Patrick’s Union Church provides a strong spiritual and social connection between the past and present. The establishment of a church building would have been an important milestone for the European settlers creating a home amongst the hills and their first amenity for the new community. As such, it reflects attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that characterised this formative community. The church enabled the community to follow the habits of their homelands where church attendance on a Sunday had been the norm. The concept of the union church enabled less affluent and sparsely populated areas to pool their resources to build a church earlier than they would otherwise have been able to do. It also meant that where the population were few and far between, they could socialise and contribute to a common goal.
Union churches created by a multi-denominational committee demonstrated an ability to set aside previously held conventions and work together for the common good in tolerance and cooperation. This was distinct from being merely a benevolent church community allowing multi-denominational use.
Social Significance or Value
St Patrick’s Union Church has social significance or value. As well as providing a place of worship, St Patrick’s Union Church functioned as an important gathering place for a scattered and isolated community and on a practical level as the mail distribution centre for many years.
The Burkes Pass Heritage Trust, as owners of the church, have the aim of giving the building an additional contemporary role as a place where the township community holds resident meetings and where the history of the Burkes Pass area is shared through commemorative events and interpretation. The purchase and protection of St Patrick’s Union Church by the Burkes Pass Heritage Trust secured its retention and protection for the township and was the catalyst for a wider community involvement and appreciation of the Burkes Pass historic settlement.
Spiritual Significance or Value
St Patrick's is significant as the spiritual centre of the Burkes Pass area for over 130 years, although it was used as an art gallery for a decade. It originally provided a spiritual base for a widely scattered population throughout the Mackenzie District and today is functioning once again as a local church. It was built as a result of the cooperation between various Christian denominations and this spirit of cooperation, particularly between the Anglican and Presbyterian communities continued for nearly all of the church's history.
The church was and still is a place used for the purposes of religion and where people can meet. Important events continue to be celebrated such as weddings, christenings, funerals, family reunions, memorial services and significant year celebrations.
Summary of Assessed Criteria
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
St Patrick’s Union Church is a tangible reminder of cooperative behaviour in remote areas influenced by major events in New Zealand history, namely the Otago Gold rushes and, in the Mackenzie District itself, the ‘land rush’ to take up remote areas for pastoral farming.
The church is representative of the importance of Christianity to colonial communities in New Zealand and of the perceived need to provide an appropriate place to hold church services relatively early in the development of an area. As a union church, it is a tangible reminder of the positive values of tolerance, cooperation and ingenuity while facing physical hardship and isolation.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
St Patrick's is associated with the idea of religious unionism in New Zealand. Bought about, in this case, by simple practicalities rather than idealism, it was a rare example of unionism in the South Island and it provided a historical precedent for the churches to follow in the late twentieth century debate about unionism.
St Patrick's is associated with three pioneering clergyman, Rev W T Cooper, Rev George Barclay and Rev James Preston, all of whom played important roles in the settlement of South Canterbury. It is also associated with a number of runholders, who helped establish the church together with the local hotelkeeper, John Burgess.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
The history of St Patrick's Union Church helps to illustrate the pattern of settlement in the Mackenzie district from the few scattered runholders who carne together despite differing faiths, the original high hopes for Burkes Pass township and the gradual decline of the settlement.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
St Patrick's Union Church has been part of the local community for almost 140 years and the community's attachment to the church was clearly illustrated in the debate in 2000 about relocating it to Mount Cook. The community was successful in retaining the church and it has become the focus of a local heritage group.
