Minniesdale Chapel and the brave pioneers of Albertland, New Zealand

A spur of the minute decision we made on a trip in April 2011 took us to a place that roused my emotions and stirred my hidden pioneer spirit.

Minniesdale Chapel, Port Albert

View of Port Albert from the Kiwi Blog Bus

I am always deeply moved by any story of pioneers and settlers; maybe I’m just a secret history buff but I like to think it’s because of our own big (and looking back … risky) move we made several years ago when we shifted our family to NZ.

Not that our journey compares in the slightest to the hardship of the 1860’s pioneers – The Albertlanders.

Made up largely of Non-Conformists from the Midlands of England, the Albertlanders were a group of 3000 men, women and children who came to New Zealand between 1862 and 1865.

The Albertland scheme promised a new life in New Zealand with a classless society and 40 acres of freehold land for every man.

Situated on the shores of Kaipara harbour, 85kms north of Auckland, the settlement of Albertland (now called Port Albert) was projected to become New Zealand’s largest city.

Several immigrant ships left London Docks with hundreds of families onboard dreaming of the new settlement they had been told was on the banks of the beautiful Oruawharo River with abundant fertile lands around.

Wharf at Port Albert

Surrounding countryside

Despite the gorgeous views offered to 21st century visitors, the reality was not quite so beautiful for the 19th century pioneers.

Many inexperienced settlers found that they could not cope with the isolation and harsh conditions and the original plans for a township at Port Albert were abandoned.

Port Albert plaque

Lots of the original Albertlander families remained in the area and proof of this is seen at Minniesdale Chapel where many pioneers and their descendants are buried in the graveyard.Set in a beautiful rural setting, the chapel and its surrounds have changed very little from when they were built in 1867.

Minniesdale Chapel, Port Albert

View from Minniesdale Chapel, Port Albert

The framework for the chapel was shipped from England and arrived in 1865 with Edwin Stanley Brookes Snr who had trained as a Baptist minister before setting out for New Zealand.

Three of Rev. Brookes sons had travelled out beforehand and were among the first Albertland settlers in 1862. The Baptist settlers held services in each other’s homes until Rev. Brookes and the remainder of his family arrived in 1865.

Interior of the small chapel

Rev. Edwin Stanley Brookes – the first minister of Minniesdale Chapel

View from Minniesdale Chapel

I love graveyards (in an interesting, social history kind of way) and the site around this old chapel had me spellbound.

The grave markers varied from wooden crosses to traditional headstones but I saw for the first time ever a collection of large head “stones” that were actually made from wood.

Knowing the main story behind the families buried here really lets you imagine what their life, and ultimately death, might have been like in this beautiful but once harsh place.

One of the many wooden crosses in the graveyard

Wooden headstone

Wooden headstone of Charles Brookes (son of Rev. Edwin Stanley Brookes) who drowned in the Oruawharo River in 1868

Pioneer cemetery – Minniesdale Chapel, Port Albert


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10 responses to “Minniesdale Chapel and the brave pioneers of Albertland, New Zealand”

  1. pommepal says :

    It was so hard back then we should be so thankful for their pioneer spirit

  2. Peter Marsh says :

    A very interesting and complex story. that was celebrated at Easter 2012, 150 years after the arrival of the first settlers in 1862. . Stories and histories available at the Albertland Museum.

    • Kiwi Annison says :

      Thanks Peter. Hope you enjoyed reading my blog.
      We LOVED our trip to Port Albert and surrounds.
      I found the chapel and graveyard a very peaceful serene place and easy to imagine the life of the settlers.
      I hope we can return 🙂

  3. Steve Allen says :

    Things were so tough back then that a number of the immigrants stayed put in Auckland. They had thought there was a road to port Albert but instead found just bush. Without the support of the local Maori people, they may have not survived. The Rev. E.S. Brookes was a man of great wealth in Nottingham and there are family stories which indicate a possible illegitimate link to the 14th Earl of Derby (3 times prime minister ). They gave up a good life to start from scratch in an unknown land. …(.great great grandson )

    • Raewyn Moor says :

      My great grand parents, grand parents, mother and father also all my aunts and uncles are buried at Minniesdale cemetry. It is a lovely place and so peaceful.
      Overlooking the Kaipara Harbour and secluded setting is beautiful.
      Marsh Family.

    • Peter Butters says :

      Steve, I am very interested in your comments, with which I agree ….. the Rev Brookes was my great great grandfather …… best wishes ….. peter butters …. ballarat … victoria …… australia …..

  4. Glennis says :

    After your mention of family ….. please go up and repair your parents crumbling head stone as I have heard it is in a sad state of repair . maybe Terry and Lyn known at the White Robe Lodge in Otago can help out as Daphnes money she was due never ever got to her… please look into this as it is very sad .. Your mum and Dad left monies for all yet nothing is being done to rectify past wrongs.

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