Historical Significance or Value
The former customhouse and lock up are of considerable historical value for reflecting the development of government administration and policing in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century, and the development of Russell as one of New Zealand's oldest European colonial settlements. The place is also significant as part of a broader landscape linked with early Maori-Pakeha interaction and inter-tribal conflict in the period immediately before formal colonisation. It is has historical significance as a focus for official gatherings in Russell in the 1870s, including the commemoration of Tamati Waka Nene and official representations by Nga Puhi and Te Rarawa to the Government about political issues of the day.
The former customhouse has high aesthetic importance as a striking example of a nineteenth-century Gothic Revival building, prominently located on the Russell foreshore. The aesthetic value of the site is enhanced by the presence of a large Moreton Bay Fig at the front of the property.
The place has archaeological value as the likely location of earlier activity associated with Kororareka's development during the early nineteenth century, and possibly before. The former customhouse and its associated lock up also have potential archaeological value for their nineteenth-century fabric, which may provide evidence of colonial construction techniques and functions associated with government activities.
The former customhouse has high architectural significance as a fine example of a timber building in the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival Style, designed for the Government by the first Colonial Architect, William Clayton. The design became a model for other public buildings in New Zealand during the early period of Clayton's tenure as Colonial Architect.
The place is believed to have considerable spiritual significance to tangata whenua as a sacred place, as submitted in Appendix 5 of the registration report.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The place reflects important aspects of New Zealand's maritime and policing history over a period of more than 170 years. It reflects the early stages of central government control over the economy, notably in the late 1860s and 1870s. The place is symptomatic of New Zealand's conversion from an early colonial 'frontier' to a more centralised colonial territory. The former customhouse also demonstrates the close connection between the workplace and domestic life in colonial society. The structure is highly significant for its role as a police residence and police station, complete with lock up.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The place is nationally significant for incorporating one of the earliest official buildings constructed by William Clayton in his role of Colonial Architect. Clayton was the first and only person to occupy this post in New Zealand, and during the design and construction of the customhouse was simultaneously involved in the construction of the Government Buildings in Wellington (NZHPT Registration # 37, Category I historic place). The building is of value for its association with official events, including an occasion when Northland Maori aired their concerns about Treaty of Waitangi-related issues to the Native Minister in 1873. It is also part of a broader landscape connected with the 'Girls' War', the last major inter-tribal conflict in the Bay of Islands.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
The place has potential to provide significant information about the development of Kororareka as one of New Zealand's first colonial settlements during the early nineteenth century. Information about colonial construction techniques, materials and later use may also be revealed through archaeological investigations of the place's built fabric and its associated ground.
(d) The importance of the place to tangata whenua
The place is believed to have importance for tangata whenua as a site of sacred value, as submitted in Appendix 5 of the registration report. The place forms part of a broader landscape connected with significant events in tribal history, including the so-called 'Girls' War', considered to be the last major inter-tribal conflict in the Bay of Islands. The customhouse is a place where tangata whenua have made representations to the government about issues of political significance and made statements about adherence to the Treaty of Waitangi. The latter took place as part of the commemorations to Tamati Waka Nene, an important and respected Nga Puhi leader.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place
The place can be considered highly valued by the local and national community as a visually prominent and unusual building on the waterfront of one of New Zealand's earliest colonial settlements and as a component of an important heritage tourism destination. The men, women and their families that have occupied the building over one-and-a-quarter centuries have played an important and valued part in the local history of this small community.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
As a prominent building on the Russell foreshore - a popular tourist destination - the place has considerable potential for public education about the development of customs work, policing and other government activity in colonial New Zealand. It can also provide education about New Zealand architecture, particularly the development of architectural styles in government architecture.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The building is of considerable significance for its technical design, being an unusual and ornate secular timber building in the Gothic Revival style, and a nationally recognised historic landmark.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
The building is an unusual and important surviving example of the use of the Gothic Revival Style in government architecture in the nineteenth-century, a style that was later eclipsed by buildings designed in the Italianate and neo-classical styles. Few customhouses pre-dating the 1880s have survived.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The place is an important part of one of New Zealand's most significant early colonial townscapes, which incorporates an historical and archaeological landscape of religious, commercial, domestic and institutional buildings along and near the Russell foreshore, as well as buried archaeological sites of value. Components of this landscape include New Zealand's oldest surviving church, Christ Church, erected in 1835 (NZHPT Registration # 1, Category I historic place); New Zealand's oldest surviving industrial and Catholic building, Pompallier, erected in 1841-1842 (NZHPT Registration #4, Category I historic place); The Bungalow, erected in the early 1850s (NZHPT Registration # 420, Category II historic place); The Gables (NZHPT Registration # 421, Category II historic place); and The Moorings (NZHPT Registration # 422, Category II historic place). Significant archaeological and other sites along the foreshore include a pa, located a short distance to the south of the former Customhouse and Te Hikuwai urupa (NZHPT Registration # 6714, wahi tapu), situated a short distance to the north. The Russell foreshore is an important cultural landscape, reflecting activity - both Maori and Pakeha - from prehistoric to modern times.
