John Harding was a local Methodist preacher as well as a farmer at Mount Vernon, Waipukurau (Central Hawke’s Bay). His farm was land which caught the eye of one John Harding when he walked from Wellington to Ahuriri in 1852, in company with two other settler farmers. In 1855 his wife Emma and two children arrived at Mt Vernon, to live in a four roomed Raupa cottage. They endured an arduous journey from Ahuriri, by canoes, up the Tuki Tuki river to Patangata. The Maoris would take them no further, as they had quarrelled with the people of Waipukurau, consequently they walked the remainder of the distance – Emma carrying a six-month old baby.
In 1857 Mr Harding purchased an acre of land fronting Clive Square in 1857 for £50.
The first effort to establish Methodism in Napier was made in 1861. Rev Joseph Taylor was appointed by the Wesleyan Methodist Church, but by 1862 the mission faltered. An attempt by a section of members to erect a building in Harvey Road, on the hill, caused a split – the minister then being withdrawn.
Meanwhile, another branch of the Methodist family established itself in Napier (four separate Methodist churches were in Colonial New Zealand – Wesleyan Methodist, Bible Christian, Primitive Methodist, and Methodist Free Church). In 1870 the Rev H.B. Redstone of the Methodist Free Church commenced the first effective Methodist cause. Their original church site was in Emerson Street, then moving to Shakespeare Road, and finally Carlyle Street. This congregation subsequently amalgamated with Trinity Wesleyan in 1896 as part of a national union of three of the churches (the Primitive Methodist continued to be separate until 1913 when full Methodist union was achieved). The Free Methodist property in Carlyle St was sold to the Congregationalist Church.
Meanwhile, the Wesleyan members (25 all told) resolved in 1873 to organise a circuit, and the following year the Rev J.S. Smalley took up residence in Napier as the first minister. 1874 saw the more formal establishment – the first service on 12 April, first Class meeting on 20 April, first Trustee meeting 28 May, and finally the first Quarterly Meeting on 1 July.
In the same year the Trustees decided to build a church, to seat four hundred. The tender was let for £1,460. After many difficulties work was commenced. When the roof had been completed, but before the weather boarding was complete, the contractors (having already drawn a progress payment) ceased work and left town. Soon afterwards a southerly gale demolished the building (without external walls completed the building acted like an umbrella!).
Steps were taken for a second attempt to build a smaller church, which would include a gallery for the choir and an organ. The finally completed Trinity Church was opened for public worship on 23 January 1876. A year later side galleries were added (upstairs).
The original organ was by 1905 reported as being “done for” and so plans were made and fundraising began for a new organ. Josiah Dodd, and organ builder from Adelaide, Australia, was engaged to build the new organ. The new organ was inaugurated on 25 September 1910, and other than being moved it remains the same organ in use today. It contains 628 pipes, and except for the electric blower, is still entirely mechanical with a tracker action working each note.
Plans were made in 1916 to build a brick and stone building, and to move the present Church back on this section, with the addition of another storey for Sunday School purposes. However this plan did not eventuate. Instead in 1928, funds were used to erect a two-storeyed brick building for a Church Hall and Schoolrooms, thus replacing an original building constructed in 1880. This building is no longer in use due to earthquake concerns.
The church survived the 1931 Napier earthquake; with the fire that spread through the central business district almost reaching the church; but a change in wind direction meant that the church was spared being burnt down. The nearby St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church had also survived the earthquake, but sadly it was burnt down by arson in 1981. Therefore Trinity Methodist remains as the only colonial church to now survive the earthquake in central Napier.
Major alterations to the Church interior took place in 1956 giving the interior layout and fittings that we see today. In 1965 the small choir room was enlarged, to become a comfortable lounge. Separate choir robing rooms were added. The Church front porch was enlarged in 1985, and a kitchen installed. A new minister’s vestry was added in 1990 to provide additional office space.