02 The Knapdale Revival (1881): Social Context and Religious Conviction in 19th Century New Zealand.

David Jull, ,

The Knapdale Revival (1881):

Social Context and Religious Conviction in 19th Century New Zealand.

David Jull.


Much of the literature of modern Pentecostalism points out the tie between social panics and the rise of more intense spiritualities. What the relevant literature in Australia and New Zealand does not do, generally, is study the models of revival which emerge in the nineteenth century and tie these to the economic and social conditions of the time. Literature is scarce, to begin with, and that which exists tends to concentrate either on the religious manifestations (to the exclusion of social context) or on the social context to the exclusion of spirituality. In the Cessnock, NSW, revival of 1929, for instance, there was a clear tie between rising tensions in the Depression-struck coal mining industry, and the success of traveling evangelist, F. B. Van Eyk. Indeed, Van Eyk used the danger of the moment (in which stocks of weapons were turned over to police and many strikers responded to his urgent, millennial message) to ‘prove’ that what had occurred was a revival. Few non-Christian historians have dealt with this occasion, and those that have largely ignore the religious aspects as anything more than a reflex of the economic situation. In other cases – such as at Sunshine, Victoria, in 1925-26, or among Aboriginal people in northern Queensland through the 1930s – there is little existing literature at all. This essay is offered, therefore, as a contribution to the accumulation of case studies which will assist in a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of Christian revival in Australia and New Zealand, and as an attempt to draw together the social and religious contexts of a particular locale. It demonstrates the ‘normalization’ of religious intensifications in a Presbyterian form, and the importance of the laity in colonial settings. It then seeks to connect the experience of South Island, New Zealand, locality to the general marks of ‘revival’ discussed in the literature.

In January 1881, a most disquieting article appeared in the Tapanui Courier: "Alarming Intelligence, Deferred Payment Settlers Pay No More Rent" screamed the title, which went on the describe the importation of Winchester Repeating Rifles from the United States and secret arms-drilling by the local settlers. Local ‘deferred payment’ settlers ‘who had not paid their rent had formed themselves into a land league and had vowed to pay no more rent to the Government!’

The "centre" place of meeting is said to be on a farm situated in one of the most remote portions of Waikaka, and to the "centre" scores, nay hundreds of men may be seen riding occasionally at dusk, and it is a noticeable fact that on the night prior to the meetings fires are to be seen burning on the mountain tops for miles around. … So well are the plans of these men laid that in case of an armed force being sent against them they have selected a place in the wildest part of the upper Waikaka that could be defended by a handful of men against thousands: being in fact practically impregnable. … Ous [sic] readers are requested to take the above statements as we did – cum grano salis; but it is none the less a fact that trouble will arise about the payment of back rents, as unless the price of farm produce rises men who bid high prices for their land will be unable to meet their engagements with Government, and they will certainly not be turned off their homesteads without a struggle.1

This alarming report was followed up, three months later, with a response of a different nature:

Conversion. A large number of settlers in the Waikaka Valley have been brought to see the error of their ways, and now hold religious services in a barn. One widely known "W.W." settler - not Walker’s famous "W.W." - has become a convert.2

These two articles, both concerning the same farming community, introduce the story of a revival tradition in the Knapdale/Waikaka parish of Southland, New Zealand. The parish received its name from Alexander McNab, who leased the land from the government to rasie sheep on. He called it "Knapdale" after his home in Scotland. It extended along the Waikaka River valley, from the confluence of the Big and Little Waikaka rivers with the Mataura River at Gore, to the gold mining community of Waikaka, at the head of valley.

While the revival took place among the farming community, there was a mining boom that formed a temporary community prior to the land being sold for farms. Gold was discovered in the Waikaka River in 1867. The miners came to Waikaka to work this river in three phases. The first miners were European prospectors who came to the region from other South Island goldfields. They prospected along the river using sluice box, rocker cradle, and shovel. Their presence was enough to form a service community at Waikaka. The Township of Waikaka (at the opposite head of the valley from the community of Gore) had a general store, a butcher, and a hotel.3

The second phase of mining began in 1870 when Chinese miners came to Waikaka. By this time, most of the easily obtainable river gold was mined out. The Chinese predominately mined by tunneling, transporting the dirt to a water source, and then washing it to obtain the gold. A local historian, Allister Evans, stated that, at its height, there were two thousand people in the mining community of Waikaka and approximately six hundred Chinese in a nearby community. Though the last Chinese miner did not leave Waikaka until 1910, the majority of their efforts were over by 1890. Evans insisted that, while the Chinese miners were diligent and frugal, none of them got rich from their efforts. There are no records of ministers visiting these Chinese miners prior to the founding of the Knapdale church. A third phase of mining began in 1890 when a means was devised to get the gold bearing ore from underground up to the surface. Motorized dredges were constructed which were floated on ponds dug into cooperating farmers’ fields. The dredges were able to shift soil and thus move the pond and itself across open fields. These were serviced by several crews and contributed to the local economy by either paying farmers for the opportunity to dredge their land or by being partially owned by the farmers.4

A few years after the first wave of the gold was dissipated, the Government assisted small farmers in purchasing land that had previously been leased out for keeping sheep. These new residents were settlers who, starting in 1874, were able to purchase land from the Crown through a deferred payment scheme.5 The land was divided into sections and sold (as suggested by E. G. Wakefield) at bid, beginning at £1 per acre. The new owner had the privilege of paying the property off over fifteen years in equal installments made every six months. For that privilege, the farmer had to meet several conditions. First, a farmer could only buy 320 acres of land classified "rural", or 5000 acres of "pastoral" land. Second, the land had to be fenced. Third, the farmer had to actually live on the land. Fourth, the land had to be progressively cultivated - 5 percent the first year, 10 percent in the second and 20 percent by the sixth year. If these conditions were not met in any three consecutive years, the outstanding balance either had to be paid off, or the land was returned to the Crown for resale.6 While not paying the high prices of other areas (some land went for £4 per acre), the Knapdale land did bid up to around £2 per acre.7 The new landowners had a strong incentive to get their land cultivated in a manner to be able to make their deferred payments. However, six months after the alarm concerning armed resistance, at least one property purchased through the deferred payment plan in a nearby community (Gore) had to be abandoned.8