The site is located in one of the earliest places in New Zealand where Maori and Pakeha engaged in sustained contact and trading activity. Initially known as Kororareka, the beachfront at Russell was occupied by Tara (?-1818), ariki of the southern alliance of Nga Puhi, and his brother Tupi from at least the late 1700s. Tara is said to have presided over the peoples of seventeen places, occupying a pa on the foreshore, according to traditional sources. Both Tara and Tupi were acquaintances of the early Church Missionary Society leader, Samuel Marsden, and following Tupi's accompaniment of Marsden to New South Wales in 1814-15, became increasingly disposed to trade with Europeans. After Tara's death in 1818, leadership passed to Whareumu, also known as Te Uru-ti or King George, of Ngati Manu, who oversaw more extensive contact with visiting sailors as the settlement was transformed from a fishing village into the primary entrepôt and whaling port in the Bay of Islands. Kororareka's popularity as a port developed, in part, because it had a deep anchorage close to the shoreline, making it accessible to visiting ships.
Mixed occupation by both Maori and Pakeha appears to have occurred along the shoreline from at least the 1820s. A lithograph produced in 1827 indicates predominantly Maori housing towards the northern end of the beach, while both Maori and European-style settlement seem to be present next to a pa on the foreshore its southern end. The area currently occupied by the customhouse appears to be open ground in between the two, or on the northern fringes of the southern settlement. This pattern of settlement appears to have remained broadly intact into the 1830s.
As Kororareka's wealth and reputation grew, tensions between different Maori groups within the settlement also developed. These erupted in March 1830, when a dispute on the beach between Ngati Manu women and the daughters of the powerful Nga Puhi leaders Hongi Hika and Rewa led to the so-called 'Girls' War', after which control of Kororareka passed from Ngati Manu to the northern alliance of Nga Puhi through Rewa and his brothers. The conflict was short-lived but bloody. Some 1400 people were estimated to have taken part in battles on the foreshore, and up to 100 individuals were killed or wounded. One of those felled was an important chief, Hengi of Ngati Rehia. As utu, Ngati Manu were obliged to cede Kororareka to Rewa, Moka, Ururoa, Titore and others. The conflict is considered to have been the last serious inter-tribal war in the Bay of Islands. Peace between the parties was concluded at an assembly on or close to the beach, which was witnessed by Samuel Marsden. Marsden noted that 'it was agreed by Kewikewi [Kiwikiwi] and his party to surrender up the beach and the adjoining land at Kororareka to Ururoa and his party, and thus the business ended. This cove is a very valuable one for commerce. On this account Ururoa and his party wished to get possession of it if possible.' Simmering antagonism between the parties, however, resulted in Titore being killed by Pomare II at Kororareka in 1837, in what has been described as a 'tribal brawl'.
