Matakohe School (Former)

Church Road, The Kauri Museum, Matakohe

  • Matakohe School (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Stuart Park.
  • Matakohe School (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: David Reynolds. Date: 11/11/2002.
  • Matakohe School (Former). Interior.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: David Reynolds. Date: 11/11/2002.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 470 Date Entered 28th June 1990


City/District Council

Kaipara District


Northland Region

Legal description

Pt Allot 58 Sbrs of Matakohe, Local Purpose Reserve (Museum Site) Gaz 1983 p.2664


The former Matakohe School is a reminder of rural education from the beginning of formal State education in New Zealand. It is also associated with the non-conformist Albertland settlers, who set up several communities around the Kaipara Harbour, northwest of Auckland. Now located in the grounds of the Kauri Museum, the timber building was originally opened in August 1879 on a hilltop site overlooking Matakohe. The rural township had been founded in 1862 as part of the Albertland Special Settlement programme, which drew migrants mainly from the English Midlands. Notions of self-improvement were strong in non-conformist circles, including advancement through education. Schooling in the fledgling settlement initially took place in the non-denominational chapel, now known as the Matakohe Pioneer Church, from 1869.

The construction of a purpose-built state school occurred soon after lobbying from the Matakohe School Board. This had been formed in the wake of the landmark 1877 Education Act, which established a colony-wide system of secular primary education, funded by a national levy of citizens. Over thirty new schools per year were erected or commissioned by the Auckland Education Board (AEB) in the late 1870s, representing a substantial investment. Governed by the provisions of the 1877 Act, the new Matakohe School catered for children between the ages of five and fifteen, who were taught a varied curriculum that included reading, writing, arithmetic and science, as well as sewing (for girls) and military drill (for boys). Located in a rural area, the establishment initially had an average attendance of fifteen children, who were evenly split between the sexes. Early pupils included the future Prime Minister, Gordon Coates (1878-1943), who attended the school from 1889 from nearby Ruatuna (see 'Ruatuna, Matakohe').

The single-classroom school was erected by Ebenezer Morris, an Auckland builder, with locally-milled kauri from Smith's Mill. It was probably designed by Henry Allright, architect to the AEB, who was responsible for a number of similar structures in the Auckland provincial region. Of weatherboard construction, the building was notionally capable of accommodating up to 60 children at the standard average of ten square feet (0.93 square metres) each. It was rectangular in plan, with a large porch midway along its main axis. Incorporating Tudor Revival details, the school was less ecclesiastical in appearance than earlier AEB buildings, reflecting the new emphasis on secular education. Tudor Revival architecture harked back to the sixteenth-century 'golden age' of English education, and had been frequently employed in British schools during the early Victorian period.

The building was extended in 1927, with the construction of an additional room. This followed steady growth in the roll after the school's absorption of Matakohe Native School in 1897, and by 1917-1918 half of its 46 pupils were Maori. Enlarged windows and a re-orientation of building reflected prevailing notions about the benefits of sunlight and fresh air to children's health, promoted by the 'open air school' movement. However, the building became gradually redundant after the construction of new classrooms in 1958-1959. After a public outcry over its possible demolition, the structure was moved into an adjacent paddock before being relocated to the centre of Matakohe in 1972. It was subsequently moved once again when it was incorporated into the Museum Reserve, where it forms part of the educational display.

The former Matakohe School is significant as a well-preserved example of early purpose-built school architecture in New Zealand. It is closely associated with the 1877 Education Act, which was a landmark in the history of state responsibility for schooling. The building is important for its connection with the Albertland settlements, and the pioneer Pakeha beginnings of Matakohe. It has considerable significance for its association with Gordon Coates, who was a leading figure in early twentieth-century New Zealand politics. Used as a school for over a century, the building contains structural changes that reflect shifting attitudes to children's health and education. Its original fabric provides a physical link to the local timber industry. The building's relocation illustrates attitudes to timber structures as portable architecture in the mid to late twentieth century, as well as the popularity of 'pioneer museums' as an expression of local identity. The building remains significant for its ongoing educational use, and is located close to related historic buildings, including the Matakohe Pioneer Church.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The school, particularly in its new museum setting, is a valuable reminder of rural education from the beginning of formal State education in New Zealand. It is one of the oldest extant examples following the 1877 Education Act and its link with Gordon Coates and with the Albertland settlements of the Kaipara is of major local significance.


An example of an early wooden school building in North Auckland, few of which survive in good condition. It retains its qualities as a small country school despite significant modifications over the years, and its recent relocation.


