Mr. George Dawson of Southland does not like the fine robes in which the Moderator [James Gibb] was attired. He wished to call for a discussion on the subject from the floor of the Assembly. The Fathers and Brethren in attendance did not agree and said so amidst much banter and applause.
The legitimacy of the motion received vigourous debate and eventually Mr. Dawson received permission to put forward his motion and he moved that the dress worn by the Moderator at this Assembly be dispensed with in the future. The Rev. Mackenzie rose asking if “it is competent for this Assembly to state what a man shall wear.” The Rev. Andrew Cameron went as far as to say, amidst ‘Oh’ and ‘No you wouldn’t’, that he would defy any Assembly as to what dress he would wear. Applause greeted the Rev. William Hewitson when he stated that it did not help the dignity of the Assembly to be debating the issue at all. Proof of feeling was soon acknowledged when a ‘small minority only’ voted in favour of the motion. They agreed unanimously, however, that no notice be taken of the matter in the recorded minutes of the meeting, as it was such a complicated business. The Moderator, on returning to the chamber, thanked the Commissioners for their respectful consideration.
All in all the issue was an affront to the lady members of First Church, Dunedin, who spent many months planning and raising the necessary funds to have an attire fit for the honour to be bestowed upon their minister. Mrs A. W. Morris when handing the official robes over to Dr. Gibb noted they were a mark of the highest estimation in which they all held him. She emphasized also that the robes were commemorative of his untiring efforts on behalf of church union of which they were about to participate in.
It would have been churlish of Dr. Gibb to decline the gift in the circumstances. We hope that Mr. Dawson will wax no more on the subject and humbly recognise the good intentions of the ladies.
No doubt the kerfuffle created much amusement to many at the Assembly and beyond. Fortunately the Otago Witness of 13 November 1901, reported the goings on in some detail as true to word, the incident was not recorded in the General Assembly Minutes. The General Assembly was the first Assembly of the united Northern Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church of the Synod of Otago and Southland. The Rev. James Gibb was the first Moderator of the United Church.