Edward Bibby and the Bibby Church

A little bit of Bibby history

Edward Bibby, born in 1829, was the youngest of three sons in a family of twelve. His father was a miller who owned Conder Mill in the village of Quernmore in Lancashire.

Painting of Conder Cottage by Kath Pullar

Edward left school at the age of thirteen and was apprenticed to a cabinet maker for seven years. Family records tell us that shortly after the completion of his apprenticeship he was the best man for a friend who was to leave for New Zealand. This may have influenced Edward, as he too in 1860 left England and came to New Zealand.
It is said that he initially came to Napier, and owned two houses which no doubt he built himself. In all probability, the sale of these houses gave him capital to return to England where he married Mary Ann Woodhouse, the daughter of another miller whose family the Bibby’s had known for some generations.

Once again he set sail for New Zealand this time settling in the fairly new township of Waipawa. The town consisted of little more than a straggling row of buildings situated strategically on the river crossings of the north-south track and with easy access to the Ruataniwha Plains.

Mary persuaded Edward to set up a shop in 1862, the second in the district. She had contacts in trade at home, and a knowledge of millinery and women’s clothing.

First Bibby store 1862

The big sheep stations thereabouts were thriving and within a few years Waipawa was able to boast a comprehensive range of service industries. The store in Waipawa flourished with the township. Mary was considered the brains behind the venture and instrumental in setting up what was perhaps New Zealand’s first postal ordering business with letters sent from afar ordering supplies and women’s clothing.

While Mary took care of the business Edward turned his hand to carpentry, glazing and horse hiring. He also involved himself in local affairs being a member of the Roads Boards, busy in church life and playing a leading part in the inception of the first school in Waipawa.

Three months after the shop opened Mary’s first baby, James, was born. Fifteen months later came Edward, and sixteen months after his arrival, Thomas was born.
Eventually the Bibbys had a family of eight children, four sons and four daughters, and the need for a larger home and store became a necessity. The old store was jacked up onto skids and slowly moved across the road to a new section the Bibbys had purchased. During the building’s slow journey across the road, the family slept the night right in the middle of Ruataniwha Street!
On the old site was erected a fine two storeyed wooden building, with living quarters built to the side and six bedrooms upstairs.

2nd Bibby Store

Edward’s eldest two sons, James and Edward, on completing their education at Napier Grammer School, entered into the thriving family business.
Edward Senior, at this point turned farmer and purchased land west of Ongaonga, on Blackburn Ridge.

Edward and Mary Ann Bibby and their family

Blackburn Ridge

In the 1860’s pressure was growing for small farms and the Government needed sections for soldier grants. So the decision was made to subdivide beyond the easy flat country of the first big stations and go up into the hills.
The hills were covered in heavy standing bush. It was surveyed off and sold, but before it could be farmed the land had to be cleared. All the undergrowth was slashed and trees below 27inches in girth were killed. After a season of drying, it was fired.

Clearing in these later years often resulted in fires that swept across the land. Houses, fences and stock were lost.
Early families all have tales of saving their possessions through burying them where they could, and families escaping by immersing themselves in streams of water tanks.
It is the terrible aftermath of the fires that swept these hills which gave this area its name “Blackburn Ridge”

The burning of the forest often left behind the charred remains of logs and black skeletons of trees which remained on these hills for years after.

The ex-soldiers who had received small blocks of land in payment of their service often had little interest in farming and they sold out.
Other farmers tried to scratch a living off these small blocks of land, but life was hard, and in the end they sold up and left.
The Bibbys bought up many of these smaller blocks and combined them into larger economic blocks – many of which are still farmed by Bibby descendants today.

The Bibby Memorial Church

In 1911 the Bibby Memorial Church was built on Blackburn Ridge and in January 1912 it was dedicated.
The Edward Bibby responsible for building this church was the second son of Edward and Mary Bibby. This building was to provide a place of worship for the settlers as well as to provide a memorial to his parents.

The Bibby Memorial Church circa 1920

The Waiapu Church Gazette. Feb. 1, 1912 – Couresty of the National Library of New Zealand.

The dedication service for the church was taken by Bishop Alfred Averill.

Below is Kath Pullar’s talk given at the Bibby Memorial Church Carol Service 20th December 2009

My instructions were to say a few words about the church’s history. In 2011 we will celebrate its centennial. Nowadays it might seem a redundant building except as a family memorial.
But think back 100 hundred years ago – no fast cars to whip you down to Waipawa or Waipukurau – you rode or drove your horse or walked. There were more families in the area – small farms that have long since been absorbed into larger holdings.
My great uncle Edward – one of the first generation of New Zealand born Bibbys, was an active churchman. He had been a vestry man and later a church warden of the Waipawa Anglican Parish – he had a vision of providing a church building for the settlers in the Ruahine foothills. At one stage there were plans to build a church at Whakarara but that fell through.
Now Edward was pretty good at getting things built – the Sunday School Room at St Peter’s, now the parish hall – many Waipawa houses and the lovely house I enjoyed when young – the Cottage – along Blackburn road.
So he took the initiative, employed a builder, used the Elsthorpe church plans, and this was the result. His mother had died in 1910, and his father in 1901, so this church was a memorial to his parents. He organized a Bishop to dedicate it and for many years it was a worship centre for Blackburn. My first Anglican worship would have been here on the fifth Sunday on a bright Spring day in 1940. For many years the vicar came from Waipawa to take a service here on a fifth Sunday. With a diminishing rural population this faded out in the 1980’s, though a Carol Service continued for some years.
It remained as a special place for the Bibby family.

It would be interesting to list the Family baptisms and weddings held in the Bibby Memorial Church here.


Rachel Bibby and John Hornblow Aug 1953
Alison Bibby and Tom Carter 27/4/57
Kate Bibby and Andrew Isaac 19/2/94
Tui Bibby and Grant Hampson 15/5/01
Hugh Neil Bibby and Cicely McKenzie (nee Cole) – known as Billie 12/4/77


Joshua Pullar 7/2/93

* If you have more dates of weddings or baptisms that we can add please email me jan@positivelystoneaged.com and I will add them.