The beautiful wooden hexagonal pulpit in Old St Paul’s is dedicated to Richard John Seddon, Premier of New Zealand from 1893-1906, to date New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Minister, and one of New Zealand’s most astute leaders.
Seddon’s death while in office was a huge shock for the nation, and his funeral was a huge event for St Paul’s. He and his family had been regular members of the congregation (see also the story about his daughter’s wedding). The memorial pulpit was made of English oak in Exeter. Part of the money for the pulpit was given by his widow, and part raised by the ‘Royal Besses o’ the Barn’ Band, who performed a memorial concert in New Zealand, and then handed over the funds raised at the concert to his Mrs Seddon for a memorial. It was dedicated on the day which would have been his birthday in June 1908.
The identification of the four saints on the corners of the pulpit are disputed. A newspaper report at the time it was installed said that they are St Paul, St Peter, St Barnabas and St Mark, but now it is thought that the saint with the staff and the scallop shell on his shoulder is St James, plus St Peter with his keys and that the other two (one with a scroll and one with a book and sword, now broken) are St Paul and St Jude, but which is which is unclear.
This wasn’t the first pulpit to have been at Old St Paul’s, in fact it was the third, or perhaps even the fourth. The second one was designed by parishioner George Fannin in 1876 to replace an ‘unsightly and not very safe temporary structure raised for the accommodation of the officiating clergymen’.
Fannin’s 1876 pulpit was of a gothic character and was very finely decorated. It was made of rimu and mottled kauri, and the New Zealand Times reported on 5 May 1876 ‘it is a piece of work which scarcely has its superior in the colony. It is a valuable witness in showing what can be done with New Zealand woods, whist the workmanship in it may be truthfully termed perfect’. Historian of the church, Dallas Moore pointed that that it is interesting that, while most of the early donations to the church were brought from the UK, as early as 1876 this early pulpit was being praised for being made of native wood. The records of the church are not clear whether this Fannin pulpit remained in the church until the Seddon pulpit was installed, or whether it in itself was replaced a few years later.
This, from a photo taken in 1906, is possibly Fannin’s pulpit of 1876, or a later replacement. Either way, this was replaced by the Seddon memorial pulpit which is in the church today.
Black and white image: Detail from a photo taken in 1906. Photographer unknown. Ref: PAColl-6771-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23168540