All Saints Anglican Church Nelson


All Saints Anglican Church in Vanguard street has withstood floods and fire, but is well maintained and well used today.

In September 1862, the Vestry of Christ Church (the Church on the Hill) passed a resolution to divide Nelson city into two parishes. This was partly to cope better with the influx of Anglicans who arrived during the Taranaki Land wars - the Taranaki Refugees. Approved by Synod in October 1862, the Western Division of Christ Church (later All Saints) was constituted a separate parish in November 1862, with Trafalgar Street as the boundary between the two parishes.

All Saints Church. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 181969
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In spite of a lack of funds for a Church building or a Pastor, the Rev. C.L. Maclean conducted services for five years in the Odd Fellows' Hall (next to the Theatre Royal in Rutherford Street). By 1867, the Church purchased land for a new building on Vanguard Street (behind the Odd Fellows Hall) for £200 from Mr. Hewling. A building committee was appointed, and in December 1867 William Beatson was commissioned to prepare a design for a Church building to hold 600 people.

List of subscriptions paid towards building. All Saints Church. Anglican Centre Archives.
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Building plans were delayed because of the high cost of the proposed design (£1200-1400). Although another proposition for the Church design was received, Beatson's second design at the lower cost of £800-900 was approved, with timber as the main building material. John Scott was employed as the builder.

The foundation stone of the Church was laid by Bishop Suter in June 1868, and the building was consecrated on 11 November 1868, thankfully unaffected by the earthquake a month earlier. The Bishop emphasised the necessity of the new building at the Nelson Synod in September that year:

Saints Church. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Wilton Collection: 317251
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‘The many occasions on which large congregations have assembled simultaneously at Christ Church, and the temporary place of worship, the Odd Fellows' Hall, proved not only the wisdom, but the absolute necessity for such additional church accommodation.'

The East End of the Church was completed in May 1871, and the West End in 1882.

It was felt that a Church Tower was necessary to make the Church more visible in the community. The tower was finally built in 1890, when an offer of tubular bells from England was made to All Saints on the condition that a tower be built in which to place them. With the newly built tower as a landmark, All Saints became known as ‘the Church with the Square Tower.'

Memorandum, dated 28 May 1889, with an estimate for the cost of building a Tower at All Saints.  Click to enlarge

Repairs to the building interior were carried out in 1901. Further improvements were made to the interior of the Church building in 1936, thanks to a bequest from the late Mrs Anne Wilkie.

Church Flyer from the 1930s. Source: Anglican Centre Archives.
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In 1910 the first games of tennis were played on the new courts on the All Saints Church Grounds, but the tennis court suffered from the frequent flooding, and this area was converted into a car park in 1959. Due to the frequent high tides which continued to plague the Church until the late 1950s, All Saints Church was often referred to as ‘Noah's Ark'.

The Church was almost destroyed in 1947, when a fire started along the north wall while paint was being burnt off. Repairs cost the Church £551/10/-. The Church was well maintained and frequently renovated.

All Saints Organ

The All Saints Church organ was built in 1884, by T.C. Lewis, organ makers of Brixton in England. It was imported into New Zealand with seven other Lewis organs and installed in the Church by George Jenkins and John Hollaway, who laboured under difficulty as some pipes had been bruised in transit. A special dedication service was held on 27 September 1884: " ..The organ was generally admired...the hymns assisted by the organ were each and all a real treat more especially on account of the hearty manner in which the choir and congregation joined in the singing."1 

The organ is still working in its original state.  It has the original casing, the spotted metal pipes on display, and tracker action on the console. While the organ has only 17 draw bars it can give a glorious big sound using the different foot pedal combinations.

It is the only working water pumped organ in New Zealand, and there are only two hydraulic organs in the Southern Hemisphere, the other being in Tasmania. The organ was hand pumped until 1912, when a hydraulic pump was installed so that water could drive the engine to blow the bellows. Difficulty had been experienced by the church in securing men and boys for organ blowers for evening services.  In the 1890s organ blowers earned around 6d an hour.

The water goes through a Reciprocating Engine (like a steam engine), but instead of compressing air, it compresses water. It is hooked up to a piston which is at the opposite end of the pump handle, which in turn moves up and down and works air in the bellows. The water is returned to the tank, allowing the same water to be used all the time. This provides a cost saving aspect to the organ, for at 2012 prices water from the main city water supply would cost $15,000 for 6 months. Prior to this method, locals spoke of problems with water pressure for residents during church services, when pressure was affected by the quantity of water being drawn out of the town supply.

In 1936  the organ was dismantled for overhaul. It has only had one overhaul since then, in 2005, by a local engineer Evan Moorhouse. A faithful instrument, it is played every Sunday for one service. Unfortunately it is tuned a semitone higher than most hymns so they have to be transposed. The church has always had high quality organists. Jill Hursthouse, the current organist (2012) at All Saints, has played for 22 years.  She learnt to play on the Christchurch Cathedral organ while doing a degree in music at Christchurch University.2

It is said that Lewis' organs last forever, and this heritage church continues to be a fitting setting for a rare and antique instrument of great historic value.

2012 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. Ault, H.F. (1958) The Nelson narrative : the story of the Church of England in the diocese of Nelson, New Zealand, 1858 to 1958 : with an account of the years 1842 to 1857. [Nelson] : Standing Committee of the Diocese of Nelson, p.140
  2. Jill Hursthouse, interview. 2012

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  • This article is wonderful - but I write with a correction. In the section about the All Saints Organ, Jill Hursthouse has now passed away and we miss her playing. We have a hope to establish a fund to sponsor a young person to learn the organ as part of their musical learning - for the benefit of the parish - so that we can continue to have it played for generations to come. November 2016
    Thanks Simon for this update, Ed.

    Posted by Simon Martin, 01/12/2016 4:15pm (7 years ago)

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Further sources - All Saints Anglican Church Nelson


  • Ault, H.F. (1958) The Nelson narrative : the story of the Church of England in the diocese of Nelson, New Zealand, 1858 to 1958 : with an account of the years 1842 to 1857. [Nelson] : Standing Committee of the Diocese of Nelson 
  • Ault, H.F. (1962?) The centennial history of the All Saints' Parish, Nelson, 1862-1962. Nelson [N.Z.] : Vestry of All Saints' Parish
  • Bowman, I. (2005) William Beatson : a colonial architect. Auckland [N.Z.] : Balasoglou Books in association with Nelson Branch, New Zealand Historic Places Trust


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