Kōrero: Public, commercial and church architecture

Whārangi 2. Buildings of substance, 1860 to 1900

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City-like buildings

As towns became cities and ever more prosperous, wooden buildings gave way to more substantial stone and masonry structures. Some of the finest commercial buildings were designed by Leonard Terry in the Greek revival style, including Auckland’s Union Bank (1864, demolished 1972), which featured a two-storey portico with four Corinthian columns. Three public buildings from the 1860s also stand out:

  • the Supreme Court, Auckland (1868). Designed by Edward Rumsey in the Gothic style, it included deep arcades, towers, and a series of gargoyles.
  • the Canterbury Provincial Council Chamber, Christchurch (1865; collapsed in 2011 earthquake). Benjamin Mountfort chose stone for this muscular and ornate addition to the wooden council buildings.
  • the Exchange, Dunedin (1868; demolished 1969). Designed by William Mason in the Palladian style, it featured ground-floor arcades, Doric and Corinthian classical columns and an ornate tower.

Good for business

The erection of Auckland’s Union Bank was greeted as a sign of the town’s emerging cultural depth. One booster suggested it showed that ‘a handsome building is not necessarily an inconvenient or undesirable one for the conduct of business’. He continued: ‘Everything connected with the new bank premises is got up with exceeding taste, and has the advantage, moreover, of being substantial.’1

New churches

The Gothic style remained dominant in church building. A start was made on Christchurch’s Anglican Cathedral in 1864. Its architect was Englishman George Gilbert Scott, but the construction was mainly overseen by Mountfort, who embellished Scott’s plain design. Finally completed in 1904, it was seriously damaged in the 2011 earthquake. The architect of Dunedin’s First (Presbyterian) Church (1873) was Robert Lawson, who used narrow windows and tapering pinnacles to make the building soar.

Notable Catholic churches included Auckland’s Cathedral of St Patrick and St Joseph (1885), by Edward Mahoney, and St Joseph’s Cathedral in Dunedin (1886). The latter was designed by Francis Petre in the French style and featured twin towers and a square front elevation – later employed by Frederick de Jersey Clere on Wellington’s St Mary of the Angels (1918). A church that bucked the Gothic trend was St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Auckland. A Georgian-style stone nave had been erected in 1848; in 1882 Matthew Henderson added an elegant portico and tower.

Another religious building of great merit was the Auckland Synagogue (1885) by Edward Bartley. Its design reflected both classical and Moorish influences.

Spectacular swansong

Christchurch architect William Armson designed many commercial buildings, but is best known for the palatial Dunedin branch of the Bank of New Zealand (1883). In failing health, he wanted the building to be his swansong, so would not consider economies in construction. Designed in the Italian renaissance style, the building was gracefully proportioned, with Doric columns on the first floor and Corinthian on the second. Its banking chamber featured an opulent coffered ceiling carved in high relief. The final price was £30,000 ($5.6 million in 2013 terms), some £4,000 over budget.

Public buildings

Wellington’s architecture had lagged behind the other cities, but this changed during the 1870s and 1880s when the government erected several buildings to meet its expanding accommodation needs. Many were designed by Colonial Architect William Clayton in the Italian renaissance style, including Government House (1871; demolished 1971), the capacious Government Buildings (1876) and the masonry Supreme Court (1881).

Meanwhile, Dunedin’s architecture was enhanced by the erection of Maxwell Bury’s Otago University building (1879). Built in the Scottish baronial (Gothic) style, it included an impressive and arresting clock tower. Departing from the usual revivalist style was Auckland City Public Library and Art Gallery (1887). Designed by the Melbourne firm of Grainger and D’Ebro, the mansard roof, dormer windows and decorative features showed a French renaissance influence.


Outside the main cities Ōamaru stood out for its classical architecture. The town’s rich farming hinterland was reflected in its Ōamaru stone buildings. They included the Bank of Otago (1871) and the Bank of New South Wales (1883), designed by Robert Lawson in the Greek temple style. Equally accomplished was the Ōamaru courthouse by Thomas Forrester and John Lemon, a local architectural practice that produced over 40 buildings in the town.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Daily Southern Cross, 11 May 1864, p. 3. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Ben Schrader, 'Public, commercial and church architecture - Buildings of substance, 1860 to 1900', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/public-commercial-and-church-architecture/page-2 (accessed 18 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Ben Schrader, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014