Geraldine has a rich Maori and European history and the Vicarage, opened in October 1900, is an important monument from a bygone time.

The Vicarage is listed by Heritage NZ as a Category Two Place, list no; 2022 An archaeological assessment has provided us with a number of early photos which reveal its early years and we have researched and collated photographs and short biographies of the 15 vicars who lived here.

Maori History

The land extending from the Rakaia River to the Waitaki district was a part of a wider Ngāi Tahu network of kāinga nohoanga (settlement) and kāinga mahinga kai (food-gathering places). The Geraldine district is believed to have been well known to Māori. Native birds, such as kaka, tui, pigeons, ducks, quail and weka were caught in prodigious quantities in surrounding areas. The Talbot forest was known by Māori at Rau Kapuka, and its timber was used for the construction of canoes. The Waihī River which flows through Geraldine close to the Vicarage, was recorded by Ngāi Tahu kaumātua as a food gathering area during the 1879 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Ngāi Tahu land claims. The closest recorded Māori archaeological sites are moa hunters' camps with rock paintings located at Kakahu, near Geraldine.

European History

South Canterbury was part of the Canterbury Purchase, or Kemp’s Deed, which saw over thirteen thousand acres of land purchased from Ngai Tahu by Henry Kemp on behalf of the Crown in 1848. The region was visited by colonial surveyor Charles Torlesse in 1849, at which time it was divided into large runs. The land which is today known as Geraldine was included in the 40,000 acre Raukapuka run, which Alfred Cox purchased in 1854 to farm sheep. 

In 1854. Hewlings surveyed the area for a township, which was originally known as Talbot Forest. The name of the new township was debated in the Canterbury Provincial Council, and in 1857 it was given the name FitzGerald in honour of Canterbury’s first Superintendent. Two days later however, the name was again changed, this time to Geraldine, a name long associated with the FitzGerald family.  

The demand for building timber meant that the large Talbot Forest, which was full of totara, manuka, matai and kahikitea, and various species of beech, quickly attracted pit-sawyers to the area. Geraldine became an important junction for travellers who were making their way to sheep runs and to the various sawmills. Hewlings surveyed the town site into sections in 1862, and pegged out the lines of the main streets. Hewlings included in his survey an area of just over one and a half acres for the construction of a Church of England (Figure 4-1). This land was set aside as Reserve 421, upon which the Vicarage at 69 Talbot Street would later be constructed.

Figure 4-1. Map of the Township of Geraldine drawn by Samuel Hewlings. Image: Hewlings, 1874.

Religion and Geraldine

The religious needs of Canterbury were originally fulfilled by Rev. Henry John Chitty Harper, who was appointed the Bishop of the Canterbury Diocese in 1854. In 1859 the Rev. George Foster was appointed to minister over the newly established Timaru district which extended from the Rangitata River to the Waitaki River and back to Mt Cook, and this required extended travel and outdoor living for the new Minister. Alfred Cox, one of five wardens for the Rev. Foster’s district, realised that too much was being expected of Rev. Foster and he promised a house and living for two years so that Geraldine could have its own resident Anglican Clergyman. The Rev. Laurence Lawson Brown was appointed vicar of the Geraldine district in 1862. 

In keeping with his promise, Cox provided Rev. Lawson with a vicarage at Waihi Beach (Woodbury) where a flourishing settlement had developed. Rev. Lawson initially began to take services in Cox’s woolshed at Raukapuka, but it was soon decided to build a new church at Geraldine. In 1863 at a cost of £1020, George Taylor and John Simpson constructed a wooden church on Reserve 421, with enough seating to accommodate one hundred worshippers. Private donations of £498 were matched by the Government. Alfred Cox was the biggest private contributor. The church was visited by Bishop Harper in 1864, who described the new building as “a church-like building with a square tower” This photograph taken in 1866 shows the first St. Mary’s Church with its tall square tower on Reserve 421 (Figure 4-3).

Figure 4-3. Photograph of Geraldine in 1866, showing the first St. Mary’s Church. Image: Williamson, 1978.

St Mary's Church

When Samuel Hewlings re-surveyed part of Geraldine in 1874, his plan shows the location of the first St Mary's Church on the property. This building is located in close proximity to the Vicarage at 69 Talbot Street (Figure 4-4). Rev. Lawson conducted services in the building until 1870 when he retired. The Rev. James Preston filled the vacancy left by Rev. Lawson, at which time Geraldine was established as a Parish. The 1864 St. Mary’s Church building continued to serve the Geraldine congregation until 1883 when a new church was constructed.

