Gillespies Beach


There was a chapel at Five Mile in 1867 and when that settlement closed the chapel was transferred to Gillespies Beach.

“The Catholic community at Fox Glacier has drawn its strength from the original Irish settlers who mined the black sands of Gillespies Beach for gold. In spite of the rugged conditions of their shantytown existence in those years of the 1860s and 1870s, prayer gatherings and the Rosary ensured that children were given a strong grounding in their faith.

“During the early years these meetings were held in private homes but as more permanent buildings were erected the need for a place of worship increased. With local timber and materials the miners built a small wooden church in the   sand-hills in line with other community buildings such as school, store and hotel.

“This little church was unique to South Westland because it was the only one built on the gold-mining beaches. Where other settlements died away and became ghost towns, Gillespies Beach seemed to stabilise because of the close bond with the church. It gave a feeling of permanence and security to the Irish Catholic families. Religious instruction and education were of great importance to them and many of their descendants later took up the vocation of priests or nuns; the most well-known of these being Cardinal Williams. The church at Gillespies gradually fell into poor repair until it was razed during the gold dredging in the early 1930s.”

In the 1892 parish returns its construction cost as £30.


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Gillespies Beach