One of the great mysteries of the church is where the foundation stone has gone, as you can read in this story. Thankfully, we can at least get a picture of what the ceremony to lay the stone was like because it was documented in the Wellington Independent. If you go to Old St Paul’s you can also see the beautiful silver trowel used in the ceremony.
The foundation stone was laid in a well-attended ceremony on 31 August, 1865. Old St Paul’s was just a construction site at the time; the church wouldn’t be completed until 1866. 300 people attended the ceremony, including almost all the members of both houses of parliament, the Superintendent Judge Johnson, and ‘a large number of ladies’.
The ceremony was elaborate: firstly the Bishop of Wellington Charles Abraham, the architect of the church Rev Frederick Thatcher (who until recently was the vicar of the parish), his replacement Rev Patrick Hay Maxwell, and many other clergymen approached in a procession from the Bishop’s residence next door.
The original Bishop’s residence, where the ceremony started. Old St Paul’s would be built in the background of this picture, next to the house.
James Marriott, the engraver of the foundation stone and the trowel, carried a grand crimson velvet cushion carrying the trowel, rule, hammer and a plate of coins. Psalms were sung and readings were read, and Grey signed his name on a piece of paper, and Thatcher put it and the coins into a small hole below the stone, which had been hung up in the air. The stone was then lowered to the ground, and George Grey then struck it with a hammer, after which he declared the foundation of the church laid.
Bishop Abraham then said some words about the difference between English and New Zealand churches; ‘whereas in England, Cathedrals were always separate and distinct from parish churches, in this country they were one,’ and how that symbolises the union between bishops, priests and people of New Zealand. Then they all went and had lunch.
The procession was lyrically described by the Wellington Independent:
The sun shone brightly, the clouds of the morning slowly drifted away, and as the procession filed on to the ground a large and bright rainbow appeared to the southward.
The whole scene looked very bright, the clear waters of the bay danced and sparkled in the sunlight, which glinted on the square white slab of stone, and lighted up the ladies bonnets and faces eagerly turned in the direction of the procession, advancing from the somewhat monastic pile in which the Bishop of Wellington resides.
Although we don’t know where the foundation stone is, we have a copy of the engraving made on it by Marriott, which is held by Auckland Library.
The Silver Trowel
The foundation stone may be lost, but luckily the silver trowel is on display. It was not always at Old St Paul’s, as it was given to Governor Grey a few months after the ceremony by the church’s Building Committee, the Bishop and Marriott, in yet another ceremony. The newspaper recorded that on one side the engraving on the trowel said it had been presented to Grey ‘on the occasion of his laying the first stone of the Joint Cathedral and Parish Church of St. Paul’s’, with the words surrounded by scrolls, shells, and vases of flowers and on the back, the Holy Bible resting upon a rock, above which was the Eye of Providence, both surrounded by a ribbon bearing the command, Love ye one another.
The engraving on the two sides of the trowel
The trowel was found in 1984 by researcher Margaret Alington when she asked an Auckland Public Library librarian about it, knowing that they held a large collection of Grey’s possessions. The library discovered that it had been transferred to Mansion House on Kawau Island which had belonged to Grey and is now a house museum. The next year it was loaned to Old St Paul’s for display in the church as a commemoration of the laying of the foundation stone, and is still there on display.
Sources: Memorials and furnishings (a), Margaret Alington, MS-Papers-7285-44; Wellington Independent, 22 August 1865; Wellington Independent, 22 August 1865
Images: Featured image, Chontelle Syme, Old Bishop’s House, Ref 1/2-021166-F, Alexander Turnbull Library; Newspaper, Wellington Independent, 22 August and 12 Dec 1865; Other trowel images, Heritage New Zealand.