From the 1830s, increasing amounts of land along the foreshore was sold to Europeans as Kororareka became the largest whaling port in the Southern Hemisphere. By 1838 there were sufficient Pakeha in the settlement to form a 'Kororareka Association' claiming legislative powers, and an embryonic town developed with the standard accoutrements of colonial life. Some sections, however, remained in Maori hands. These included the site of the current customhouse, which is believed to have contained a pouwhenua marking the location of tapu ground. In this respect, it may be significant that Maori ownership of the site was retained for considerably longer than other places of importance, such as the site of the pa at the southern end of the beach, which was transferred to Crown hands in 1852. At least part of the land on which the customhouse was built was still held by Maori in 1859, and possibly retained as late as 1869, when it was gazetted by the Crown. Correspondence in 1875 indicates that the payment may have amounted to at least £100. Retention for this duration occurred in spite of the increasing construction of European dwellings and warehouses elsewhere along the waterfront, erected both before and after the settlement was attacked and burned by Hone Heke and Kawiti during the Northern - or First New Zealand - War in 1845. Other land on the foreshore has also been considered tapu. This most notably encompasses Te Hikuwai urupa (NZHPT Registration # 6714), a short distance to the north of the customhouse site, on which an earlier customhouse and gaol was built.
More prominently located on the Russell foreshore than the previous custom building, the customhouse was built in the early months of 1870 and reflects the growing importance of state employees during the 1860s and 1870s. The building was constructed as the residence and office of the Collector of Her Majesty's Customs at Russell. The Collector was one of the main government representatives in the town, and was responsible for the monitoring and taxing of the movement of goods. From the late 1860s, the Collector's role expanded to include the gathering of excise duty on alcohol, and other items produced in New Zealand.
The coastline north of Auckland, with its numerous harbours and inlets, was notorious for smuggling activity, particularly of tobacco and spirits. Although Russell had declined as a port from its heyday in the 1830s and 1840s, it maintained valuable links with the American whaling industry, which used the town as a supply base for its operations in the South Pacific. Coal production at nearby Kawakawa also began in 1868, temporarily increasing the level of shipping.
Commissioned by the government, the customhouse was one of the first official buildings designed by William Clayton after his appointment as Colonial Architect. Constructed largely of kauri, the building was essentially residential with reception rooms on the ground floor, upstairs bedrooms and a detached outhouse to the rear. The customs office was small and located on the building's northern side.
Of domestic Gothic Revival style, the building's association with church architecture projected an image of respectability and moral authority. Its construction coincided with a government scheme to boost economic expansion through a programme of increased immigration and public works. The scheme was overseen by Julius Vogel (1835-1899), the Colonial Treasurer. Vogel was Clayton's son-in-law, having married Mary (Polly) Clayton in 1867.
The Gothic form of the Russell customhouse was to be a model for other public buildings designed by Clayton, notably five post and telegraph stations in 1870-1871, and also for Te Aute College in 1872, initially commissioned by the Bishop of Waiapu. Clayton's later buildings appear to have favoured Italianate design.
The successful tender for construction of the customhouse was that of local man John Jay Priar, or Prior who lived in a weatherboard house on The Strand. The foundations for the customhouse were partly laid by 21 March 1870 and the full structure was nearly completed by 31 May. The building's first occupants were the local collector of customs, Edward Binney Laing, his wife Zenobia, and their family. The Laings, who lived there for 15 years, are credited with planting the Moreton Bay Fig tree that stands in the southwestern corner of the site.
As a prominent government building, the structure became the focus of official gatherings in Russell. In 1873 it was the venue for a two-day meeting between the Native Minister Donald McLean (1820-1877) and representatives of Nga Puhi and Te Rarawa after a memorial to Tamati Waka Nene was unveiled at nearby Christ Church. Discussions encompassed a variety of topics including bush licences, the provision of education for Maori and the appointment of new Native Assessors. The importance of the Treaty of Waitangi and the role played in its creation by Tamati Waka Nene was particularly mentioned by tribal leaders, who stated that 'although the treaty had been lightly held in estimation by many, they had always looked on it in the light of a solemn obligation binding on both sides.' Prominent tribal authorities who attended included Moses Tawhai and Rangatira Moetara, while other political representatives encompassed Wirimu Katene - Native Member of Parliament for the Bay of Islands - Abraham Taonui from Kaipara, Wi Taki, M.L.C. and Paul Tuhaere from Auckland. The building was also visited by the Colonial Governor, Sir James Fergusson, in early 1874.
