St Michael’s & All Angels – Christchurch’s 1st Church

Our First Four Ships carried more than just settlers; they brought books, teachers, chaplains and church bells. The bell from the Charlotte Jane eventually found its home at St Michael and all Angels on Oxford Terrace.In 1851, a gathering of the Anglican settlers began on the church site in a V hut.

This simple place of worship was named Christ’s Church. 29 year old Rev. George Kingdon – the Chaplain from the Charlotte Jane – lead this worship.  His new bride Sophia Swann – a teacher – had felt the same excitement as her husband about the new settlement of Christchurch.  The Canterbury Association had promised them a six bedroom house, their own 30 acres with a yearly wage of 75 pounds with a raise soon after arrival.
You can imagine how chest-fallen they were when they ended up in Room 9, Barrack C in the Lyttelton Immigration Barracks scheme.  Things didn’t improve when they reached Christchurch as only a leaky A-frame house greeted them.  It was so small that their luggage had to be left outside and was eventually weather damaged.  This housing sat on the north bank of the Avon River, where Lichfield Street meets Cambridge Terrace, where Tiffany’s Restaurant now sits. The church was also a A-frame house, where summer was the only season the worshipers could kneel as there was no floor, just earth.

The Kingdon’s fought on, Sophia teaching school in the church house.  But by September 1851, she was bed ridden with a miscarriage.  She remained ill for many weeks later.  A 3 bedroom parsonage was finally built but with no increase of pay or land order.  By the end of February 1852, the Kingdon’s gratefully accepted a transferred to New Plymouth by Bishop Selwyn.  It was after this that the good Rev. began to write complaints to the Canterbury Association about his anger of the unfilled promises.  Rev. Octavius Mathias replaced George at Christ’s Church and was soon reporting back to Lord Lyttelton that the KIngdon’s were in fact, almost starving and too delicate in nature to be pioneers.

But back the end of 1851, with hundreds walking through tussock and swamp to attend church, the need for a bigger church building was in dire need.  Sophia’s school remained and is still on its original site beside the current St Michael and his Angels. The school is the oldest Anglican school in New Zealand.  At first, the church bell from the Charlotte Jane was hung inside the church but lost in history is the story of how this bell became damaged. It was returned to England for repairs and plans were made for its safety when once it came back.Consecrated by Dr. Sumner, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the future Bishop of Canterbury, Henry Harper arrived in Lyttelton on the 23rd December 1856. Bishop Selwyn met him right there on the jetty and together, they got the Harper family and their belongings over the Bridle Path. Henry Harper Junior later writes, “Two hand-carts were obtained, duly loaded, and drawn by sailors with ropes, the two Bishops with their coats off, helping to shove the carts up the rough, steep track.”Enthroned by Selwyn on Christmas Day, Henry took his place at Christ’s Church.In 1859 the church was renamed St Michael and his Angels and plans for further enlargement started. St Michael and his Angels faced the same problem as most of the buildings, including the Cathedral face during the 1860’s – lack of funds! The church did not re-open till 1872 and the planned Bell Tower and Spire were scrubbed to save money. Although Benjamin Mountford was not involved in the main church plans, he did design the Belfry that was to house the bell from the Charlotte Jane; mainly to keep it safe! It was to also be used as Lynch Gate but this did not come to pass.

Along the sides of St Michael’s are stained glassed windows celebrating and acknowledging some of Christchurch’s first families and supporters.  Pictured here is the window for the Inwoods whom arrived aboard the Sir George Seymour.  Daniel Inwood went on to open the first mill in Canterbury, situated at Carlton Corner, Christchurch.In 1901, the vestry was remodeled into what is now the Pilgrims Chapel – in celebration of the first 50 years of settlement in Christchurch. In 1976, the Belfry was moved to its current position due to construction requirements, namely road widening.I do not know if the bell is still safety locked away in the Belfry as it is impossible to see or it is now a victim of the earthquakes??? I will update this post when this info comes to hand.*All photos taken by Annette Bulovic*

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