There were signs, in 1881, that the economy was not favoring the farmer. According to one farmer’s reminiscences, "Even for products such as grain and wool that could be exported without being damaged, prices were usually low in overseas markets. Many of the farmers were, in consequence, in straitened circumstances for a number of years."9 In early 1881, the local newspaper also noted that New Zealand oat exports to Britain were not returning a high price. In one case, a farmer received one penny per bushel. In another case, a farmer sold 900 bushels in Britain, but when all the expenses for shipping were met, he made a profit of only £9.10 Two months later, the same newspaper said that there was no market for oats and the price of sheep declined by one shilling per head.11

But what about the religious culture of the area? Other than the two introductory newspaper accounts (which are not completely accurate gauges of the religious inclinations of Knapdale),12 what evidence is there for calling the events beginning in 1881 "a revival?" First, reports in the NZ Presbyterian, the journal Outlook, histories concerned with the area, and Jubilee publications all speak of the 1881 revival in Knapdale.13 Secondly, the records of the Knapdale church support the idea. These records, examined in more detail below, show the sudden formation of a church, and several years of continuing growth in people taking communion, increasingly due to first-time professions of faith rather than transfers of membership.

Church membership figures, as reflected in the Communion Roll, show growth. In 1882, which was the first time Communion was offered to the Knapdale Parish,14 there were 76 new members, 62 had a certificate that showed they were members in good standing at a previous parish and 14 qualified for communion by standing before the ruling elders to declare that they were Christians and wished to take communion. In other traditions these would be considered ‘a first time profession of faith’. In 1883, there were 68 new members, approximately evenly split between first time professions of faith and transfers from other parishes.15 In 1884, there were 51 new members, almost eighty percent of whom were first time professions of faith.16. In 1885 there were 40 new members equally split between first time professions and transfers. By 1886, the church growth aspect of the revival seemed to have ceased. There were only 7 new members, but five of those were first time professions of faith. In 1887, 1888 and 1889 there were between ten and twelve new members, most of whom joined by transfer.

The designations "certificate" and "profession" do not necessarily represent ‘new converts’ versus ‘new settlers’. Some who joined the communion roll through certificate of transfer may have been nominal members at churches of origin, but had a conversion experience during the revival. James Dickie is a good example of this process. Others may have been converted but chose not to partake of communion; for instance, Dan McKenzie was known to be a man of strong faith, but his name is not on the Communion Roll.17 However, a profession of faith does indicate that the new member was willing to stand before a group of people and state that they were now converted. Thus the increase of professions of faith from 1882 to 1885, from 14 professions to 20 professions, indicates a rising religious interest, in a period when the rate of growth due to transfer was decreasing. If the increase in professions of faith had only been due to population growth, than it would be expected to see a proportional growth in transfers, but in fact transfers drop from 62 to 20.18 By 1886, a third of Knapdale’s adult population were attendees at communion.19

A third indication of revival comes from the growing reputation of area as a community opposed to indulgence in Alcohol. Rev. William Wright’s first act as Knapdale’s first minister was to apologize for the absence of a Mr. MacKenzie, who was going to present the ideals of temperance at Wright’s ordination soiree.20 A branch of the temperance movement called the "Blue Ribbon Army" started in the Knapdale parish in early 1883, and by the middle of the year could boast 150 members.21 The movement was strong enough to get alcohol banned from the August 1884 ploughing match and to have 5 members elected to the board that oversaw the granting of licenses to sell alcohol.22 Not only did the settlers think of themselves as advocates of the temperance movement,23 but the nearest community thought that Knapdale was "dry." The newspaper from Gore, the Mataura Ensign, chastised the entire community of Knapdale for allowing a stone to be thrown through a window, saying, "Larrikinism is surely not to flourish side by side with the Blue Ribbon in Knapdale."24

A fourth indication of revival came from the personal accounts of the period, written by members of the community. According to one man’s recollection, which is representative of other accounts, the revival began on 1 January, 1881:

But it was the happenings on New Years Day 1881, that were destined to make James Dickie, so well known and so much loved in his own district first of all, and in many parts of N.Z. Mrs. Dickie was away from home that day, and like all good Scotch folk of that time, he would not desecrate New Years Day by going on with his usual work. He spent the day quietly in his own house, and was led to read the third chapter of the Gospel of St. John. The question was brought home to him as he read the master’s words about [the] new birth, "Am I born again?" Up to that time, he had been outwardly religious, but the spirit of God was now saying to him "My son, give me thy heart." He dropped to his knees, and asked God that he might know by personal experience what the new birth was[.] God answered that prayer, and James Dickie, rose from his knees a new creature in Christ Jesus. It was an eventful day, not only for himself and his good wife who shortly after make the great decision for Christ, but for the whole Waikaka district.25

James Dickie’s rather un-Presbyterian revelation, involving an act of will in voluntary commitment as part of the conversion process and an affective assurance of salvation, caused him to race off to his neighbor to share the message. They joined him sharing the new message and converted most of their neighbors. "He tolt [sic] out so fully and clearly what God had done for him, that within a few months over forty adult men and women amongst his neighbors had made the great decision for Christ."26 Through the medium of personal contact, the message of the possibility and necessity of a personal relationship with God spread to Dickie’s neighbors. The growth of religious interest was so great that, within the year, the community had raised the pledges sufficient to support a minister. They successfully petitioned the Presbytery of Otago and Southland to recognize them as a viable parish and begin the process of finding a minister for them.27 Thus, out of Dickie’s simple fireside act of faith, was born the Knapdale church.

