Historic Place Category 2
Pt RS 7953 and 12804 (CT CB406/288), Canterbury Land District
Extent of Registration
Registration includes church on its site.
John Acland and Charles Tripp, two lawyers from Devon, arrived in Canterbury in January 1855 to find that much of the accessible Canterbury land had already been taken up. They formed a partnership and purchased land in South Canterbury near the Orari River and along the foothills of the Mt. Peel range. This was the first high country station taken up in Canterbury. By 1862 they had decided to separate, with Acland retaining the Mt. Peel section while Tripp took over the Orari Gorge Station. The two friends each married daughters of Bishop Harper.
At Mt. Peel church services conducted by John Acland, who was licensed as a lay reader, were regularly held at the homestead. In 1866 he gave land near the homestead to the Church Property Trustees for a church and burial ground. Plans and specifications prepared by Edward Ashworth of Exeter were donated by Rev. P.L.D. Acland , vicar of Broadclyst and Sub-dean of the Exeter Cathedral. On December 14th 1868, Emily Acland, John's wife, laid the foundation stone for the church. William Brassington, the highly regarded Christchurch stone mason whose sculptural work is seen at the Provincial Council Buildings (1865) and the Canterbury Museum (1876-7), was responsible for the construction. He used large stones gathered from the nearby Rangitata riverbed with Mt. Somers limestone for quoins and dressings and had the church completed for its first service on May 30th 1869 when Bishop Harper was present to preach the first sermon. On December 12th that year the Bishop returned, once more welcomed by his grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law, for the consecration. The name, "the Church of the Holy Innocents" was chosen to commemorate the four small children, including an Acland daughter, who were buried nearby.
The church's interior is graced by a fine range of stained glass. A memorial window over the altar commemorates John and Emily Acland and the north-west window was installed in 1889 as a memorial to Michael Mitten who served for 15 years as the manager of Mt. Peel Station. In 1943 a window was donated by the Sheepowners Federation of New Zealand in recognition of Henry Dyke Acland's contribution to the sheep industry. An Acland tradition has evolved since 1882, with a family member tolling the church bell to ring in the New Year.
The Church of the Holy Innocents was built in 1869 by the Acland family of Mt. Peel Station to serve their own community and neighbouring settlers. John Acland envisaged the creation of a rural village, centred on the church, similar to those he knew in Devon. Its historic and cultural values relate to its association with this notable South Canterbury pioneer family and the original settlement of this part of the South Island.
It is architecturally and aesthetically significant as the design of an English architect, Edward Ashworth, skilfully constructed from local materials in Gothic revival style and enhanced by a fine range of memorial stained glass windows
Summary of Assessed Criteria
The Church of the Holy Innocents, 1869, merits Category II registration as it meets many criteria. It can be seen as part of the complex of historic buildings at Mt. Peel Station, first settled in 1855 by Acland and Tripp and then the home of the Acland family. (The present homestead [Cat.I] was built in 1865.) The church was built for the family's needs, but also, typically, because the prominent land owner John Acland felt a paternalistic obligation to provide for the spiritual well being of workers on his and neighbouring properties. It is thus representative of an aspect of New Zealand history and is associated with Bishop Harper and notable early settlers.
It has technical vales as it is a particularly fine structure, filled with elements which relate its history and the achievements of those who are commemorated. These provide symbolic and commemorative value. Built in 1865 the church dates from the earliest years of South Canterbury's settlement and is part of the historic group of building at Mt. Peel Station.
The church has a steeply pitched gabled roof over a vaulted nave, topped with small bell turret at the eastern end. The design for the bell turret was suggested by Emily Acland. The chancel is a lower, separately roofed space. Internally, the roof structure features timber beams with alternating totara and white pine panelling. Stained glass memorial windows have been installed over the years.
- Original Construction: 1869 (circa)
Local river stone and Mt. Somers limestone exterior, timber interior.
- New Zealand Historic Places Trust,NZHPT File
- E Williamson, Hearts, Hands and Voices, Geraldine: St Mary's Anglican Church, 1978
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.
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