The article on this page was researched, developed and created by John C Waugh, for use on the MERRA website. It presents the author’s findings based on that research. Some of his conclusions are different from that presented in some historical texts, but unless otherwise stated, are supported by contemporary evidence sighted. Many of the photographs and documents presented in or accessible via this website version of the article were made available for this purpose by current or past residents of our community, and the public at large. Other images and media excerpts are taken from public data bases. In the final analysis, the article provides the author’s take on our past history.
There were many Catholics in the early community on the river. Along with the extensive Bohemian community in Puhoi initially the spiritual needs of thie Catholic community were catered for as part of the extended parish of St Benedict’s parish in Newton, Auckland. Later they were made part of a new Puhoi parish with priests traveling from Auckalnd every few months. In 1877 Fr Adelaar was apointed resident parish priest holding services in the Puhoi School. Saints Peter and Paul church was built in 1880 but the Church of the Holy Name wasn’t erected in Warkworth until 1910 Anglicans have a similar story as while some of the very the first Church Services on the river were delivered by Anglican Missionaries for the gangs of up to 300 Navy sailors cutting timber there has never been an Anglican church on the river. Again settlers were cared for by missionaries visiting from the Bay of Islands, principally Henry Williams and from 1844 Bishop Selwyn visited on foot. It wasn’t till 1876 that Christ Church in Warkworth was constructed and the first vicar Rev Hart Sparling appointed caring for the Anglicans on the river.
The early Anglican and Catholic influence was greatly overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the Scottish settlers that led to a strong early Presbyterian presence in the Mahurangi. The history of the Presbyterian Church in Mahurangi is woven into the timber milling and especially four families the Daldy’s, Coombes Pullhams and Darrochs.
First Presbyterian Influence
William Crush Daldy had worked with Captain William Pulham and had followed him to Australia after falling in love with his daughter Frances. In 1841 William and Francis married in Tasmainia. An astute trader Daldy acquired 300 acres near Birkdale. In 1849 William Pullham moved from Tasmania to farm this property and shared a house with Walter Combes, Daldy’s business partner. Walter married William’s other daughter Elenor Pullham increasing the business and family ties. Daldy and Coombes purchased significant land holdings all around the Mahurangi harbour for timber and lime extraction and by 1852, were shipping wharf piles from Mahurangi Heads to Auckland. In December of 1853 they jointly bought 80 acres of land at what is now the Lawrie farm Daldy and Combes also speculated by buying land in Schoolhouse or Heaphy Bay in the Village of Mahurangi but this land was resold to Captain Lamb and William McBrierty the ferryman both these later two had earlier worked for Daldy and Combes. Land was also sold to Willian Pollock Moat (later politician) a close friend of Captain Lamb. Both the Lamb and the McBrierty cottages remain today.
Elenor and Francis Pulhams brother Captain Henry Pullham worked with Daldy and Combes and often traded into the river and to Warkworth then known as Upper Mahurangi. Captain Pullham came into regular contact with the Darrochs and eventually fell in love with George Darroch’s daughter Nicolas.
Reverend D Bruce a pioneer of the church in Auckland was a friend of Daldy’s and visited the Mahurangi area in 1854. He conducted Presbyterian services at the Darroch home now part of the Cantyre Estate. These included the marriage of Nicolas and Henry in what is said to be the first wedding on the river. This led to the bay in the Cantyre estate being known as Marriage Bay. Rev Bruce also ventured up the river to Warkworth and held services at the house being built by Henry Pulham. who was retiring from sea with his new wife to drive bullock trains associated with logging. So with Henry Pulham retired from the sea at Warkworth, William and Francis Daldy were regular visitors to the emerging town.
Mr John Dixon, of Dunedin, a published a ‘History of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand’ this book recounts that, around 1899 Reverend Robert McKinney, from Ireland’s County Derry, was recruited and a building was erected at the site of the current Warkworth Presbyterian cemetery to serve as both a church, manse and schoolroom.
The Church was soon too small and on July 9 1876 a new church St. Columba’s, opened on its present site in Warkworth. The land for this was given by Coombes and Daldy and was part of 222 acres they held near the present McKinney Rd.
