Te Rau Press Building (Former)

26-32 Peel Street, Gisborne

  • Te Rau Press Building (Former), Gisborne; west (front) elevation .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: F Low. Date: 30/08/2012.
  • Te Rau Press Building (Former) balcony .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: F Low. Date: 30/08/2012.
  • Te Rau Press Building (Former) upper floor, with pressed metal ceiling, exposed brick work and metal strapping and earthquake reinforcing.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: F Low. Date: 30/08/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 811 Date Entered 31st October 2012


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Sec 140 Town of Gisborne (CT GS2C/664), Gisborne Land District and the building known as Te Rau Press Building (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Gisborne District


Gisborne Region

Legal description

Sec 140 Town of Gisborne (CT GS2C/664), Gisborne Land District


The only commercial building of its style in Gisborne, the 1908 Te Rau Press Building (Former) on Peel Street, was a multipurpose design that stands as testament to an increasingly sophisticated population, as the rapidly expanding farming industry saw the town’s affluence grow. It was a time that saw simple 19th century timber buildings replaced with masonry structures, and the use of architecture as a statement of civic pride and confidence. It is the second of three substantial, two storey Edwardian commercial premises that exemplify this affluence and together form the Peel Street historic area registration. In 1868 the Government purchased 741 acres of land for the town site of Gisborne, which was surveyed into sections two years later. The Te Rau Press Building (Former) was originally designed and constructed for James Erskine, a local baker, caterer and confectioner whose business was established in 1876. As the population grew and the town continued to prosper, Erskine decided to expand and in 1906 had local architect, Herbert John Brownlee draw up plans for an impressive building in both scale and design. It was 1908 before the Erskine Building was completed and a newspaper notice announced that Erskine’s tea and supper rooms were open for business.

The Erskine Building was a two storey, plastered brick building with a 66 foot (20 metre) frontage, featuring cast iron verandah posts and filigree lacework decoration. This supported a generously proportioned, deep second storey balcony of the type often associated with colonial Australian architecture and covered by a bull nosed roof. The asymmetrical neoclassical façade had arched windows, shallow pilasters and plain walls with a parapet and pediment. The ground floor accommodated four shops, a refreshments room, dining room, and service areas; whilst upstairs was private accommodation, and a social hall which opened to the balcony. It became the Te Rau Press Building in 1924, when the Anglican Church printing enterprise of that name relocated to the building. The business was started by Archdeacon William Leonard, the first principal at Te Rau Theological College, to print material for Maori theological students. The building’s pediment and east and west parapets were removed soon after the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake. From 1985 to 1996 the building and its business were owned by the Gisborne Herald. It then sat empty until 2003 when significant alterations were made at ground level, to accommodate a retail operation, including a new shop frontage, glass doors, timber flooring replaced with concrete, a suspended ceiling below the original, and seismic strengthening. The north and south parapets were removed after the 2007 Gisborne earthquake.

The Te Rau Press Building (Former) has strong aesthetic importance as part of a heritage streetscape of three substantial commercial, architect designed, Edwardian masonry buildings that collectively make up the registered Peel Street historic area. Its architectural significance is as the only example of this particular building style in Gisborne, and as one of only two local buildings confirmed as the work of architect, Brownlee. It is historically significant as representing the prosperity that farming growth brought to Gisborne in the decades either side of 1900. Socially it is an important reflection of evolving and increasingly sophisticated socialising trends through its purpose built tearooms, supper room and social hall, and in later times, a billiard saloon. It has technical significance for its associations with early Gisborne printing enterprises and later through housing the town’s first offset printing machine. It has important spiritual value for its association with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and William Leonard Williams a preeminent Anglican clergy of the area from the 1850s. It has traditional significance for its association with the Anglican Church’s Te Rau Theological College, becoming the Te Rau Press building that housed the Te Rau Press, an Anglican printing business that provided print material to its Maori students and was a demonstration of the changing, more institutionalised attitudes by the established church after the advent of Pai Marire and the associated loss of Williams’ Mission Station at Turanga.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Built in 1908, the Te Rau Press Building (Former) is part of the story of the rapid growth of Gisborne in the decades either side of 1900. The Peel Street historic area, of which the building is part, is significant as a piece of well preserved, early twentieth century commercial townscape. The area also has important historical links dating back to the early settlement and commercial development of Gisborne. The Peel Street/Gladstone Road area has continued to be part of the business centre of Gisborne since Captain Read's settlement initiatives in the 1870s. In particular, the Te Rau Press Building (Former) is connected to James Erskine, who commissioned the building for, his bakery supper and tearooms, and who baked and catered for the people of Gisborne for 50 years from 1876. It is important also for its association with the long established local newspaper, the Gisborne Herald that purchased the printing business in 1985.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

