Courthouse (Former)

4 Parnell Street, Rawene

  • Courthouse (Former), Rawene.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: M Jones. Date: 20/09/2002.
  • Courthouse (Former), Rawene.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: M Jones. Date: 20/09/2002.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 433 Date Entered 25th November 1982


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 248A Town of Rawene (NZ Gazette 1986, pp. 1304-5), North Auckland Land District, and the building known as Courthouse (Former) thereon. Extent includes the property’s picket fence. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero meeting on 5 October 2017.

City/District Council

Far North District


Northland Region

Legal description

Sec 248A Town of Rawene (NZ Gazette 1986, pp. 1304-5), North Auckland Land District


Rawene’s Courthouse (Former) was the focus for legal administration in the Hokianga Harbour for almost a century after its construction in 1876. It demonstrates Rawene’s broader emergence as the centre for government administration in the Harbour, particularly from the mid-1870s onwards. Designed in an Italianate style by the notable government architect William Clayton, the single-storey, timber structure has been associated with numerous significant events in the region, including early meetings of the Hokianga County Council and the so-called Dog Tax Rebellion. Used for a period as a Native (and later, Māori) Land Court, the place reflects one of the most significant aspects of New Zealand's history: the process by which the legal status of Māori-owned land changed through the large-scale and often unwilling transfer of Māori property into the hands of the Crown and Pākehā private purchasers, in order to facilitate European settlement.

Prior to the 1860s, much of the Hokianga effectively remained under Māori judicial control. Following a large hui at Rawene (also known as Herd’s Point) in 1861, the government established a magistrate in the region (see Clendon House, List No. 73). When a government township was laid out at Rawene in 1864, a large reserve was set aside for a customhouse and courthouse overlooking the waterfront. The current building was eventually built on part of that section, replacing an earlier courthouse nearby.

The new structure was built by Henry Kavanagh of Onehunga in 1876 - the same year that Rawene formally became the Hokianga’s county town. Its designer, the Colonial Architect William Clayton, had previously created plans for a large number of public buildings in the fast-developing colony of the 1870s. The T-plan kauri building with its gabled shingle roof, was described in 1877 as ‘second to none north of Auckland … of spacious proportions, containing Courthouse, customs-house, Clerk of Court, and Constabulary office, and lock-up – a credit to the district’.

For many decades the building was used for hearings of the Native Land Court, later the Māori Land Court, and the Magistrate’s and Licensing Courts. It also housed meetings of the Hokianga County Council when it was first established in 1877, and for many years was also used as the Rawene Police Station. The Ngāpuhi leader and prophet Hōne Tōia and other protesters, arrested during the so-called Dog Tax Rebellion in 1898, were charged with treason and imprisoned in the courthouse, before being taken to Auckland.

Alterations to the building have included replacing the roof shingles with corrugated iron in 1890. Although modifications have also been made to the interior, very few structural changes appear to have occurred. Parts of the property have been bounded by a picket fence since at least 1900.

After the courthouse closed in the 1970s, the Hokianga County Council was appointed to manage the place (1986). The building was subsequently used for a variety of purposes, including as a clothing factory and classrooms. In 1991 volunteers restored the building for use as the Rawene library, and, in the same year, helped move the town’s lock-up to the associated section (see Lock-up, List No. 2573). Still in use as a library (2017), the former courthouse remains a well-preserved example of nineteenth-century public works architecture, and together with its associated picket fence makes a significant visual contribution to the Rawene townscape.


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

1890 -
Shingle roof replaced by iron

1993 -
Roof reclad

Original Construction
1876 -

Completion Date

26th June 2017

Report Written By

Elizabeth Cox

Information Sources

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Walker, Ranginui J., 'Tawhai, Hone Mohi', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, [accessed 31 May 2017]

Lee, 1987

Jack Lee, Hokianga, Auckland, 1987

Irvine, 1976

Irvine, Jean, Township of Rawene, Kaikohe, 1976.

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Northern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.