Monthly Archives: April 2014

Chinese Mission Church

Built: 1896-1897
Address: 58 Carroll Street
Architect: James Louis Salmond
Builders: Crawford & Watson

The church and manse as they appeared when first built. Hardwicke Knight Collection, Hocken Collections, P2014-014/3-103.

Much has been written about Dunedin’s church buildings, which is the main reason they haven’t been given much attention here, but when I came across the beautiful and previously unpublished architectural drawing of the Chinese Mission Church in the Hocken Colections, I couldn’t resist following it up further. Much of what follows is drawn and condensed from secondary sources, and to anyone wanting to read more I particularly recommend the writings of James Ng and Susan Irvine listed at the end.

The Presbyterian Church of Otago and Southland established a mission to the Chinese in 1868, when Chinese miners comprised nearly five per cent of the provincial population. Early mission activity was lacklustre and only gained momentum following the appointment of Alexander Don as leader in 1879. After sixteen months with the American Presbyterian Mission in Canton, Don came to Dunedin in 1881 where he underwent theological training before beginning his work ministering to Chinese on the goldfields, based for a time at Riverton and later at Lawrence. The urban Chinese population grew significantly during the 1880s, and in 1889 Don moved his headquarters to Dunedin, taking a small hall at the corner of Lees and Jones streets.

The first hall was small and costly to rent, and in 1895 fundraising efforts for a new building began. In the latter part of 1896 and early months of 1897, a new brick church building was erected in Walker (now Carroll) Street, in an area where many Chinese lived and worked. The site was just down from St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (led by Rev. Rutherford Waddell) with which it maintained a close connection. A two-storeyed manse was built at the same time as the church, on the rear of the section, and flats were later built on the adjoining property owned by Don.

J.L Salmond’s architectural drawing. Salmond Anderson Architects Records, Hocken Collections MS-3821/3657.

J.L. Salmond’s modest design with exposed brickwork, cement facings, and a small castellated porch, was built by the contractors Crawford & Watson. It bears some similarity to the larger Brethren hall at the corner of Hanover and Filleul streets that Salmond had designed a few years before. The total cost for both church and manse was £1,227, with about half of the cost of construction funded through subscriptions (both within and outside the Chinese community), and half from the Presbyterian Board of Property.

Alexander Don described the interior: ‘The church is 44ft, by 23ft and seats 160. Eight feet at the rear is cut off by a partly moveable screen for a book and class-room, where the mission stock and library are kept and small meetings held. The dark red dado and flesh-tint ceiling harmonise well with the light green distempered walls. Light from without comes through five windows on the east side, two in front and a coloured one on the north: within from 20 gas jets. The western unwindowed wall is divided by buttresses into four bays, and in one of these is hung the beautiful ant-thetical couplet in Chinese (framed and) presented to the missionary.’

The building opened with an afternoon service on Easter Sunday, 20 April 1897. The service began with the ‘Old Hundredth’ psalm sung in Chinese, and Thomas Chang Luke delivered the sermon on Luke 5:36 with John 20:20. The hymns were the gospel favourites Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, The Gate’s Ajar for Me, and Jewels. A tea followed, after which there was a meeting in the nearby St Andrew’s hall. Musical items were given by Chan Luke and Wong Hin Ming (Chinese flute), and Wong Wye and Key Chew Leet (harpsichord). More hymns were sung, with ‘the Chinese singing in their own language and the Europeans in theirs’. William Hewitson, William Bannerman, and Rutherford Waddell all gave speeches. Later in the week lantern slide exhibitions showed scenes of China, and viewing the vivid reproductions was an emotional experience for those that had not seen their home country in many years.

Signage and other detail (taken from the photograph reproduced in full above)

From a present-day perspective it is easy to understand why Chinese migrants with a rich and advanced culture, including spirituality of their own, might show indifference or even antagonism towards attempts to evangelise them, especially if they were treated as inferiors. Historian James Ng has led critical re-evaluation of Don and his mission work, stating that though he ‘may be judged as outstanding in moral strength, initiative, determination and perseverance […] he was not successful in evangelising the Chinese’.  Attendance at the church averaged between twenty-five and fifty in its early years and Don baptised only about twenty individuals. Ng claims that it is ‘doubtful if he ever regarded more than a few Chinese as his equal’, an argument supported by the condescension expressed in some of Don’s writings (although this lessened over time). Susan Irvine, while acknowledging Don’s weaknesses, convincingly argues that ‘In comparison to New Zealand Society, his attitudes were enlightened and he championed the Chinese cause in a racist society’. Both writers agree that Don’s legacy is mixed, but also that he earned friendship and respect within the Otago Chinese community, and spoke out against injustices.