A flurry of Church Building
Rev Robert McKinney became deeply involved in the community for many years. An energetic man he was known to have walked to Auckland on 9 occasions. He rowed himself down the river to preach on alternate Sundays and walked to reach much his congregation. With the growth of the area and the appointment of a vigorous minister new churches were soon proposed including one at the new township of Mahurangi. Initial services at the Heads were in “a government building” thought to be the survey station in Schoolhouse Bay.
On Nov 14 1858 a church was opened to serve the Matakana area. At this time Matakana included Sandspit and this church actually stood at junction of Sandspit/Sharp and the Heads road. A year later in 1859 McKinney extended his preaching to Pakiri and to Mangawai.
A Church at the Heads
In 1862 land for a church at the heads was gifted by William Grant. This site was on the headland facing the Island that bears his name where the cemetery remains. Work commenced on the new church in1862 and was completed on March 13 1864. It is thought that William Grant built the church himself from local kauri.
The bell that was installed in the belfry was acquired from a local shipyard ‘having ‘originally been cast for use on a sailing ship’. It reputedly weighed over 40kgs. Over the years, the wooden belfry and it was taken down and mounted in a brick bell tower dedicated as a monument to the early settlers. This was built about 1948, by George Blackstaff, a bricklayer from Kaiwaka. Noelle Lipinski recalls that it was paid for by Maria May Lawrie, the wife of James Falconer Lawrie, using part of a bequest that had been made to her by a relative.
The Presbyterian Church’s Mahurangi Parish online register shows the first marriage formally consecrated in the parish was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 3 May 1858 between, early settler Joseph Gard (of Duck Creek Road) and Jane Grange (only daughter of Captain H. Grange, Harbour View, Mahurangi).
Not all services at the church were conducted by a Presbyterian minister, Jack Algie recalls that some were conducted by Methodist ministers who would come from Warkworth to take the services.
In the 1950s, extensions were made to the building. These involved adding about 3 metres to the length of the church, and constructing a bigger porch. The extra length allowed the insertion of an extra window along the side walls. This work was completed by September 1956 by volunteer labour.
For much of its existence, there were no navigable roads on the peninsula and while people on the harbour could come by boat, rowing to the bottom of the hill on which the church sat, and then clambering up a steep track. Families like the Algies, on the coast side walked or to came by horse or in summer months by gig. With no proper roads in the area, such journeys were quite some undertaking.
During the summer months, in the latter part of the church’s life, the congregation often overflowed onto the surrounding lawn. A loudspeaker system relayed the service from within to those who settled-in on the lawn. Over the years that the church served the community, the Algie family, residents of Algies Bay were among its most staunch supporters.
Neil Scotts, whose mother was Leticia Kasper comments that:
I well remember attending those services, which were in the early 1960s (possibly even the late 50s) in summer, when the local population swelled with folk camping at Martins Bay or staying at Algies Bay, Snells Beach and elsewhere. At other times of the year the congregation was quite small and dwindled with time. In the 50’s-60’s and beyond Steve Algie and Merv Algie (Jack’s dad) were elders of the church and would hand out the hymn books. Alma Algie, Steve’s wife, was always on duty on the foot-pumped organ which stood to the right (inland side) of the pulpit, facing the congregation. The interior of the church was very plain – just broad planks painted a neutral off-white or pale blue. Very peaceful and one of the few churches I have ever felt comfortable in.’
We have a solitary colour photo of the church as it was in the latter part of its 123 year life:
A media report found in the Warkworth Museum archives notes that subsequently:
‘… large trees near the church were felled’ and ‘with the trees gone, the bell was clearly visible from the road and it was decided to transfer it to the [Warkworth] museum.‘
In winter storms of 1987 the church building was damaged and during one violent storm it, was dislodged from its foundations and then in March 1988, the church was battered by cyclone Bola.
The passing years and adverse weather had taken its toll on the structure and while made from good timber some was riddled with borer and the window frames rotten. So, quite aside from storm-damaged timber, there would have been a fair bit of other timber requiring replacement.
A committee of local residents organised a church restoration campaign, forming The Mahurangi Heads East Historical Society Incorporated. The Committee included stalwarts such as Don Lipinski, John Male, Warren Young and Graeme Anderson. The initiative is reported to have had the support of pioneer families.