The Te Rau Press Building (Former) has aesthetic heritage streetscape significance as one of three substantial two storey, architect designed, Edwardian masonry buildings of similar scale that occupy the block of Peel Street from Reads Quay to Gladstone Road and form the NZHPT registered Peel Street historic area (Record No.7019). They contribute along with a number of other historic buildings of the era surviving in the town centre to the reputation of Gisborne town centre as the ‘Edwardian Capital of New Zealand’.

Architectural Significance or Value

The Erskine Building's has architectural significance both as the only Gisborne example of a building style often associated with Australian colonial architecture, with an imposing, deep verandah with filigree lacework, and as one of only two local buildings confirmed as the work of architect Herbert Brownlee.

Technological Significance or Values

The housing of the printing press technology for Te Rau Press is of technological importance. Including alphabet to enable printing in both Latin and Greek, was considered very advanced at the time, and the building later housed the first offset printing machine in Gisborne.

Social Significance or Value

The social significance of the building is apparent in the ambitious and sophisticated development of tearooms and supper room as part of the purpose built plan for the building, It epitomises Edwardian ideals of style and changing social values, reflecting both the growing business confidence in the burgeoning town and the increasing sophistication of its residents The large catering room on the first floor was utilised for recreation as a billiard hall in later times, reflecting another popular aspect of social life in the 19th century.

Spiritual Significance or Value

It has association with the Church Missionary Society and the Anglican Church through the Te Rau Theological College, established to train Maori from across the North Island to become ordinates in the Church. The Te Rau Press was begun by William Leonard Williams to produce publications, exam papers and other printed requirements for the Maori students. The business grew and was relocated to the Erskine Building and renamed Te Rau Press Building. The more specified mode of teaching that demanded such publications was likely adopted by the college as a reaction of concern by the clergy to the emergence of the Maori religion, Pai Marire.

Traditional Significance or Values

The Te Rau Press Building (Former) has traditional significance, for early initiatives with Maori education. It is associated with the training of Maori ordinates from across the North Island at Gisborne’s Te Rau Theological College. Archbishop William Leonard Williams established Te Rau Press, which became an independent business at the time it moved to the Erskine Building. Te Rau Press is also significant in its demonstration of changing relationships between Maori and Pakeha after the 1860s and the loss of the CMS Mission Station at Turanga by followers of Pai Marire that resulted in a more institutionalised, European approach to its teachings; the printing operation was part of this attitudinal shift.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

Built in the early twentieth century, the Te Rau Press Building (Former) is a very fine example of the masonry architecture that replaced the original simpler, timber buildings in Gisborne and other regional centres, as prosperity and growth led to rapid development and it reflects the use of architecture as a statement of civic pride. It is reflective also, of the rapid growth of towns like Gisborne as a direct result of the rapid expansion of the farming hinterland and in particular the boom decades in the district's farming growth either side of 1900. It reflects also a changing social environment in rural New Zealand around the turn of the 19th century, with a level of growing sophistication that saw such a purpose-built structure with both tea and supper rooms, with menus that elicited praise by local media.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The place has strong associations with William Leonard Williams who first began training Maori students in 1850 for the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and established a mission station at Waerenga a Hika near Turanga. He was the first principal of Te Rau Theological College and established Te Rau Press which eventually became an independent business that he relocated to the Erskine Building, renamed Te Rau Press Building at this time. Williams was elected Bishop of Waiapu in 1895.

