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The Journal of George Hepburn
Part II - Closing Years - Chapter VIII

The foundation and development of Knox Church was the major interest of George Hepburn’s later years. By 1858 a second Presbyterian Church had become necessary, and the Rev. Donald McNaughton Stuart reached Dunedin in January, 1860. George Hepburn was one of the interim Session, and also one of the first elders appointed by the new congregation.

January 27th, 1860.

Happy to inform you of the safe arrival of the Bosworth, all well, only this day. A few of the passengers came up, including the Rev. Mr. Stuart, to whom we have been introduced. He seems a fine gentleman, but will give you further account.

January 29th, 1861.

I should not forget to tell you that our new minister, Mr. Stuart, is giving great satisfaction. Indeed he is a general favourite. He preaches excellent sermons, without the paper, very striking and impressive. Besides he is constantly visiting the people with acceptance. Mr. Burns has been away for the last six weeks at Invercargill, Mr. Stuart occupying his pulpit to an overcrowded house daily. Contrary to former usage, Mr. Stuart and I have broken through the old law regarding Proclamations. Instead of taking three separate Sabbaths, he has done it all in one day and married the ensuing week. We expect to be taken over the coals for it when Mr. Burns returns. Mr. Stuart has agreed to come to our prayer meeting at Wakari once a month. Last month there were 40 present. He seems a great acquisition to us ; will infuse new life amongst us.

June 18th, 1861.

I mentioned that our sacrament was on a recent Sabbath. It was the first Sabbath after the opening of the addition to our new church. [Old Knox Church, situated on the site of the present Knox Sunday School, corner of King and Frederick Streets.] The day being fine the house was filled in every part, containing 900—all on the ground floor. It is now really a grand house. On the opening Sabbath the collection was about £78 and the next Sabbath about £10. About 400 communicated that day. All the centre area seats were used as communion seats, covered with . . . so two services held the whole. In the evening the house was again quite full. The Rev. Mr. Will of Taieri preached, and again on Monday evening.

Since then our annual soiree took place on Tuesday last, when about 600 were present. After tea and the annual report read, after which your humble servant was deputed on behalf of the ladies to present our minister with a new pulpit gown, Bible, and Psalm book, a crimson coloured cushion for it to lay on the pulpit, together with a communion service for the congregation—all from the ladies. I did the best I could, and it passed off very well.

August 3rd, 1872.

As you observe we have all much cause of thankfulness to our Heavenly Father for the long continued measure of health which we all enjoy at our advanced years, and as your worthy minister says, "We are too apt to mourn over small trials and overlook the many thousands of God’s mercies which are being daily showered upon us. I congratulate you on the continuance of your minister amongst you. Don’t forget him in your prayers; it may do more good than even a purse of sovereigns (although they are not to be despised).

July 30th, 1876.

You will perhaps see from the papers sent an account of the annual meeting of the Young Men’s Christian Association and soiree held in the new Temperance Hall in Dunedin, at which I was present, being a member. Mrs. Barr had the chief table on the platform; upwards of 400 sat down to tea. The speakers and choir were first-class. I stopped at Mrs. Barr’s all night. New Knox Church [Old Knox Church, though it accommodated 900, was soon too small; but it was not until April, 1874, that the building of the present church was commenced. The architect was R. A. Lawson, George Hepburn’s son-in-law.] will be open in about four weeks. The finishing inside is very splendid. The whole building will cost about £15,000. Professor Salmond gives a public lecture in Old Knox Church vestry every week on the "Evidences of Christianity versus Evolution," now making such an ado in the present day. The Professor is very popular. You will see it in "Record." [The New Zealand Christian Record, a non-sectarian weekly published in Dunedin from 1873 to 1883.]

February 27th, 1879.

We also in Otago, New Zealand, have again been visited with another sad, sad calamity, worse than the great floods last autumn. Within two miles of Balclutha and Inchclutha there is a large coal mine called Kaitangata, which was blown up by fire damp about ten days ago, thereby burying 34 men alive at one stroke—not one was got out alive—leaving 22 widows and 80 children fatherless. The news in Dunedin was dreadful, and the scene at the shaft mouth heartrending. All the country is stirred about it to the core. Meetings and subscriptions to relieve the distress are being got up all over.

