Our History

by Gordon Parry 

The Cathedral Church of St Paul has occupied its site in the heart of the Octagon, and hence Dunedin, since the first parish church of St Paul was built in 1862-1863. This first St Paul's was built of Caversham stone and could accommodate up to 500 people. Unfortunately, construction methods used were not very good. The stone weathered badly and the tall spire was removed after just a few years.

Otago and Southland were originally part of the Diocese of New Zealand. George Augustus Selwyn, its only Bishop, first visited the area in 1844, and Dunedin in 1848 soon after the new Presbyterian settlement was established. Later the Diocese of Christchurch covered the southern two-thirds of the South Island, with John Harper as its Bishop, and by 1862 money was being raised to endow a new diocese south of the Waitaki. A misunderstanding between Selwyn [now Primate] and the Archbishop of Canterbury led to Henry Lascelles Jenner being consecrated "bishop in the colony of New Zealand" thinking he was Bishop of Dunedin, but the constitutional requirements had not been fulfilled, nor did the diocese yet exist. By the time it did, controversy over his 'ritualistic' leaning compounded concerns about lack of finance, and he was rejected by the first synod of the Diocese in 1869. Jenner visited the Diocese in 1869, officiated at St Paul's, and gave a lecture on church music illustrated by the St Paul's choir. He is remembered as the composer of the hymn tune Quam dilecta.nave

In 1871, Samuel Tarratt Nevill was elected Bishop of Dunedin. Nevill was young, energetic and financially independent - all necessary traits in a poor and scattered diocese covering the lower South Island. To begin with, Nevill made no mention of the necessity of a Cathedral for the Diocese. It was not until the 1876 Synod that he broached the subject, but the issue was ducked by forming a commission to investigate the whole matter. This commission later recommended that St Paul's should become the mother church. However, Nevill favoured St Matthews, and the impasse remained. In the early 1880s the impasse was revisited, and again no resolution found. However, in 1894, 18 years after the issue was first raised, all sides agreed to the proposal for St Paul's to become a Cathedral Church.

While the debates about cathedrals smouldered in the Diocese, St Paul's continued with the work of a parish church. At this time, the number of people living within the parish bounds was quite large. The congregation attracted at this time a number of influential leading businessmen, the vicar proved to be a very popular pastor and preacher and the music was good.

The 1894 decision that the church should become a Cathedral caused a number of problems, principally financial. As well as being heavily indebted, it was revealed at this time that the treasurer of St Paul's had embezzled £1,700, compounding the problem. In addition, the Sunday School owed £290. The Vestry was reluctant to pass on this debt to the incoming Cathedral Chapter. Fundraising, auctions and donations all went some way to transforming the situation, but the Chapter still inherited an indebted Cathedral when it took over the running of St Paul's on the first day of 1895.

The new Cathedral's structure was very different from that found in most English Cathedrals. The Bishop rather than the Dean made decisions about services, and a Vicar of the Cathedral District was appointed to enable the Dean to continue in his parish of All Saints. The congregation itself was divided, with many members feeling that the abolition of the Vestry had removed any input they may have had into the running of the Cathedral, while others lamented the lack of a purpose built Cathedral.

cath frontIn 1904, William Harrop, a prominent Dunedin businessman, died and left the bulk of his estate for funding a new Cathedral. However, releasing these funds was conditional on the Chapter raising £20,000 towards the cost of the building. Nevill threw himself into the fundraising effort, but it was not until 1913 that the £20,000 was raised and work could begin. The first in a series of plans and modifications were submitted by Sedding and Wheatley, an architectural company based in England. At this point, a rift broke out within the Cathedral congregation. Ostensibly, the rift concerned the temporary accommodation for the congregation. In reality, it was part of the ongoing struggle between the congregation and the Chapter as to the input of the former into the running of the church. Those opposed to the Chapter's control of the Cathedral failed to secure its abolition, but they did secure the establishment of a Sub Chapter. This organisation, elected from the congregation, was established to advise the Chapter and went part way in giving the congregation some input into the Cathedral's running.

