Heritage

St. Peter’s Anglican Church Cemetery, Upper Riccarton

Brief history

St. Peter’s church and cemetery

In 1851 G. A. Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, licensed Octavius Mathias, Vicar of St. Michael’s, to be in charge of Riccarton. In 1852, for 600 pounds, Mathias purchased Rural Section 160 covering 200 acres. He conveyed 20 acres to the Anglican Church for St. Peter’s church, a vicarage and a Sunday School. Land was reserved for a burial ground and glebe.

The cemetery predated the parish. English cleric John Owen entrusted Mathias with money and Mathias leased the Desert Station on the Waimakariri. Owen sent his son out as manager but George, 16, drowned. On 27 January 1857, Mathias took the funeral service. In 1990 the earliest surviving legibly named headstone was that of Thomas White, 19, of Racecourse Hill Station who died on 12 May 1858.

When H. J. C. Harper became Bishop of Christchurch in 1856 Croasdaile Bowen started clerical training, and was ordained on 20 December 1857. In accordance with Mathias’ wishes, he became first Vicar of Riccarton. The parish included Fendalton, Hornby, Templeton, Halswell, Prebbleton, Governors Bay and Little River.

Bowen planted English trees and laid out the cemetery which became ‘one of the most picturesque in New Zealand. Graves with a variety of headstones and iron railings surrounding family plots’ could be seen ‘dispersed in a pleasingly haphazard way’. In the 1960s the churchyard was reorganised, ornamentation removed, the headstones placed on concrete beams, and the graves planted over with grass to give the appearance of a lawn cemetery. Parish historian Audrey Storer commented that it was sad ‘that some early examples of graves surrounded by ornate iron railings and more older headstones were not restored and kept as part of the early history of the churchyard’.

In 1857, Church Property Trustees sought funds to be added to those already collected by Mathias. Isaac Luck designed a wooden church. Appropriately a church dedicated to St. Peter had, atop the spire, the symbol of a cock. Harper consecrated the church on Easter Tuesday, 6 April 1858.

B. W. Mountfort drew plans for a new stone church, the chancel being opened in spring 1876. Over a long period alterations were made and, in 1929 there was opened a ‘beautiful completed stone church’. Cecil Wood was the architect for much of this work.

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