History of Knox Church, Dunedin


  • John Hislop (author)


J. Wilkie & Co.


Princes Street, Dunedin

Publication Date



Meanwhile, the Church and Manse Building Committee had not been idle; for, in the course of a few weeks, a sum exceeding £900 was subscribed—a comparatively large amount in those early days. Mr W. H. Reynolds is described as having been "particularly active in obtaining subscriptions." Mr J. Hyde Harris presented the Committee with the two quarter-acre sections at the corner of Great King street and Frederick street as a site for the church. There was at first some difficulty experienced in obtaining a site for the Manse. The Committee recognised the hand of Divine Providence in the circumstance that the three quarter-acre sections on which the Manse stands had been for many years withheld from sale, on account of a road which then passed through them, and that, just at the time when a site at a considerable distance was about to be purchased, the reserve was removed from the sections, which were then secured for the Manse, at the upset price of £37 10s. for the whole.

The year 1876 is to be regarded as one of the most memorable years in the history of Knox Church, for on the 5th of November the new church in George street was opened for Divine service under the most auspicious circumstances. In the very nature of the case much anxiety and labour were entailed upon the office-bearers, and more especially upon the Building Committee, and many difficulties were encountered in connection with the erection of the new church; but by the goodness of God difficulties were overcome, and the work brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

In consequence of the ever-increasing difficulty experienced in providing sittings in the old church for persons anxious to join the congregation, and the general desire for improved accommodation, the necessity of taking steps for the enlargement of the old building or the erection of an entirely new one began to receive serious consideration about the beginning of 1869. In March of that year Mr E. Smith brought the matter under the notice of the Deacons' Court, but it was resolved to postpone action until it should be seen what effect the proposed erection of a church for North Dunedin and North-East Valley would have upon the attendance at Knox Church. A congregation was soon after formed at North Dunedin, to the pastorship of which the Rev. Dr Copland was called; but, although the new congregation was recruited to some extent from the membership of Knox Church, yet the necessity for increased accommodation continued as great as ever. The question of enlarging the old church or erecting a new one was discussed again and again at meetings of the office-bearers and the congregation; but nothing definite was agreed upon until May 1871, when it was decided by the congregation to erect an entirely new church in the following spring to accommodate about one thousand sitters. A subscription list was opened, and in the course of two months the sum of nearly £3000 was promised.

The question of site next received consideration, and it was ultimately resolved, at a congregational meeting held in August 1871, that the Deacons' Court should be authorised to purchase for this purpose the corner section adjoining the manse property, the consent of Mr Hyde Harris—the donor of the original church site—having first been obtained to the proposed change.[1] This property, including a cottage and other buildings erected on it, was purchased for £550. It was decided at the same time to retain the old church building for Sabbath School and other useful purposes. Competitive designs for the new church were called for, and other steps taken to give effect to the decision of the congregation. But insuperable difficulties, which it is now quite unnecessary to describe in detail, arose in connection with the erection of a new church according to the plan first adopted, and it was not until April 1874 that the erection of the present building was begun according to plans and specifications prepared by Mr R. A. Lawson, who had been appointed architect.

Alexander Rennie was born near Reith, Banffshire, Scotland, in 1810, where he received his education, and served his apprenticeship. He afterwards removed to Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, and there entered on business as a tailor and draper. He then married, but his young wife died in giving birth to twin-daughters, who both survived. Eight years afterwards he emigrated to Otago, which he reached by the ship "Phœbe Dunbar," in November 1850. He worked at his trade for some time, and then opened a store at the corner of Princes and Rattray streets, now known as "Hardie's Corner." By his upright dealings he secured the confidence and esteem of his fellow-townsmen, and, in 1853, when the Otago Provincial Council was constituted, he was elected one of the members for Dunedin. He served as a member of the Council till 1866, and held the position of Speaker for two years. Having married a sister of the late Mr James Wilkie, sen., Mr Rennie took up his residence at his farm on the banks of the Taieri River, near West Taieri, which he improved and cultivated with considerable success. In 1866 he let his farm and left for the Home Country with his wife and daughters. He returned to Otago after an absence of three years, and, having sold his farm, settled down in Dunedin, and began that course of active benevolence for which he was so much distinguished, and in which he continued until his last illness laid him aside. In temperance work he was an enthusiast. Few things seemed to him of more importance than the spread of total abstinence principles, and he devoted himself most earnestly and untiringly to their advocacy. Mr Rennie took a very active part in the management of the Otago Benevolent Institution, of which he was chairman for many years. During the latter years of his life this Institution absorbed a large part of his time and thought, and was the one to which he chiefly devoted his energies. On the occasion of Mr Rennie's retirement, the present chairman of the Institution bore the following testimony:—"He has done his work with a degree of care, vigour, and conscientiousness that I can find no language strong enough to describe. During the last few years it has been my privilege to work side by side with Mr Rennie, and I have always found him ready to do any quantity of work, and to sacrifice any amount of time in order that the affairs of the Institution might be judiciously and economically managed, and justice done to the poor who needed to ask for charitable aid."1

Source Notes


Otago Daily Times, June 3, 1889.