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1862 - 1962

By the Rev MJ Mills MA LTh


The Right Reverend EA Gowing

I very gladly accede to the request to write a foreword to the history of the Parochial District of Papakura which has been written by the Reverend M.J. Mills. I have had the privilege of reading the material that has been prepared and I am confident that it will, under God, greatly help present parishioners to realise that they have entered into a goodly heritage.

Much devoted work and witness has been offered to God during the first 100 years – since the time that my illustrious predecessor Bishop Selwyn dedicated the beautiful little churches at Papakura and Drury. All this should be a cause for profound thanksgiving and thanksgiving is only genuine when it is translated into dedication.

Thus the challenge of this significant parish centenary is lives that are utterly committed to the service of our Lord and His Church. Only then will the second century which is about to begin meet the demands that the explosive growth of population brings. May the good hand of God be upon the parish of Papakura in days to come as in the days that are present.

Eric Gowing







Within ten feet of the unceasing hustle and roar of the main southern highway, Papakura’s Selwyn Chapel bears striking testimony to a century of devoted worship and witness. And a few miles further south, at Drury, within a hundred yards of the same Great South Road, the white walls and wooden shingles of St. John’s Church provide another glimpse of the old world, reminding us of the continuing fellowship and service of the Anglican community through the years.

For it was in the early 1860s that the first bishop of New Zealand, Bishop Selwyn, inspired the erection of both these churches. It was part of his policy of building dignified centres of worship in newly settled districts. At this time services were being held at Wairoa (Clevedon), Wairoa Road (Ardmore) and Mauku, and preparations were being made for the erection of churches there. Naturally Papakura and Drury, as early farming settlements and strategic stopping-points on the journey from Auckland to the Waikato, were also chosen for church sites.

The two distinctive “Selwyn” churches have served their districts well ever since the early colonial period. Only in the last twenty years have the tiny buildings proved inadequate. For Papakura and Drury did not expand as rapidly as perhaps the first settlers envisaged. The story of the parish over the greater part of the century has been one of devoted pastoral work and leadership on the part of the clergy and of faithful worship and service on the part of generations of lay folk in a large and widespread, but not very wealthy, rural parish; it is the story of small, scattered bands of worshippers and workers – not only at Papakura and Drury, but at various times in its history at Wairoa (Clevedon), Papakura Valley (Alfriston), Wairoa Road (Ardmore), Weymouth, Woodside (Papatoetoe), Takanini, Ponga, Ararimu, Ramarama, Karaka, Te Hihi, Kingseat Mental Hospital and Waiau Pa.

Towards the end of the first hundred years, however, the face of the parish was altered in two ways. The first was the emergence of a vital church life at Karaka, demonstrated by the erection of the attractive brick St. Margaret’s Church in 1954.

The second was the dramatic growth of the Papakura district during the 1940s, which increased even more during the 1950s. Papakura, from a small country village, quite suddenly changed into a bustling commercial and light-industrial suburban area of 8,000 people. This led to a parallel dramatic growth in the size and strength of the Anglican family, and in the scope and variety of its fellowship and activities, tangibly expressed in the handsome well-equipped parish centre opened on 16 December 1961.

So, in 1962, the ancient and the modern stood side by side. A brief study of the history of this parochial district reinforces what architects have so ably expressed in timber and stone and concrete – that in each generation the church, the living fellowship of dedicated men and women, is seeking in its worship, its corporate life and its service to express in its own way the spirit and mind of Jesus Christ.




Settlement began early in the Papakura district. In 1842 the first land purchase was made, though the first settlers did not move in until about 1847. Papakura was on an accessible arm of the Manukau Harbour and proved a good resting place on the long journey from Auckland to the Waikato. It was, at first, often a two-day journey for the heavy bullock wagons – around the head of the Tamaki River and across the many swamps and creeks. The Maori Wars hastened the construction of a road link with Auckland and we are told that at the end of 1857 it had been metalled by the troops as far as Drury, and a daily coach service begun.

There were opportunities for trade with the Maori people along the Kerikeri Stream (two miles east of the township) and along the shores of the Manukau. But it was a very uncertain living that the farmers eked out of the heavy bush, swamp and old kauri forest remains of the Papakura flats. Despite enterprising efforts like flour milling, flax dressing, tobacco production, tomato and chutney canning, many settlers in the late 1860s sold their sections and went off to try their luck in the gold discoveries at Thames and the Coromandel. Kauri gum digging and timber cutting augmented the settlers’ incomes in hard times.

It was among such settlers, in their nikau and raupo shacks, or later in their houses built of split palings or pit sawn timber, that the church began its work.

Unfortunately, no records survive of the earliest days of the Papakura church, or even the names of those instrumental in building the “Selwyn” church. We know Bishop Selwyn was its inspirer and that the Willis family were amongst the chief promoters – notably Mr. Robert Willis who had arrived in late 1847 and had opened the first store in a raupo whare in 1853. The Diocesan Almanac 1860–4 lists those who helped in the erection of the little church, and those who subscribed to its total cost of £403.3.2.

