Harbour Light

Port Chalmers – Second Church of Otago

The first services in Port Chalmers were held in 1848, when the Rev. Thomas Burns from First Church in Dunedin would travel down to conduct services in the local hotel. In bad weather the route would become impassable, and the services would be taken by lay preachers (including Methodists and Anglicans!)

Within four years the people of Port Chalmers had raised enough money to construct a simple wooden church, the second Presbyterian Church in Otago, and the third in the South Island. The church was opened on 17th October 1852. Things were very basic – the seats were made from boards balanced on piles of shingles and the pulpit was a packing case covered with a table cloth!

In 1857 Port Chalmers became a separate parish. It included Portobello across the harbour, and the country all the way northwards to the Waitaki River. The moderator was Thomas Burns of First Church, but by 1858 the parish were able to afford to call their own minister, Rev. William Johnstone, who arrived from Scotland to be “Pastor of Port Chalmers and the North”.

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Port Chalmers itself was named for the Rev. Thomas Chalmers, one of the founders of the Free Church of Scotland.

A Second Church – Iona

By the early 1870s Port Chalmers was growing rapidly, and the little wooden church had become too small. A new church was designed by Thomas Stevenson of the architectural firm, Mason and Wales. The new church was built from local bluestone, with facings of Oamaru stone, and was opened on 7th January 1872.

In 1873, major extension work was done on this church, to give it the appearance that it has today.

for many years it was known only as the Port Chalmers Presbyterian Church, but in the 1950s it came to be known as Iona, named after the Abbey founded by St. Columba on an island on the West Coast of Scotland, from which he first brought Christianity to the Scottish people.

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Rev. George Jeffreys

Rev. George Jeffreys was minister of Port Chalmers from 1951 to 1957. He had previously served at Bluff, and at the Wellington Seaman’s Mission, and he had a deep concern for ordinary people and for the disadvantaged. He arrived during the 1951 Waterfront Lockout and was concerned that the Church had a lack of connection to the Port and its workers. He was instrumental in the development of the Seaman’s Chapel within the church.

He believed that the Church’s responsibility was “to care for those whose lives were in tatters”. He took in Borstal boys who were on remand to try and turn their lives around and would go to the assistance of anyone in need, day or night, whether they were a churchgoer or not.

Sometimes he found the attitude of some of the more conservative members of his congregation irksome. He is reputed to have once delivered the following very short sermon;

“My dear people, the religion of this congregation may be summed up in the following words; anti-drink; anti-swear; anti-gamble and anti-Roman Catholic. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost we will now sing Hymn No. 12…” (Church, Ian, A Guiding Light, p.26)

He later went on to be Minister of St. James in Auckland for many years. Until his retirement he was involved with a wide and diverse range of social organisations and eventually received an OBE.

Iona Church Today

In the mid 1960s the Presbyterian parish joined with local Methodists and Congregationalists to become the Port Chalmers Union Church.

Since 2012 significant refurbishment and earthquake strengthening work has been carried out on the church, and this should see the building last well into the future. It has also become a popular tourist attraction with cruise ship passengers visiting Port Chalmers.

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Sawyer’s Bay – Emanuel

The first church was built at Sawyer’s bay in 1912. It was made from timber and designed by the firm of Anscombe and Coombs.

Disaster struck on New Year’s Day 1933. Early in the morning smoke was spotted coming from under the tank stand at the church. Despite valiant attempts to fight the fire, the church could not be saved, and all that could be salvaged were a few pews and a book cupboard. It is believed that the fire spread from a nearby haystack.

Happily the church was insured, and work on a new building could begin quickly, with the new building, the present church, opening on 21st September 1933.

During the 1950s the church came to be known as “Emanuel”, which means “God with us”. For a number of years Sawyer’s Bay had its own minister, but it later rejoined the Port Chalmers Parish, and services are now held every fortnight, alternating with a service at Port Chalmers.