On the 8th June 1915, the foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid. Huge foundations, large piers and a tremendous vaulted ceiling rose from the ground, forming the new Cathedral's nave. Unfortunately, finances precluded construction of anything other than the nave. There was no money for the crossing or the chancel, as per the original plan. In the end, it was resolved that a temporary chancel should be constructed, using material saved from the old St Paul's. The new Cathedral was consecrated by Bishop Nevill on 12th February 1919, the 48th year of his episcopate. Over the next few weeks, thousands poured into the Cathedral to view the new mother church of the diocese.

Despite the opening of a new Cathedral, there were still rumblings of discontent among the parishioners. All appointments were still in the hands of the Bishop, who only needed the agreement of the Dean and Chapter. The Sub-Chapter only had an advisory role, and its advice could be ignored. A temporary fix was inaugurated through making provision for six elected positions from the laity to the Chapter. However, the problem was not totally resolved until 1932 when the Cathedral Vestry was formed, giving the congregation a voice of some power in the running of its church.

Bishop Nevill retired from the diocese in 1919 and died in 1921. He was succeeded by Archdeacon Isaac Richards, who was consecrated in 1920, Within months of his consecration, Richards began "Bishop's Crusade", a fundraising drive to reduce the cathedral's debt. Unfortunately, the post war economy of the 1920's did little to produce surplus wealth and the Cathedral finances continued to be a problem. During the 1920s the Cathedral lost two of its institutions: Dean Fitchett died in 1929 after many decades of service to the Cathedral and All Saints' Parish; and Canon Nevill (the nephew of Bishop Nevill) died in 1932.

In 1934, Bishop Richards retired and Bishop William Fitchett, son of the late Dean, was consecrated. Financial economies meant that Fitchett continued to occupy his position as vicar of St John's, Roslyn, living in that church's vicarage, for the first six years of his episcopate. During the 1930's, the Cathedral benefited from the able ministry of Archdeacon Cruickshank. An innovative and accomplished preacher, his period marked an increase in the congregation's size and the community outreach programmes organised by the Cathedral. It was during the 1930s that the Cathedral began to take up a role as a venue for public services, notably for the funeral of Sir Truby King. Cruickshank also presided over the very welcome annual meeting when, for the first time in its history, the Cathedral was declared debt free.

Social work featured prominently in the Cathedral's life at this time, with the Synodsmen, Vestry and Church Leaders all publicly opposed to the Government's Depression policies. The Cathedral administered a food bank and distributed food parcels for the citizens of Dunedin. Shortly after the Second World War, the Cathedral suffered the loss of Cruickshank, who moved to the Diocese of Waiapu, and of Professor Victor Galway. Galway, an organist and Professor of Music, had been immensely popular, attracting large crowds to his recitals and performances. He had also regularly broadcasted his performances, paving the way for the Cathedral broadcasting its services on radio. In 1952, Bishop Fitchett died and Bishop Alan Johnston, his successor, was consecrated the following year.


Cruickshank's successor, the Very Rev'd Walter Hurst, proved very popular. An eloquent Irishman, he was skilled at preaching and able to relate well to all ages of the congregation. His leadership saw the Youth Group grow into a large and enthusiastic gathering. It was during Hurst's time that the Vestry made the important, though difficult, decision that the Cathedral would never be completed to its original design. The Dean suggested that ways be examined to link an extension to the existing structure, and the Vestry agreed to investigate the possibilities.

An important musical decision was made at this time, with women choir members being removed from the choir. Henceforth, the choir was to be all male. This state of affairs continued until the late 1990s when women were readmitted. Hurst was succeeded by the Very Rev'd Peter Sutton, who served as Dean for only a few months, after which he was elected Bishop of Nelson. He was replaced by the Very Rev'd Timothy Raphael, who brought a different style of leadership to the Cathedral. His background was high church, but he was able to mix well within the Cathedral's more informal congregation.

