THE PRESENT CHURCH
The architect of the present church was John T Mair (1876-1959),
an Invercargill-born architect who later became the Government Architect.
J T Mair, who had previously worked in the New Zealand Railways,
had travelled to the United States of America in 1906, where he
studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. It is thought
that the Romanesque and Byzantine-influenced church he designed
for the Presbyterian congregation in Invercargill was influenced
both by buildings he saw in America and churches he saw on his travels
through Italy and France on his way back to New Zealand.
Internally Mair's design conformed to the Presbyterian way of worship
by providing a central space and a gallery so that all could see
and hear the preacher. It is said that Mair made a special study
of acoustics and in that respect First Church was 'nearly as perfect
as possible'. At the rear of the church Mair provided rooms for
prayer meetings and for Sunday School.
Mair's design was accepted by the Deacon's Court in 1910, although
not all approved of the design. The design, which included a dome,
had to be modified to reduce costs. The tender was not let until
December 1911, and then only on the proviso that the Deacons' Court
could revert to the original design if they found further funds.
The successful tenderers were McKinnon and Hamilton, and, as the
Deacons' Court did find more money, the church was eventually built
to Mair's original design.
Built in brick, First Church officially opened in 1915. At the
time of its opening the Southland Times said: 'The building has
been referred to by visiting architects from Dunedin and elsewhere,
as one of the finest examples of brickwork in New Zealand. Being
quite different from the customary style of Gothic architecture,
the amateur mind has some difficulty in convincing himself that
the design is just exactly to his or her liking, but as time goes
on, and one becomes more familiar with the outlines of the structure,
the objections will vanish
From the NZHPT website
On 24 February 1910 a congregational meeting resolved to accept
the plans of Mr John T Mair for the building of the new Church.
This was a courageous decision, as the Italian Romanesque architecture
in which the building was designed was almost unknown in this country,
and it naturally aroused some controversy. However, time has justified
the decision and the Church has proved to have a nobility and enduring
quality frequently absent from its Victorian Gothic and Edwardian
contemporaries. A contract was let to Messrs McKinnon and Hamilton
for the erection of both church and Stobo Hall at a cost of £15,193.
From "First Church of Southland: a descriptive guide"
by Russell E Cowley, 1957
When the last brick of the new church was in place, The Deacons'
Court realised that interior furnishing had to be in keeping with
the building. This made further demands on the generosity of the
congregation, but, once again, it rose to the occasion. Seating
for the church and hall cost #452 and the partitioning of the hall
cost £295.. By June 1915 the financial cost of the whole undertaking
had risen to £18,181. As they beheld what they had achieved,
the minister and congregation must have been well pleased.
Centenary of First Church by A J Deaker, 1960.
The height of the Campanile (tower) is 105 ft (32m)
The length of the church interior is 90 ft (27.5m)
The width of the church interior, across transcepts, is 70 ft (21.5m)
The walls at the base of the Campanile are 3ft 3ins thick (1m)
The footings of the Campanile are almost 6 ft thick (1.8m)
Over one million bricks were used in the construction of the church
Centenary of First Church by A J Deaker, 1960.
AND THE WORK CONTINUES
The First Church Heritage Building Conservation Trust is making
good progress with the renovation of our NZ Historic Places Trust
Category 1 building. The windows have been made safe, most of the
brickwork has been re-pointed and a new electrical switchboard has
been installed. The work is currently focussed on protecting the
Over $500,000 has been spent to date, with funding from the congregation,
Synod, Community Trust of Southland, the Invercargill Licensing
Trust and the Lotteries Commission. Next on the agenda is to protect
the building from earthquake and fire .
Ahead is renovating the interior of the church. There is a challenge
in balancing the need to protect its heritage values against the
multiple use that we want the church to continue to have.
These achievements would not have been possible without the congregation's
part in money raising, as this as provided seeding for other funding.
Please carefully consider making a donation or even a bequest, so
that the work can continue on our wonderful church building.