Now an integral part of the museum complex, the building has little landmark value.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Allright, Henry

Allright (1827-1906) was born in Kent in 1827. After training as an architect, he emigrated to New Zealand in 1854. From 1856 he was employed in various positions by the Auckland Provincial Board of Works, becoming Provincial Engineer in 1874. In 1877 he was appointed architect to the Auckland Board of Education. He held this position for 15 years during a period of major building expansion following the passing of the 1877 Education Act. In 1883 he was appointed engineer to the Waitemata County, although he retained his position with the Education Board. He retired from the Education Board in 1892 and entered into practice as an engineer, from which he retired in 1901. He died in 1906.

From 1881-85, he was a member of the Auckland Institute of Engineers.

Morris, Ebenezer

Ebenezer Morris (1849?-1929)

Scots-born Morris came to New Zealand in 1877. He was in business at Thames, Matakohe and Auckland. One of his early contracts was the single-classroom Matakohe School (1879) (NZHPT register # 470, Category II historic place). During the 1890s he went into business with a Mr McLean. The partnership constructed St Paul's Anglican Church, Symonds Street in 1894-1895 (NZHPT Registration # 650, Category I), but appears to have ended by November 1895 . At the turn of the century Morris, in business on his own account, undertook a number of government contracts including alterations and additions to the Auckland Magistrates Court and to the Courthouse in Te Awamutu (1900); and to the Auckland Asylum (1904), now known as the former Carrington Hospital, or Unitech (NZHPT Registration # 96, Category I historic place). He constructed the Devonport Post Office in 1907 and the Huntly Post Office in 1908.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The non-conformist Albertland settlers, who came to New Zealand in 1862-65 largely from the English Midlands, did so for many reasons, not the least being a desire for security for their families in a new land. Their enthusiasm for education for their children followed naturally from this. Originally, responsibility for schooling at Matakohe devolved on the churches, but with the passing of the 1877 Education Act government schools were established by, and under the control of, local education boards. The Matakohe school, which was built in the first year of the new educational era, opened in August 1878 with a roll of 25 pupils. Following extensive remodelling in 1927, the building continued in use as a schoolroom until 1971. The second New Zealand-born Prime Minister of New Zealand, Gordon Coates, attended the school from 1889.

Physical Description


After the 1877 Education Act the design of schools became the responsibility of the newly established Education Boards. This may be an early education board school design.


The Matakohe School is a single roomed building with ship-lap weatherboard cladding and a corrugated galvanised iron roof. A cylindrical metal chimney protrudes from the roof. An entry porch is located on the rear wall of the building, with a lean-to cloakroom and entry added between the porch and the front end wall. On the front elevation double hung sash windows are arranged in a group of three and a group of four. The end gable has a single window, the casement of which is hinged midway up each side of the window frame. Some of the windows retain their original label moulds.


Major modifications mainly from 1927. Length increased by 50%, interior divided into two classrooms. Subsequently returned to a single room. Four sash windows on the front elevation replaced by two banks of double hung sash windows. The end wall sash window removed. Lean-to cloakroom added next to the original cloakroom entry. Finials and much of the original window label mould removed, also the original fireplace and brick chimney. The building has been twice relocated and now forms part of the museum complex some 600 metres from its original site.

Notable Features

Registration includes the building, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications.

The association with Gordon Coates.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1879 -
Construction of Matakohe School (builder: E. Morris)

1903 -
Shingled roof replaced by corrugated iron

1927 -
Reorientated on the same site, with other alterations including extension of length, lean-to cloakroom, internal partitioning and removal of chimney (builder: H.C. Curlett)

1949 -
Flush toilets installed

Partition between two classrooms, created in 1927, removed

1972 -
Moved into adjacent paddock

Moved to position beside Matakohe War Memorial Hall

Moved to the Museum Reserve

Construction Details

Timber frame on timber piles. Gable roof of corrugated iron. Plain weatherboard cladding. Interior lining of tongue and groove horizontal boarding. Exposed timber trusses.

Completion Date

11th June 2003

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

1878, H-1; 1879, H-2; 1880, H-1A

Auckland Weekly News

Auckland Weekly News

6 September 1879, p.20

Cumming, 1978

Ian Cumming and Alan Cumming, History of State Education in New Zealand, 1840-1975, Wellington, 1978

Kellaway, 1981

J. Warwick Kellaway, Education 150: From Schoolhouse to Classpace in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty, Hamilton, 1981

Matakohe School Centennial Committee, 1978

Matakohe School Centennial Committee, Matakohe School Centenary 1878-1978, Whangarei, 1978

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

21 April 1878

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

'Former Matakohe School, Otamatea Kauri and Pioneer Museum, Matakohe', NZHPT Buildings Classification Committee Report, Wellington, 1990 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Seaborne, 1971

Malcolm Seaborne, The English School: Its Architecture and Organization 1370-1870, London, 1971

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.