In 1875, the customhouse also served as the Russell Post Office for a few months with Mr Laing, as acting Postmaster. Upon Laing's departure in 1884, Benjamin Bailey occupied the post of customs officer for three years. With Bailey's retirement in 1887, Captain George Best was taken on in the role of 'collector of customs and harbourmaster'.
Russell Police Station
In 1890 the Customs Department was abolished and its work merged with that of the police. Captain Best was given notice to leave his post the end of March 1891 and invitations to tender to lease the customhouse were placed in local newspapers. The building apparently stood empty for a while before being leased to a Mr Lusk for seven years. The lease appears to have been cut short when in 1894 the building was wanted by the Justice Department to serve as a police station, replacing Russell's first police station that stood next to the post office on The Strand near Pitt Street.
Thought had been given to use of the customhouse by the police as early as 1887 when Russell became the headquarters of the new Bay of Islands Police District. However, this had come to nothing. The Bay of Islands Police District took in the counties of Bay of Islands, Hobson, Hokianga, Mangonui, Otamatea, Rodney and Whangarei, and was established as part of a re-organisation of the newly formed New Zealand Police. The Bay of Islands Police District was formed in response to illicit distillation, sly-grog-selling, and smuggling which were believed to be so extensive north of Auckland as to materially interfere with the revenue collected by the Government. Virtually overnight, the Russell Police station grew in strength from one constable, to an inspector and three men. In 1891, the Bay of Islands District Office was closed as the Bay of Islands was absorbed into an enlarged district known as the Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Islands Police District. Three years later, in 1894, the Department of Justice took over the Russell customhouse as the police station and as the residence of the local police officer. The two-cell lock-up that is located towards the site's York Street frontage was erected in 1894/5. Another small outbuilding of similar construction may have been installed at this time as an earth closet and coal shed.
Continuing in use as a police station throughout the twentieth century, the former customhouse narrowly escaped destruction by fire in 1931 when the adjoining Duke of Marlborough Hotel burnt down. The south wall of the building was scorched to such a degree that for some years a coat of paint would not adhere. Following this date, the northern verandah was enclosed to accommodate more room for a police office. A cyclone in 1959 brought down the kitchen's freestanding brick chimney at the single-storey area at the back of the main building. Growing awareness of the building as a significant historic structure led to the replacement of corrugated iron roofing with timber shingles. A report in 1981 found the building to be in generally good condition, apart from a small area of rot adjacent to the kitchen and below a previously leaking valley in the roof.
In 1996, the Minister of Police of the time, John Luxton, proposed selling the former customhouse for purchase and removal. The proposal was abandoned in the face of local opposition. Recent work has included re-piling the former customhouse and repairing the lock up. The late nineteenth-century earth closet and coal shed was considered to be beyond repair and was demolished. The building still serves the needs of the New Zealand Police, the purpose for which it was acquired a century ago.
The Customhouse (Former), including its associated lock up, are located in the centre of Russell in the Bay of Islands. The buildings are positioned on a flat 2024m² through-site on the Russell foreshore. The site, on former dune land, has frontage to The Strand and York Street and is located within the block bounded by Kent and Cass Streets. The former customhouse stands close to the site's western boundary - partly delineated by a white picket fence - and looks directly out towards the Bay. A large Moreton Bay Fig tree lies immediately to the south. The lock up is situated to the east, at the rear of the former customhouse building.
