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In 1843, the 24 residents of Tamaki were anxious to have their own place of worship. Each resident was approached for a cash or labour contribution and Bishop Selwyn offered to subsidise their donations pound for pound. Alex Shepherd (Colonial Treasurer) and a Presbyterian, offered a 6 acre site and Bishop Selwyn subsidised it.

The Kohimarama block as divided into its original farm allotments. The shaded which later comprised the St. Johns College estate.

There were no denominational barriers and settlers knew and appreciated Bishop Selwyn’s broad-minded attitude for he welcomed to Anglican services any members of other Protestant denominations who had no places of worship of their own.

With some ceremony the foundation stone was laid on St. Thomas’ Day, Thursday 21st December 1843, by Acting Governor Willoughby Shortland. The Church was designed to later become the chancel of a larger building and was named St. Thomas.

Newspaper reports tell us that the ceremony took place “in the presence of a very numerous and respectable assembly of the town and country inhabitants.”

“The respectable part of the spectators then adjourned to a tent where refreshments of every description were provided for them by the Tamaki gentlemen.”

It is thought the Bishop suggested that the church should be built of volcanic rock for he is said to have had an Englishman’s love of stone buildings.

Settlers’ drays and bullock wagons were used to carry basalt rock from the vicinity of Mount Wellington and sand from Mission Bay beach. Shingles for the roof came from a Coromandel saw pit.

The stone walls were said to be loop holed for guns so that if families needed refuge in the church they could protect themselves against attack from Māori tribes. However, although the windows were Gothic-style lancet windows, in keeping with the overall style of the church, there is no evidence of loop holes.


Bishop Selwyn



The first services were held in St. Thomas’ before its completion, on Sunday 22nd December 1844, a year and a day after the laying of the foundation stone. They were attended, we are told, by “all the respectable settlers in the district and some of the officers of H.M.S. Hazard, with many others from Auckland.” Owing to the absence of the Bishop, who had left early in December on a confirmation tour to the scattered settlements of the North Island, the services were conducted by the Rev. Cotton of St. John’s College who, according to the ‘Southern Cross’ report of the proceedings, “preached morning and evening an excellent sermon appropriate to the occasion.”

The native students of the College, we are told, “added much to the solemnity of the service by chanting the Gloria Patri etc and singing the 100th Psalm in English.”

Bishop Selwyn often preached at St Thomas’. Canon Stack’s (from St John’s College) word picture of him is recorded. “It was Bishop Selwyn’s practice when he preached there (St Thomas”) to stand in front of the communion table, but as he warmed to his subject he would step forward and get half-way down the church before he realised that he had moved from his place. Then he would slowly retrace his steps until his back touched the communion rails, but in a few moments, he would move forward again, his handsome face all aglow with the enthusiasm that filled his soul. No-one who ever heard Bishop Selwyn’s voice in the old Church can forget its charm or the thrilling effect produced by his impassioned utterances.”


The original hall served the Parish and community well with activities ranging from Sunday School, plays and concerts involving parishioners, pot luck teas, Parish dinners and Fairs, as well as community activities such as Guides, Scottish dancing, Karate, Bridge, Badminton. It was, however, destroyed by fire in 1992.


St. Thomas’ did not seem to have been popular for weddings as only 13 couples were married in the first 15 years. After 1847 most of the Tamaki marriages were celebrated in St. John’s Chapel.


The Baptism register shows the first four children baptised in St. Thomas’ were Joseph Atkin, 2nd March 1845, Charles Wade, 16th March 1845, Mary Andrew, 1st June, 1845, and Mary Embling, 3rd August, 1845. Rev. Cotton officiated. In 1846 Baptisms increased from 4 to 12, and in 1847 there were 8. Many were sons and daughters of people from the College. After 1847 it was not possible to tell whether they had been baptised in St. Thomas’, St. John’s or Panmure.


The first person interred in St. Thomas’ burial ground was "Dame" Ann (or Annie) White. mother in law to Commissioner Spain. First to follow Annie White was John Weller, a labourer in 1846. Then Ann Robinson (25) servant 1847, Harata Huhana, Christine McDonald, Robert Muir Wallace (20 months), Ellen Adamson (44) 1850. One of the saddest services must have been the 17 year old bride Matilda Fairburn, 1851, only 9 months after her marriage in the same church.

The Cemetery continued to be used for 70 years although there were records of only 30 burials, many coming from other parishes. During the 1870’s and 80’s the burial ground was advertised in the Church Gazette, the fee which included digging the grave, was 5 pounds.

