News Special:
Our History & People

This article, which first appeared in The Southern See edition for Midwinter 2010, was written by our Vestry Secretary, Heather Brooks.

Researching the history of St. Peter’s has uncovered some fascinating stories, not only about the building of the Church but about the founders and parishioners.

On January 4th, 1864, a meeting in the Edinboro’ Castle Hotel officially marks the beginning of St. Peter’s. However, the first building, on Clapcott’s Acre, soon gave way to a more substantial brick church that is the present St. Peter’s. Designed by local architect Henry Frederick Hardy, the building process did not go according to plan. The soft soil of Caversham would not support the weight of the tower, which moved six inches away from the perpendicular, and a second architect advised against building the spire. Other defects were noted in vestry minutes and, on the architect’s drawing, a crack in one of the external walls has been drawn in. Despite this shaky start, St. Peter’s was consecrated by Bishop Nevill on Friday 29th September, 1882. The building materials almost have a history of their own. Cement from London, blue-stone from Port Chalmers, Chain Hills sand, Waihola lime, kauri timbers and locally made bricks, all were pressed into service for the construction of our church.

If the founders of St. Peter’s can be likened to a flotilla of boats rendezvousing at the corner of Baker Street and Hillside Road, some of them had a meandering and potentially perilous voyage. For example Reverend William Ronaldson, who oversaw construction of the new church. After running away to sea at a young age, Ronaldson plied between England and New Zealand several times before his ordination in London in 1855. Within the year he was back in New Zealand and began his involvement with Maori, first as a missionary at Papawai, centre of the Maori Parliament, and later as bishop chaplain for ministry to Maori. Possibly attending Tamihana Te Rauparaha’s audience with Queen Victoria some years before had a strong influence on Ronaldson.

In 1890, Rev. Bryan Mayrick King was appointed as the second vicar of the newly built church. His father, Rev. Bryan King, was notorious for his efforts to introduce Anglo-Catholicism into the East-End of London. In those days, practices now regarded as normal, such as lighted candles on a vested altar and a robed choir singing psalms, smacked of popery and occasioned rioting. There was mayhem during services and some East-Enders even attempted to set fire to his church. Yet his father’s unpleasant experiences did nothing to quell King’s enthusiasm for Anglo-Catholicism, which remains a central feature of worship at our church today.

Of the lay members on the building committee for the new church, Captain John Easther is notable for his lifelong contribution to St. Peter’s and his two narrow escapes from an early death, first in the Maori Land Wars and then during a shipwreck near Tasmania. Alfred ’Loco’ Beattie, another member, became famous for designing the Pacific Type locomotive. Descendents of committee member John Allen and Rev. William Ronaldson still attend St. Peter’s.

Like many churches, stained-glass memorial windows at St. Peter’s are dedicated to those who have served. They remind us of Bill Hodgson’s heroic exploits in WWII, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and his early death in a plane crash. His brother Jim also is remembered. Not to be forgotten is the dedicated service of the women of St. Peter’s (who, if I may be so bold, actually ran the place). Along with others in the Southern suburb churches, their support of suffrage played a vital role in persuading the New Zealand Parliament to allow voting rights for women.

In remembering the past at St. Peter’s, we look forward to continuing our traditions in the 21st century.

57 Baker Street, Caversham, Dunedin, New Zealand +64-3-455-3961 : or e-mail us