There are no diocesan or parish records of the completion or the opening of the church but on 6 August 1862 we read in the Daily Southern Cross that, “The new Church at Papakura is being completed.”

The following advertisement appeared daily in the same newspaper from Monday 29 September till Saturday 4 October:

Papakura Episcopalian Church

Opening Service

The Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of New Zealand will hold Divine Service in the newly erected Church, Papakura, on Sunday, October 5th at 11 o’clock a.m.

The wooden portions of the present Selwyn Chapel reflect the quality of early workmanship. The little church is one of the best examples of “Selwyn” architecture – the attempt to express in the wooden materials of the young colony the religious spirit of ancient English churches. The chapel, oriented towards the east, has the typical wooden-shingled roof, with its unnecessarily high pitch (originally designed to deflect northern hemisphere snow falls).

The vertical weatherboards with battens, the narrow windows, the traditional, well-proportioned cruciform transepts and the heavy, originally unpainted cross-beams are typical of the style. The settlers must have rejoiced that in so different a setting the dignity and atmosphere of the old world had been so successfully recaptured.

Early services

It was one of Bishop Selwyn’s constant concerns that settlers in outlying districts should receive the attention of the church. At first the Church of England services in the district were under the general supervision of the Rev. Vicesimus Lush, M.A., Vicar of Howick from 1850 onwards.


The first definite reference to Papakura in his diary is on 28 June 1860:

“Last Sunday, being the last of the month, I had to go to my newly appointed sphere of duty in the Papakura flats.”

So he began monthly visits to these distant parts of his parish, trudging through rough bush tracks on horseback. From Mr. Lush we learn that, though the church was opened in October 1862, it was not completely finished.


On 21 November he wrote:

“Papakura church is unfinished in the interior; there are no chancel rails, no communion Table – no chairs – no stools to kneel on. This morning I went up to the Church and took the necessary dimensions for I shall not rest till I have fitted the Chancel into a more decent state than it is, – the same may be said of the churches at Drury and at Mauku.”

Not until May 1866 did he manage to persuade the Papakura churchwardens to order a Communion Table to be made for £3.10.0 by a Mr. Castledine at Drury. Also he mentions the assistance of the first chemist at Papakura, a Mr. Fallewell (sic) who taught at the Presbyterian school. He “brought his own Harmonium into our church and led the Psalmody – for which I was obliged for up to that time we had no singing through the want of someone to start and lead the singing.”

The opening of the Papakura Church coincided with the growing excitement of Maori disturbances. Mr. Lush describes his approach to Papakura in August 1863, when Papakura was on the northernmost fringes of the fighting:

“I pushed on towards Papakura. The same loneliness struck me here as around Howick; not a soul moving in the fields, all seem to have fled and to have congregated in the villages and the town.”

Both Presbyterian and Anglican buildings were used as refuges for neighbouring families. On 8 August Mr. Lush records his visit to the church where many of the women were living. Bishop Selwyn had held a service there on the previous Sunday – one transept being piled up with bedding, and the other with furniture.

The Bishop, however, was satisfied that the Vicar of Howick was quite unable to do justice to such a vast parish. His express ideal was for every country settler to receive a clergyman’s visit every quarter, and to that end he established a system of visiting clergymen who covered large areas, visiting the settlers and conducting services. So in 1863 we read in Mr. Lush’s diary that the Rev. B.T. Ashwell, whose base was at Taupiri, did duty at Papakura and Drury, while he himself concentrated on the Turanga Creek schoolhouse, All Soul’s, Wairoa (Clevedon), Wairoa Road Chapel (Ardmore) and Smale’s Chapel, Otara (East Tamaki). Old records show that the Rev. F. Gould of Holy Trinity, Otahuhu, and the Rev. John Morgan of Otawhao, Waikato Archdeaconry, also helped in visiting and serving the area in the early 1860s.

In 1865 the Rev. V. Lush’s supervision was extended to the “Inner Waikato”. From an extract from his diary on 17 July of that year, we catch a glimpse of the problems presented by the scattered settlements:

“Last Saturday left Parnell for my new missionary duties. I have a very extended sphere, so many stations indeed that I shall in general be able to give but one service a month at each place. The fact is, the clergy in this Diocese are becoming far too few for the work to be done. I rode 34 ½ miles on Saturday to the ‘Queen’s Redoubt’ – a redoubt close to the Waikato – then on Sunday morning at 10 I had service with the soldiers. Then I rode back 13 miles to Drury and had service at 2, and another ride of 3 miles brought me to Papakura where I had my last service at 4 o’clock.”