The taking over of St Patrick’s Union Church by the Burkes Pass Heritage Trust has raised the profile of the historic township as a whole.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
As a building open daily to both the community and visiting public, St Patrick's Union Church provides interpretation about this earliest union church in South Canterbury and the role it played in inspiring a number of other congregations in the area to follow suit. The building itself is a tangible reminder of early forms of construction and of ongoing use.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
St Patrick’s Union Church appears to be the oldest union church with continuous use as a church and remaining on its original site.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
St Patrick’s Union Church is part of a wider cultural landscape integrating both natural and cultural heritage values within a small rural township that is entry to the high tussock lands of the Mackenzie District. The church is important as a local landmark and one of a small cluster of buildings, which remain at Burkes Pass reminding us of the pioneering origins of the town as a depot and administrative centre for the area. The church lies near to the Burkes Pass cemetery, where many early colonists of the Mackenzie country are buried there.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.
St Patrick’s Union Church is special or outstanding in its rarity as one of the earliest union churches built in New Zealand and, according to research, the oldest one with continuous use as a church whilst remaining on its original site. It forms a tangible reminder of cooperative behaviour in remote areas influenced by major events in New Zealand history, namely the Otago Gold rushes and, in the Mackenzie District itself, the ‘land rush’ to take up remote areas for pastoral farming.
The area that has come to be known as Burkes Pass was well known route for pre-Pakeha Maori who travelled into the Mackenzie to hunt birds and eels and was a familiar path from the east coast through to the central lakes and food collecting areas.
The pass itself was named after Michael John Burke who, from a Pakeha settler perspective, 'discovered' the route into the Mackenzie Basin in 1855. Burke's discovery opened up the Mackenzie basin for Pakeha settlement and by 1858 huge areas of land had been applied for and taken up. In 1857-1858 a dray track was cut through the Pass and it became the main route for travellers into the Mackenzie. The need for a township near the pass was recognised by the Provincial Government in 1859 and 640 acres was reserved for one between the summit of the Pass and Stericker's Mound. However, the township of Burkes Pass grew up around the first accommodation house on Cabbage Tree Flat, located in a more sheltered spot than the reserved land. By 1877 it was reported that a small village had grown up in Burkes Pass and it was expected the settlement would continue to grow as the administrative centre of the Mackenzie Basin.
When Pakeha discovered the vast Mackenzie plain, ‘gold rush’ and ‘land rush’ selectors literally raced to the Land office in Christchurch to register claims. While the majority of run holders in the early years were English, by the last quarter of the nineteenth century, four out of five dwellers in the Mackenzie Country were Scottish.
Prior to the construction of St Patrick's at Burkes Pass the spiritual needs of the small community were supplied by a few infrequent visits from clergymen. The visit by the Anglican clergy in April 1871 was the first visit for more than five years. At a meeting held in May 1871 the community decided to raise money for a church and stated then 'that this place of worship be open to clergymen of the Church of England, and also to Presbyterians and Roman Catholics'. As a result St Patrick's was the earliest union church to be established in South Canterbury. The community raised £160, the local publican, John Burgess (1840-1887) donated 34 perches of land for the church and by December 1871 work had begun. St Patrick's Union Church was designed by William Williamson of Timaru, who, although more widely known as an engineer and surveyor, also ran an architectural practice. The small church he designed is typical of country churches erected throughout New Zealand, being built of timber, with pointed Gothic arches over windows and doors, a Gothic-influenced porch and a steeply gabled roof. It could seat 50 when it opened on 18 August 1872.
The Burkes Pass Church Committee Minutes record the tender of F J Wilson was accepted to build the church, although it appears that the actual builders were Ogilvie and Jones of Timaru.
Despite a heavy snowfall, which had left three feet of snow on the ground nearby, the local community attended the opening in force, some travelling more than 30 miles (48 kilometres) to attend. The Holy Communion was celebrated in the morning by the Reverend W H Cooper, the missionary priest of the Anglican Diocese. Cooper was also known as the 'galloping parson' and was responsible for all the unattached country districts from Banks Peninsula to the Mackenzie, as well as some districts in North Canterbury. In the afternoon a Presbyterian service was held by the Reverend George Barclay. Barclay had arrived in South Canterbury in 1865 and remained there for 25 years. He was in sole charge of South Canterbury until 1872 and was noted for his tirelessness, his interest in education and for his many adventures as he travelled around the region. It is said that 'he often preached with torn garments and water squelching from his boots'.
