The first wedding at Old St Paul’s was between Thomas Orr, a shipbuilder and builder, and Jane Clements. The couple married on 28 June 1866, 22 days after the church was opened. The couple remained married for 50 years, until Thomas’ death in 1917.
Their long lives together encompassed much which is typical of life in Wellington in those years. Thomas had immigrated from Ireland to Christchurch in the early 1860s. He had previously worked in Belfast for the famous shipbuilding firm Harland and Woolf, the firm that later made the Titanic. After a few years in Christchurch he came to Wellington in the year the city became the capital, 1865, possibly to chase work in the building boom that followed that event. Thomas brought a young wife with him, Sarah, but she died in 1865, at only the age of 26. He then married Jane, another immigrant from Ireland, just six months later. The couple had six children. Thomas worked for many years as a builder, they purchased land in the Hutt, and later they lived in Featherston Terrace (now known as Newman Terrace), in Thorndon, where he built two houses.
For many years, as was typical at the time, they shared their home with their adult children. In 1905, for example, their two daughters (listed as ‘spinsters’ in the electoral roll) were living with them, plus their son John, who was a warehouseman at the time. All four of his daughters eventually married.
In 1893, Jane and one of her daughters signed the Women’s Suffrage Petition, as shown below, along with 30,000 others. This petition, with each sheet glued together and then rolled up, was presented to parliament in 1893 with great drama, when MP and suffrage supporter John Hall rolled it down the central aisle of the debating chamber.
One of the couple’s sons, called Thomas like his father, served in the South African War and remained there after the war. Their other son John then served in the First World War as a signalman, and was wounded and gassed overseas, and returned to New Zealand in 1919.
While John was away, both of his parents died, Thomas in 1917 and Jane in 1918. In Thomas’ obituary, one newspaper recorded ‘Though he took no practical part in public affairs, the deceased gentleman was a keen student of men and conditions, especially with regards to the present war’.
Also recorded in the obituary was the fact that they were the first couple to marry at Old St Paul’s, fifty years earlier; I like to think that it was something important enough to Jane, or someone else in the family, for them to ask the obituarist to record this fact in the paper.
For other stories about weddings at St Paul’s, see this story about Wellington’s first radio wedding and about Richard Seddon’s daughter’s wedding in 1897.
UPDATE: I have just found the inquest for Sarah Orr, Thomas’ first wife, who died at 26 at her home in Cuba Street, with the postmortem finding that she had lived with many underlying illnesses before she finally died of heart disease and horrible abscesses in her mouth and throat. But it also showed that poor Sarah had only had her first baby a few months earlier. I guess perhaps that might be why Thomas married again so quickly. And further tragedy followed – that boy died in Wellington at only 19.
Main image: Old St Paul’s Wedding Register, now held at Alexander Turnbull Library. Suffrage petition images taken from https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/16734429368 and http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/suffragist/jane-orr