Canterbury's King James Bible

The ‘King James’ – or as it is sometimes known ‘Authorised’ – version remains the most influential Bible in the English-speaking world. The University of Canterbury possesses one of only two Australasian copies of the first printing of this publishing landmark.

Originally produced in an atmosphere of tense religious debate in the early-17th century, Both Canterbury's copies, a 1611 and a 1613 are now an important part of the story of the foundation and development of the city of Christchurch. How the KJBs came to be on New Zealand's South Island remains at present something of a mystery, one that is the subject of continuing investigation. Today it stands as a testament to the ideals that inspired those, such as John Robert Godley, who planned the original settler community in the 19th century.

The Making of the KJB

The origins of the KJB lie in the tumultuous religious changes that took place during what has become known as the 16th-century Reformation. One legacy of those changes was the circulation of multiple versions of the Bible in English. In the opening years of the 17th century, the English king, James I, set a group of scholars at Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster to work to produce a new official version of the biblical text 'to be read in churches'. The result, in 1611, was the KJB.

Why are Canterbury's KJBs special?

The KJB was an outstanding publishing success. The text has remained in print for 400 years, and has appeared in numerous formats. Some were large enough to be read in churches; others were much smaller and intended for personal study. Canterbury is fortunate to have two KJBs with the 1611 version being important and distinctive because it was part of the very first print run, a fact indicated by a number of unique features.

The Provenance of the Canterbury KJBs

While we know the dates both Canterbury KJBs were printed, much of the history of our copies remains unclear. By the late-20th century the 1611 edition had come into the possession of the Dean and Chapter of Christchurch's Anglican cathedral. The only known owner of the 1613 text was the Christchurch artist William Sutton. Efforts are now being made to trace the broader story of both Bibles over the past 400 years. Who owned these books? How did they find their way to Christchurch?

Future Research

The Canterbury History Department offers students the exciting opportunity to explore the Canterbury KJBs further via UC's internship programme, the dissertation that forms a part of its Honours year and its MA programme. Interested students should contact Dr Chris Jones. Students may also be interested in the Burstow KJB Project.