Early recollections of parish - 1913

View of interior of the first St Matthew's Church, c1900


Wairarapa Daily Times, Volume LXV, Issue 11783, 20 September 1913, Page 5

From Mr and Mrs J. Nicol, of Church Street, who are settlers of over fifty years standing, and various other sources, a Daily Times reporter was able to gather some very interesting particulars concerning the Church of England in Masterton in the early days.


Fifty Years Ago

Mr and Mrs Nicol remembered when the parish of St. Matthew's was without a Church of its own in Masterton. This was over fifty years ago. Services were held in a small building in what is now known as Chapel Street, and on which the Masterton Homing Pigeon Club's premises now stand.

The congregation, then very small, gathered together in one building for worship at irregular intervals. There was no regular service, and the minister Rev. W. Ronaldson, who was the C.M.S. missionary to the Maoris, conducted the church worship whenever it was convenient for him to do so, for he had a very large district to cover. This building was also used by other religious bodies.

As the population increased the members of the Church increased, and in 1863 an acre of land at what is now the corner of Queen and Church Streets was purchased from the Wairarapa Small Farms Association for the sum of £5. 

In 1864 a small church—a one-roomed wooden building—was erected by the late Mr Godfrey Russell.


The Pioneer Missionary.

The resident clergyman was Mr Ronaldson, whose circuit extended from the Rimutaka range to beyond Pahiatua, and from the Tararua range to Palliser Bay. In those days there were only bush tracks, and in many parts even horses found difficulty in negotiating the country. Settlement was sparse, and through the wild country Mr. Ronaldson would tramp from pah to pah, preaching to the Maoris, and also administering to the spiritual wants of the white settlers en route.

It was a dangerous journey beset with great hardships—dangerous because of the unrest among the Maoris, and the risks attached to crossing mountain torrents which came rushing madly down without warning; in in those days bridges were unknown. It was a perilous and stupendous task to administer to the flock of his district; one cannot to-day realise the greatness of the work, carried out under conditions which were almost heartbreaking. But dangers and difficulties did not deter Mr Ronaldson in the carrying out of his good work. He was beloved by all—both whites and Maoris.

For all there was a cheery word; to the down-hearted settlers striving to carve out a home in the wilderness of bush, scrub and fern, and faced with all sorts of trials and tribulations he always extended warm sympathy. Even tho smallest detail concerning the welfare of a settler along his mission track through the wilds of Wairarapa he always considered worthy of his consideration—Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

Many are the hardships the settlers had to endure in that early period—they were unable to give much time to church matters. Settlement was too scattered; and there were so many dangers to be met with on the route to a centre that attending church as we know it today was out of the question. Mr Ronaldson by his good advice and kindly words did much to help the settler along—for the settler had many reverses to contend with, and would often be inclined to cry "enough," and return to Wellington. But Mr Ronaldson's optimism would invigorate the settler with a new spirit of determination.

Mr Ronaldson appeared to be imbued with the spirit and sentiment of Seneca, the distinguished writer on philosophy, who said, optimum est patri quod emendare non possis—it is the best thing you can do to bear patiently what you cannot make better. In the little church on the section - opposite where our post office now stands - Mr Ronaldson conducted services up till 1868. His mission work in Wairarapa lasted from 1855 to 1868.

 St Matthew's Church and hall, looking east along Church Street. The Maungaraki range is visible in the background

The first St Matthew's Church and hall, viewed from the Post Office Tower, looking east along Church Street. The Maungaraki hills can be seen in the background.  11-164/19.R7B8S7


Another Forward Step

In the year 1867 the Rev. A. Knell, of Otaki, was appointed to take charge of the Wairarapa parochial district, which composed Masterton, Carterton, Featherston, Greytown, and the surrounding districts.

In the year 1874 it was decided to enlarge St. Matthew's Church. The small church which had done service since 1864 was cut in half and attached to each side of a new structure, which was capable of accommodating about 230 persons. The original portions of the first church are to be seen today in the position in which they were placed nearly forty years ago—they are side aisles on the south part of the main building. The new building, which was consecrated in the same year, was built by a Mr Donald. The present fence around the church property was erected by Mr John Montgomery, who was one of the principal contractors and builders in the Wairarapa, he having subsequently erected the Kuripuni Hall, Te Whiti, Dreyerton, Eketabuna and Mauriceville schools, the Town Hall at Gladstone, the Gladstone Hotel, and Messrs J. and E. S. Dixon's cordial factory.

In 1875 the huge district worked by Mr Knell was divided, the Rev. J. T. Teakle being placed at Masterton in charge of North Wairarapa, then a parochial district. Mr Knell took up his residence at Greytown, where his ministry continued until 1879, when, owing to failing health, he resigned, retaining only the office of rural dean. After a long and painful illness, he died at Greytown on March 29th, 1893, at the age of 53.

During Mr Knell's term of office, St. Matthew's Church in Masterton, St. Mark's in Carterton, St. Luke's in Greytown (the second oldest church in the district), and St. John's in Featherston were built and opened. 

The deceased was a brother-in-law of Dr. Boor, of Nelson, and was greatly respected for his many sterling qualities, and his kindly manner. Shortly after his death the settlers of Greytown district placed a handsome stained glass memorial window in St. Luke s Church as a mark of their respect for him. Of the late Rev. Knell it may be truly be said multis ille bonis fledibus occidit


Parish Formed in Masterton.

In 1880 the Diocesan Synod constituted Masterton a separate parish, another parish being formed for the Tinui district. Mr Teakle remained in Masterton till about 1880, when upon the formation of the parish, the nominators selected the Rev. W. E. Paige to the cure, of the parish of Masterton. Mr Paige remained in charge from 1881 till 1894.

Mr Paige did much to beautify the surroundings of the church, and the footpath from the gate in Church street through the church grounds was formed by the reverend gentleman and Mr J. Nicol. The little school room had become too small for the needs of the day, and it was decided to lengthen the building. It was necessary to remove some very young trees which were growing on the site where it was proposed to erect the schoolroom. Mr Paige and Mr Nicol removed one small tree — a mere sapling — from the place where it had been originally planted to the left hand corner of the church near the entrance, and there to-day it flourishes. The tree was removed in a barrow, together with a considerable quantity of earth, and a local resident who was passing by was pressed into service to lend, a helping hand for a few minutes; that was over 30 years ago.

The two stained windows in the front portion of the church were donated by Messrs J. Nicol and Everett during Mr Paige's ministry.

In 1894 the Rev. Alexander Campbell Yorke, who had previously been vicar at St. Matthew's (Dunedin) and at St. Peter's (Queenstown), was appointed to Masterton. In Mr York's time free seats were introduced in connection with the church, but after some eighteen months the old system of renting pews was reverted to. After being in Masterton for some three years, Mr York, like Mr Paige, returned to England.

The Rev. P. C. Wyndham-Earee was vicar from 1897 till 1905, being succeeded by the Rev. A. Johnson, who remained till 1908. The Rev. Watson became vicar after Mr Johnson, taking up his duties early in 1908. Mr Watson has worthily filled the position over since.