UPDATED: Trouble At T’Hill As St Paul’s On Mt Vic Goes Up For Sale

Posted by on Oct 01, 2011 | 26 Comments

Is Devonport's heritage under threat?

Is Devonport's heritage under threat?

Devonport looks set for another heritage battle, as the land including Devonport’s historic church St Paul’s (on Mt Victoria),  the historic cemetery next to St Paul’s and the church hall is put up for sale.

Church officials of the Northern Presbetry applied to the Presbyterian Property Trustees to sell the land, believing the Trustees were the owners of the land.

However, both the church and cemetery are listed as Category A historic places, and are protected under the District Plan. For any buyer to make use of the site would therefore require that historic status to be removed.

The Speculator understands that Governor George Grey gifted the land as a crown grant on 2 July 1862 to the local churches for use as a cemetery. This area was used as a cemetery until 1890, at which point it was agreed between the borough council at the time and the local trustees of the Mt Victoria Cemetery that the land  should be permanently under the control of the borough council.

The Church faces a number of hurdles in attempting to sell the land, although it appears to be unaware of the legal implications of the move, as it has already listed the property with Harcourts in Takapuna and intends to put the land up for sale this Friday.

Under the Historic Places Act, any site pre-1900 is considered an archaeological site and comes under its protection. Additionally, Section 44(a) of the Burial and Cremations Act 1964 prohibits the sale of closed cemeteries. As mentioned, the site is also listed under the District Plan.

Beyond the issue of heritage is a more macabre issue; the bodies currently located in that part of the cemetery would have to be moved should any development go ahead. The Speculator understands that relatives of the deceased have been contacted by local resident and self-described “graveyard watchdog” Gail Lyons, informing them of this possibility, should the land eventually be sold.

Local heritage activist Claudia Page has alerted councillor Sandra Coney to the issue, asking her to clarify the process required to change the status of a listed site to one that could be developed.

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  1. Joy Todd says:

    It is very distressing to think that an historic church and grave yard could be sold. My gt gt grandparents William and Elizabeth Trevarthen are buried there, and this is a special place to my family and I who regulary visit. If the grave yard is sold, will the new owners at their expenses exhume the bodies and relocate to another site along with the original monument?

  2. Gail says:

    To Alison leslie re Trevathans – Yes William and Elizabeth are buried in the Presbyterian section of the cemetery, but the weren’t the first, it was meant to be William Oliver in 1856. I believe the Trevathans gave land to the Wesleyan’s futher round Mt Vic to build a chapel on.I beleive they were one of the first settlers in Devonport. I have a whole file with their family history and tree. William Henry Trevarthen was born in Devonport 3.1.1850!! Please email Chris Darby and let him know that as a descendant you need to be keep informed!Ring the Methodist Church and find out if they had title to the Land Grant along with the Presbyterian’s.

  3. GB says:

    I see the auction sign is up there, dunno what day and time though..If we are to outline and make a mark on proceedings, why not turn up and protest about it!..am sure it will go down well.

    There is a protest; it is at the time of the “Open Home” 4.30 to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday! – Ed

  4. Sherri says:

    Thanks GB. There is very little doubt that the evidence is pretty clear that the proposed sale is illegal and there should be stopped. The PCANZ (nor any other church body)cannot act as though the laws of the land don’t apply to them. I am very surprised that the proper research does not seem to have been doneas the Church Property Trustees are normally very diligent about such things.

  5. GB says:

    Hope Harcourts and the church trustees take note, now that Gail mentioned it: “the cemetery falls under the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 and under Section 43 Closed Cemeteries (2)” A closed cemetery shallnot be sold or lease or otherwise disposed of or diverted to any other purpose.” I have informed Harcourt’s and they have informed the Presbyterian Property Trustees, who have contacted their lawyers. Perhaps we can stop the sale. The land title is C.T. 62/48 if anyone is interested in searching this”

  6. Sherri says:

    Hi Speculator admin people. Bronwen’s post raises an important issue regarding people contacting people “off site” and/or those people ‘watching’ and not commenting but who want to “do something”. Can you advise yuour protocols please?

    Hi Sherri; Anybody wanting to be involved in the issue can send their email details to The Speculator at info@speculator.co.nz, on the understanding that their email address will be shared with others demonstrating an interest. – Ed & admin person

  7. Bronwen Inness says:

    I have no knowledge of what has been happening in Devonport until I heard Gail on the television the other night. I would very much like to be involved with discussions so who do I contact.

  8. Sherri says:

    Yes, Bronwen it’s a dreadful thing they do. I am unsure how involved the Council has been or even if they have been consulted. It would be very appropriate for the decendants of those buried in the cemetery to be asking all the questions you can in order to make sure that due process has been followed properly and you are consulted. The lack of consultation thus far is disgraceful.

  9. JL says:

    In reply to Alison Leslie’s query; there will indeed be early records of the land grant. Some lawyers, land agents & councils are registered to use Land Information’s landonline site. It’s where all title records are kept. Gail has given the title number, and a historic title search should show a record of the original grant.
    Non registered people can do this too, just by phoning Land information NZ, or lodging a query through their website. There’s a small charge per document, but it’s not expensive…….Might be a good idea for those who have family buried there?

  10. Alison Leslie says:

    I wonder if there are any records pertaining to the original owners and whether or not it was them that gifted the land to the church . My ancestors were William and Elizabeth Trevarthen and we were led to believe they were the first to be buried there.