One of the reasons so few of the monuments have been preserved is possibly due to the fact that many were made of wood and were destroyed when a fire swept through the churchyard in the 1920’s. By that time the church was long abandoned.

In 1956, the Vestry gave an undertaking to Mr. (later Sir William) Stevenson to have the area around the graves suitably attended to. The custodian of Purewa Cemetery supervised the dismantling, moving and repairing of the stones.



St. Thomas had a special place in the heart of this community. However, the stonework of the church soon showed signs of crumbling – the basalt stone was too soft and the seawater used to mix the cement, and the beach sand contained too much salt. 

After 1859, the Church was abandoned because it was unsafe. Creeper was planted to hold the stones together. Parishioners moved to the chapel of St John's College.

The roof collapsed in 1905 and the windows and walls gradually caved in. The remains became unsafe and were demolished in 1954. 

In the early 1960s some of the stones from the first St. Thomas’ Church were carefully replaced in an outline of the original building, on a site slightly to the north of the original location. Other stones found there way to St Thomas School, on the corner of Allum Street and Kohimarama Road, and some were incorporated into the altar of the new church. There is a lawn inside the reconstructed foundations of the old church, and a tree was planted, given by the Vestry and Vicar, and dedicated on 6th November 1992 by Archbishop Brian Davis.

Many of the trees planted when the new Church was built are now large and thriving


The headstones from the original graves have been relocated beside the ruins.



1843 – 1859 Saint Thomas’ Tamaki by Allan Curnow

Bishop George Selwyn grew tired of wood;
Like Solomon he desired permanent materials,
Home comforts for his traveller God,
Cypress and spire, background for burials.

So rock hardly cool from the crater
Assumed devout posture, column and arch
Housed the lord fittingly and to the better
Credit of his bride and church.

But ocean weather sucked the ill-mixed mortar
In as many years as the Norman's nave
Had centuries falling; sand, faiths deserter,
Made paste for rain to grind his grove.

Outgunned in grace the Bishop's praying,
blew to his kness the seed of this Cabbage-Palm
Whose tufted rood transfixes the toy ruin.

Printed with kind permission of the author



After St Thomas’ was abandoned, worship continued at St John's College. In time churches were established at Kohimarama (St Andrews) and St Heliers (St Philips) and for some years these were able to cope with the increase in population. However, by 1957 it was decided that St Philips Parish should be divided and through the generosity of Mr W.  (later Sir William) Stevenson, St Thomas’ Church was built in a style as close to the character of the original as possible.

A committee had been formed largely from St Philips parishioners and these people worked very hard to establish the new Parish under the Reverend J.A. Mee and with the Reverend T. Barton as Assistant Priest.

Mr Stevenson, being the donor, laid the foundation stone of the new St Thomas’ on the 21st December, 1957, St Thomas’ Day. There was an attendance of about 200 people to the service conducted by the Reverend J.A. Mee, Vicar of St Philips. The Vicar of St Thomas’ Church at Freeman’s Bay, Reverend F.L. Irwin, read the lesson (1st Corinthians 3 6-16). The Bishop of Auckland, the Right Reverend W.J. Simkin, giving the address, told the assembled congregation that he wished it was possible to picture the scene at the laying of the foundation stone of the first church of St Thomas’ 114 years ago to the day. He said that he imagined that there was a much smaller crowd than there was at the laying of the foundation stone for the second church.


The completed church was dedicated by the Right Reverend W.J. Simkin on the 21st December 1958. At this, the opening service, two children of the wider Stevenson family were baptised by the Bishop of Auckland. The two children were James Ron and Jan Maree Stevenson. 

 In May 1959 16 young trees were planted on the site, and on the 24th of the month a service was held to acknowledge this. The first stage of work on the surroundings of the church was completed; further work was to be done once the new vicarage was constructed (which occurred in 1966). 

On 1st January 1966 St Thomas was constituted a separate parish. The new Vicar was the Reverend Charles Kent-Johnston, who was instituted by the Right Reverend E.A. Gowing, Bishop of Auckland.

In 1967 a working bee, involving the Lions Club, was held to clear debris from the ruins. Stones were given to Selwyn College for a rockery, to Home Chapel in Papatoetoe, and some were used to form the altar in the new church. 


