Brief History of Old St John’s, Te Awamutu
In January 1841 Rev John Morgan was appointed to the Otawhao Mission. Which stood on the present day Selwyn Park, opposite St John’s Church. On that site an earlier church was built in 1842, it was a roomy place of worship, by 1850, encouraged by his Maori parishioners, John Morgan began the proceedings needed to commence the building of what is now called Old St John’s Church. His parishioners offered to donate timber and finance, and Rev Morgan appealed to the Church Missionary Society for funding. By 1852, still without money, the sawing if timber commenced.
St John’s Church was finished and opened on Easter Day 1854 with Archdeacon Abraham travelling from Auckland for the occasion.
Whilst St John’s was being built John Morgan began plans for a Church of similar design at Rangiaowhai, now Hairini. This church was named St Paul’s.
The framing and weatherboards are heart Matai, cut from the Rangiaowhai and Kihikihi districts. The weatherboards are 305 millimeters, rusticated construction with fillets at the corners. The lining is heart of Rimu, set vertically. All timber is pit sawn and the building erected by two European carpenters, Edwards and Chitham assisted by Maori helpers.
The windows are of particular interest, constructed of timber frames with millions of flat iron welded together. These were salvaged from the first mention Church, originally carried by the Maori people from Tauranga along the Wairere track, an ancient trail over mountain, through bush and rivers.
Gracing the sanctuary is a magnificent stained glass window, possibly one of the oldest Victorian figurative painted and fired stained glass windows in New Zealand. It comprises of three lights. The first shows St Peter’s ship. The central light displays the emblem I.H.S. and the last super at Emanaus. The light on the right shows a church. The window came from St John’s in Auckland, not as was originally suggested, that it was a donation from Queen Victoria. It was possibly executed by William Wailes between 1850 and 1853.
Early in 1864, during the Waikato Land Wars, St John’s became a garrison church for the men of General Cameron’s Army. The Maori Chieftainess Te Paea Potatau placed here mana on the church, thus saving it from being burnt down, as other European buildings were. A number of wooden tablets, memorials to those who died during the fighting in this district, were erected around the interior walls. Only those in the Baptistery have survived.
A tribute from a British Regiment of Foot is also found in the Baptistery. This regiment, the 65th, The Royal Tigers’ attired in New Zealand in 1847 and departed in 1865.wrote the tribute in both English and Maori. They had come to respect their Maori opponents, and were respected in return.
Other memorials are to be seen in the main body of the building, including memorials to honour the men of the district who gave their lives during the two World Wars.
Attention is also drawn to the footprints on the ceiling near the main door, Many are the legends told of their origin.
The Church Yard
The British casualties who died at the battles of Rangiaowhai, Hairini and Orakau are interred to the north of the church. In 1888 the Government erected a memorial to the rank and file, who were interred close by. Two Officer’s graves are to be seen directly outside the Sanctuary. Also nearby is the memorial to four of John Morgan’s children. This is reminder of the sacrifices that he and his wife made in bringing Christianity to the Maori People.
Directly in front of New St John’s there stands another memorial to some of the Maori soldiers who died during hostilities in the Land Wars. These were interred here at the request of Bishop Selwyn, first Anglican Bishop of New. Zealand.
A tour of the Church yard will also reveal the names of many European pioneers of this district, and whose descendants still reside here and help to preserve our Historical heritage.