On the last Sunday of October 1853, in a small carpentry shop in Cashel Street, owned by James Johnston, a small group of Scottish Presbyterian settlers gathered together. Among them were John and Jane Deans. Not only was this an historic day for the Anglican based Canterbury but it was a day of reflection and comfort, especially for those who were having their children finally baptized.
Rev. John Moir spent a few days in Christchurch, on his way to Wellington, and did much to top up the faith and tend to the spiritual welfare of those few Presbyterians who came to hear him preach. Noted as the first Presbyterian service in Canterbury, the dream of St Andrew’s began in that carpentry shop.
Gravely ill, John Deans sat proudly with his 2 month old son on his lap. When the time arrived for John Deans Jnr. to be baptized, John Deans Snr. shakily got his feet, determined to be the one to take his son to the Reverend.
Jane Deans later writes in ‘Letters to my grandchildren’:
“Your grandfather was very frail, and during the ceremony I stood with him ready to catch your father lest he should drop him.”
John didn’t drop him but held him tight with all the fatherly grace and blessings he could muster. Jane continues:
“’It surely is a blessed thing to be a good man’s wife’ was written by someone, and ‘The prayer of a righteous man availeth much’ is written in the best of Books. I can endorse both, for few wives have ever been more blest than I was and the prayers for blessings on my head and your father’s that were presented at God’s throne of Mercy and Grace by your Grandfather during his illness continue to be answered to this day”.
Sadly John would not live long enough to witness the beginning of the Presbyterian Church in Canterbury. When the first meeting occurred on the 31st January 1854 regarding the start up of a church, a letter and £100 was the only presence John could afford to give. He was made Treasurer though and the Secretary was William Wilson.
By the next meeting on the 4th March 1854, no suitable land for a church, manse and school was found. Hearing that the government had granted land to the Presbyterian churches of Wellington and Dunedin, William Guise Brittan was approached as he was in charge of the land office. He promised to do his best.
But by July, the committee began to look at land again on their own as no word had come back from the land office. Even though 4 acres was needed, the erection of a church was paramount so ¼ acre plots were considered for purchase. Designs began to be drawn up.
At this time, there were 324 Presbyterians in Canterbury.
A request was made to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland for a preacher, a man who would not only preach every Sunday but who would run day and evening lectures on astronomy, geology and natural history. Rev. Charles Fraser was chosen for the job.
On the 3rd September 1854, 3 acres – land on both sides of Tuam Street – were given by the government. This intersection with Oxford Terrace, Antigua and Tuam Streets with it facing the Public Hospital on Riccarton Ave became known as Hospital Corner. It was accepted gratefully. A fine wooden church was built along with a manse.
Rev. Fraser arrived in November 1856 and within 2 hours of his arrival, was already preaching to the public of Lyttelton. For the next 2 months, he and his wife Elizabeth lived as guests of Jane Deans in the very new Riccarton House.
St Andrews – as it has since been named – opened on the 1st February in 1857. 3 services were held that day, 691 people heading in to sit on the pews. The day had meant a lot to Jane Deans, she remembered the sermon preached for many years later. In 1902, Jane was honoured by being asked to lay the foundation stone of The St Andrew’s Hall.
Sadly, 27 years later, Rev. Fraser would be surrounded by scandal that would eventually cost him his place at St Andrew’s. Accused of mismanaging the church’s finances and knowing some of the female parishioners more intimately than he should, he couldn’t escape the dark cloud that followed him. He is though the man behind the birth of today’s Hagley Community College on Hagley Ave and the name sake of St Andrew’s College on Papanui Road.
When he opened his school – which was housed in the actual church – it was named the Boys’ Academy. John Deans II was one of the 3 pupils that enrolled that first day. Jane Deans later writes:
“It was a long way to send him alone at 6½ years old, so my old gardener, Robert Boyd, who had been a few months here, took him every morning on a led horse, and Mrs. Graham and I went to meet him in the afternoon. At first he took only a sandwich with him, which the other boys frequently took from him, and he would come home faint with hunger and headache. He had to ride one of the old stock horses at first, but Mr. Wilkin kindly got a nice pony for him to ride from Sydney, which became known very well”.
Can’t you just see little John Deans trotting across Hagley Park from Riccarton on his way to school?
When the school moved down to where Hagley Community College is now situated, it was renamed the Boys’ High School. Then it became Christchurch West Borough School and today we know it as the community college. St Andrew’s College was born in the old church’s manse in 1917. A year later, the school moved to its Papanui location.
Addington Cemetery was once known as the Scottish Cemetery and was attached to St Andrew’s. The purchase of the land was much encouraged by Jane Deans as the Anglican’s were very protective of their Barbadoes Street Cemetery. She had battled the Anglicans in 1854 to bury John, wanting of course to have him buried in blessed ground. I think her last strand of respect for the Anglicans was shattered with that unpleasant business but she won and when she died in 1911, she joined John there.
Sadly, the first burial in Addington Cemetery was in 1856 and was George McIlraith, the half brother of Jane Deans. He had been dragged by his horse at Homebush and died later of his wounds. He was only 20 years old. A sad day for the Deans and the Church.
As the years went by, St Andrew’s found itself in the middle of an industrial area. The city had grown and overtook it. As more Presbyterian churches opened, the foot traffic to hospital corner became less and less and the church was looking at a lonely death. Rangi Ruru Girls’ High School came to the rescue and the church was moved to their school grounds. Looking very much at home, St Andrew’s continues to service its community and proudly on its walls, are plaques to those first members that poured in its life source. In one corner, are a few plaques to the Deans family. Jane Deans’ plaque reads:
IN MEMORY OF JANE DEANS OF RICCARTON
BORN AT AUCHENFLOWER, AYRSHIRE, 21ST APRIL 1823
DIED AT RICCARTON, 19TH JANUARY 1911
FOR FIFTY-FIVE YEARS A MUCH LOVED MEMBER OF THIS CONGREGATION
“SHE HATH DONE WHAT SHE COULD”
ERECTED BY FRIENDS TO PREPETUATE THE MEMORY OF HER GOOD WORKS AND GRACIOUS CHRISTIAN CHARACTER
Proudly situated outside St Andrew’s Church is a Totara tree root. It once supported one of the Totara felled for the building of St Andrews Church in 1856. This timber was donated by Mr. Ebenezar Hay whose property was all the way in Pigeon Bay. The Hay’s had met William Deans in Port Nicholson (Wellington) in 1840 and together, with the Sinclairs’, Manson’s and the Gebbie’s, sailed together down to the Port Cooper Plains (Canterbury Plains) in 1843. All these families were Scottish Presbyterians.
When St Andrew’s was moved from Hospital Corner to Rangi Ruru, this tree root was gifted to the school by Mr. and Mrs. Donald Hay and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Deans in commemoration of its history. It was also Rangi Ruru centenary year.
*Modern photos of St Andrew’s taken by Annette Bulovic*