In 1966, the decision was made to progress with a new chancel. The plans had been drawn by Mr E.J. McCoy and the whole design was to cost £100,000. Fundraising for the venture included the Cathedral building being used for plays, shows and modern dance interpretations. In addition, the congregation organised sales and door knocking appeals. The switch to decimal currency, as well as inflation, saw the price increase to $170,000, exclusive of a new organ. At this time, the Cathedral experienced another change in bishop, with Bishop Johnston being replaced by Walter Wade Robinson. Construction began in earnest in December 1969. The old chancel was stripped and demolished and new columns began to rise from the debris. Alongside the construction continued the fundraising.

Added to the overall construction price was $51,000 for a new organ. Seen as an integral part of the project, it took some time before the fundraising reached a sufficient level to pay for the organ's rebuilding and installation. Construction and clearing up finished on Saturday 24th July 1971, and the Cathedral reopened the next day. The newly constructed chancel was built along modernist lines, was as high as the existing ceiling and with tall windows reaching from the floor almost to the ceiling. The altar was freestanding and the furnishings matched the walls.

In 1973 Dean Raphael left the Cathedral for England and was replaced by Dean Robert Mills. A believer in the ecumenical approach to ministry, he formed a close friendship with the Minister of First Church, the Reverend Denzil Brown. Exchanges of congregations, leaders and Ministers were common and communion was distributed by the laity of both denominations. Mills also believed in experimental services, being happy to rearrange the sanctuary furnishing as required.

In 1975, Bishop Robinson died and was replaced by the Right Rev'd Peter Mann. This coincided with a down turn in the financial health of the Cathedral, culminating in the Cathedral announcing that it was unable to meet its annual pledge to the Diocese. Quick action and an understanding Diocese saw the matter resolved in a few years, but it indicated a continuing undercurrent of financial strain. This was alleviated by the end of the decade, but care still needed to be taken. The size of the congregation continued to dwindle, with numbers quickly falling off in the 20s - 30s group and families.

In 1989, Bishop Mann retired and was replaced by the Right Rev'd Dr Penelope Jamieson, the first female Diocesan Bishop in the Anglican Communion. Her appointment had been paved by the hard work of two women priests in the Cathedral: the Rev'd Claire Brown, Assistant Priest at the Cathedral from 1985-1989, and the Rev'd Barbara Nicholas, Honorary Priest Assistant.canterbury cross

Dean Mills resigned as Dean in 1991 to accept a call to the Anglican Parish at Takapuna, North Shore. After a short interregnum, during which Bishop Mann served as Acting Dean, the Very Rev'd Warren Limbrick, a former Warden of Selwyn College, was appointed. Limbrick's term lasted for five years, after which, in 1996, the Very Rev'd Jonathan Kirkpartick came to Dunedin from St Michael and All Angels', Christchurch (where Timothy Raphael had also been Vicar) as Dean.

Difficulties between three successive Deans and the then Director of Music, Dr Raymond White, came to a head publicly when in 1998 Dean Kirkpatrick dismissed Dr White, and the affairs of the Cathedral were briefly headline news in newspapers, magazines and television. After offering courageous leadership during one of the most difficult periods in the life of the Cathedral, Dean Kirkpatrick resigned in 2001 and moved to Auckland.

In 2002 the Very Rev'd David Rice was installed as the eleventh Dean of St Paul's Cathedral. Under Rice's deanship, the Cathedral grew steadily from its previous troubled years, enjoying a growing congregation, which includes young families and people of all ages. Worship at St Paul's Cathedral is well known for its fine liturgy, sound preaching and excellent music. In June 2004, Dr Jamieson retired as Bishop of Dunedin. Bishop George Connor was installed as eighth Bishop of Dunedin on Saturday, 2 April 2005.

Fittingly, the Diocese of Waiapu elected David Rice their new Bishop in 2008 (as Waiapu had been served by Bishop George.) During their search for a permanent Dean, the cathedral was guided by interim Dean Gavin Yates for the remainder of 2008. In March 2009, Dr Trevor James was installed as the twelfth Dean of St Paul's Cathedral. Following the retirement of Bishop Kelvin, the tenth, and current, Bishop of Dunedin was appointed: The Rt Rev'd Dr Steven Benford.

The Octagon, Dunedin, NZ • +64 3 477 2336 • office@stpauls.net.nzAll Contact Details