Don left Dunedin in 1913 (though he later returned), and with low numbers the congregation continued largely through volunteer efforts. One of the first of the Chinese-born pastors was Foong Lai Law, assistant preacher to Don from 1909 to 1910, and ‘Evangelist to Chinese in and around Dunedin’ from 1926 to 1931. Some time after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937 the Government allowed Chinese women and children to come to New Zealand to be reunited with their husbands and fathers. During the Second World War, when Rev. Andrew Miller was minister, language classes were run to help these new migrants, and domestic and social assistance was also offered. Miller died in 1944 and his wife Ellen (Nellie) afterwards continued in a joint leadership role with Rev. George Hunter McNeur. They were succeeded by Yik Tak Fong in 1951.

Eventually the church shed its ‘mission’ status, becoming the Dunedin Presbyterian Chinese Church, an independent Presbyterian parish within the Presbytery of Dunedin. The brickwork on the building was plastered over at some point and the castellation on the porch removed. In 1993 the congregation moved to the redeveloped former North Dunedin Presbyterian Church hall in Howe Street. It continues to worship there and has a membership of about 180.

The old church was turned over to residential use in the 1990s and the conversion saw two new windows installed in the front wall and the original door and surround replaced with recycled elements. The building’s appearance, still church-like and as modest as it always was, gives little hint of its strong historic and cultural significance.

The church in the 1980s, photographed by Hardwicke Knight

The former church in 2014, with flats at left

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 22 January 1868 p.5 (establishment of mission work), 21 April 1897 p.3 (opening of church building).

Other references:
‘Plan for Chinese Mission Hall’. Salmond Anderson Architects Records, Hocken Collections, MS-3821/3657.
‘Register (Fasti) of New Zealand Presbyterian Ministers, Deaconesses and Missionaries 1840 to 2009’, retrieved 21 April 2014 from Archives Research Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand,
Cochrane, Donald. ‘The Story of the New Zealand Chinese Mission 1867 to 1952’, retrieved 21 April 2014 from Archives Research Centre, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand,
Irvine, Susan. ‘”Teacher” Don: The Mission to the Chinese in Otago’ in Building’s God’s Own Country: Historical Essays on Religion in New Zealand (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2004), pp.153-166.
McNeur, George Hunter. The Church and the Chinese in New Zealand (Dunedin: Presbyterian Bookroom, 1951).
Ng, James. ‘The Missioner’ in Windows on a Chinese Past (Dunedin: Otago Heritage Books, 1995), vol. 2, pp.136-191.
Ng, James. ‘Rev. Alexander Don: His “Good Harvest” Being Reaped at Last’ in Otago Daily Times, 24 September 1983 p.24.

RSA Building (Arrow House)

Built: 1920-1921 (additions completed 1938, 1946)
Address: 469 Moray Place
Architect: William Henry Dunning (additions by Miller & White)
Builders: Fletcher Construction Co.

Living in extended peacetime and the relative indulgence of the modern middle class, I find it difficult to imagine how the soldiers who returned from the First World War adjusted to life back in Dunedin, let alone what they had been through on active service. It was only natural that many, though not all, wanted to preserve social bonds they had formed and build new ones based on common experiences. The need for a soldiers’ club was recognised early in the war, and in 1915 a group from the Otago Boys’ High School Old Boys’ Association purchased Atahapara, the two-storeyed former residence of the historian and long-serving local coroner Dr Thomas Morland Hocken (1836-1910).  Here on the corner of Moray Place and Burlington (formerly Macandrew) Street, they began the Anzac Soldiers’ Club, and Hocken’s old residence became known as Anzac House.

The cover of the sheet music for ‘When the Boys Come Home’, a song written and composed in Dunedin about the return of soldiers from the First World War.

A larger national organisation, the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association, formed in 1916 and quickly grew a large membership. In January 1918 a local committee was put together for the purpose of procuring a site and erecting a memorial club building. The architect W.H. Dunning prepared plans for a site on the corner of Moray Place and View Street, and a drive to raise funds was begun. The Anzac Club then bowed out, going into voluntary liquidation and offering its property to the RSA. Dunning’s plans for new buildings on the Anzac House site were approved in April 1919, and in March 1920 a description was published in the Otago Daily Times:

The club will be-a two-storeyed edifice in the modern renaissance style, and will be carried out in brick, finished with concrete. The frontage to Moray place will be 34ft,  to Burlington street 87ft. The entrance will be at the corner of these streets, and will give access to a wide vestibule, on the right of which will be the reading room, with the offices on the left. The hall leading from the vestibule will give access to the canteen and tea lounge on the ground floor, and to the billiard, board, and common rooms, by means of a wide staircase, on the upper floor. The canteen is to be lighted by a dome roof, and will have a cosy inglenook round the wide tiled fireplace. This may also be used later as a supper room in connection with the social hall, which will be built subsequently, or when funds permit. The spacious tea lounge will be 40ft by 24ft in area, and this will give access by French doors to a covered verandah, occupying nearly the whole length of the Burlington street frontage. A very complete kitchen and servery will be attached to the lounge, and also to the canteen. The billiard room upstairs will be sufficiently large to accommodate four full-sized tables. Hot and cold showers will also be provided upstairs; in fact, the sanitary arrangements throughout the building are to be of the most complete and up-to-date character. The hall, which it is intended to annex to the building at a later date, will be provided with a stage and eating accommodation, up and down stairs, for about 400 people. The exterior decoration of the building, without being of a very elaborate order, will be most imposing, and, with the advantage of a wide street frontage, the clubhouse will have a most imposing and monumental appearance, of which our soldiers and the city generally may well be proud.