This makes it sound as though one person’s vision sparked a generalised community desire for deeper religious commitment. Of course, the history of the Knapdale revival is not that simple. As is so often the case, this revival did not happen in a vacuum. Though the settlers in Knapdale had only been there for a few years, the land had a history of European occupation (it is thought that the Maori presence in the Knapdale area had been transient rather than a settled presence28).

First, the government had leased the thousands of acres of land to several individuals who used large "runs" to graze sheep. Of the five "runholds" that contributed to the Knapdale church, the most important was Alexander MacNab’s ‘Knapdale’.29 By 1862, there were enough people in the Gore/Knapdale area to cause MacNab to petition Presbytery to find and settle a minister in the area. He not only asked them to find such a minister, but he also offered to pay £200 towards moving expenses and to guarantee £200 per year in support.30

Ministers had been traveling through Knapdale for years. The mining community of Waikaka had contact with various ministers who irregularly visited the township.31 The settlers who bought land in Knapdale came from a tradition of Evangelical Presbyterianism. Otago and Southland were established as colonies of The Free Church of Scotland.32 As a Presbyterian colony, the churches appointed ministers to care for dispersed settlers. First Rev. James Henry, then Rev. J. M. Davidson, had the responsibility for most of the Mataura river valley region, including the growing town of Gore and the settlers of Knapdale. Additionally, Rev. Alfred Arnot and Rev. Robert Morrison visited the settlers. In addition to traveling ministers, the settlers themselves had a desire to regularize their worship. It was a layman, Mr. Adam Johnston, who noted the infrequency of religious ordinances and set himself to render what assistance he could. He arranged with Mr. Robert White, a neighbouring settler that, together, they should conduct a service on a given Sunday in Mr. Wm. White’s hut. The service was duly held and it is believed that it was the first gathering for worship south of the township [Waikaka township] after the sale of the sections. The date of the meeting, unfortunately has passed out of remembrance.33

That the first successful request for recognition of parish boundaries happened approximately nine months after James Dickie’s experience suggests that the impulse to form a church came as a result of his efforts to spread the message concerning personal commitment to God. However, this was not the only factor, as some settlers had already petitioned for recognition as a parish as early as 1880.34 The Presbytery did not accept their request because the settlers had not raised sufficient pledges towards supporting a minister.35 What Presbytery did do was to send two representatives to examine the potential viability of churches established in that area. Oddly enough, even though the Knapdale settlers where the ones who had lodged a request, the surveyors were equally interested in the potential of a church parish in Gore. This was in spite of the fact that the Presbyterian residents of Gore were apparently happy with what spiritual guidance Davidson was able to give them as he circulated around the entire Mataura region.36 No petition for separation came from Gore until 1883.37 The surveyors were also concerned about the remaining parish of Mataura – would each potential section be financially viable? There concerns were to be answered in a spectacular fashion. Within the year, Knapdale had experienced the beginning of a revival, starting in James Dickie’s living room, and had also managed to raise pledges in excess of the £185 ministerial support that was required of a parish.38

Just as there had been a religious tradition among the settlers prior to James Dickie’s New Years revelation, so Dickie himself was working out of pre-existing religious influences. His reverence is demonstrated by the New Year’s Day vigil he kept, in which he treated New Year’s Day as a holy day. Furthermore, he had already developed an ability to trust God to provide for basic needs, as is shown by his account of unexpected visitors being invited to stay for the evening and breakfast. Since he was limited to serving potatoes for the evening meal, his guest wondered where breakfast would come from. Dickie’s response was that Providence would provide, and before morning, three different neighbors had come by to give him bread.39

While Knapdale’s revival began in 1881, its ending is more nebulous. People continued to be motivated by it for generations. For instances Andrew Johnston (who began evangelistic work in 1928),40 considered himself a product of the revival, and he is still remembered as a person who led many people to faith.41 However, the most common measure of revival, church growth, was demonstrably tapering off by 1886. Thus, for all intents and purposes, the Knapdale revival can be dated from 1881 to 1886.

It is perhaps useful to divide the revival into four distinct phases. Phase one, which stretches from Dickie’s experience on New Year’s Day, 1881, until the Presbyterian Church recognized the worshipping community as a viable congregation in July of that year, was characterized by transmission of faith through personal contact. The pioneers remembered that Dickie rode off to talk to a neighbor, then both told other neighbors, and so on.42 This practice resulted in behaviors variously interpreted by the two newspapers listed at the beginning of this article. Lay preaching was another consistent characteristic of the Knapdale revival, beginning in phase one and continuing on after the 1886. Men like John Kirk, James Dickie, Adam John Nichol, and James Johnston preached in various venues around the area.43 Phase one could be said to close with an article from the NZ Presbyterian. Just before the settlers’ petition was re-presented to Presbytery, the NZ Presbyterian stated that Knapdale was looking for a minister and that nine people had pledged £150 per year towards his support.44 Six days after the NZ Presbyterian published this statement, the matter was put before Presbytery, but without the list of nine names. The list had to be revised because more people wanted to pledge their financial support.45 When the amended list was presented, the total came to £186 per year.46

The second phase of the revival started with Presbytery’s acceptance of Knapdale as a viable congregation and lasted until a minister was ordained and inducted into the church (September 1881 until 21 February 1883). This phase was marked by interactions with Presbytery and Synod and the Synod’s Church Extension Committee. Davidson, the Minister of the Mataura district, from which Knapdale intended to separate, was responsible for the administration of Knapdale until their own minister had been inducted. He was the person who had presented the settlers’ request for recognition and continued to chair their meetings during phase two.47