Areas covered at this time included Haitapu, Waiuku, Wairoa, Wairoa Road, Pukekohe West, Waipipi, Maungatawhiri, Pokeno, Tuakau, Port Waikato, Maketu and Bombay Settlement, Patumahoe, Mauku, Ramaraina, Turanga and East Tamaki, as well as Papakura and Drury! Something of the reward of Mr. Lush’s visiting is seen in an extract of 8 June – a visit to an unnamed settlement, presumably near Drury:

“It was a long ride of some fifteen miles first over open undulating country with nothing to look at – the last 5 miles the country became more wooded and at last ended in a dense forest through which I had to exercise care in order to guide my horse with safety. Suddenly the forest ended and I entered upon a tolerably level and open plain, dotted here and there with immigrants huts and cottages … they told me of a poor woman back in the bush who had a baby a month old and who wished to see a clergyman; they offered their son as a guide … so I went back and found a very thin and delicate but interesting-looking young woman, with a wee little baby in her arms. … She begged me to baptise her babe, which I at once did, and then I churched the poor fragile mother, and seldom have I seen a woman attend to the Service with more apparent devotion than that woman did, in that small raupo hut, kneeling upon the mud floor.”

The realities of working in a frontier society often meant that Christians of different denominations found co-operation overcame difference. Elsdon Craig noted this in his history of the early leaders of Papakura’s Presbyterians and Anglicans, the Rev. Thomas Norrie and the Rev. Lush: “Both ministers were noted for their ecumenical spirit.”

Lush gave an instance of this in his own diaries:

“Passing through Papakura, I called on the chemist and druggist of the name of Fallwell … this Mr. Fallwell is the Presbyterian schoolmaster and precentor in their chapel but the last time I officiated at Papakura he, with the consent of the churchwardens, brought his own harmonium into the church and led the psalmonry – for which I was delighted… He still acts as precentor at the kirk in the morning and seems anxious to establish himself in the same capacity in our church in the afternoon.”

The scattered nature of the settlements has meant that the church has always strongly depended on faithful laymen for regular services and instruction in the various centres. Again it was Bishop Selwyn’s initiative that gave lay-readers such a vitally important part in the life of the young New Zealand church. This extract from his address to Synod in 1863 shows his concern for country districts or “the Brethren in the Bush” as he called them:

“The main object surely is to secure to our congregations in all parts of the country the benefits and blessings of Common Prayer, as our fathers called it, or as it is now more frequently called, of social worship. There is scarcely a settler in the bush who does not recognise the necessity of bringing up his children in the habit of hallowing the Lord’s Day by attendance at the House of God … for the most part there is an earnest desire among the country settlers for the spiritual good of themselves and their children testified by the willingness with which they attend Public Worship and the wish expressed everywhere for the establishment of schools. It is sometimes possible to combine both advantages by the appointment of the schoolmaster to the office of Lay Reader.”

Perhaps the Bishop had Papakura in mind as he spoke. For Mr. R.B. Calvert, a schoolmaster at Wiri, was at that time visiting lay-reader for Papakura, Wairoa and Wairoa Road. At first he rode out to help with the services, but later in 1862 he moved out to Papakura to become head teacher of the school that had been begun in the 1850s. He was actually an Independent minister recently out from England and it is thought that he was appointed lay-reader by the Bishop, and would in due course offer himself for the Anglican ministry. But in April 1863 his valuable services were lost when his wife’s illness forced the family to return to England.

Mr. H. Worthington, another lay-reader in Mr. Lush’s time, giving valuable service during the years he remained in Papakura, was also a popular, though strict, teacher at the school. This school was held in the Presbyterian Church until 1876.

The first Synodsmen for the Papakura district in 1862 proved to be two men who were to give outstanding service to the young diocese. Robert Baillie Lusk came to New Zealand from Scotland in 1849. He settled in the Turanga Creek area and represented Papakura Parish in Synod until he moved into the city in 1871. He continued as a zealous member of both the Diocesan and General Synods. John Gordon likewise proved a good first choice as he represented the parish at Synod for 25 years, 1862 to 1887. Mr. Gordon also did valuable work as a visiting lay-reader for Panmure and Otahuhu during these years.

After Mr. Lusk’s departure, other Synodsmen who sat from time to time with Mr. Gordon were Colonel Haultain (1872–3), Mr. H. Martelli (1874–5), Mr. David Nolan (1875–87) and Mr. N. Rawlings (1884).

From 1862 to 1870, Messrs. W. Wheeler and J. Middlemas acted as Returning Officers; from 1870 to 1871, Mr. H. Greenacre; and from 1872 onwards, Mr. Worthington. We also know the district wardens, as reported by Mr. Lush to Bishop Selwyn in 1866:

  • Turanga Creek cum Maraetai – Mr. Trice.

  • Wairoa – Mr. Thorp

  • Papakura – Mr. Mellsop

  • Drury – Mr. Worthington

  • Waiuku – Mr. King

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