General Sir William Riddell Birdwood laid the foundation stone on 12 June 1920, and J.H. Walker (chairman of the fundraising committee) officially opened the completed building on 24 June 1921. The Fletcher Construction Co. were the builders and the cost was £8,500.

The building covered a site essentially triangular in shape. The style of architecture was transitional, and reminiscent of other Dunning designs including Barton’s Buildings (Stafford House) and the Albany Street flats. Columns, pilasters, cornices, rustication, and decorative mouldings suggest a stylised take on the Renaissance Revival manner, and the term ‘Renaissance’ is found in reports about both this building and Barton’s Buildings.

The Burlington Street elevation as it originally appeared, prior to additions and alterations.

The original ground floor plan.

Additions were made 1938, when the ground floor social hall was extended down Burlington Street. The steepness of the street and the rock beneath the additions gave a striking effect to the enlarged structure. The architects were Miller & White, who effectively worked in the existing style, possibly based on drawings left by Dunning, who had died some years earlier. The same firm designed more extensive additions in 1944, but these were not completed for another two years. They extended the first floor to the same extent as the earlier addition, making space for another billiard room. At the same time a miniature rifle range and assembly room were built beneath a new roof structure, increasing the height to three storeys, though the top floor was set back and obscured from the street. Existing internal spaces were also rearranged making room for a lounge, women members’ room, committee room, and recreation and games room. The work was carried out by Mitchell Bros and the redeveloped building was opened by Sir Donald Cameron (Mayor of Dunedin) on 18 December 1946. The redevelopment cost a little over £20,000.

A large fire broke out in the early morning of 17 April 1962. The building was so extensively damaged that the Otago Daily Times initially described it as being destroyed. The following day it was reported that ‘apart from repair work, little structural rebuilding will be necessary on the first floor…but the second floor and roof will have to be rebuilt’. The cost of the damage was estimated at £60,000. Extensive reinstatement work was designed by N.Y.A. Wales (of Mason & Wales). A  small corner tower and other masonry and detail at parapet level were removed, and the reinstated rifle range or indoor bowling space on the second floor featured sloping glazed walls. The building was officially reopened on 6 April 1963. Around the same time the RSA acquired the freehold of the land (previously held leasehold from the Presbyterian Church Board of Property).

The next major renovations were carried out between 1971 and 1972 at a cost of approximately $70,000 to $80,000. It was reported that the work ‘will modernise the clubrooms, turning the second floor into an area for social activities and extending the charter activities throughout the first floor, except for the offices and reading room’.  A permit for glassing in the balcony was issued in 1978. After facing a financial crisis, the Dunedin RSA sold and vacated the building in 1996. In 2009 it was extensively refitted as commercial office space for owners Beach Road Limited (Grant McLauchlan). It was subsequently renamed Arrow House after its anchor tenant, Arrow International.

It is many years since the RSA occupied the building, but although it is not an official memorial like the nearby cenotaph in Queens Gardens, it remains a significant built connection to the soldiers who served in conflicts overseas.RSA_MorayPlaceRSA_MorayPlace3Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 23 October 1915 p.5 (Soldiers’ Club House), 14 January 1916 p.8 (Anzac Soldiers’ Club), 29 December 1917 p.8 (sketch plans by Dunning), 24 September 1917 p.4 (liquidation of Anzac Soldiers’ Club), 21 January 1918 p.2 (plans for Moray Place and View Street site), 24 April 1919 p.8 (plans approved), 27 March 1920 p.6 (description), 14 June 1920 p.6 (laying of foundation stone), 19 December 1946 p.8 (opening of new wing), 17 April 1962 p.1 (fire), 18 April 1962 p.1 (fire), 19 April 1962 p.5 (fire), 6 April 1963 p.10 (opening of reinstated and redeveloped buildings), 8 May 1963 p.1 (purchase of land), 28 March 1995 p.1 (future of building to be debated), 13 August 1996 p.4 (RSA vote to sell buildings), 18 February 2009 p.22 (Beach Road Ltd redevelopment); Evening Star, 24 May 1921 p.7 (opening)

Other references:
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans (with thanks to Glen Hazelton)