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First Church, Martinborough

Celebrating 140 years, July 2011

First Church from the corner of Jellicoe and Weld Streets

South-facing side of church

First Church was being repainted when these photographs were taken (September 2010), so the south-facing side of the church is painted white, while the rest of the church is in shades of green.


The first Presbyterian church in the Wairarapa was built near the site of the current church in June 1871. At that time the township was known as Waihenga, with its centre at the southern end of the present Martinborough. Simply named Waihenga Church, it was the second building in the town, built on land donated by J. D. Baird.

Martinborough historian Mate Higginson, in the Wairarapa Midweek, June 21,2011 says:

"The building of the church came into being after a gathering of like-minded people met at the Ruamahunga River Crossing. Previously worship had been held at the Smiths' residence in Waihenga," Mate says. 
The building, constructed from timber milled at Moiki, is believed to have cost somewhere in the vicinity of £141. The church featured a gabled roof with timber shingles and sawn timber walls, but no porch or steeple. It was large enough to fit three rows of wooden pews--one of which can be found on display in the Martinborough Museum. 
Records show the first service was held one afternoon in early June by the Rev. James Patterson, who was assisted by the Rev. John Ross and James Laurie. 
Parishioner numbers increased steadily and by 1879, under the leadership of the Rev. James Lymburn, it became clear the congregation had outgrown the tiny venue. 
The present church, with the original church serving as a vestry at the rear, was designed by C J Toxward and built by William Benton. It opened in 1891 on a section on the corner of Weld and Jellicoe Streets, costing £462. 
In 1896 a decision was made to move the original church to the rear of the new building, where it would be used as a vestry.  Local builder William Boyd won the contract, and it was relocated using a traction engine. 
In 1921 it was suggested that the church's name be changed, although it was to be another 30 years before it was officially named First Church on July 1, 1951. 
"The little church has had many a role to play in our community," says Mate, "the first being in 1872 when the first public school was held there. 
"Mr Scott, the first teacher spent half his time at Kaiwaiwai and half at Waihenga. After the great school fire on July 29, 1919, the church was once again used as a classroom. 
"The little Waihenga Church has stood the test of time--140 years of helping Martinborough people along life's highway. 
The church celebrates its 140th birthday with a luncheon in the church hall on Sunday, July 3, 2011.

The Good Shepherd window (not pictured) celebrated 100 years of worship in the district.

First Church, Martinborough, 1891-1900
First Church Sunday School picnic, 1920

First Church manse. The man may be the Rev. James Lindsay, Minister at First Church from 1871-1877

First Church manse, 1905

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897 says -
Martinborough Presbyterian Church—a wooden structure which accommodates about 180 people—was built in 1891. Churches at Lower Valley, Featherston, Kaiwaiwai, Morrison Bush, and back country are worked from Martinborough. An organ and a choir materially add to the attractiveness of the services at the Martinborough Church. Messrs. W. and J. Macleod and D. MeMaster are the members of the session, the board of management consisting of eight representatives from the various places of meeting. A comfortable manse with a glebe of eight acres is occupied by the minister. In connection with the church there is a successful Band of Hope and the usual Bible classes.

Rev. James Lymburn, the Minister in charge of the Martinborough Presbyterian Church, was born in Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland, in 1854. After completing his education at the parish school, he went to work, serving an apprenticeship to a carver and gilder. After entering into business in Glasgow, Mr. Lymburn became private secretary to Mr. Jas. McDonald, of London, whom he served six years. He afterwards attended the Glasgow University for four years, and was two years in the Free Church College, working meanwhile in the Glasgow City Mission, Selected by the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland, Mr. Lymburn came out to Hastings, New Zealand, where he remained for four-and-a-half years. In 1886 he was licensed by the Hawkes Bay Presbytery, and fifteen months later he was called to Martinborough, where he was ordained by the Wellington Presbytery. The reverend gentleman is an enthusiastic student of music, and besides playing the violin, sings well, and conducts the church choir. He visits and travels a great deal, and takes much interest in the work amongst the young people. He is a so very active in public affairs, holding several public positions.


First Church, Martinborough, can be found at 90 Jellicoe Street, on the corner of Weld Street (map).

Church contact details here

There is a service each Sunday, at 10 am.

Wairarapa Archives
Wairarapa Midweek
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897


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