A written plea to the then Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand includes the following statements:
“Following a recent decision of the Board of Managers of the Warkworth Presbyterian Church not to restore the historic old Presbyterian Church building at Mahurangi Heads East, damaged in a 1987 storm, a large number of people have expressed their deep concern that a building of such significance for this general area should be allowed to disappear.”
“Persons competent to make a judgement in such matters are confident that the building can be restored, and plans are being worked out to this end. Further, a group of local residents hopes to meet shortly with representatives of the Board of Management of the Warkworth Presbyterian Church to discuss salvage possibilities.”
But the community’s effort proved to be in vain. The Presbyterian authorities insisted that the church ‘had to go’.
Newspaper reports note that:
‘after eight months trying to save the building, restoration campaigner Warren Young would only say that the extent of the damage was now too great to contemplate resurrecting the building.’
It is worth reading the article ‘Time takes heavy toll of 123-year-old Mahurangi Church’ published in the Rodney Times on 17 December 1987. It contains a remarkable image showing part of the interior of the severely damaged church building.
More poignant still were the words of Sally Collins in a short newspaper article she wrote:
‘Let it not be thought that it was only the storm, the state of its old fabric, or the lack of generous giving for its restoration to cause it to be dismantled and burned. The … church would still be there if the local committee for restoration had been allowed control of its destiny’.
The church had remained on its site for some 123 years, and played an important role within the community as a site not just for religious services but for meetings, soires and other community events. The heads church has gone but the graveyard remains.
The Presbyterian Summer Camp for Boys Ngaio Bay
Mahurangi Village Lots 143 to 148 in Ngaio Bay were bought from the Crown by T McConnell a tailor of Auckland. He later sold the undeveloped land to John Marshall, a prominent gentleman of Auckland. As a builder his father had made a fortune by building homes in Auckland. John had a short career as a solicitor but was most widely known in sporting circles. This included yachting as a member of the Auckland Regatta committee and he was also prominent in rowing and horse racing. He was instrumental in establishing Tatersalls in Auckland and was the owner of several successful racehorses. John was also known as a philanthropist in social services and arts.
Like so many other owners at the time, he did not develop the land but In 1921 he gifted six lots at Mahurangi Heads to Presbyterian Church for a boys holiday camp and he and his daughter in law a Miss McDonald promised a further £200 to build the camp-house. When built there were bunkrooms below for up to 32 boys and communal facilities and limited staff accommodation above. Children from the orphanages at Onehunga and the Leslie home at Medowbank would spend up to six weeks at Mahurangi. Prior to the creation of road access to the property, access was by sea. Getting to the property was of itself an adventure, particularly in the days when the Auckland to Warkworth road was unsealed. This is well illustrated by this excerpt from the Auckland Star of 15 January 1934:
The beach, at the harbour’s edge, at the foot of the church property, was certainly known to some Aucklanders. The Rodney and Otamatea Times of 12 January 1938 records:
The properties were then purchased from the church by John Male in 1964 in a deal brokered by his good friend Rex Fairburn who spent time at Mahurangi West. His history is well recorded being involved in the United Nations and in a variety of social activities in the area, establishing the friends of the Mahurangi (Now Mahurangi Action) and resurrecting the Mahurangi Regatta. He fished most days in the harbour from a fishing barge and would tow a dinghy. He moored the boat off 57 and had a slipway on the beach.
When he died in 2003, at age 90, Dinah Holman penned a respectful and informative obituary, which was published in the New Zealand Herald of 5 April.:
‘John Gifford Male, one of New Zealand’s major war poets and a peace activist, was one of the pioneers of the United Nations advisory services in the field of human rights. …
In 1946, he secured a job in the United Nations Secretariat in the Human Rights division. His first role was as Eleanor Roosevelt’s private secretary.
… he was at various times secretary of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and the sub-Commission on Freedom of information.
In 1959 he married Catherine Winston … In 1964 they took early retirement and returned to new Zealand to live at Mahurangi Heads East, converting an old Presbyterian boys orphanage camp building into their home.
They lived the good life for nearly 35 years, growing fruit and vegetables, catching and smoking fish, gathering shellfish, sailing and making wine and beer. Their huge sitting room and its deck with stunning views of the Mahurangi estuary became a favourite gathering place for writers, peace activists, politicos and a wide range of friends.
After John died the property has passed through two owners and been extended but the bones of the boys camp house remain.