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The two "Baptist Church" buildings shown in a detail from Plan of the city of Christchurch (Selwyn County) Canterbury, N.Z., 1883

The Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, circa 1885. The earlier wooden church can be seen next door, having been moved from Hereford Street before the construction of the new church. (Christchurch City Libraries)

Oxford Terrace Baptist Church

on Oxford Terrace, at the corner with Madras Street

In late 1881, there was an earthquake in Christchurch. The spire of the Cathedral was damaged but the half-built walls of the Baptist Church under construction on Oxford Terrace stood firm.

 

In the September 2010 earthquake, however, the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church was seriously damaged. The church facade was propped up in anticipation of repair, but the building collapsed in the February 2011 quake.

 

The church has rebuilt on the same site. 

 

The Chinese Raid

In June 1899, Police raided the home of a local Chinese man, Chin Sing, and arrested 32 Chinese and four European men on charges of illegal gambling. They were imprisoned in poor conditions: "lying on the bare floors of the police cells, without bed or covering, save the few blankets that were passed in, but would only go a little way in partly sheltering some of the men ... Then the men were starved."

 

Reverend J J Doke, minister of the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, was outraged. He went to the police station to advocate for the men's release. Eventually, the men were released and most charges dropped. The cells were condemned then demolished. His sermon on the raid was reported at length in the Star

 

"These Chinese were human beings, with the rights of all God's human family, rights to justice and humanity and love," he is reported as saying.

 

Reverend Doke's criticisms included:

  • That the Police deliberately chose to raid on a night when the greatest number of Chinese men would be present

  • That the Police effectively set up the Chinese by failing to act in the past against the few who genuinely had been gambling

  • That most of the men arrested by the Police were not gambling

  • That the Police held the men in inhumane conditions

 

He told the congregation that could no longer assure Chinese people that they would be fairly treated in New Zealand: "They had told these men before now, with pride, that English countries were not like China. There was no torture under English law. They dared not tell them that again."

 

He expressed unequivocal support for the Chinese community: "He prayed God ... that in some way by tender Christian sympathy they might help to make amends to the Chinese for the great wrong which they had suffered."

 

Who was Reverend J J Doke?

Joseph J Doke arrived in 1894. He was 32 years old and had been minister of a thriving Baptist congregation in Bristol. He had travelled widely in Africa, the Middle East, and India. He was married and already had several children. 

 

The church on Oxford Terrace, meanwhile, was at a low ebb. It had lost members and was bitterly divided over the "pentecostal" zeal, and subsequent resignation, of the previous pastor Reverend William Birch. Some church members took the train to Lyttelton to meet the Doke family, while two deacons rode over the hill on bicycles - a new way to get around the city. (The council had imposed a bicycle speed limit of 8 miles per hour, 13 km/hr.)

 

A centennial history of the church describes Doke as "not strong physically" but "got through a great deal of work". "He was a man of great intensity of feeling; refined, artistic, studious, who had a quiet persuasive influence with people. He also had a delightful sense of humour." 

 

Doke returned to England in 1902. By then, the Oxford Terrace church had begun to grow steadily again and its debts had more than halved.  

 

He spent most of the rest of his life in South Africa where he became a friend and the first biographer of Mahatma Ghandi.

 

He died aged 52 on the return leg of a missionary expedition to what was then northwest Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

 

Find out more

286-290 Oxford Terrace and 79 Chester Street East, Christchurch (M35/886): Report on Archaeological Monitoring, by Shana Dooley and Jessie Garland, 2017 (Authority No 2017/225eq) is available for download through the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Digital Library

 

Oxford Terrace Baptist Church: Our Story  Brief history on the church's website

 

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