St. Stephen's Church, Peel Forest,
South Canterbury, New Zealand

St. Stephen's sketch by Marcus Castwell. Used here with his permission.
1999 sketch by Marcus Castell and courtesy of Marcus.
Noel Guthrie did a pencil drawing Saint Stephen's Church, 1992. Not the one above.

The Anglican Church of St. Stephen [the Martyr], Peel Forest: Located in Peel Forest village on Peel Forest Road, 14 miles north of Geraldine at the foot of Mount Peel. St. Stephen a small wooden white weather board church was first constructed in 1868 but was blown down in May 1884 and rebuilt in 1886. The bell tower of this church was blown down in 1914. There is now a separate bell tower. The mountains are the three peaks of Mount Peel; Little Mount Peel 4,293 ft (1,303 m) to the foreground, then Middle Mount Peel and then Mount Peel proper 5,715 ft, (1742 m). To climb Little Mt Peel allow 4-6 hours and start from Blandswood Lookout Road end and climb steadily via Deer Spur overlooking the Rangitata. 8km, approx 850m height gain, marked tracks, some steep. A well-formed track leads to an attractive bush edged tarn at 900m. The Tristram Harper Memorial Hut is just below the summit.  Historic Place Category 2,

Timaru Herald, 22 May 1884, Page 7
Our Geraldine correspondent informs us that the nor'-wester on Wednesday did considerable damage in the neighborhood of Peel Forest, Woodbury, and along the foot of the downs at the back of Kakahu. At Peel Forest the gale seems to have been most destructive to stacks and chimneys. The Peel Forest Church, it is stated, was razed to the ground. The chimneys of Mr Donkin's new house were blown down, and several houses in the neighborhood suffered more or less injury. It is said to be the most violent gale remembered by the oldest inhabitant of Peel Forest district. In Geraldine the wind was not nearly so strong, and little damage was done.

Timaru Herald, 13 January 1887, Page 2
The pretty little church at Peel Forest will be consecrated by his Lordship the Primate of New Zealand on Sunday next.

Photo taken by Margaret Todd, NOv. 3 2007.

The church has three stained glass windows but there is one large stained-glass windows "St Mary and the Christ - Child with St George and the Archangel Michael" by Joseph Nuttgens, Harrows 1922-23 on the east sanctuary wall. Commemorates father and son George James and son James Robert Dennistoun. George died in Torquay, England. George had owned the Peel Forest run. The windows were donated by Emily Dennistoun, widow and mother who made the faculty application 26 April 1923.  Dedication was May 1923. In the Christchurch Cathedral there is a memorial stone with a coat of of George James Dennistoun, died 1921: Adversa vitute repello.  Lower left is the Dennistoun coat of arms. Reference : Fiona Ciaran book, Stained Glass Windows of Canterbury, New Zealand [1998].

Absolutely beautiful work.
Photo taken November 3rd 2007 by Margaret Todd.
Saint George, St. Mary BV and the Christ-Child, St Michael.
We blessed and thank thee Lord
For those beyond the veil
Whose steadfast happy lives made
This dark earth for us a paradise.

The face of St Michael is a portrait of a local settler and mountaineer who died during WWI, Lieut. James R. Dennistoun, and there is a small representation in the bottom pane of Milford Sound's Mitre Peak as he was the first pakeha to climb it in 1911, not a difficult technical climb, the peak's tangled bush proved a formidable obstacle.  Earlier attempts to climb Mitre Peak had failed. The mountain rises 1,692 metres above the Sound. The second ascent of Mitre was made in 1914 but there was a long gap until the third ascent in 1941.  James R. Dennistoun of the North Irish Horse and an observer for the 23rd Squadron Royal Flying Corps and was shot down and died in a German hospital died of abdominal wounds, 9 Aug. 1916, at age 33, while a POW in a hospital in Ohrdruf, Thurungia, Germany. Buried: Niederzwehren Cemetery, Germany. Grave Location: IV.H.2. The insignias of both corps, a harp and RFC also appear in the bottom pane. It is not unusual to see a war memorial window with a warrior saint.