  11. Bronwen Inness says:

    My ancestors are buried on Mt Victoria and we recently repaired their headstone. The people who are buried there are the history of Devonport, how dare the church have no respect for them. I am disgusted that the Council and the Church has let this happen. Please Gail if you need support feel free to contact me. My ancestors are John and Elizabeth Holmes.

  12. Gail says:

    I believe that the cemetery falls under the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 and under Section 43 Closed Cemeteries (2)” A closed cemetery shallnot be sold or lease or otherwise disposed of or diverted to any other purpose.” I have informed Harcourt’s and they have informed the Presbyterian Property Trustees, who have contacted their lawyers. Perhaps we can stop the sale. The land title is C.T. 62/48 if anyone is interested in searching this to find out the year the received title and under the above Act I think there should be some sort of notice on it? I think the church should subdivide the land and give the cemtery to the Auckland Council.

  13. JL says:

    I wonder if the church has considered that the government & council (meaning the NZ taxpayer!) originally granted the land for a single purpose – church & cemetary?
    With all such grants there is a legal requirement that, before it can be disposed of, the land must be offered back to the donor. Has this happened? I think not.
    Quite apart from the fact that a church considering the sale of graves & historic buildings is incredibly insensitive & money-grubbing, in this case there’s a legal minefield to negotiate…..I hope the church isn’t being too complacent about this angle.

  14. Sid says:

    Dear Sherri. How very elegantly put. I do hope that something can be done to save this beautiful/important place.

  15. Sherri says:

    Absolutely, I am interested in buying te entire site…winning lotto this weekend wold do the trick:)In answer to your query re who owns the land and buildings. The title belongs to the Presbyterian Church Property Trustees, a national body, who have oversight of all presbyterian church properties in Aotearoa. As stated in the article above the Church Propert Trustees would have had to give permission for the sale to go ahead. I can’t imagine permission would have been granted if the trustees were not in receipt of all the facts however, I have been wrong int he past!!! Whilst I love the old building, my deep concern is for the ‘wellbeing’ of the cemetery. Two wonderful men (one now deceased) have spent 100’s of hours clearing and planting native trees. One of those men quietly continues the good work along with an able assistant. Since 2005 the community has supported fundraising initiatives and donated a huge amount of money so that the graves could be restored. It’s now a beautiful, peaceful “gateway” into Devonport village and is a physical statement of how much the community cares about its historic places. Because the cemetery is an archeological site it’s crucial that it be preserved for future generations. More than anything else though, therein lies the Sacred Spirits of our ancestors.

    Thanks Sherri:could I humbly point out to all planning to comment on this article that the spelling of “cemetery” is thus. 🙂 – Ed

  16. vp says:

    Sheri do you still have an interest in purchasing the Church?

  17. GB says:

    Some good points there Sherri, yes theres alot of Devo folk buried there and its unthinkable if any development of the land were to take place, am not against any sale as such or gifting back to the local iwi, the original owners of all the Devo land anyway!.

  18. Wayne Mason says:

    Will there be a design competion for the new Marae to be built there. Maybe Destiny Church could buy the Land & buildings & use them as is ?

  19. Sherri Weinberg says:

    It’s common knowledge that churches all over the country are struggling to survive fnancially as numbers decrease. Presbyterian Churches are no exception. Lack of funds was the cited reason for disolving the pastoral tie between the minister and the congregation and closing the old oak doors. That makes a lot of sense, now, when one considers how much 3.3 million would boast the national church coffers in desperate times!!! Perhaps an ethical moral compromise would be for the ‘powers that be’ to sell the buildings to another group and gift the cemetary back to it’s original owners be that govt or local iwi.

  20. lulu says:

    So, then, who owned the land on which the church and cemetary were built? Was it Maori land that was gifted to the church?

  21. Bill Rayner says:

    Another sad threat to our heritage and another community battle- thanks to Claudia for highlighting it.
    With the Masonic Hotel site being a Maori burial ground and heading for the wreckers ball, what chance do to a few old pakehas have to retain their place undisturbed for posterity.
    Thank God for Devonport Heritage, his own people don’t seem to care much.
    The Church should do the right thing and gift the land as an attachment to the Mt Victoria Reserve.

    Kia kaha Claudia and co.

  22. J N says:

    The cemetery existed some years before the Council began.

  23. Bond says:

    Splendid, another epic Heritage Battle. It’ll be like two dogs fighting over a…
    Oops. One martini too many perhaps.

    That, my good man, is a bit naughty. – Ed

  24. GB says:

    I wonder if this has anything to do with the famous BIG retro house next to the cemetery? (being renovated the las 4 months)..Hmmm.

  25. lulu says:

    What business does the church have IF it is selling land it was gifted by the Council? Surely the land should revert to the Council?
    Also, where does the church stand in law, if it decides it no longer wishes to honour its obligation to have people buried on consecrated ground? I’m sure people would not really want to be buried in a cemetary if they knew at some point the cemetary was going to be onsold and developed.In my opinion, selling the cemetary is disrespectful, misguided and entirely not what I would expect from a religious community.

  26. JL says:

    Ew, I didn’t know one could buy, or sell, bodies in this country!
    What on earth is the church heirarchy thinking? This is completely unacceptable, really, really insensitive…..and GROSS!

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