The newspaper sent to Mr. Green gives some details of what is doing, but next monthly summary will be more full. Oh, how wonderful are God’s ways of working with the children of men upon the earth. It may be men’s own fault in this latter, as well as in other cases, "but who can by searching find out God—His ways are in the deep," etc. Our part is to watch and be always ready. Two of these men who are killed had arrived here only a week ago by the ship Wellington, and it was only their second day in the pit— sad news to send home.

But to turn to another subject. You will see from the "Record" sent a pretty full account of Mr. Varley’s work in Dunedin for the last three weeks. He held meetings twice every day, Sunday and Saturday, from one to two hours each time, generally to big audiences. The biggest churches and even the theatre were crowded on Saturday evening. I heard him several times during the day, but did not go in the evenings; it made me too late. Trust a blessing will follow his arduous work.

The development of Kaikorai Church is recorded. George Hepburn maintains membership in Knox Church, but gladly serves both congregations.

January 26th, 1880.

Since writing last another year has passed away and a new one begun, but who of us shall say whether we shall see the end of it. Our duty is to listen to the words, "Watch and be also ready." We get many warnings. If spared to see the 28th of next month I will finish my 77th year. O how good has been the loving kindness of our Heavenly Father; still spared in health and strength and sound mind; still able to work a little in the Master’s vineyard. I still teach a class in the Sunday School. There is 156 scholars and 15 teachers. There is a congregation and church about half-way into Dunedin from us, who got a new minister [Rev. R. R. M. Sutherland.] last April, and since an addition to the building, a transcept, to hold other 200. The new minister is giving great satisfaction, and has increased the numbers in attendance and the money for the new part, £500, is nearly all got—the work is finished. I have acted treasurer to the congregation for nearly three years past, but have now got relieved of it, they having elected new and younger officers.

28th.—Since writing the above I was in town all next day. Met with Mr. Downie Stewart and went with him to dinner at his own house in Heriot Row. We went by tramway for 3d. each. I suppose you know that we have both steam and horse tramways running the whole length of the town of Dunedin every ten or twelve minutes—the whole day, all for 3d. each way. They are very convenient, only our first laid streets are rather narrow for double lines.

Our William and his wife also went away on a journey to Invercargill on Friday last per train from 9.30 till 3.30 and had a nice day and well. William had a large land sale there on the next day. Were to return on Monday, but young Mr. G. Ross and his young wife followed them on the Monday and got Mrs. William to accompany them on a further excursion trip to the Lakes (Wakatipu), other 60 miles off by train and steamer. William could not be so long absent, so did not go, but they are to return on Saturday night. Their family are all well, so are all other friends.

October 14th, 1883.

To fill up this half sheet I may mention that our quarterly communion sacrament was observed in all the Presbyterian Churches and suburbs on Saturday week, the 17th inst. Although there is a church at the Kaikorai Valley, only ten minutes’ walk from our house, and a good minister and a good congregation, and a fine Sunday School of 200 scholars and 16 or 18 teachers, where I still have a class of females, I still stick to the Rev. Dr. Stuart’s congregation, called Knox Church. We drive to it in 20 minutes. Well I was there on Sabbath forenoon and took my part in serving the elements along with the other elders. There were 601 communicants at one sitting in the area of the church. Professor Salmond preached the sermon and the Doctor served the element. The collection at the door was £68 10s. on behalf of the Benevolent Institution. Dr. Stuart took Mr. Salmond and the writer to the manse to dinner, after which, at 3 p.m., the Doctor and I went to the Sabbath School meeting in the old church, where Rev. Mr. Arnott addressed the children. Dr. Stuart opened the meeting, and the writer was called to the platform to give the closing prayer. There were 500 scholars there. Afterwards I walked home two miles uphill, and went to the evening service at the Kaikorai. Home at 8 p.m. Visited William and had the books as usual. Home at 9 odd. All well.

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