The other window depicts New Zealand native foliage and native birds representative for St Francis was made in 1976 commemorating William E. Barker d. 12 March 1935 and his wife Lucy m. Barker d. 6 Oct. 1947 was designed and executed by Roy Entwistle and dedicated 20 Feb. 1977.   A depiction of St. Brendan was designed by Roy Entwistle in 1995 to commemorate G. H. and B. Dennistoun was executed by Graham Stewart it is a contemporary image with references to Captain Dennistoun's service in the Royal Navy. The fish in the church grounds was carved by Paul Deans as a memorial to author Robert Pinney and his wife Anne, both loyal parishioners, and given to the congregation by the Pinney family in 1996.  Mr Pinney wrote Early South Canterbury Runs published in and compliments L.D.G. Acland's The Early Canterbury Runs.

The elemental magic that pervades the remote mountain forest has entranced many.  For sixty-eight years, Ngaio Marsh came to the forest and the community appears in a number of her novels. Here she is remembered for her dramatic performances in the village hall and by her paintings, which hang in the local houses. She is buried in the churchyard cemetery Mount Peel. Douglas Lilburn's orchestral tone poem Forest was based on his time on the mountain, he climbed Mt Peel. This work and its subsequent prize, was the first significant recognition given to Mr. Lilburn as a composer. Austin Deans, son in the fourth generation of the first European to settle on the Canterbury Plains, used the area as his principal source of artistic inspiration as does his son Paul. Among others are the artists Douglas Badcock and Ben Woollcombe, historians Robert Pinney and Leo Acland, photographers Alfred Barker and Julie Riley and the scientists Sir Julius von Haast, Leonard Cockayne and Dr Brian Molloy.

St. Stephen's Church at Peel Forest, January 2007. Photo taken by Margaret Todd.                     25 April 2005. Autumn. Photo taken on a rainy day by Margaret Todd.    
St. Stephen's Church at Peel Forest, January and April 2007 looking lovely bathed in autumn leaves.

The church is surrounded by trees making photography difficult but it is beautiful, so serene and peaceful with only the birds singing. Photos courtesy of M.T.

Timaru Herald 2nd December, 1880 Birth:
DENNISTOUN. At Peel Forest, on the 21st Nov., the wife of G.J. Dennistoun of a daughter

The Times Monday, May 14, 1883 Birth:
On the 7th March, at Peel Forest, Canterbury, NZ, the wife of George J. Dennistoun, of a son.

Weekly News 1st October 1914 Marriage
DENNISTOUN - PYNE 19 September 1914 at residence of Mr & Mrs F H Pyne, Bealey Ave, Christchurch, Beatrice Pyne to Lt George Dennistoun, R.M., s/o Mr & Mrs G. Dennistoun of Peel Forest, presently in England. Lt Dennistoun has been ordered home to join his ship and will be travelling on the Athenic with the Canterbury Expeditionary Force. Miss Jocelyn Pyne, the bride's youngest sister, was bridesmaid. [WN 01.10.1914]

The Times Friday, May 06, 1921 Death:
DENNISTOUN - On the 4 May 1921, at Savile House, Torquay, suddenly, George James Dennistoun, of Peel Forest, Canterbury, NZ, aged 73. Most dearly loved. Funeral services leaves Savile House tomorrow, Saturday.

Christchurch Press, 24th March 1927.
On March 17th, in England, Barbara, only daughter of the late G. J. Dennistoun, of Peel Forest, and Mrs Dennistoun, Highdown, Winchester, England.

The Times Wednesday, Mar 31, 1937 Death:
DENNISTOUN - On March 29, 1937, at Highdown, Winchester, Emily, wife of the late George James Dennistoun, of Peel Forest, NZ, in her 86th year. Private funeral, Torquay, 2 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday)

The Times Friday, Mar 08, 1940
The engagement is announced between Lieutenant Desmond Samuel Royse Martin, Royal Navy, elder son of the late Mr and Mrs Harvey Martin Coombe Martin, and Joanna Beatrix, only daughter of Commander G.H. Dennistoun, of Peel Forest, Rangitata, NZ.

Village store, Peel Forest 1929

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project