Figure 4-4. Map of the Township of Geraldine drawn by Samuel Hewlings in 1874, showing the likely position of the first Church on Reserve 421.

An Expanding Township

As the Geraldine township expanded in the 1870s, the Geraldine congregation quickly outgrew the original St. Mary’s Church. By the time of the annual parishioners meeting in April 1882, plans were already underway to construct a new wooden church on Reserve 421, to the designs of architect Mr. Marley. However, these plans were quickly changed to a stone church designed by architect Marius de H. Duval. Tenders were called for its construction in September 1882, and that of P. Clayton for £1120 was accepted the following October. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Harper on November the 23rd 1882. The style was described as perpendicular Gothic and there are fifteen large lancet leadlight windows in Cathedral green, while the roof, open Gothic, is composed of six arches with carved moulded principals resting on carved corbels. The building was formally consecrated by Bishop Harper in August 1883. Following the completion of the new church, the original St. Mary’s continued to stand on Reserve 421 and was utilised as a Sunday school room and church hall. A photograph taken on Talbot Street in the 1880s, shows clearly the second St. Mary’s Church on the south eastern side of Reserve 421 (Figure 4-5). A photograph taken in the latter 19th century shows Geraldine’s two St. Mary’s Churches standing side by side (Figure 4-6).  

Figure 4-5. The second St. Mary’s Church at Geraldine in the 1880s. 


Figure 4-6. Geraldine’s two St. Mary’s Churches standing side by side. Image: Williamson, 1978.

Opening Day for the Vicarage

Rev. Preston continued as minister to the Geraldine congregation from the second St. Mary’s Church until his death in 1898. The Rev. Staples Hamilton was appointed to the parish of Geraldine in February 1899. At the annual parishioners meeting in April 1899, the new vicar announced his intentions to construct a new vicarage and church hall in Geraldine. Rev. Hamilton argued that the current vicarage, which had been built for Rev. Preston in 1875 was over nine miles from the church site on the Plesasant Valley Road and thus was too far away to be practical. Rev. Hamilton argued for the construction of a new vicarage on the site of the old church, but this was opposed by many of the older Geraldine colonists who refused to see the old church removed. It was instead decided to construct the vicarage adjoining the first St. Mary’s Church. Jas. Talbot was selected as the architect of the new vicarage and tenders were called for its construction in December 1899. Due to some financial difficulties it was not until March 1900, that the successful tender of Clinch and Lloyd was accepted and permission was granted by the Geraldine Town Board for its construction. The new vicarage was opened in October 1900. This photograph taken in 1905 shows the vicarage building standing on Reserve 421, flanked by the old and new St. Mary’s Churches. The vicarage building continues to stand at 69 Talbot Street. 

Figure 4-7. Detail from a photograph of Geraldine taken in c.1905, showing the vicarage building at 69 Talbot Street, with the original St. Mary’s Church on its left and the new St. Mary’s Church on its right. Image: Overlooking Geraldine, 1905.
Figure 4-7. Detail from a photograph of Geraldine taken in c.1905, showing the vicarage building at 69 Talbot Street, with the original St. Mary’s Church on its left and the new St. Mary’s Church on its right. Image: Overlooking Geraldine, 1905.


Relocating the Old Church

The vestry became concerned about the danger of fire in 1905, because of the close proximity of the old wooden church to both the vicarage and the new church. Although there had been reluctance to remove the old church in 1899, it was now decided to move the old church to Orari. A photograph taken in 1906 shows the old church building being towed by three traction engines to its new home in Orari (Figure 4-8). The original church building burnt down in Orari in 1925.

Figure 4-8. Photograph taken in 1905 showing the original 1866 St. Mary’s Church being removed to Orari. Image: Williamson, 1978.
Figure 4-8. Photograph taken in 1905 showing the original 1866 St. Mary’s Church being removed to Orari. Image: Williamson, 1978.


Further development occurred on Reserve 421 during the twentieth century, including the construction of the church hall in 1907, and the extension of the second St. Mary’s Church in 1958. Reserve 421 was subdivided in 2018, at which time the Vicarage was sold to us and our renovation project began!