Dr. Donald Stuart of Knox Church, Dunedin, headed the Church Extension committee, to which Knapdale’s request was sent after it gained Presbytery’s approval. During the years when Knapdale was under the committee’s care, the Church Extension Committee left no written record (within the PCANZ Archives) to describe how it proceeded in the development of the Knapdale charge. However, some facts stand out. Rev. James Niven, a member of the Church extension committee, was sent to Knapdale and was given "charge of this fine district, and preaches (in order) in its four public school houses."48 Since Knapdale remained vacant until 1883, Niven’s role (the man with "the charge,") was not to become their pastor. As noted earlier, Davidson was moderator of the Knapdale charge until a minister was inducted, so Niven was not responsible for the legal aspects of preparing the settlers for their minister. Since the same publication also stated that Knapdale was getting a steady supply of preachers who were interested in establishing a permanent minister, Niven’s duties were probably not primarily related to the ministry of the Word (i.e. preaching). Finally, when communion was first served to the Knapdale parish, Niven did not administer it, thus his role was not to supply the means of grace.49 It is therefore reasonable to suggest that Niven was there primarily to establish preaching points in the community and to educate the settlers in what would be necessary when they finally did get a minister.

These preaching locations were adapted and modified during this time. The Presbyterian minutes indicate that when a Knapdale parish was first considered, there were five places where a minister was expected to preach: at the schoolhouses in Knapdale, Otama, Chatton, and Pinnacle, and at an undesignated location in the Waikaka township. Under Niven, there were four preaching points, each in a schoolhouse. The place that was excluded was Pinnacle, which was transferred to what would become the Gore parish during this period.50 Settlers later remembered that Presbyterian services in Waikaka Township were held in private structures until administrative order was imposed.51 This indicates that Niven actively imposed the Church Extension Committee’s will upon the practices of Knapdale.

Certain administrative duties would be expected of a new congregation, and in light of the speed with which they were accomplished, it can be said that the settlers rapidly accommodated to Presbyterian order, and applied themselves to becoming a proper congregation. They were already aware of their financial responsibilities. Another of these duties was the establishment of elders who would form a governing body. The "session," as these bodies are called, were elected by the people under the leadership of their minister. While it might have been possible to form a session under Davidson’s care, it was, in fact, one of the new minister’s first administrative actions.52 This responsibility, involving a vote taken among the various members of the church, was handled rapidly after the new minister was appointed, so it appears that the people knew what to expect and were eager to do their part.53

The last responsibility of the congregation examined during this period was the establishment of a Synod-subsidized residence or manse for the minister. Because of the subsidy, the Synod insisted that the local Presbytery approve the location and plans of the manse before land was bought or the building erected. Somehow, the Knapdale residents overlooked this detail. By August 1882, during the time Niven "had charge" of the area, the settlers had undertaken, on their own, the task of buying land and building a dwelling place for their prospective minister. When Presbytery was informed of what they had done, they had two responses. First, they examined the plans of the structure and recommended that the Church Extension Committee approve the plans and placement of the manse and grant the congregation the usual £300 pounds towards the structure. Their second action - taken with regard to the over enthusiasm of Knapdale - was to censure the congregation and, as an act of discipline, force them to submit their Minute Book to scrutiny and review.54 The Minute Book was submitted to Presbytery at the Presbytery meeting of 6 September 1882. After careful scrutiny by Rev. James McKenzie and Rev. James Cameron, Cameron said that for the most part the book was in good order except "some of the meetings were opened and closed without prayer."55 What is a more likely situation (i.e. that these settlers went about Church business without praying) is that the recording secretary did not always record the presence of an opening and closing prayer. This was a normal expression of Presbyterian polity throughout the trans-Tasman region. It locked churches into relationships of responsibility, and maintained the relative authority of the various levels of church court. It may also have been the fact that Presbytery wanted to send a message to ‘frontier’ Knapdale for being too eager in the Manse issue, but could not find anything more damaging than a record keeping oversight.

The general mood of the area during this time was expressed well by the NZ Presbyterian:

In a section of this parish, a quiet but deep interest in divine things has been felt for some time. We hear that in several families the young men and women are exemplifying Christian zeal and love in a degree which is attracting attention and eliciting the gratitude of the fathers of the place. The divine work is spreading thought the reading of the Word, prayer and social faithfulness. It is our earnest desire that a wise minister may soon be settled to advise and lead in such hopeful circumstance.56

William Wright, a recent graduate from the Theological Hall in Dunedin, was ‘called’ as minister at Knapdale, "which was put into his hands and cordially accepted by him."57 Once "called" he was examined by Presbytery (in early February 1883) for competency in preparing and delivering homilies, sermons, and lectures, biblical languages, and his competency in Theology and Church History.58

The third phase began in February 1883 at Wright’s induction into the Knapdale parish, and lasted until January 1884, which date marked the evangelist Duncan Wright’s (no relation) arrival in Knapdale. Wm. Wright was born in Morayshire, Scotland, in 1849. He moved to New Zealand with his family in 1859 and farmed with his brothers at Kaihiku while studying to become a teacher. After teaching at Waiwera South and Outram, he returned to school himself, this time to the Theological Hall in Dunedin where he studied for three years under Rev. William Salmond.59 This teacher said that he considered Wright a good candidate for ministry, and also, "Mr. Wright was a good, genuine, warmhearted man – and he had a good head as well as a good heart."60 Salmond himself was tried for heresy after his 1888 book, Reign of Grace, proposed a post-death opportunity for divine forgiveness. Fortunately for Wright, Southland Presbytery did not transfer the opprobrium developing around Salmond to his pupils.61

