There are a number of serious and amusing items of interest often hinted at in Parish histories so we thought we would dig below the surface and uncover some of these scintillating tales.  

Our first is a tale of the Rev. Thomas William Dunn and his passion for the study of physiognomy.  An Irishman who studied in Scotland arrived in New Zealand in 1879 and became assistant evangelist at St. David’s Auckland. In 1881he was ordained and inducted into Pukekohe parish.  Judging by a number of newspaper advertisement he began publically speaking on the subject of physiology from 1882.  Dunn published his first book in 1884 which informed the reader the ways and means to recognise signs of character, how to choose the correct trade and a description of whom you should marry.


Considered a specialist in his field he toured throughout New Zealand in 1885 and 1887, attracting on occasions large audiences.  Titles such as    ‘Sweethearts or Matched and Mated’, ‘Head Lips and Noses’ offered much entertainment and amusement to the point that the audiences ‘went  into fits of laughter over the funny remarks of the lecturer’.  A panorama of heads and faces of leading men of the day from criminals to divines illustrated his lectures.  Apparently,  Tuapeka Times informs us,  even the ‘most sceptical of Mr Dunn’s powers were forced to the admission that there was something in it. Some of the delineations were regarded as very accurate.’

Several questions come to mind in relation to these tours.  Had Mr. Dunn been given the blessing to tour the country by his parish and Presbytery?  How did his collegial brethren view this science in relation to Presbyterian doctrine and faith?  Well the first we can answer, the second requires reading between the lines and not coming up with any definite answer.  Hints in the Pukekohe Presbyterian Church centennial history, though, do suggest that all was not well between the brethren of the Auckland Presbytery and the Rev. Thomas William Dunn during his first round of tours.  

On investigation the Reverend gentleman in fact had been granted six months leave in February 1885 to visit his mother in Scotland.  However, Presbytery got wind of him remaining in New Zealand and sensing they had been misled demanded he present himself before them on 1st July, 1885.

The meeting duly took place with a somewhat annoyed Dunn in attendance.   Dunn explained that the purpose of the tour was to fund his trip, and he could not return to the homeland without first visiting the South Island. That the tour had ended up longer than he anticipated was in part due to the illness of his two sons.   With a sense of being on the back foot Dunn then went on to accuse the Clerk of the Presbytery of ‘placing him in the mind of the public as a delinquent’ by instigating a hunt for him through the Press.  

The meeting continued in somewhat heated manner with the fathers of Presbytery taking umbrage to his arrogant manner and false accusations.  Dunn, they believed, had a duty to appear before them in ‘a much weaker spirit’. ‘It was the want of candour that had caused the trouble’, he was told.

After much venting of frustration, a resolution was reached when Dunn finally admitted an error of judgement and a willingness to return to duty.  All appeared forgotten when he was appointed Moderator of Auckland Presbytery in February 1887.  This position was short lived with his resignation from Pukekohe parish in April 1887.  On leaving he undertook the 1887 lecture tour throughout New Zealand perhaps to pay for the passage to Australia or even take the overdue trip to see his mother.  He is next heard of in Melbourne in 1889 and then Newton, Sydney where he appeared to have a successful ministry.  His death in 1904 at the age of 50 was reported widely throughout New Zealand. 

by Yvonne


  1. The Rev TW Dunn was my great grandfather. Quite a character. I have never been able to track down his ancestry. Does the network have more details on him?


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