The former customhouse is a visually striking example of nineteenth-century Gothic Revival architecture. The two-storey timber building has four steeply pitched gables (one on each elevation); wide overhanging eaves; large timber brackets; and a collar-beam with arched braces at each of the gable ends. The gables in the north, south, west and east elevations extend from the centre of the building, providing the main body of the structure with a cruciform appearance. At ground floor level, a single-storey verandah runs along the west and south sides of the building, and is supported by stop-chamfered posts that have arched brackets. Part of the verandah originally extending along the northern elevation has been filled in to accommodate two rooms serving as a police office. Service rooms are located in the back of the building, while the upper-floor level primarily incorporates bedroom accommodation. A board-and-batten addition - dating from the end of the nineteenth-century - contains a bathroom, and links the main building with what was once a stand-alone outhouse.
The two-cell timber lock up lies a short distance to the rear of the former customhouse, with an entrance door facing west. The structure has a shallow-gabled roof covered with corrugated metal; a high stud; and is clad with rusticated weatherboards and has boxed corners. Apart from a small barred window that looks out from the end of the lobby that links the two cells, the building receives its light and ventilation through small rectangular vents located high on the walls. The building is lined with horizontal, tongue and grooved timber. A built-in cupboard and desk for a ledger is located at the eastern end of the lobby. There are heavy metal hinges, a bolt, padlock and a peep hole on each cell door. The sturdy locks and hinges on the exterior of the main door are similar to those on the cells.
A number of other historic buildings lie further south along the Strand, including Pompallier, erected in 1841-1842 (NZHPT Registration # 4, Category I historic place), The Bungalow, erected in the early 1850s (NZHPT Registration # 420, Category II historic place), The Gables (NZHPT Registration # 421, Category II historic place) and The Moorings (NZHPT Registration # 422, Category II historic place). Other significant historic buildings in the close vicinity include Christ Church, Russell (NZHPT Registration # 1, Category I historic place), the oldest surviving church in New Zealand. The site occupied by the former customhouse and its associated lock up is likely to contain significant archaeological material associated with the buildings and the earlier occupation of Russell.
Construction of customhouse, including outhouse
1890 - 1891
Shingle roof replaced by corrugated iron roof
Bathroom added, connecting the main building and the outhouse
1894 - 1895
Lockup erected; coal shed and earth closet also thought to have been erected around this time.
Enclosure of northern end of verandah, enlarging the police office
Kitchen chimney demolished
Corrugated iron roof replaced with shingles
General repairs, building relined, service areas extensively upgraded
piles under parts of the lounge floor; New piles under lean-to join between house and kitchen (bathroom).
Demolished - additional building on site
Coal shed and earth closet demolished
Timber piles, timber frame, weatherboard cladding, shingle roof.
18th March 2007
Report Written By
Auckland Weekly News
Auckland Weekly News
29 March 1873, p.7
Daily Southern Cross
Daily Southern Cross
24 March 1870
2 June 1870
Index of Inward Correspondence for the Customs Department
Index of Inward Correspondence for the Customs Department
C - 3/3-3/10
David McGill, The Guardians at the Gate: The History of the New Zealand Customs Department, Wellington, Silver Owl Press for the New Zealand Customs Dept., 1991
C. R. O'Hara, Northland Made to Order, Whangarei, 1986
Register of Inward Correspondence for the Customs Department
Register of Inward Correspondence for the Customs Department
C - 2/2-2/7
Register of Inward Correspondence for the Police Department
Register of Inward Correspondence for the Police Department
P - 2/15
Peter Richardson, 'Constructing a Colonial Identity: W. H. Clayton's Designs for Government Buildings in New Zealand Towns 1869-77', in Sarsaparilla to Muckadilla: Society of Architectural Historians (ANZ) - A Conference on Towns in Australia and New Zealand, Brisbane 30 Sept to 2 Oct 1994, [Brisbane], 1994, pp.79-87
Peter Richardson, 'Building the Dominion: Government Architecture in New Zealand 1840-1922', PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, 1997
R. M. Ross, 'Police Station, Russell', unpublished ms., Auckland, 1967 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
Porter, 1983 (2)
Frances Porter (ed.), Historic Buildings of New Zealand: North Island (2nd edn.), Auckland, 1983
Marie King, 'Victorian Gothic: The Russell police station', Vol. 2 Issue 4, Spring 1979, pp.3-8
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northland Area Office.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.