Mr Jack Butland gave the Organ in 1970. This was a Classical organ – one of two in New Zealand. A series of 16 evening recitals were held from May until November, with organists including Geoffrey Skerrett, Peter Avari, Douglas Mews, Peter Godfrey, and Ronald Dellow. School choir performances, and lectures, rounded out the year.  



The bell tower, given by Mrs Barbara and Trevor Cook, was dedicated on Sunday 2nd September 1990.




The hall of St Thomas was dedicated 25th August 1963 by the Right Reverend S.G. Caulton. After evensong in the church the congregation proceeded to the hall for afternoon tea, after a short dedication service.

In 1992, the Hall was attacked by arsonists and after a total of five attempts, it was finally destroyed. Parish meetings were held to decide whether to demolish the hall and start again or to attempt to reconstruct. Sir Paul Reeves became patron of the Restoration Fund.

After due consideration, the Building Committee decided in May 1993 to go ahead with plans submitted by Savory Construction. Mr John Good was the negotiator.

Many hours of voluntary work were put in by the building committee and Mr Peter Morgan as supervising Architect. The Centre was handed over on 17th December, 1993, although we were permitted to use the building for our annual fair in November.




We were very grateful for the support given by the Diocesan Committee and for their gift of carpet, which enabled us not only to carpet the new building, but to renew worn carpet in the Church.

Parishioners and firms were generous in responding to our Restoration appeal and we thank the Lotteries Board for its grant towards our new hall, the Auckland Savings Bank who’s grant enabled us to build the extra bays of the hall, and to Trust Bank who gave invaluable assistance in organising our appeal.

The Centre is used for a variety of church and community activities.

The hall was handed over in December 1993, followed a few days later with a service to mark the beginning of the Sesqui Centennial Year.

Stained glass windows

Donated by Sir William Stevenson in memory of his parents.

West end
In the centre light Christ is depicted looking down on the congregation. On the left is St. Thomas and on the right Bishop Selwyn, for whom the original Church of St. Thomas was built. Beneath St. Thomas is the coat of arms of the See of Calcutta, with which the diocese of Auckland is closely associated, and under Bishop Selwyn is the coat of arms of the See of Auckland.

East end
Featuring the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, with the arresting caption “There is a lad here” with the monograms of the Evangelists Ss. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on the four supporting panels.

The “Arresting Caption” is a quote from the Gospel of St John, chapter 6 verse 9, which describes the scene; “There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?”

Mr Jack Butland gave the Organ in 1970. This was a Classical organ – one of two in New Zealand.

The organ is of the type that has no swell boxes.

Other items

Font of Oamaru stone and Hinuera stone and brass ewer Vicar and Vestry St Heliers Bay Parish (1958)

Brass eagle lectern - Mrs Cole. Inscription – “To the glory of God in memory of Revd. Wm Marsden.
Du Rieu MA (Cantab) Vicar of St Thomas Union Street, Auckland. 1887 – 1907"

Prayer desk and book - Mr and Mrs Putt

Holy bible - Mr Williams

Altar book - Mrs Henderson

Silver goblet - Mr and Mrs S Kingston

Handworked altar cloths & communion linen - Miss Coupland

Pews from the following people -
Mr T Barton (3)
Mr A Atkinson
Mr and Mrs Piper
Mr and Mirs Postles
Mr P Vos
Mr IC Steele
Late Mrs Russell
Mr Clay
Mrs St Clair Brown
Mrs Vague
Mr and Mrs de Lautour
Mr Griffiths
Mr and Mrs Willis
Mrs Hill
Mr and Mrs C Jonas

1/2 Sanctuary carpet - Mr IC Steele

Choir upstand - Mr CR Stead

Small pew - Mrs K McNabb

Small pew - Mr S Reid

Litany desk - Mr J Kidson

Prayer desk and chair - Mrs E Havell

Chair - Miss Bond and Mrs Grant

Offertory Box - Anon

Prayer and hymn books - Anon
Mrs Woodward
Mrs G Turner

Alms dish and holder - Mr O Wilson

Cross - Mr S Baigent

Flower vases - Mrs F Wallis

Candlesticks - Mrs E Nosworthy

Bread box - St Thomas’ Church, Union St

Furnishings - Anon

Frames photographs of old ruins - Mrs A More

Reredos curtains - Takle and Co

Bread box -  In memory of Margaret McGowa

Chalice and patten - Mr R Reid

Red carpet - In memory of Ann Deacon

Two candlesticks - Mr and Mrs R Muller

Peace banner - Mrs J Matthews

Altar frontal cloth - Mrs J Osborne

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