Rev'd James Preston. 

The second Geraldine Vicar 1870 – 1898

James Preston was born in Westmoreland, England, educated at Edinburgh and sailed for Australia in 1851, three years later he landed in New Zealand aged 19.

He prospected in Australia and Nelson, worked as a farm labourer, built a home on 3 acres at Kaiapoi then farmed in partnership on 100 acres in Charteris Bay with friend R.R. Bradley. He returned to England and married Annah Bradley then returned and purchased 500 acres at Waimakariri where they farmed for 10 years.

In 1870, at the age of 36, he sold the farm to become a clergyman, was appointed Mission Deacon to Geraldine, Tengawai, Temuka, Fairlie and the Mackenzie Country. He was ordained Vicar of Geraldine by Bishop Harper in 1872. The parish extended from the Rangitata River in the North to Mount Cook in the South, a distance of 120 miles over which he journeyed on horseback or in his buggy.  After eight years the formation of a new Temuka parish reduced the Geraldine parish to its present size.

He would leave Geraldine on horseback visiting parishioners on the way to arrive at Peel Forest where he spent the night. Next morning, he took the service at St Stephens and rode on to Mt Peel for the evening service, returning to Geraldine on Monday. He travelled over his large parish for 28 years. He enjoyed his hobbies of sketching and fishing as well.

During his tenure a new church, St Thomas’s was built at Woodbury in 1879 and a new brick and plaster St Mary’s Church was built in 1881 but never properly completed owing to the severity of those depression years. It replaced an old wooden church built in 1864, now seating 280 persons with average attendance of 100. A lectern was given by parishioners as a memorial to the Rev. James Preston and his family gave a stained-glass window in 1912. In this decade St Stephens at Peel Forest was rebuilt after being blown down. He also had a new Vicarage built in 1874 on the Pleasant Valley Road, so he never lived in this Vicarage, which was built just two years after he died while fishing at the Rangitata River Mouth. His funeral cortege was the largest seen in Geraldine with 500 attending the burial. Several amusing quotes, which typify the times; “Boys of the present day are not trained before going into service and don’t know what work and obedience are.”  “The Salvation Army are nothing more than primitive Methodists dressed up in red coats and with a band – all novelty and excitement.

Rev'd James Preston