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Evening Post, 21 February 1917


There is a fascinating interest about the history of Presbyterianism in the Wairarapa, and when it is considered what an important part that Church has played in the development of the district, and the worthy place it occupies today, the account of its rise will, no doubt, be eagerly followed by all who are interested in this part of New Zealand.

Somewhere about 1859 the Small Farm Settlement Association of Masterton set aside one acre sections in the town area for each of the four denominations, viz., Methodist, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Presbyterian. This may be said to be the beginning of the Presbyterian Church in the Wairarapa.

The Presbyterian acre was a bush-covered section in Queen Street, on the site where Knox Church now stands. For many years the section was left in its native beauty, as the Presbyterian Church was not sufficiently developed to make practical use of its property. That Church was, however, rapidly growing. Strong men from all parts of the Old Country were gradually settling and carving out homes for themselves in the bush lands of the Wairarapa Valley.

The desire to establish the faith of their fathers in this new land found practical expression in the action of the Jate Mr. Alfred Feist, who owned the acre on which the Club Hotel now stands, and who, along with the late Mr. Martin, built on the present site of Mr. Boddington's office a small hall. In that unpretentious building lay services were conducted each Sunday.

It was not long before the religious needs of the lads and young men of the rising district were brought before Mr. James McGregor, and he was prevailed upon to conduct a Sunday school class on Sunday afternoons. At first the class consisted merely of five or six boys, but it rapidly increased, and was latterly held in the morning as well as in the afternoon. These efforts were so successful, and the work generally so prosperous, that a strong desire was soon manifested by the Presbyterians to have a minister of their own.

At that time the colony was dependent for ministers upon a precariously meagre supply of men from the Old Country, and the needs of other parts were so clamant that even wirh the enormous tracts of country in each charge the work could not be overtaken.

Eventually the Rev. John Boss arrived from Caithness and was prevailed upon to take up work in the Wairarapa. On 28 October, 1867, he was ordained to his new charge. His task
was no light one.

His field extended from Hawkes Bay to Cross Creek, and from Wanganui to Castlepoint. There were few roads or bridges, and many exciting tales could be told of his travels and narrow escapes from death. It was only by the aid of a powerful horse that this fearless servant of Christ was able to undertake the work at all. As it was, it took him several weeks to complete his itinerary. In a time, too, when money was a much rarer commodity than it is to-day, his stipend was more a thing on paper than actual cash in hand.

In his second year of labour he received only some £70. Despite difficulties and discouragements, he laboured on, and so impressed his goodly personality upon the district that even until this day his memory is a fragrant, one throughout the valley.

After services had been held for some years in the little hall in Masterton, it was felt that a change was necessary, and the Presbyterians shifted their centre of operations to a small hall further, south along Queen Street. This building has changed much in function if not in form during the years. It is now the Chinese laundry that rests peacefully beside the the Queen's Hotel. This humble building must still for many have hallowed associations, for more than one of the worthy pioneers had the divine blessing pronounced upon their marriage union in that place.

In the meantime the Presbyterian acre was not forgotten. It lay there, as a challenge to the Presbyterians to go and possess the land. Already something had been done in that respect. Even before Mr. Ross came as minister, the first service had been held on the acre.

Word one day arrived that the Rev. W. McGowan, who in 1866 had settled in the Hutt, was coming through to Masterton on Sunday. This was an occasion which had to be properly honoured. What could be better than to make this sacrament the first service on the acre?

Mr. James McGregor was soon at work in the bush, and the sound of his axe signified to all that something special was afoot. Soon a clearing was made. Three huge trees were felled in such a way that the logs formed respectable seating accommodation round three sides of a square. In the centre of the remaining side there was left a stump tall enough to serve conveniently as a pulpit for the minister.

There, in that little clearing under the canopy of heaven, those faithful souls recalled the death of their Lord. Is it any wonder that the minds of many of them went back to the secret conventicles of earlier and harder days?

The time had now come for a forward step to be taken. It entered into the heart of the minister to build a church, and in 1868 he gave himself to the task. The work of collecting funds was hard and discouraging. It meant strenuous riding and earnest pleading on the part of the minister, and real sacrifice on the part of the people, for money was exceedingly scarce.

But with that undaunted courage that characterised all his life, Mr. Ross toiled on until he had in hand some £300 or £400.