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Otago Peninsula Parish

Pukehiki – First Church of the Peninsula

The first Presbyterian church on the Peninsula was not built on the harbourside, at Portobello or MacAndrew Bay, but high on the hillside at Pukehiki. The first European settlers on the Peninsula were farmers, whose homesteads were scattered across the hillsides, and Pukehiki was a central point. A building committee was set up in 1867 and by April !868 a small wooden church had been built by local man, Walter Riddell

The first minister called to what was to become known as North-East Harbour Parish was a young man from Scotland named Alexander Greig, who arrived with his wife in 1868 to take services in the new church and to tend to the spiritual needs of its congregation. This he did for the next 36 years, travelling across the muddy tracks of the Peninsula either on horseback or on foot. He was a stickler for maintaining a proper appearance, and almost always wore a top hat and frock coat whatever the weather (although he did carry pins to fasten up his coat tails while travelling!)

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Over time, as the communities on the harbourside grew more popular, and the farms on the Peninsula consolidated into larger units, the congregation at Pukehiki declined. In 1994 the Presbyterian Church sold the Pukehiki Church to the local community for the exorbitant sum of 10c (apparently it could not be gifted, it had to be legally sold). The church is now run by a charitable trust, and its first service as a community church was held in 1995 and was led by Rev. Jack Somerville and the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin, Rt. Rev. Penny Jamieson.

The church continues in use for weddings and other occasions and ecumenical services are held several times a year.


Although the strongest missionary influence at the Maori kaik at Otakau came from Methodists and German Lutherans, there was a Presbyterian missionary there for four years from 1869 to 1872. This was Rev. A. Blake, who was appointed by the Otago Presbytery and who had formerly been a missionary in India.

MacAndrew Bay

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The opening of the new Portobello Presbyterian Church in the early 1960s.
The opening of the new Portobello Presbyterian Church in the early 1960s.

Broad Bay

The Broad Bay Chapel was originally used by the Methodists, before becoming a Presbyterian place of worship, and then passing back into Methodist use once again.

The view over Otago Harbour from the Broad Bay Chapel.
The view over Otago Harbour from the Broad Bay Chapel.

Anderson’s Bay

Anderson’s Bay Church – The Early Years

Early settlers in Anderson’s Bay initially had to make the long journey into town across a swampy estuary to attend Sunday Worship at First Church.

In 1862 James Ray, the Homes Missionary at First Church began to take fortnightly services in the school room at Anderson’s Bay, and within a year the congregation there had called their first minister, Rev. J. H. McNaughton, who was inducted on 8th July 1863.

The congregation were now in need of a church, and to design it they employed the services of a young architect called Robert Lawson, who had recently set up in business in Dunedin. The Anderson’s Bay church was only the second church that Lawson had designed, but he went on to design many of Dunedin’s finest Victorian buildings, including the present First Church. The church was built of timber and opened in February 1864. Even after the present brick church was constructed in 1913, the wooden church remained in use for many years as a hall.

The first Anderson’s Bay Church. This photograph has been taken following later additions that were added in 1881.
The first Anderson’s Bay Church. This photograph has been taken following later additions that were added in 1881.

Sunday School

The difficulties that families with young children faced in making the trip to town led Mrs J. Somerville to begin holding a Sabbath School in her house in 1849. This would have been one of the earliest Sabbath Schools in Otago. From 1858 the Sabbath School began to be held in the local school room, and later also extended into the church as well, as the number of classes grew. Children were expected to attend church in the morning and then Sabbath School in the afternoon.

In 1892 a purpose built Sunday School hall was built, and the Sunday School moved into this. The Sunday School was always a popular activity, with numbers peaking at 385 children in 1967. The church also held a variety of other activities for children and young people, including Busy Bees, Girls and Boys Brigade, Bible Class, and later a Youth Group.

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Rev. Andrew Cameron

The Rev. Andrew Cameron was the second minister of Anderson’s Bay Church, serving from 1884 to 1919. As well as being concerned with the life of the parish, he was interested in the provision of social support, and in education.

He was involved in the founding of the PSSA (Presbyterian Social Service Organisation) which later became Presbyterian Support, and assisted with the early development of Ross Home.

His interest in education led to the founding of Knox College and a long involvement with the University Council, eventually leading to his appointment as Chancellor of the University of Otago. He was also involved with the running of several schools, including John McGlashan College, the Boys and Girls High Schools and the local primary school at Anderson’s Bay.

The Second Church

A second larger church was built in brick in 1913.

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West Harbour


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St. Leonards

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