According to his introductory speech, Wright promoted two administrative priorities in his first year. One of these was the establishment of a Sunday school. By the time of his first communion service in Knapdale, the NZ Presbyterian reported that Wright had established a Sunday school with an enrollment of 80 children under the care of 11 teachers.62 Wright’s second priority was to establish a body of ruling elders – a Session. To do this, he had to get his congregation to vote for elders. However, only people who had taken communion at Knapdale were considered eligible to vote. The communion roll shows that there were 76 communicant members in 1882. These would have been the first people to join the newly recognized Knapdale parish and would represent the people who had extended the charge to Wright. In 1883, 68 more people were added to the Communicant Roll, but 16 of those are noted as having first taken communion in Knapdale in November of that year, so would not have been eligible to vote for elders. Thus, one hundred and twenty-eight people were communicant members at the time. They elected (not surprisingly) James Dickie, but also John Kirk, Alex McQueen, William Johnston, and John McKenna snr to be their elders and John Chisholm, Andrew Watt, John McQueen, Robert France, William Johnston (of Pinnacle), William Armstrong, John Officer, Alex Williamson, William Barron, and Richard Wood to the church committee.63 The elders elected were mature Christians, or at least, they all had been members of a Presbyterian church before moving to Knapdale. This was primarily true of the members of the church committee, too. The only four exceptions were William Armstrong, William Barron, John Chisholm, and Richard Wood. These four men qualified for communion, and thus joined the church with full membership, by making a profession of faith.

Two other considerations are of note during the Knapdale revival’s third phase. First, the Temperance movement, which had with 150 members, gained enough political backing so that in six months the church was able to get five members voted onto the Alcohol License Board.64 Second, the community was able to look at concerns outside of its borders enough to form a Ladies’ Missionary Society.65 This outward concern came in spite of a stream of sentiment that suggested, in print, that New Zealand Christians should focus on the spiritual needs of New Zealand rather than on the spiritual needs of foreigners.66 Heightened spiritual intensity also brought about social action.

Not all concern, however, was outward. During the third phase of the revival, Wm. Wright and his elders asked a traveling evangalist, Duncan Wright, to hold a series of meetings in the Knapdale parish.67 D. Wright had been associated with the YMCA, but in December, 1881 he announced that would resign effective 30 June 1882 so that he could devote himself to fulltime evangelism in various communities in Otago and Southland.68 Eventually he visited the North Island, holding meetings in Auckland.69 In 1892 he moved across the Tasman to settle in Melbourne. The Committee of Religion and Morals of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales invited him to hold a series of meetings in New South Wales, where he ministered in the communities of Albury, Tumut, Cowora, Cootaundra, Young, Goulbourn, and Sydney.70

D. Wright’s meetings in Knapdale were scheduled for early 1884 and preparations were made to bring the gospel message to as many members of the community as possible.

Phase four of the revival began with a broken leg. D. Wright arrived just before the evangelistic meetings were to begin. As he neared one of the settler’s homes, something caused his horse to shy, which spilled him out of the vehicle and broke his leg. Needless to say, he was incapable of preaching during the services. This left Wm. Wright with a hard choice. Should he cancel the meetings? Everyone would have understood that the evangelist was incapable of stepping behind the pulpit. However, arrangements had been made and notices had been posted. Wright decided to push ahead, and gathered some of the lay preachers of his congregation and informed them that they would hold the services together. As A.J. Nichols said:

W. Wright decided to go on with the meetings with the assistance of James Dickie, John Kirk, Wm Johnston and myself. God wonderfully blessed the venture which we made in fear and trembling, for many were very critical of what seemed to them an innovation, through that venture, the Gospel made headway through the district and in the districts around.71

Six months later, at the midyear communion service, Wright welcomed 26 new members to communion, only two of whom had joined through a transfer of membership from some other church. Wright said, "The young communicants are mainly the fruit of the good work that has been going on in our midst for some months past."72 Thus, the evangelistic services had an enduring effect and resulted in church growth. As a result of this, Knapdale developed a reputation for holding successful evangelistic meetings within their churches and for participating in successful evangelistic services in other parishes.73

These opportunities, provided by chance and nurtured by Wright, led to the development of a vibrant lay ministry in the community including his church officers, John Kirk, Jas. Dickie, Adam John Nichol, and Jas. Johnston. Kirk took many services in the Knapdale parish. Adam Nichol not only preached in the parish, but also preached often in the greater Mataura district; building on his financial investment in a gold dredging business to start a ministry among the miners. Johnston remained active as a lay preacher until a farm accident resulted in his untimely death. Finally, James Dickie was not only an active lay preacher in Knapdale, but leased out his farm so that he could become a Home Missionary on the West Coast.74 In addition to lay preachers, the community had men dedicated to the vision of the church. James McPhail was an active and successful fund-raiser for the church-building fund. Through his efforts the parish was able to build, free of debt, four churches in thirteen months.75 Because the parish was geographically extensive and contained four preaching points, the minister was only able to preach at each location every other Sunday. This meant that the local lay preachers had many opportunities to preach. Not only did the lay ministers fill in during alternate Sundays, but they were especially commended for their efforts.76

In addition to preaching, the laity of the Knapdale church took on other roles more usually associated with the professional clergy. They started and maintained cottage prayer meetings.77 One member taught half of the young adults who attended "Bible Class," a weekly meeting to explore biblical issues in more depth than was possible during a sermon.78 Finally, they were intimately involved in the growth of the physical structures of the Church. In 1884 a suggestion was made that church structures would be preferable to continually meeting in schoolhouses.79 The first of four structures was opened in December of that year and was rapidly followed by others, the fourth of which was opened 7 February 1886. In just over a year, four churches opened and all were clear of any debt other than that which was owed to the Otago Church Board of Property.80 The credit for raising funds for the church structures was not given to Wright, but rather to James McPhail, an elder in the church.81 In addition to tasks often associated with ordained clergy, the settlers of Knapdale were also mobilized to participate in the more traditional sphere of early Christian education, with 21 Sabbath School teachers teaching at five Sabbath Schools just six months after the evangelistic service.82

