New Zealand Church History

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It is helpful for research to understand the historical events that led to the creation of church records in which your ancestors are listed, such as parish registers. Brief historical sketches of the major religious organizations of New Zealand are given here in the order that they became established in the country.

Church of England. The Church of England in New Zealand, also referred to as the English Church, had its beginnings in 1814 with the arrival at the Bay of Islands of the Rev. Samuel Marsden of the Church Missionary Society. By 1840, the Society had eighteen mission stations throughout the North Island. The first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand was appointed and consecrated in 1841 for Auckland. As the church grew, the diocese of Christchurch was created in 1856, Waiapu, Wellington, and Nelson in 1858, and Dunedin in 1869. Waikato was created from part of the diocese of Auckland in 1925, making a total of seven dioceses. Each was divided into a number of parishes or parochial districts. The church also established schools, three theological colleges, and a hospital. For more information see:

Purchas, Henry Thomas. A History of the English Church in New Zealand. Christchurch: Simpson & Williams, 1914. (Family History Library book 993.1 K29; film 0908638 item 3.)

Methodist Church. The Methodist Church began in New Zealand with the arrival in 1822 of Rev. Samuel Leigh, to begin the Wesleyan Methodist Mission to the Maori at the Bay of Islands. The Maori were uncooperative, and in 1827 the missionaries began working in the Hokianga area. By 1844, fifteen mission stations had been established, and the settlements of Auckland and Wellington had their own congregations. By the late nineteenth century, Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists, Free Methodists, and Bible Christians were meeting in almost 1000 locations, and there were over 100,000 people attending services. These various forms of Methodist worship were united in 1913 to form the Methodist Church of New Zealand. For more information, see:

Morley, William. The History of Methodism in New Zealand. Wellington; Mckee & Co., Pub., 1900. (Family History Library film 0209933.)

Roman Catholic Church. The first official presence of the Roman Catholic faith in New Zealand came following the consecration of John Baptist Pompallier as titular Bishop of Maronea in 1836. The Bishop began his mission at Hokianga in 1838 but transferred his headquarters to Kororareka the following year. Missionaries had accompanied him and others soon followed. In 1848, New Zealand was divided into the two dioceses of Auckland and Wellington. The Cathedral of St. Patrick’s was dedicated in Auckland the same year. St. Mary’s Cathedral at Wellington was begun in 1850. Parish schools were created and the first orphanage was founded in 1850. The Diocese of Dunedin was created from part of Wellington in 1869, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral was built. The diocese of Wellington was elevated to an archdiocese in 1887. The diocese of Christchurch was created the same year, and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament was dedicated in 1905. A seminary was founded in Wellington in 1889 and others later followed.

Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church began in 1840 with the arrival of Rev. John Macfarlane of the Established Church of Scotland at Port Nicholson, Wellington. The first services in Auckland were held in 1842, and the first church in Wellington was officially opened in 1844. By that time, the disruption of the Church had occured in Scotland and most new churches established in New Zealand after that time were of the Free Church of Scotland. A group of Free Church settlers from Scotland helped to found the settlement of Otago on the South Island in 1848. For more information, see:

Elder, John Rawson. History of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, 1840-1940. Christchurch: Presbyterian Bookroom, 1940. (Family History Library book 993.1 K2ea.)

Baptist Church. The first Baptist Church in New Zealand was formed at Nelson in 1851. Later churches were formed at Auckland in 1855, at Dunedin in 1863, at Wellington in 1878, and in the Canterbury/Christchurch area from the 1860's. The growth of the church was steady, and by 1880 there were twenty-five churches with a total membership of 1600 throughout New Zealand. In 1882, the Baptist Union of New Zealand was established to create a closer association among the churches. The New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society was formed in 1855 and missionaries were sent to India. The New Zealand Baptist Theological College was established in Auckland in 1924.

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The usage of "Mormon" and "LDS" on this page is approved according to current policy.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in New Zealand in 1854. Meetings were held in Auckland, Nelson, and Wellington. The first branch was organized at Karori, a suburb of Wellington, in 1855. In 1870, the New Zealand Conference of the Australian Mission was organized. A Sunday School for children was started at Karori that same year. The first New Zealand Saints ‘gathered’ to Utah in 1872. New Zealand was divided into three conferences in 1879. In 1881, missionary work was begun among the Maori. The first Maori branch of the church was organized in 1883. For the next ten years missionary work was almost exclusively among the Maori. Church schools were established for Maori children in 1886. The Book of Mormon was translated into the Maori Language in 1887. A separate New Zealand Mission was created in 1897. The Maori Agricultural College for boys was established in 1913 and closed in 1931. Both the New Zealand Temple and the Church College of New Zealand (co-educational and multi-racial) were dedicated in 1958.

For more historical background on churches in New Zealand, look in the FamilySearch Catalog, Place Search, under:


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