Thereafter at St Patrick's Union Church the Anglicans and Presbyterians held services on alternate Sundays. The stipend for the following year, 1873, was divided between these two clergymen, and the Reverend James Preston from the Anglican parish of Geraldine, who also preached at St Patrick's. In subsequent years the stipend was divided equally between Barclay and Preston and in 1883 it was decided to split all future collections equally between the Presbyterian and Anglican Churches.
In addition to the clergy, one of whom it was hoped would be able to visit St Patrick's every three months or so, local run holder Frederick John Kimbell (1828-1905) was appointed as a lay reader in the Anglican Church. Kimbell, who farmed nearby Three Springs, was described as greatly religious and as one of the driving forces in getting the church built. He, along with fellow run holder, Charles Ensor (1842-1901) of Rollesby Station, and Burgess were the original church trustees, with the land title being transferred to them on 29 July 1872. Despite Ensor leaving for a new station, Mount Grey in North Canterbury, by the end of 1872, St Patrick's remained in their names until 1917.
While the original trustees were all Anglican, the church committee from 1873 comprised equal numbers of Presbyterians and Anglicans. Although Catholics were included in the original resolution and the name of the church is traditionally Catholic, there are no records of Catholic services ever being held there. A 1912 letter to the Church Property Trustees mentions the Catholics 'declined to use the Church'. Despite this St Patrick's unionism is said to have influenced the neighbouring community at Fairlie whose Presbyterian and Anglican congregations also built a union church in 1879, which served both groups until the Anglicans erected the Church of St Stephen in 1896. Other churches in the South Canterbury area were built on a cooperative principle with Waihao Downs and the first church built in Waimate being two other local examples. Over 60 years later another Mackenzie District church followed the cooperative tradition. Although owned by the Anglican Church, the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo was also open to the local Methodist and Presbyterian congregations.
It is not clear whether or not the church was ever consecrated, though the cemetery nearby was consecrated by Bishop Harper on 17 January 1875.
In the 1870s many of the congregation of St Patrick’s travelled long distances and stayed overnight with friends to attend church on the Sunday. In this way the gatherings provided important social contact. Mail was also delivered by horseback from Timaru, via Cave and Fairlie, once a fortnight on Sundays, enabling letters to be handed out to the congregation coming out of the church.
The New Zealand Church News records a visit by Bishop Julius who preached ‘in the little church at Burkes Pass’ on 15 March 1891. The usual services were conducted at various frequencies. At times they were every two months or more, later, by 1891, they were fortnightly. In 1912 it is noted that the Anglicans and Presbyterians used the church on alternate Sundays. St Patrick’s Union Church eventually became a secondary venue to Fairlie for church services. A monthly service at St Patrick’s continued for about 50 years, with both Anglicans and Presbyterians attending, but later they became more occasional. Clergy often came by horseback to take the services, but at other times locals took the services as lay readers. There are various reminiscences recalling how local Anglicans and Presbyterians often attended one another’s services.
St Patrick’s Union Church soon acquired a church organ to accompany the singing. Services were held regularly and varied over the years from two-monthly to fortnightly and later once a month.
It had been hoped that Burkes Pass would develop into the main township of the Mackenzie. Hopes of this faded in 1883 when the railway line stopped at Fairlie. Eight years later the Mount Cook Road Board, the first local governing body, decided to relocate to Fairlie and from then the town grew no more. The population went from 143 in 1901 to 84 ten years later and continued to decline with the local school closing in 1943 due to falling rolls and an inability to attract teachers. In 1917 the Presbyterians bought the Anglican Church's share of St Patrick's, although Anglican services continued to be held there.