One legacy of the revival was a commitment to evangelism. The post revival Knapdale church interacted more with the dredge crews, which appeared in 1890, than the Presbyterian Synod interacted with the solitary miners or the Chinese miners prior to the formation of the Knapdale church. While the Synod did sponsor occasional visits to the Waikaka miners by roving ministers, it neither settled a minister there nor hired a missionary to the live among the local Chinese miners. Part of the Knapdale churches ability to interact with the dredge crews at the turn of the century was due to the dependency of the dredges on the goodwill of the local farmers. Either as landlord, part owners, or just as neighbors, several members of the Knapdale church started successful Bible study classes among the dredge crews.83

Was it Revival?

How does one evaluate a revival? Various marks have been suggested.

The traditional measure of revival asks, ‘is there church growth?’ That is, as a result of a religious movement, are more people taking up official membership in the local church body? If that mark is not evident, some traditions ask if there are significantly more first time professions of faith during the period under consideration than at other times. In both measures, Knapdale qualifies as a revival. There was a significant growth in membership - from nothing to 242, or one third of the population, in six years. During that period, there was an increase in people joining the church through their profession of faith over people transferring to the church from some other congregation.

The New Zealand church historian, Brian Gilling, suggests that a second measure of revival is a growth in the numbers of workers associated with that revival.84 The Knapdale revival also reflects that kind of growth. Not only was there an establishment of and increase in those lay people invested in the Christian Education of children and young people, but the laity also took partial responsibility for preaching in and out of the parish.

Anthony Wallace has charted the development of religious movements and suggested that a new religious movement reached its potential when community members who were not initiates of the religious movement nevertheless regulated their mores by the standards of the movement.85 The revival of Knapdale espoused the temperance movement, and all of Knapdale became associated, at least publicly, with the values of temperance, to the point of electing officials to enforce ‘local option’ values and imposing an alcohol ban on a community sporting event.

A fourth mark, suggested by Jonathan Edwards’ in Some Thoughts on the Recent Revival, is financial commitment. He suggested that a mark of a revived community was that wealthy people affected by the revival should be willing to commit their finances to the revival.86 The building of the Manse with under £100 debt, as well as financing the construction of four churches so that at completion they were debt free, indicates that the parish was willing to invest their money in the revival. The fact that it was considered at the time to constitute revival reinforces these ‘markers’ by contributing to the consciousness of the area.


Anyone who has had any involvement in administrating a Church could find something extraordinary about the history of Knapdale. Whether it is church growth which went from nothing to one third of the population in five years, development of a committed pool of lay preachers, or four simultaneous building projects which finished within 13 months of each other and did not leave any debt, the period under study must leave the observer impressed. The continuous growth of first time professions of faith and the impressive list of people recruited into active ministry would warm the heart of any pastor and alert the historian to the fact that here there was something unsual. The fact that the Sunday school program started with 18 teachers and the church was able to recruit more volunteers in six months is impressive from a Christian Education perspective. Finally, any youth pastor should feel glad to see not only a youth group (which is what the Bible Class was) that was so big it had to be split into two parts, but to see that the senior pastor was so interested in the youth that he personally oversaw half the meetings. Wright’s ability to adapt and energize the laity of his area indicates the need to look beyond the formal histories of churches as institutions and dig further into the phenomenology of colonial space and time.

What caused Knapdale to be different from the multitude of Presbyterian churches that were started to minister to farming communities in Southland and Otago during the later part of the nineteenth century? The answer has to be three-fold. Theologians such as Jonathan Edwards had developed frameworks flowing out of the Great Awakening 150 years previously, indicating their belief that God acted graciously in that time and that place.87 This was part of the Presbyterian tradition going back to Cambuslang and Kilsyth, and must be considered as part of the matrix of experience and reflection which Scots migrants brought with them to Knapdale. Secondly, unlike the revivals that Jonathan Edwards promoted in Northampton (and eventually which led to his dismissal from that congregation),88 the Knapdale revival started with an economically troubled laity getting a vision of God’s goodness and His personal interest in their lives. It continued with their passionate desire to band together to worship God and learn His will. In doing so, they forced the Presbyterian polity to recognize the fact of the church in their community. This runs counter to most new churches, which are first planted by some denomination and then recruit membership. Thirdly, the minister who came to Knapdale was a farmer, educated in New Zealand institutions, who saw value in the spirit of the settlers. He not only encouraged the church body to remain active in their service to the Kingdom of God, he both recognized then sought out opportunities for the church members to be actively involved in the Church’s evangelistic and discipling programs. Nathan Hatch has discussed this process in American terms as the ‘democratization of evangelicalism’. It is a process which is little studied in New Zealand terms, and would bear further scrutiny.

The Knapdale revival was a Presbyterian movement. Why was the Methodist Church – a denomination well known for its revivalist tendencies – not involved? We can, at best speculate. It is possible that the New Zealand Methodist Church was better suited to urban environments in New Zealand. Certainly there were successful Methodist Churches in urban centres like Dunedin.89 At least one Knapdale settler, Joseph Collins, satisfied his Methodist inclinations by attending both the local Presbyterian Church and the Methodist church in Gore.90 Equally, the evangelistic fervor of the newly formed Knapdale church might have addressed the concerns of anyone who might have otherwise been drawn to the Methodist tradition.

Other questions also arise. What is the linkage between this local reviving and those further afield on the South Island? Is there a direct linkage between such revivals and the sort of local spirituality which sees the South Island, in the twentieth century and as noted by Brett Knowles, Peter Lineham and others, become a significant contributor to world Pentecostalism and other revivalist movements? The answers to such questions will only be found in the production of good scholarship reflecting on places like Knapdale, and the micro-history and spiritual phenomenology of its laity.