On 25th April, 1869, the church at Masterton was opened. It was a strong, but rough, T-shaped building, quite innocent of adornment within, or even of lining. The seats consisted of rough planks laid on trestles, which had been made by the minister himself. The front steps were felled trees placed in such a way as to give easy entrance.

Large hanging lamps filled with poor and evil-smelling kerosene gave as good a light as possible during the evening services: Poor as such an equipment may seem nowadays, it represented a great step forward then.

Not only in the centre, but also in the outlying districts, the work of the Presbyterian Church, was prospering. Waihenga, now better known as Martinborough, rapidly developed, and as early as 1871 the. Rev. J. Ross was enabled to open a church there which cost £100. Soon Martinborough became a separate charge, and in 1872 the Rev. John Lindsay was ordained and inducted. This relieved the Masterton, charge of quite a large piece of territory, including Morrison's Bush, Burnside, Featherston, Lower Valley, Kaiwaiwai and Pahau. The charge has prospered under the various ministries there, and in 1891 a new church costing £420 was opened in Martinborough. The work there is now in the capable hands of the Rev. John McGregor, who was called to that task after the lamented death of the late Mr. Tennant.

The next section of the valley to become independent of the central church was the Wairarapa South. In l888 that part, including Carterton, Gladstone, and Greytown, became a church extension station under Mr. Alexander Whyte, B.D., B.Sc., a student of the U.P. Church of Scotland.

The following year the Rev. Charles Murray, M.A., missionary from Ambrym, New Hebrides, took up work there. The charge was soon elevated to a sanctioned charge, and Mr. Murray became the first minister.

Churches were eventually built at Greytown and Gladstone, and a church and manse at Carterton. Here for some years the Rev. L. Thomson, M.A., laboured faithfully and successfully until his retirement to Solway College in 1916, when he was succeeded by the Rev. E. J. Tipler, B.A., of Knox College.

The work at Pahiatua is of comparatively recent growth. It was not until 1893 that the development of the township rendered it desirable to create a separate charge in that part.

Mr. John McKenzie, now the esteemed minister of Toorak, Melbourne, and. the Rev. Robert Wood, now of Island Bay, did excellent pioneering work in organising the charge.

There have been many changes of ministry, but good solid work has been accomplished. There is a pretty little church in Pahiatua and a manse at present occupied by the Rev. Robert Welsh.

In the lower valley recent important changes have taken place, A new charge was formed by taking Greytown and Carterton and Featherston away from Martinborough.

For some years Featherston and Greytown have been worked together under the care of the Rev. G. K. Stowell, but on his resignation the Presbytery deemed it advisable to make Featherston a charge by itself, and placed it under.the care of the Rev. R. H. Catherwood, while Greytown has become a church extension charge, under Mr. Grundy.

The work in Masterton itself has, despite this cutting off of territory, continued to increase and develop. Since the departure of the Rev. John Ross for Turakina in 1871, useful ministries were fulfilled by Revs. James Lawrie, James McKee, David Fulton and Robert Wood.

In 1873 a manse was built behind the church. In 1838 it was thought necessary to build a new church. The manse was then moved to the new site in Worksop Road, the old church removed back, and a beautiful church in brick, which has since been enlarged, was built. Though the cost of the building was several thousands of pounds, so have the times improved that the financing of the scheme was less arduous than the securing of £300 in 1869 for a similar purpose. There is practically no debt on the present building.

For about nine years the Rev. A. T. Thompson, M.A., B.D., now of St. Andrew's, Christchurch, laboured there, and the work so developed under his hand that it soon became imperative to form a new charge. Thus, largely through the untiring efforts of the Rev. Mr. Thompson, the Landsdowne charge was organised and launched forth. After. a short ministry under the Rev. Mr. Young, the Rev. Thomas Halliday, from Glasgow, took hold of the new charge, and conducted the work with conspicuous success until his recent departure to the front on Y.M.C.A. work.

After a strikingly successful ministry in Knox Church, Masterton, Mr. Thompson accepted a call to Christchurch, in 1915. He was succeeded, by the Rev. G. T. Brown, M.A. (recently from- Glasgow U.F. Church), who is now in charge.

The present year marks the jubilee of Presbyterianism in Masterton. Thus, in 50 years, the Church has grown from small beginnings to great things. The one charge of the Rev. John Ross has become six charges and three Church extension stations. The 20 members have become well nigh a thousand. The revenue has increased from £70 to over £3,000. And the end is not yet. There is still much to be accomplished, and the Church promises to go ahead in the future as it has done in the past.


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