Mangonui Courthouse (Former)

124 Waterfront Drive, Mangonui

  • Mangonui Courthouse (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Stuart Park.
  • Mangonui Courthouse (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 12/04/2002.
  • Mangonui Courthouse (Former). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: brewbooks - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: brewbooks. Date: 25/10/2005.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 78 Date Entered 16th November 1989


City/District Council

Far North District


Northland Region

Legal description

Allot 295 Town of Mangonui (Historic Reserve NZ Gazette 1982 p. 724), North Auckland Land District


The former Mangonui Courthouse is a well-preserved judicial building of late nineteenth-century date. It was constructed during the early years of the first Liberal Government (1891-1912) in the maritime township of Mangonui. Mangonui was the seat of a resident magistrate, who was responsible for administering justice throughout much of the Far North of New Zealand. The earliest resident magistrate had been appointed in 1848, when the settlement had a reputation for lawless activity, partly due to its role as a port of call for visiting whaling ships. Erected in 1892, the timber structure replaced an earlier courthouse, which had been considered to be substandard. The new building was prominently located close to the post office and late nineteenth-century wharf, which provided the main point of arrival and departure from the town. The building was constructed as the Minister of Public Works, Richard Seddon (1845-1906), was in the process of re-organising the government's Public Works Department as a prelude to establishing a programme of nationwide works. The courthouse was part of the last generation of public structures built exclusively under the private contract system, with an increasing number of buildings from the mid-1890s being constructed by co-operative labour schemes that were directly administered by the state.

Although its plans were apparently drawn up by John Campbell - who was to become Government Architect in 1909 - the single-storey courthouse appears to have been modelled on an earlier, standard Public Works Department design. It was constructed by the local builder George Garton, who had erected other public buildings in the area. Of weatherboarded, kauri construction, the domestic style of the building is in contrast to the more forbidding appearance of courthouses in the larger towns and cities (see 'High Court Building, Auckland'), and bears strong similarities to nineteenth-century single-bay villas. A projecting bay contained the timber-lined courtroom, while a smaller room to the rear provided facilities for the magistrate. Another room at the front, capable of being accessed separately from the courtroom, may have initially accommodated customs work although it was later used by a clerk to the court. The courthouse was employed by the judiciary until 1948, after which it became a police station for 27 years. Taken over by the Mangonui Courthouse Preservation Society after a community campaign for its retention in the 1970s, the structure retains a large proportion of its original kauri furnishings. These include a dock and a judges bench, as well as a table made by local prisoners. It is now used as an art gallery (2002).

The former Mangonui Courthouse is nationally significant as an unusually intact example of a small court building, pre-dating widespread government construction from the later 1890s. It is among the last generation to reflect mid nineteenth-century attitudes to the creation of public buildings, notably through the private contract system. Its layout and interior demonstrate prevailing attitudes to justice and the social standing of the magistrate. The structure's prominent location in the town can be seen to indicate an ongoing state emphasis on law and order issues within rural communities, which continued when it was occupied by the police force. The structure also reflects Mangonui's role as an administrative centre and economic hub in the Far North. The courthouse is a valuable part of the historic urban landscape in Mangonui, and is of considerable value to the local community, as shown by the campaign to retain the building. It is associated with other late nineteenth- and early-twentieth century buildings along the foreshore, including the adjacent former post office and the Wharf Store.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

For the second half of the last century, Mangonui was a busy port for whalers, and traders and a centre of the Kauri timber industry. The first courthouse was built there in the 1850s. The present building served on Courthouse, Customhouse and Bondstore until 1948, and as a Police Station until 1976. When the future of the building came into doubt, the Mangonui Courthouse Preservation Society was formed, and with the aid of grants from Logan Campbell Trust, the Historic Places Trust and with private donations, the building had been completely restored.

The Mangonui Courthouse was built to provide for government administration and control in an active late 19th century commercial centre and port of entry. Mangonui no longer has these governmental functions, but the courthouse is a reminder of its past importance.

Architectural Quality:

Although modest this well built public building has very fine timber panelling and joinery. Its informal design and domestic scale distinguish it from other public buildings of the next decade.