1. Tapanui Courier, 27 January 1881,p 7.

2. Tapanui Courier, 13 April 1881, p 6.

3. For an in-depth look at the mining history of Waikaka, see Evans, The Waikaka Saga.

4. Allister Evans, Waikaka Saga: The History of Waikaka, Greenvale, Wendon Valley and the Waikaka Gold Fields (Timaru: The Timaru Herald Company Limited, 1962) pp. 6-15. 26-80, see also Elizabeth Kerse, ed., The Knapdale Run: Its Land and People (Gore: Knapdale Book Committee, 1984), pp. 360-368.

5. In 1872 Walter Pearson suggested that the government make Crown land available to small farmer who wanted land but could not afford to buy it outright. Starting in 1874 land in the Knapdale area was made available through the deferred payment scheme, but the first large sale of land came in 1877; Elizabeth Kerse, ed., The Knapdale Run, pp. 31-32.

6. Tapanui Courier, 1 June 1881.

7. Land was being sold by the crown at around £2 per acre: e.g. according to the Tapanui Courier in April of 1881 it was sold for £2 (13 April); two sections sold for £2 and a third sold for £2 10 shillings (20 April). A major exception happened later in the month when 34 acres, 3 roods sold for 20 shillings per acre (27 April).

8. Tapanui Courier, 27 June 1881.

9. John Johnston in anon, Waikaka Valley Jubilee (Gore: Gore Publishing Co, 1924) p 21.

10. Tapanui Courier, 13 April 1881.

11 Tapanui Courier, 27 June 1881.

12. The articles are from the Tapanui Courier. Tapanui is a neighboring town, but Knapdale is not a part of Tapanui; events in Knapdale were not "local news." Additionally, the newspaper was not a specifically religious medium, so should not be counted upon to make fine distinctions in matters of faith.

13. NZ Presbyterian, 2 January 1882, p 135; Outlook, 25 December 1946, p 12; Stuart Ross, The Story of the Otago Church and Settlement (Dunedin: Wise, Caffin and Co, 1887) p 377; Waikaka Valley Church Jubilee, p 17; and John Thomson, Light in Darkness:The Story of Andrew Johnston, "the Blind Evangelist." (Gore: The Gore Publishing Co. Limited, 1975) pp. 3-4.

14. Knapdale Communion Roll, see also NZ Presbyterian, 1 January 1883.

15. 35 by certificate and 33 by profession of faith.

16. 11 by certificate and 40 by profession of faith.

17. Allister Evans, Waikaka Saga, pp. 265, 267.

18. The reports about Knapdale’s communion as found in the NZ Presbyterian are not identical with the Communion Roll. For instance, their June and December accounts of communion state that 18 joined by examination in June and 17 in December, with 11 joining the June communion and 22 joining the December communion by transfer of membership. The December article then states that the total new membership for the year was 69. However, 18 + 11 + 17 + 22 = 68. Independent counting of the Knapdale communion roll indicates that there were 68 new members in 1883, but with 33 examinations (contra 35 as per NZ Presbyterian) and 35 by certificate of transference (contra 33 as per NZ Presbyterian).

19. In spite of the discrepancies, the Communion Roll and the NZ Presbyterian both show growth in people taking communion and increasing growth in people joining by professions of faith. According to the New Zealand census figures, Knapdale had 1226 people in 1881 and 1248 people in 1886. Applying the proportions of children to adults that cover all of Southland (41.7 percent), there were 715 adults in 1881 and 728 adults in 1886. Using 720 as a consistent figure, the percentage of people (ordinarily limited to baptized adults who can prove they have been converted) attending communion (76 in 1882, 144 in 1883, 195 in 1884, 235 in 1885 and 242 in 1886) are 10.6 percent in 1882, 20 percent in 1883, 27 percent in 1884, 32.6 percent in 1885 and 33.6 percent in 1886.

20. Mataura Ensign, 23 February 1883.

21. NZ Presbyterian, 1 June 1883 p 236.

22. Mataura Ensign, 19 Aug 1884; NZ Presbyterian 2 June 1884 p 282.

23. Ibid.

24. Mataura Ensign, 6 November 1883.

25. An obituary notice signed AJN, possibly A J Nichols, contained in "Extracts From the Life Story Of James Dickie," an unpublished document in the Presbyterian Archives.

26. ibid.

27. Southland Presbytery Minutes, 7 July 1881, and 7 September 1881.

28. J.F McArthur, ed., Golden Reflections (Waikaka Valley: Waikaka Valley Historical Group, 1990) p 2.

29. Other runholders in the area were Hugh McIntyre on Merino downs, Charles Glendinning and James Logan on Greenvale; McArthur, Golden Reflections, p 8.

30. Kerse, The Knapdale Run p 18 and 91. This offer was not acted upon, possibly because the Church extension committee did not foresee Gore growing fast enough to need a settled minister, and also possibly because it was too similar to the Scottish practice of patronage, in which a landowner paid for a Minster, and also held the right to nominate the minister. The abuse of that practice led to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland which directly led to the establishment of Otago and Southland; see Barbara Murison, "The Disruption and the Colonies of Scottish Settlement," in Scotland in the Age of the Disruption, ed. Stewart Brown and Michael Fry (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993) p 145.

31. Georgina McDonald, The Flame Unquenched (Invercargill: Southland Times Co., 1956 [?]) p 59.

32. Murison, "The Disruption and the Colonies of Scottish Settlement," p 145

33. Macaw, "Waikaka Valley." Unpublished document entitled "Looking Down the Years," p 40.

34. Southland Presbytery Minutes 21 May 1880.

35. Southland Presbytery Minutes 6 October 1880.

36. Rev. Davidson was responsible for approximately half of what is now included in the Mataura Presbytery. Kerse, ed., The Knapdale Run: Its Land and People p 91.

