St Patrick's Church Burkes Pass, South Canterbury, New Zealand

Burkes Pass, South Canterbury, New Zealand

St. Patrick's Church, Burkes Pass.
St Patrick's Church
The oldest church building in the Mackenzie on its original site. The pines were planted to give shelter as its original surroundings with the short tussocks providing no shelter from the blasting winds. Buttresses shored up its walls to keep it upright. In 1928 a writer in The Timaru Herald wrote : "Her day is done, but it is hoped, that she will not be allowed to fall into decay...If ever the Church authorities cannot use her, she should be a charge on the Dominion, like some valuable oil painting. Like Nelson's "Victory," she spells freedom." A covenant registered on the title now protects it from further threat, 2009. In June 2018 three large pine trees dating from 1870s were cut down to protect the church from possible damage. The branches were mulched and many trailer loads were carted to the native planting areas on the roadside. Some timber was milled for a local craftsman and some used as firewood.

St Patrick's Union ChurchSt. Patrick's Church at Burkes Pass is registered as category 2. Historic place of historical or cultural heritage significance or value.

"Good relationships have always existed between the members of religious denominations in South Canterbury. The earliest communities of South Canterbury seem to have worked in harmony born of mutual need and trust, for the same church was often shared by various denominations until their own individual places of worship could be built," wrote Gillespie. 

St Patrick's, the little white weather board wooden church, at Burkes Pass on State Highway 8  between Kimbell and Tekapo was built in 1871-72 by combined Anglican, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic efforts.  Plans were drawn up by W. Wilson and Dugald Macfarlane contributed the gift of his skillful wood carving. It was the first church built north of Pleasant Point. There is no record of Catholic services begin held here or why it was given the name St Patrick but maybe it was called St Patrick's because the Rev. George Barclay was an Irishman, born 1835 or 1836.  It was the first "Union Church" in New Zealand but finally passed to the Presbyterians. pdf

James Noonan was granted a licence for a hotel at the foot of the pass in 1861and built the first accommodation house down beside the banks of the Opihi River, the accommodation house he named Three Creeks but he was drowned, before he could open his hotel, in the Tengawai River while crossing it on his way to Timaru so his brother-in-law John Burgess, a bullock driver, became the first licensee (1861) of the Burkes Pass Hotel which he named Cabbage Tree Flat or Cabbage Tree Creek or Three Creeks. It was the first hotel in Canterbury to be granted a licence.  In 1862 John Burgess, built the Burkes Pass Hotel that stood until the 1990s. John gave a section in 1871 on which to build a church and the first service was held 18 August 1872 on a bitterly cold day with snow on the ground.  The first two ministers were the Rev. George Cooper, Anglican and the Rev. George Barclay Presbyterian.  When Bishop Harper came to consecrate the church he had difficulty getting from corner to corner over tussock snow grass and spear grass. 

22 November 1858 Georgina Jane Gilbert married John Burgess at Kaiapoi in North Canterbury. John died 10 Sep. 1887 and Georgina "Jessie" died January 1904. Both are buried in the Burkes Pass Cemetery.

John Thomas Burgess b. 20 Oct. 1860, Timaru and Sarah Smith Nixon were married at the church on 19 Oct. 1887 by Rev. James Preston Vicar of Geraldine.  Rev. Barclay was there on standby in case Rev. Preston did not arrive on time.  Preston arrived at 10.45 am.  Rev. Preston had to travel by horse from Raincliff Station via Ashwick Station that morning.

Rev. Preston also married George Cooke, age 34 and Mary Elizabeth  age 30, m. 7 Dec. 1876 at St. Patrick's at the Pass. George was in partnership with Mary's brother John Hunter Raine in owning the Sherwood Downs Station. Rev. Dr Frederick John Kimbell of Three Springs played a large part in getting the church built. He is known to have conducted services at St Patrick's as he was a lay reader in the Church of England. Melville Gray of Ashwick Station was also a lay reader at the Pass. For those who know the area there is a short cut just above Kimbell across the river to Ashwick Flat and beyond to Sherwood Downs.

From June 1992 to 2000 the building was an arts and crafts shop subject to being available to the Parish if required but in February 2001 the Burkes Pass Heritage Trust purchased the church and land from the Mackenzie Co-operating Parish community to enable it to be retained in the community and become a focal point in turning Burkes Pass into a heritage village. Formation of a local management committee to support the church in practical terms and hopefully give new life to the building in terms of planning for greater and wider community usage. It can be used for meetings or church and church events e.g.  marriages.  St Patrick's is now open seven days, from 10 am to 4 pm, and by request. The key can be obtained next door.

There is also an active pioneer community cemetery in the village. Buried here is Mr and Mrs Hamilton. Charles William Feilden Hamilton, known as Bill, achieved international acclaim for his work in developing the modern jet-boat. Born on 26 July 1899 at Ashwick Station. He died near Fairlie on 30 March 1978.

