Photographer's Note

Christ Church in Russell, near Paihia, is the oldest existing church in NZ today, and possibly the oldest building still used for its original purpose.

Its beginnings go back to the earliest years of Maori European contact in the Bay of Islands when missionaries from across the harbour at the Paihia mission station rowed across to take services in private homes.

Russell, then known by its original Maori name of ‘Kororareka’ was a rough seaport, popular with Pacific whalers, with the nickname ‘The Hellhole of the Pacific’.

The missionaries purchased land in 1834 from Kororareka chiefs Rewa, Wharerahi and Moka and agreed that Maori and Pakeha (Europeans) should have equal rights of burial.The fundraising subscription list for the church survives with names of missionaries, settlers, traders and ships’ captains including ‘Captain Fitzroy, Mr. Charles Darwin and officers of HMS Beagle’. The building began in 1835 and a simple rectangular chapel with hipped roof was constructed.

According to official records, the first service was on 3 January 1836 when William Williams from Paihia mentions taking one in the ‘new chapel’. Services were conducted in both English and Maori languages.

The church celebrated its centennial in 1936 with an outdoor service, and in 1963 welcomed Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
Among the graves in the churchyard are those of Tamati Waka Nene (a Ngapuhi chief largely responsible for the Maori’s acceptance of the Treaty of Waitangi and who fought for the settlers against Hone Heke), Hannah King Letheridge (now known to be the second European girl to be born in NZ), Dr Samuel Ford (the country’s first resident surgeon), members of the Clendon family (James R Clendon was the first honorary United States Consul), the men from HMS Hazard who fell in the battle, and a number of whalers whose headstones often tell of untimely deaths.

I found this small church and its graveyard beautiful and fascinating.

Bigger beta picture

Closer view

The grave of the Maori chief

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Additional Photos by Malgorzata Kopczynska (emka) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 11664 W: 123 N: 29633] (139480)
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