37. Southland Presbytery minutes, 3 October 1883.

38. In fact, the Parish did not directly pay their minister. They contributed money to a Synod Sustination fund, out of which each Presbyterian Minster of the Otago and Southland Synod was paid. Each received an equal share of that fund. Discussion with Yvonne Wilkie, Archivist for the PCANZ, September, 1997. Gore, the larger and more prosperous community, was only able to pledge £185 towards this fund, while Knapdale pledged £186. See Southland Presbytery Minutes for 7 Sept, 1881 and 3 Oct 1883.

39. A reflection provided by James Dickie in anon, Waikaka Valley Jubilee ; see also "Extracts From the Life Story Of James Dickie" held in the PCANZ archives.

40. Thomson, Light in Darkness:The Story of Andrew Johnston, "the Blind Evangelist." p 26

41. Thomson, Light into Darkness pp. 36-38.

42. From a letter written by A J Nichols for the Knapdale Jubilee Memories of the Olden Days, held in the PCANZ Archives, p 3.

43. The Waikaka Valley Presbyterian Church Jubilee, pp. 15-16; Evans added the names of George Styles, George Aitken David Maslin, Andrew Johnston and William Johnston to that list. Evans, Waikaka Saga, p 141.

44. NZ Presbyterian, 1 July 1881.

45. Southland Presbyterian Minutes, 7 July 1881.

46. Southland Presbyterian Minutes 7 Sept 1881.

47. Ibid.

48. NZ Presbyterian, 2 October 1882, p 76.

49. NZ Presbyterian, 1 January 1883. The minister serving communion was Rev. Conner.

50. Southland Presbyterian Minutes, 3 October 1883.

51. Evans, Waikaka Saga p 140.

52. Knapdale Minutes, 6 June 1883.

53. Appointing the session elders was the first entry in the Knapdale minutes book; Knapdale Minutes, 6 June 1883.

54. Southland Presbytery Minutes, 9 August 1882. Unfortunately, the Presbyterian archives do not hold the Minute Book for Knapdale during this interim time. The Knapdale Minute book held begins in 1883 with the election and appointment of the session.

55. Southland Presbytery Minutes, 6 September 1882.

56. NZ Presbyterian, 2 January 1882 p 135.

57. Southland Presbytery Minutes, 4 January, 1883.

58. Southland Presbytery Minutes, 24 January 1883.

59. Jubilee of Waikaka Valley Presbyterian Church, p 21.

60. Mataura Ensign, 23 February 1883.

61. Southland Presbytery Minutes, 7 December 1881, p 67.

62 NZ Presbyterian,1 June 1883.

63. Knapdale Minutes, 6 June 1883.

64. NZ Presbyterian, 1 December 1883, p 116 and NZ Presbyterian, 2 June 1884, p 282.

65. NZ Presbyterian, 1 December 1883, p 116.

66. Mataura Ensign, 13 November 1883.

67. The NZ Presbyterian does not mention Duncan Wright coming to Knapdale until 1 December, 1883 and the Knapdale minute book does not mention Duncan Wright’s name until 28 December, 1883.

68. NZ Presbyterian, 30 December 1881, p 324.

69. NZ Presbyterian, 1 June 1888, p 233

70. NZ Presbyterian, 1 September 1892, p 51.

71. A.J. Nichol, "Letter to Mr. Byars," 1934.

72. NZ Presbyterian, 2 June 1884 p 282.

73. In May of 1884 Wm. Wright participated in evangelistic meetings in the community of Gordon. Working alongside of him was Mr. Nichols and Mr. Kirk. Mataura Ensign, 20 May 1884.

74. Jubilee of Waikaka Presbyterian Church, pp. 15-16.

75. McArthur Golden Reflections p 341.

76. NZ Presbyterian, 1 December 1886, p 166.

77. NZ Presbyterian, 2 June 1884, p 282.

78. Ibid.

79. This may have been encouraged by deteriorating relations between Mr. O’Farrell, the Knapdale teacher, and the church. In September 1883 the teacher’s residence caught on fire. Rev. Wright immediately stopped the service so that the congregation could attend to the fire; Mataura Ensign 28 September 1883. The school teacher apparently blamed the church for the fire because he barred the youth choir from using the schoolhouse in which to practice, in spite of the permission that they had previously received. Days later a rock was thrown through the school teacher’s window; Mataura Ensign 13 November 1883. Mr. O’Farrell responded by barring the schoolhouse to the Sabbath School classes; Mataura Ensign 30 November 1883.

80. NZ Presbyterian, 1 March 1886, p 173, see also Southland Presbytery Minutes, 4 September 1884, 1 April 1885 and 7 October 1885.

81. McArthur Golden Reflections, p 341.

82. NZ Presbyterian, 1 December 1883.

83. Jubilee of Waikaka Valley Presbyterian Church p 12

84. Bryan Gilling, "Retelling the Old, Old Story: A Study of Six Mass Evangelistic Missions in Twentieth Century New Zealand…" (University of Waikato, PhD., 1990) p 170.

85. Anthony Wallace, Culture and Personality, 2 ed. (New York: Random House, 1970) pp. 157-166.

86. Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival in C. C Goen, ed., The Great Awakening, vol. 4, Jonathan Edwards (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972) p 515.

87. See Jonathan Edwards A Faithful Narrative in Jonathan Edwards: The Great Awakening pp. 144-159.

88. C.C. Goen, "Introduction" Jonathan Edwards: The Great Awakening, p 87.

89. Goen, "Introduction".

90. Kerse, Knapdale Run, p 272-273.