Brewed with southern pride since 1876

Well Park Brewery oldest building still extant, North Dunedin

Although James Speight was first licensed as a brewer on today’s date, 6 June, in 1876, James Speight & Co. of the City Brewery in Rattray Street, Dunedin, had already produced their first ale some two months earlier on 6 April. The ‘Maltsters, Brewers and Bottlers’, Charles Greenslade, William Dawson and James Speight were former employees of one James Wilson at the Well Park Brewery, also known as the Dunedin Brewery, near the Water of Leith in North Dunedin.

Subsequent expansion as Dunedin Brewery

But the Speight’s brew which originated in the Rattray Street premises, and was destined to become an ‘icon’ of southern New Zealand, was not the first brewed on this site. Between January 1867 and December 1871, James Wilson, the trio’s former employer and his business partner, Thomas Birch, had operated as Brewers and Maltsters from these same premises.

A little over two weeks after James Speight’s brewer’s licence was granted, the City Brewery advertised for the first time in The New Zealand Tablet, the weekly Catholic newspaper published in Dunedin from 1873 until 1996 when it closed.

The advertisement was prominently placed, high up in the middle column on the front page. However, ‘Maltseers’ should read Maltsters; perhaps the proofreader for this issue had imbibed a few too many samples of the advertisers’ product!

That such an advertisement should appear in a church newspaper is hardly surprising given Frank Tod’s description of the sites of the earliest Catholic Masses in Dunedin:

“The first Mass was celebrated … in the loft of the old bottle store of Burke the brewer. About 20 people were present and they had to ascend a rather rickety ladder and squeeze through a narrow trapdoor to get to the loft. The second Catholic Mass in Dunedin was celebrated in the skittle alley of the Queen’s Arms Hotel, Princes Street South.” (Frank Tod, Pubs Galore: History of Dunedin Hotels 1848 – 1984, p 67).

Printing the New Testament in Te Reo Maori

Today’s issue of the Otago Daily Times informs that on this day in 1837 “William Colenso” prints 5000 copies of a 356-page Bible translated into Maori.”[1] That sounds impressive in the extreme – so impressive that the urge for verification sent me scurrying for my copy of Peter Lineham’s Bible & Society.[2] And indeed, it transpires that the ODT’s history highlight is rather more impressive than it is historically accurate.

Most certainly Colenso and his assistant, William Wade, did produce 5000 copies of 356 pages each. However, these copies constituted just the New Testament – not the Bible in its Old and New Testament entirety. The small Stanhope printing machine which Colenso and Wade brought with them from England in 1834 proved less efficient than anticipated, taking some 22 months from March 1836 until December 1837 to print the pages of these 5000 New Testaments. But that was only the beginning …

Once printed, each of these 5000 sets of 356 pages required binding. Here, even further difficulties ensued. Necessity became the mother of invention in the Paihia Mission Station in Northland’s Bay of Islands: whatever material came to hand was pressed into service – including curtain fabric. Ultimately, most copies were sent either to New South Wales or London for proper binding. This, of course, not only increased the cost beyond an already expensive 3s 3d (3 shillings & 3 pence) but considerably delayed distribution of the scriptures until much later in 1838.

At the time it was estimated that of the 45 000 Maori in contact with missionaries  some  800 adult Maori were able to read as a result of access to certain portions of scripture in Te Reo Maori.

A little over 30 years later, after significant attention to the details of translation, checking revision and proofreading, a single volume of the entire Bible in Maori was published by the Bible Society in 1868.

As a postscript, it is interesting to note that a Maori Bible belonging to the Weslyan Methodist Missionary, Revd Thomas Buddle, is held by the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch. Buddle arrived in New Zealand in 1840, played a prominent role in Maori Mission in the North Island, was one of three Weslyan missioners who joined with four Anglicans between late 1858 and 1860 to revise the Old Testament translation, then between 1866 and 1870 served as Chairman to the extensive Methodist circuit centred on Christchurch. [3]

[1] Page 14

[2] Lineham, Peter J (1996) Bible & Society. A Sesquicentennial History of the Bible Society in New Zealand. Wellington: The Bible Society in New Zealand & Daphne Brasell Associates Press

[3] A grand-daughter (1940) Rev Thomas and Mrs Buddle: Pioneer Missionaries. Auckland:Methodist Literature Society

A Christmas Bell

Today, 27 December, the Otago Daily Times informs us that on this day in 1851 the bell for First Church bell arrived in Dunedin. In fact, according to the Otago Witness of that very date, the bell was already in place, hanging from a purpose-built wooden tower. It was quite separate from the original church – a small wooden structure to the south-west – deemed to be of insufficient strength to bear the weight of the 3 cwt (hundredweight) or 152.41 Kg bell.

Cast in the Bell Foundry of C & G Mears, Whitechapel, London, the bell is inscribed thus:




Described by the Otago Witness as a ‘seasonable’ gift, the report not only expresses gratitude from the Colonists of Otago but also indicates the existence of a predecessor, kindly donated by the neighbourly John Jones Esq of Matanaka, Waikouaiti whose own settlement predated the 1848 Free Church Colonists.

The Christmas Bell of 1851 no longer tolls the hours of the work day, nor calls the faithful to worship, but remains prominently displayed in the grounds of First Church of Otago, firmly fixed to a stone plinth. And on that stone plinth is fixed a plaque declaring some important historic detail, borne out in the Otago Witness report …

Although the wooden bell tower was appropriately located atop a prominent hill, that hill was then known as Church Hill, the future site for First Church of Otago, designed by R A Lawson in neo-Gothic style and completed in 1873. But for generations of Dunedinites the locality is known as Bell Hill – and the bell remains, albeit silent, to assert that.

Otago Anniverary Day observations

Yesterday was supposedly an official holiday, just one day short of the actual anniversary, today, 23 March. The suburbs were eerily quiet and Dunedin’s CBD exuded a calm, relaxed atmosphere. Our regular lunch cafe was closed, as were many businesses. Only the optimistic donned white shirt and tie but the Dunedin City Council was serious in its Anniversary Day observance  – parking meters were in Sabbath mode – that is to say, not trading. Predictably, and in best Presbyterian response, all street parking spaces were full.

Even the hallowed grounds of First Church, that enduring testament (pun not intended) to the foundation of the Free Church settlement of Otago in 1848, were well patronised with ‘worshippers’ of a sort.  A heavily committed game of ‘touch’ (rugby, that is) between a glorious mix of age, size and gender brought a wry smile to the face of this regular passer-by and, co-incidentally, descendant of Presbyterian early settlers to Otago. One cannot help but wonder quite how the settlement’s spiritual leader, the Reverend Dr Thomas Burns, would have viewed this 2010 observance of Anniversary Day.

At least some of the regular flock was in attendance. More impressively, they were young – at least under 25 from my opposite-side-of- Moray Place perspective.  I’m sure Burns would have nodded in appreciation, before he frowned, first in disbelief then at his own lack of understanding. Not only were these ‘worshippers’ engaged in a form of sport yet to be invented in England, but the people themselves were of Pacific Island descent. For some decades now, this local immigrant group has worshipped in greater numbers at First Church than the descendants of Burns original flock. How ironic, that on 23 March 1849, the settlement’s first anniversary, Thomas Burns railed against the profanity of sport. Such festive celebrations kept all but some 60 pious souls from the service of thanksgiving he called that day.

By Jennie Coleman  23.03.10