It is the year 1880 and Wilhelmina Arnst and John Christian Aschen have just married in the Deutsche Kirche, on the corner of Worcester and Montreal Streets. They stand outside on the street with their family, friends, Pastor Theodore Albert Meyer (third from the right) and his wife and daughter.
The German church was built to meet the needs of the growing number of German and Scandinavian emigrants settling in Christchurch. The German Benefit Association was formed in 1871 to plan the building of a church which would conduct its services in the German language. When more Germans arrived on board the ship, the Friedelburg in Lyttelton in 1872, anticipation grew that more German settlers would follow. An appeal of £550 was secured by subscription and the Canterbury Provincial Government also granted the benefit association, £250.
These funds enabled the negotiation and purchase of this corner site on 29th April, 1872 for £230. The German born architect, J. S. M. Jacobsen drew up the plans for a traditional styled wooden church which would hold two hundred and thirty people. John Greig won the tender to build the church and completed it in 1872.
Three bells were cast in Berlin and presented to the church by Kaiser Wilhelm I. Known as “The Kaiser”, “The Crown Prince” and “Bismarck”, the bells were shipped free of charge to Lyttelton by the Provincial Government and the New Zealand Shipping Company. The bells were rung for the first time at 9 o’clock on Christmas Eve 1874 by Canterbury’s superintendent, William Rolleston.
A parsonage was also built adjoining the church. The first pastor was described as thinking himself superior to his flock, ‘ceremony and etiquette weighed heavily in his estimation. But his flock had already acquired something of the colonial freedom and ease of manner and ways – and the pastor reigned for only six years or so.’
The second pastor proved unpopular also.
The property was used for a time as ‘a Freethought Hall’, but with mounting debt, the mortgagee foreclosed on the property. The parsonage was sold to Mr. Gherkin, a prominent German Tai Tapu resident (after which Gerkin Road is named). He gifted the church, belfry and bells to the Lutheran community in Christchurch. The church took on a new lease of life in the 1890s after a curate of the Anglican Church, Rev. T. A. Meyer (pictured above), became pastor of the church, preaching once a fortnight.
During the First World War, there was such strong feeling of hostility towards Germans living in Christchurch, the church was confiscated by the New Zealand Government. The bells were removed in 1918 in the name of ‘cultural sensitivity’ and broken up at the yard of W. H. Price & Sons Foundry. It was believed they bells were made from a captured French canon. However when melted down, it was found they were made of the finest metals – copper, tin, zinc, iron and lead.
Whilst some wanted the bells made into a trophy, or kept intact and sent to France, the government decided they should be melted down. Ingots were cast from the 1925lbs of metal, and were sold as scrap at Charles Clark’s auction rooms. Interest was good and bidding was brisk, being eventually sold to Price & Sons.
In 1933 the church was demolished to make way for a new building.
- One Photograph, Black & White, 16 x 21 cm, CCL Photo CD 12, IMG0033 The Imperial Album of New Zealand Scenery, p. 263
- Papers Past
- Star , Issue 1933, 15 May 1874, Page 3
- Wanganui Chronicle, Volume LXVI, Issue 17592, 10 June 1919, Page 9.
- Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XLV, Issue 14665, 24 July 1918, Page 9