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Stolen treasure

 The Mauriceville North Norwegian Methodist Church. PHOTOS/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Irreplaceable heirlooms stolen from 139-year-old Category 1 heritage site: Desperate plea for church bell to be returned

Hayley Gastmeier

Descendants of Mauriceville early settlers are making a desperate plea for the return of an historic bell that has been ringing for 139 years.

The bell was taken, along with an antique metal lamp bracket and lantern, from the Mauriceville North Norwegian Methodist Church.

The church’s old organ was also damaged, presumably in a search for metal.

Discovered towards the end of last year, the thefts came after other metal burglaries in the Mauriceville area.

Joshua Lister, on the organ damaged during a break in.

The church is listed with Heritage New Zealand as a Category 1 Heritage Place, a status applied to a place of “special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value”.

It is also protected under the Wairarapa Combined District Plan.

Descendants have reported the theft to police and have put messages on social media asking for information.

They have also been talking with antique sellers and scrap metal recyclers to keep a look out for the historic items.

Descendant and church trustee, Nerroly Hoar described the church as a “national treasure” and said the bell was what they really wanted back.

“Sadly, it is probably worth very little in monetary terms if sold for scrap, but it is a treasure to all that love the church and its history.

“We are sure there are people that could come forward with information to assist us in locating it.

“If not sold it may have been hidden or discarded in a rural area.”

She said if it was returned, there would be no questions asked.

“We desperately want it back. It’s been rung for 139 years and we want to hear it again.”

The church was built in 1881 by Scandinavian settlers who had arrived under Sir Julius Vogel’s immigration policy of the early 1870s to clear the 40-mile bush.

Joshua and Gavin Lister inside the church beneath the now empty lantern holder.

Nerroly’s cousin, Gavin Lister and his son Joshua visit the church regularly and maintain the grounds on which Gavin’s parents and earlier generations are buried.

Gavin said the theft was “gut wrenching” and he hoped someone’s conscience kicked in and they did what was right.

“We’re hoping that this person or these people realise the significance of the history they’ve taken and that they’ve hurt a lot of people by what they’ve done.”

Gavin and Nerroly’s great-great-grandfather Hans Larsen was one of the first trustees of the church.

Hans and his wife Karen sailed from Norway on the ship ‘England’ and lost two children to smallpox on the 1872 voyage.

They were quarantined on Matiu/Somes Island for six weeks and many of their possessions burned.

After this the family trekked over the Remutaka hill to the Kopuaranga Camp, where they remained until they could access their allocated plot.

Gavin said the people who built the church had suffered incredible hardship and the place of worship would have been at the community’s heart.

A visitor’s book inside the quaint church shows it is frequented regularly by Kiwi and international visitors.

Inside is memorabilia of times past and a comprehensive Larsen family tree containing six generations, up until 1954.

Joshua said he was upset by the lack of respect shown by the thieves.

The last items of value have been removed for safe keeping.

Gavin said the church held great sentimental significance to family members and he hoped it would survive as a place where future generations could learn about their past.

“We’d like to have our little piece of history returned. The bell is the heart of the church.”

If anyone has any information on the theft or the bell whereabouts they can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I have visited this church with my late mother some years ago .My Danish ancestors are buried there .My ancestors are the Kjestrup family ,it is a beautiful historic place ,shame on them . Anne née Mckinlay . My Grandmother was a Kjestrup and my Grandfather a Wilton .

    • Anne what was your Grandfathers name. You may be related to myGreat Grandfather Job, my Grandfather was William.
      I was bought up at Wilton Road. Part of Williams farm. .

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