Weddings, baptisms and funerals were held in the little church. The church was notoriously cold in the winter. It appears that initially it had no heating. A moveable cylindrical cast iron burner was then installed. In the 1970s the first organ was replaced with an American organ with an oak cabinet, made by Estey, which had earlier belonged to the Fairlie Presbyterian Church Sunday School.
Like many other small country churches a declining congregation and the rural downturn meant that little was happening at the church by the late 1980s. In 1992 St Patrick's was leased to Shirley O'Connor for use as an art gallery/craft shop, which operated until 1998. The Mackenzie Cooperating Parish Council leased the church for use as an art gallery, with the provision that occasional services be held there as required. In 2000 St Patrick's was threatened with removal to the Hermitage at Mount Cook, where it was planned to use it as a church and particularly as a venue for overseas weddings. However, strong community reaction against the proposal meant the church was retained in situ and the Burkes Pass Heritage Trust, formed in 2000 primarily to protect the church, purchased it in 200l. At this time the first organ was donated back to the church. Today the building is used as a church and as a community meeting place, and is open to visitors. The church is signposted as a major feature on the Bullock Wagon Trail to Mount Cook by the Heritage Trails of New Zealand.
Although there are a number of other nineteenth century union churches that survive in New Zealand, these are either no longer used as churches or have been removed from their original location. St Patrick’s Union Church is the only one known to continue its church use and to remain on its original site.
In New Zealand, the concept of the union church in the nineteenth century was most widely exercised in Otago. In all, there were upwards of 20 ‘union’ churches in Central Otago, though many did not survive longer than the time when diggers were sluicing for gold. On the whole, the buildings were far from elaborate but they were effective. Very often the churches served also served as a school and a meeting place for public occasions.
One union church that is known to pre-date St Patrick’s Union Church and still used as a church is the Mission Hall at the top of Lake Wakatipu. However, this church is no longer on its original site as it was relocated there in 1957.
Hogburn in Naseby was another early union church, being built in 1865. However, after its initial 12 years as a church, its function changed to become an athenaeum (which it remains today).
Similarly, Sowburn in Patearoa was built as a union church in 1870 but changed its use to become a library in 1898, and it is currently used as a tearoom.
Others are younger than St Patrick’s. For example, Serpentine Union Church opened in 1873 at 1000 metres above sea level, and was used briefly as a church but soon was adapted to become a cottage.
In the Mackenzie District St Patrick’s Union Church created a successful example that was repeated in nearby Fairlie when the Fairlie Union Church was built by a multi-denominational committee in 1879. This served both Presbyterian and Anglican congregations until the Anglicans erected the Church of St Stephen in 1896. Other churches in the South Canterbury area were built on a cooperative principle, with Waihao Downs and the first church built in Waimate being two other local examples. Over 60 years later another Mackenzie District church followed the cooperative tradition. Although owned by the Anglican Church, the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo was also open to the local Methodist and Presbyterian congregations. St Patrick’s Union Church was cited as a good historical example in the national debates about church unionism in the 1970s.
In the Mackenzie District, St Patrick’s Union Church is the oldest church, originally in a parish serving the large area between Geraldine, Burkes Pass, Tekapo and Mt Cook, south to Lake Ohau, Hakataramea Pass, and back towards the coast to Cave. There are two NZHPT registered Category I historic place churches in the vicinity of St Patrick’s Union Church. These are the Church of the Good Shepherd at Tekapo, built in 1937 and now used by the Mackenzie Cooperating Parish, and St David’s Church in Cave, built in 1930 by T D Burnett. Both are churches of high quality construction, built as memorials to the pioneers of the Mackenzie District during a period where increasing wealth and certainty of land tenure allowed such sophisticated and ‘romantic’ memorials built in permanent materials.
St Patrick’s Union Church contains four timber pews (created from eight original ones that were in various states of repair), a brass cross, two small blue glass candleholders, a timber lectern and matching font, a timber chest that once held the hymn books, cast iron burner and original organ.
