A True Missionary
Possibly the only truly pioneer Anglican Church remaining in Canterbury, New Zealand today stands at Pleasant Valley in peaceful farmland surroundings, approximately five kilometres west of Geraldine an internationally known and picturesque village.
During 1861, it is said Thomas Hardcastle, a dedicated and enthusiastic parishioner, was the first to canvass the area seeking funds for a new church.
The community envisaged a practical building with a seating capacity for up to forty worshipers.
So successful was his mission, enough funds were available almost immediately, for the construction to begin on half and acre of land donated by William Grace.
Laying the foundations began in 1862 by two carpenters John Huffy and William Young, with voluntary labour supplied by the locals.
Walls were built of cob and a roof was sheathed with adze hewn timber shingles. The interior timbers were pit sawn and with the use of an adze, were trimmed to size. While cob construction was not at all uncommon, perhaps St Anne’s is unique in that the original cob in later years was sheathed with timber weatherboards. This protected the cob from the elements thus saving it for posterity. Although showing only minor decay the original cob interior could still be seen almost one hundred and fifty years on.
The font was fashioned from a large knot of Totara timber. Although in later years, this was replaced. However, the original hand hewn pews still exist today.
As the centre of a bustling community, St Anne’s was erected to the echo of the saw and the axe. It may be difficult to imagine now but Pleasant Valley, during the 1860’s boasted a number of trades and professions.
Those listed in the Parish register included: -
Innkeeper, bullock driver, estate owner, contractor, shepherd, boundary rider, governess, wheelwright, domestic servant, shoemaker, gardener, blacksmith, and a labourer.
By the 1880’s much of the bush around Pleasant Valley had been cleared and workers began moving on to greener pastures.
St Anne’s Church remains the only memory of that former active community and will remain in the hearts of many. The name St Anne’s, was influenced by the work of Anne Grey Brown, wife of Lawrence Lawson Brown, Anglican Vicar and driving force behind the erection of this small Church.
In 1846 at the age of just seventeen, Anne Fabor daughter of Thomas and Eleanor Fabor, of Stockton on Tee’s England, married Rev. Laurence Lawson Brown, becoming one of the many pioneering women destined to settle New Zealand.
In 1859, Laurence received a call to continue teaching the Gospel in New Zealand. Sponsored by the missionary Guild, the Brown family left Whitten Le Wear, in the county of Durham for the parish of Sumner/Heathcote, on the edge of Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand.
There, Laurence continued his work as Assistant Curate but in 1862 he was called to the Geraldine Parish in South Canterbury. This was a journey, which was to take the couple and their young family six long weeks to complete by bullock wagon, losing many of their possessions while negotiating swollen unbridged rivers and rugged terrain.
From a rented house provided by Alfred Cox at Waihi Bush, now know as Woodbury, Laurence and Anne began to build a faith in this beautiful but rugged countryside. The enthusiastic leadership that Laurence brought to the community, saw him move freely among the people sharing their joyful occasions as well as their times of crisis. It was this sort of leadership that saw him roll up his sleeves and becoming the principal character in that band of volunteers who erected this small church.
Little did those pioneers know at the time, but contributing what they could to their humble church, they were creating a memorial for which their descendant could be justly proud.
However, we should spare a thought for Anne Brown. Raised in a well to do environment in England she chose to ‘rough it’ within the primitive surroundings in the New Zealand wilderness.
While her man was out spreading God’s word throughout this scattered parish, Anne remained at home with her seven children trying her best to cope, cooking over a smoking fire and washing clothes out in the open.
Casting aside her own terrible homesick thoughts of England, she baked for those in more desperate need than herself she was always ready with a sympathetic word giving comfort to others.
In one of Anne’s letters, she wrote: -
“Often lately I have met old colonists just returned from home who now abuse the climate there. They tell me it did little else but rain there during their visits; they never once beheld the sun, so different from this bright sunny land. I venture to remark that when I lived at home I did not notice the rain falling. However, that has all altered now, as it is such a long time since I was home, nineteen years to the day that I landed in New Zealand. Many are sure that I could not live in gloomy England now, but daily, I wish I had the chance to try.”
During 1893 while living in Christchurch, Anne Brown at the age of 66 years, passed away. Her body, confined to a plain casket, she was carried to Pleasant Valley and laid to rest among her friends in the little cemetery behind the church that bears her name.
St Anne’s Church epitomizes strength and a gentle quality that Anne Grey Brown showed to so many. She may not have preached the Gospel, or become a leading figure in the community, she did however, show others how to endure and be strong.
Anne Brown and women like her, to me; they are the true missionaries of life.
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