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History of Pukehiki Church

The First 100 Years:


On 2nd October 1867, a group of settlers on the Portobello Road District (original name for Pukehiki) met in the house of Mr Richard Irving to discuss the building of a Church. The offer of a piece of ground by Mr Irving, part of section 3 block III, was accepted by the Committee. They later purchased a further piece from Mr Irving, paying £4-00, plus £1-00 for the stone dyke.

Walter Riddell, a local resident and farmer, and also a joiner who had worked on the Buccleugh Estate in Scotland, was asked to submit a plan.

The Building Committee accepted the tender of Walter Riddell to build the church for the sum of £184-10-0.  The venture was financed by subscriptions from residents. Mr John Mathieson (part owner of Otago Peninsula Co-operative Cheese Factory) loaned the Committee £100 at the rate of 10%.

Walter Riddell's Diary:

The entries in Walter Riddell’s diary give some of the feeling of how hard this man worked.

Click here to view some diary entries

Oct. 11th – Drew plans for a church and subscribed £5-00

Dec. 7th – Went into Dunedin and ordered timber for church. Bought glass and ironmongery which I paid.

Dec. 28th – Set up the frame of the Church and bound roof and set it up, but it was rooked off with the wind.

Dec. 31st – Got roof on the Church.

Jan. 11th – Wrought all week at the church, had very bad weather.

Jan. 18th – Built Church all week.

Feb. 28th – Wrought at Church all week. I am 20hrs a day on my feet working very hard, got all the seats made and the Church put into a proper state to be opened.

March 1st – Wrought at Church all week – made and finished pulpit, seats etc. made doors and windows.

March 8th – Finished Church – got our money on Tues, made about 10/- day. Went into Dn on Wed and paid everyone I owed. Bought clover seed, a pair of new boots, a pair of new trousers, and a bonnet, and a pair of new boots for Billy. Squared up everything and had £1-7-0 left for myself.

Alexander Greig


Alexander Grieg:    


On 18th March 1868 a call was signed to the Rev. Alexander Greig, recent arrival from Scotland, who thus became the Moderator of the Church for the first 36 years of its existence.

The first service was held in the 'Portobello Road Church' at Pukehiki on 19th April 1868. Rev. Grieg presented an elegant figure as he rode his horse around the Parish with coat tails pinned up. It was said that if you weren't at the Sunday Service he called next week to see if something was wrong.



Alexaner Greig 1868 - 1904

In March 1872 the Building Committee agreed to transfer the Church to the Deacons Court of the Presbyterian Church. As trustees, Mr Richard Irving and Mr Alexander Stuart were appointed to effect the transfer.

This concludes what appears to have been a private venture by the residents of Portobello Road District (Pukehiki) prior to the formation and sanctioning of the Parish by the Synod and the settlement of Rev. Alexander Greig as minister of the Parish.



In 1881, the Church underwent some significant changes. It was enlarged to a Greek Cross - the wings were built and two additional windows were installed. The bell tower was built over the porch and the bell installed. Mr Walter Riddell again executed the work at a cost of about £200-00.


Octagonal Window:

Research on the origins and symbolism of the Octagonal window has not revealed anything historical.  The suggestion has been however that the Octagon symbolised Regeneration and Completeness.

The stained glass colours used in church windows are symbolised as follows :
Blue: Heaven – Truth – Constancy – Wisdom – Charity – Virgin Mary
Purple: Royalty – Imperial Power -Justice
Gold: Kingliness – Splendour – Goodness of God
White: Serenity – Faith – Innocence
Green: Happiness
Red: Fire of the Holy Spirit – Courage – Passion of Jesus


Prior to 1887, the music was the voice only, led by the presenter – Walter Riddell himself. Then in 1887, a harmonium was purchased for £33-10-0, and an organ chair for £1-2-0. The first organist was Miss Riddell. Some people objected to this music – they felt that this 'unpleasant noise' ('a kist of whustles') was not for them. 

George Johnson 1968


Rev. Alexander Greig retired as parish minister after 36 years' service at the Church.


The Church remained under the Otago Peninsula Parish, and in 1905, the name was changed from 'Portobello Road Church' to the 'Otago Peninsula Church'.


The centenary of the founding of the Church was held on 30th – 31st March 1968. Four past ministers of the parish took part in the Sunday service.  The current minister, Rev. George Johnston, portrayed the Rev Alexander Greig who would attend services on horseback.  A local newspaper photo shows Rev Johnson riding into the swirling mists after the service.



Recent Times:

1992 - 1994

In 1992, the Presbyterian Church decided to put the Pukehiki Church up for sale. Ian and Pat Robertson called a meeting to which there was a great response from residents of the Sandymount, Pukehiki, and Highcliff districts . Everyone agreed that the church should remain in the district's care. As a result of the outcry and much negotiating, the Presbyterian Synod and local Parish eventually decided to donate the Church and its contents to the Pukehiki Community.

However, for legal reasons, it could not be given, and had to be sold.  he price asked for the church was 10c! At the public meeting when this was announced, one member of the community made the comment: "A point of order – how do you propose we raise the funds?"

A Charitable Trust was set up, registered and incorporated, with the object of preserving and maintaining the Church for the future. One condition was that the Church should still be used for Christian worship.

Seven Trustees viz. Ian Robertson, Pat Robertson, Francis de Hamel, John Murie, Maarten van Eerten, Helen Davidson and Derrick Railton were appointed to oversee the work needed to bring the Church back to top condition, and run it on behalf of the district.

The 'Friends of Pukehiki Church was set up with an annual subscription of $10 to assist with the running costs.

A special service was held in 1994 to hand the church over to the Pukehiki Community.

The church was built by a group of settlers in 1868 – went into the Presbyterian Deacons Court – and was returned to the settlers of the district in 1994 where it will remain.


The inaugural service for the Church under the administration of the Pukehiki Community Church Trust was led by Rev. Jack Somerville and Bishop Penny Jamieson.


On 19th April 1998 (the same date of the first service), a wonderful 130-year celebration service was held.


The 140th anniversary service was held on 4th May 2008, led by the Rev. John Sinclair. More than 150 people attended the service, including many local and city dignitaries.
(Click on the photo in this ODT article for a wide angle view of the congregation.)


More can be read about the history of Pukehiki Church on Amanada Nunn's website.

Historic Significance

At the time of handing the Church over to the community, the building was of inestimable historic significance, being almost certainly the oldest continually-used Presbyterian Church of its type in the South Island.  It is now one of the best-preserved and least modified examples of a mid-Victorian rural church.  The Church now has a Historic Places Trust Category 2 listing.

Pukehiki Bible Class 1912

Photo courtesy of Stuart Park.
Click on image for enlarged view.

Pukehiki Bible Class 1912

Back row: John Stuart, Bill Stuart, May Stuart, Jack and Katie Matheson, Alex Stuart, George Challis
Middle: Mary Weir, Minnie Matheson, Rev Irwin, Marion Skinner, Frankie Matheson
Front: Jim Robertson, Alice Weir, _ Pearce