Timaru Herald Monday 11 September 1899
The Rev. W.F. Findlay will preach at Burke's Pass, Ashwick Flat, and Fairlie on Sabbath next.

Timaru Herald Wednesday 1 November 1899
The Rev. Mr Macalister is to preach at Fairlie, Burke's Pass, and Silverstream on next Sunday.

Timaru Herald, 12 November 1877, Page 3
Burkes Pass itself is suited only for depasturing sheep. At the township there is a large hotel kept by Mr Burgess, where the coach stops and the passengers get dinner. Here there is a neat little church built, in which religious service is performed alternately by Episcopalians and Presbyterians, a cemetery in which are some half-dozen graves, a general store, a blacksmith's smithy, a few small dwellinghouses, and quite a handsome-looking concrete house, which upon enquiry, we found to be the Mount Cook Road Board office, and the residence of Mr Clulee, the Secretary and Overseer. After resting for a couple of hours, the horses were once more yoked up, and we pursued our journey. After travelling about six or seven miles, Sawdon Station was passed close on the right hand, and Whales Back Station some distance to the left. One is struck with the fact of seeing co very few cattle up here, only sheep and a horse or two being visible. At last Lake Tekapo is viewed from the hills among which the road runs, and a noble sheet of water it is. The lake is about 16 miles long, and on an average about a mile and a half in width, the lofty peaked mountains reflecting their snowy robes on the still surface of the water. It is altogether a grand sight, though the total- absence of timber makes the lake compare unfavorably with Wakatipu and other Otago ones where the adjacent country is covered with dense forests.

2009 photo

Worship in the wilderness. The settlers of the Mackenzie district met at Stansell's Accommodation House at Burkes Pass on August 26th, 1871 to plan a place of worship that was to be open to all- Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics. parishioners drove up to 25 miles in drays and spring carts to attend church services. They were devoted as were the clergymen who rode in all weathers, often across flooded rivers, from Temuka or Geraldine to deliver their sermon.

Photo taken by me, 13 Nov. 2011. In July 2016 the two large pines where reluctantly felled to protect the church. Over the years the trees had been disfigured from pruning and snow breakage.

This lamp was donated to St Patrick's Church in memory of Elijah and Mary Smart. Its original owners, parishioners of this church and residents of The Mackenzie and Burkes Pass area for 70 years. Donated by Max and Maureen Willetts and family. Max is son of Johnny Willets and Mary-Ann Willetts, youngest daughter of Elijah and Mary. 

Timaru Herald 27/01/2012
In January 2012 St Patrick's Union Church was given a Category One building under the Historic Places Act. According to the Historic Places Trust's report, the 140-year-old church appears to be "the only purpose-built union church still in use as a church and still situated in its original location. The church is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the Mackenzie District and is the first and only church erected in Burkes Pass. Being the first union church to be established in South Canterbury, St Patrick's Union Church inspired the erection of other union churches in the area. Its authenticity, location and ongoing use as a church differentiates it from others around the country." The review also noted that the building was largely intact in its original form, and still contained the organ, lectern, font, brass cross, candle holders, timber chest and cast-iron burner. In addition, four of the pews are made from the eight original pews. The church was previously a Category Two-listed building, but advocacy from the Burkes Pass Historical Trust led to the campaign to have its category increased. Mrs Batchelor said the building's survival alone was remarkable. "It's an incredibly sturdy little building. It has been exposed to all sorts of extremes of weather in Burkes Pass and remained upright to this day. It is actually quite astonishing that it has survived so long. For most of its life, it has had no shelter." The Burkes Pass Historical Trust bought St Patrick's Union Church in 2001, after concerns that it was going to be moved. "We were aware of part of its history when we purchased the church, but we have discovered a lot since then. The archives at the Hocken and Turnbull libraries have been very helpful," Mrs Batchelor said. "But we want to ensure that it remains a living, working building. Tourists and locals who visit it really appreciate the experience, not least because it's in such a peaceful, remote, spot."  

Mackenzie Collie Dog Club
Cyclopedia of New Zealand  Published 1903
Bain family

Oral history

The Burkes Pass Heritage Trust was formed in 2000 when a few residents were jogged out of our complacency by the proposed removal of St Patrick's Union Church, built in 1872. This brought home the realisation to a few residents that this township would literally be dismantled physically by its removal. This was the line in the sand that we needed to address this and many other issues in the village. Heritage Matters Summer 2009

Solid stone and timber draw on pioneer heritage by Jan McCarthy
The Press, 1996 Mar. 9, p. 73 ; 1996 pioneer style home built from glacial schist, at Burkes Pass, 21km west of Fairlie.

South Canterbury, New ZealandGenWeb Project

The same photo (opens in another window) appeared in the Otago Witness 26 August 1908, page 46
The butcher's cart from Fairlie: View in front of Burkes Pass Hotel.