Townscape/Landmark Significance:

It is part of a precinct embracing a hotel, post office and store. Its superb harbourside setting enhances its townscape value in this small rural community.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Campbell, John

John Campbell (1857-1942) served his articles under John Gordon (c1835-1912) in Glasgow. He arrived in Dunedin in 1882 and after a brief period as a draughtsman with Mason and Wales joined the Dunedin branch of the Public Works Department in 1883. His first known work, an unbuilt design for the Dunedin Railway Station, reveals an early interest in Baroque architecture.

In November 1888 Campbell was transferred to Wellington where in 1889 he took up the position of draughtsman in charge of the Public Buildings Division of the Public Works Department.

He remained in charge of the design of government buildings throughout New Zealand until his retirement in 1922, becoming in 1909 the first person to hold the position of Government Architect. Government architecture designed under his aegis evidences a change in style from Queen Anne to Edwardian Baroque. His best-known Queen Anne design is the Dunedin Police Station (1895-8), modelled on Richard Norman Shaw's New Scotland Yard (1887-90). Among his most exuberant Edwardian Baroque buildings is the Public Trust Office, Wellington (1905-09). Although Campbell designed the Dunedin Law Courts (1899-1902) in the Gothic style with a Scottish Baronial inflection, he established Edwardian Baroque as the government style for police stations, courthouses and post offices throughout New Zealand. In 1911 Campbell won the nation-wide architectural competition for the design of Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Although only partially completed, Parliament House is the crowning achievement of Campbell's career.

Garton, George

George Garton constructed a number of timber buildings in and around Mangonui in the Far North in the late nineteenth century. These are known to have included Fairburns School (1890, moved to Waipapakauri in 1961), Mangonui Courthouse (1892) and Mangonui Hall (1894). He also tendered unsuccessfully for the construction of Oruaiti School in 1894.

Garton was a first-generation New Zealander whose parents had married shortly after arriving from England in 1859. Brought up on their 400 ha farm at Oruru near Mangonui, he married Lilian McKay and was resident in Mangonui Township during the early 1890s.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

Architectural Description:

Although built for a public purpose this is a simple building of domestic scale. It has a small verandah with exterior entrances to the courtroom and public offices. The front elevation has the courtroom emphasised by the gable end with its three-light windows and fanlights. There is a shallow canopy over. The roof of the office portion continues at the same pitch over the verandah which has paired posts with brackets and bracing. There is a galvanised iron ventilator on the ridge.

The interior has a noteworthy courtroom. The ceiling is covered and lined with wide Kauri boards and battens. The ceiling ventilator grille has delicate timber fretwork. There is a galvanised iron ventilator on the roof.

Notable Features

Registration covers the building, its fixtures and finishes, including recent modifications. The structure is associated with buried archaeological deposits of nineteenth-century date and other elements of the historic landscape, including a large oak tree to the rear.

- The interior woodwork

- Original chattels and fittings including the dock, judge's bench, the safe and a table made by prisoners.

Construction Dates

Site of customhouse

Original Construction
1892 -
Construction of Courthouse and outbuilding

1978 - 1979
Repairs, including re-roofing and replacement of ventilator with replica

1983 -
Outbuilding demolished

Completion Date

30th May 2002

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Bowron, 1992

Greg Bowron, 'Mangonui Courthouse: Cyclical Maintenance Plan', Wellington, 1992, held by NZHPT, Auckland

Keene, 1978

Keene, F., Legacies in Kauri: Old Homes and Churches of the North, Whangarei, 1978

Clarke-McKenna, 1990

Neva Clarke McKenna, Mangonui: Gateway to the Far North, Kerikeri, 1990

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

'The former Mangonui Courthouse, 6 Beach Road, Mangonui', NZHPT Buildings Classification Committee Report, Wellington, 1989 (held by NZHPT, Auckland); NZHPT File number 8/6

Noonan, 1975

Rosslyn J. Noonan, By Design: A Brief History of the Public Works Department Ministry of Works 1870-1970, Wellington, 1975

Richardson, 1988

Peter Richardson, 'An Architecture of Empire: The Government Buildings of John Campbell in New Zealand', MA Thesis, University of Canterbury, 1988

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen

Other Information

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.