Timber lectern and font
These are heavily built, plain pieces of furniture with original dark stained finish. The font has a small built in metal bowl to hold water. Although not necessarily the original lectern and font, these have been associated with the church for many decades.
One of two organs in St Patrick’s church, the original organ, is a chattel that is considered to contribute to its heritage significance. It has an ornate case of either mahogany or American walnut and the keyboard has Chas Begg & Co Dunedin printed on it. It is believed that Chas Begg & Co were the importers and that it was made by Needham Piano and Organ Company. This original organ was removed from the church some years ago. It had been supplanted in around the 1970s by an American organ with an oak cabinet, made by Estey, which had earlier belonged to the Fairlie Presbyterian Church Sunday School. The original organ was again returned to the church as the result of a donation back to the church in 2001.
Cast Iron Burner
A small ornate cylindrical cast iron burner has been connected with the church for a long time. Early photographs showing its flue show that it was originally at the entrance end of the church but later it was moved to the eastern end of the church. There are patches in the walls at both these positions, though the burner is no longer connected to a flue.
An original furnishing from the church, the brass cross is approximately 40 cm in height.
This timber chest with recessed brass handles is an original furnishing associated with the church. Over the years it was used to store hymn books and other items associated with the church.
Originally there were four dark stained and polished rimu pews on each side of the aisle which were fixed by nails to the floor and side walls. In the early 1990s the pews were retained but removed from their fixed positions and each pair of pews was converted into one moveable one by utilising the end board of one to give a second end. As such, four altered but original pews remain. Four matching reproduction pews were made from macrocarpa at this time, identified by the signature of the joiner, Martin Cordes.
Two blue candleholders
These have been associated with the church for a considerable period.
- Original Construction: 1871 (circa) - 1872 (circa)
- Other: 1872 (circa)
- Designed: 1871
- Modification: 1959 (circa)
- Modification: 1972 (circa)
- Modification: 1990 - 1999
- Modification: 2004 (circa) - 2010 (circa)
Timber, corrugated steel, glass, clay.
- South Canterbury Tombstone Transcripts, [Christchurch, 1982], Christchurch City Library,ANZC Family History, no.55,
- C A Williams (compiler), Bishop Harper's Journeys: His Visitations, Consecrations, Baptisms and Confirmations 1857-1890, Christchurch, 1997
- New Zealand Historic Places,Wilson, John, 'Church to Gallery', 47, May 1994, p.2.
- Burkes Pass Heritage Trust Newsletters, http://homepages.ihug.co.nz,Burkes Pass Heritage Trust Newsletters, http:// homepages.ihug.co.nz
- Christchurch Press,Bowman, Glenys, 'Country Churchyard: Burkes Pass Sunday service also mail time,' Press, 10 January 1994, p. 13
- Dictionary of New Zealand Biography,Crawford, Noel, 'Burgess, Georgina Jane 1836-1841?- 1904', Volume One (1769-1869), Wellington, 1990
- Frederick William Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953
- Oliver A. Gillespie, South Canterbury: A Record of Settlement, 2nd edn., Timaru, 1971
- G.R. MacDonald, Dictionary of Canterbury Biographies, Canterbury Museum, n.d.,E131; Mac 158; W540
- The New Zealand Church News,September 1872
- J.S. Parker, Timaru Centenary, 1868-1968, Timaru, 1968
- S Parr, Canterbury Pilgrimage: the first hundred years of the Church of England in Canterbury, New Zealand, Christchurch, 1951
- R Pinney, Early South Canterbury Runs, Wellington, 1971
Note the Covenant (24Jun03) also includes: the Church and itemised chattels.
A fully referenced report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region office
Report Written By
this page is correct to the best of the Trust's knowledge. If you have any additional
information you would like to share with the Trust, please
contact the Registrar.
You may wish to contact the Trust to view our paper records.