It has important for its significant association with the Anglican Church during its early time as the Te Rau Press Building, housing the printing business of that name, an Anglican Church initiative for its Maori theological students and for its association with Pai Marire. The latter was reflected through more institutionalised teaching established by Williams with Maori following the conflicts of 1865,

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:

Still widely recognised by its Te Rau Press Building nomenclature, it enjoys high public esteem for its historical associations, in particular with Te Rau Kahikatea and its Te Rau Theological College that schooled a number of Maori who went on to become leaders for Maori on the East Coast and nationally. It continues also to be valued for its aesthetic qualities and as a tangible reminder of pioneering Gisborne and the wider Poverty Bay.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

The revitalised retail outlet on the ground floor ensures that the building is still able to be enjoyed, and it is also featured in historic interpretation panels on the street, local touring guides and historic publications give it existing value in a public education role.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The Te Rau Press Building (Former) is located on Peel Street in the central city of Gisborne, where it is part of a well preserved early twentieth century predominantly Edwardian earning the town a proud acknowledgement of New Zealand’s Edwardian capital. The Peel Street historic area group of substantial buildings of similar age, and scale form an evocative, uninterrupted heritage streetscape along one of Gisborne's main roads.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Brownlee, Herbert John

Herbert John Brownlee came to Gisborne and set up business in November 1905, having purchased the architectural practice of Mr W. J. Quigley. This followed five years’ experience when he was variously articled to C J Bolstad in Stratford from 1900-1903; to Alfred Atkins of Wanganui in 1903; to Palmerston North Borough Council in 1904 and to J W P Finch 1904-1905. He had previously worked with Mr A. Atkins of Wanganui, and Mr W. P. Finch of Napier. His first office was in the Poverty Bay Herald building. Brownlee was responsible for a number of buildings and renovations in Gisborne, including design of the Baptist Tabernacle in Palmerston Road.

Brownlee left for England in July 1911 to study both architecture and opera singing, he was an accomplished baritone. He performed whilst in England on a number of occasions including at Queens Hall. He achieved his ARIBA 2 December 1912 and went on to become manager of Banister Fletcher and Sons in London. He relocated to Sydney Australia by 1914, and here professed an interest in the artistic conceptions of building in ferro concrete, observing in a letter to the Poverty Bay Herald in 1914 that although the ‘structural value of concrete has long since been admitted, but little has been done to use it artistically. One cannot help feeling that it is the coming construction, especially in Australia and New Zealand, and in the near future I hope to have my ideas in order, and commence carrying them out in Sydney and throughout New South Wales.’ Following up in his interest in ferro concrete he worked as NSW manager for a concrete company F J Swann & Co in 1914 and by 1915 was working on his own at premises at 21 Bond Street. No record has been found of buildings he may have designed in Sydney. During his time in Sydney he became allied with Architect Alfred Hooks rival group of architects, the Architects’ Association of N.S.W. and was president in 1920. They opposed the registration criteria of the Institute of Architects of N.S.W. He later moved to Cape Town where he had a practice in St George’s Street in the 1930s, having been admitted FRIBA in 1926. Brownlee became Principal of the Cape Town School of Architecture upon its establishment in 1921/22. He was in partnership in Cape Town with J Perry from 1926-1930. He is listed in 1935 he was one of the Architects for the City of Cape Town along with Charles Walgate. He closely associated music with architecture.

Biography source: registration report for Te Rau Press Building (Former), Register No. 811

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

East Coast oral tradition states that the honoured ancestor Maui-tikitikia-Taranga fished up the North Island of New Zealand. Two Maori ancestral canoes are associated with this region; Takitimu, which made landfall in this region around 1450AD and Horouta. The area is thought to have been extensively cultivated and utilised by Maori, with the plains and rivers both an excellent food source and transport link. Abundant bird life and tidal flats yielded a wide range of protein sources. The nearby grasslands and swamps provided food as well as materials for weaving and construction. Large villages or pa were built on strategic points on the rivers and hills.

In 1769 Captain James Cook on his ship ‘Endeavour’ made landfall at what he named Poverty Bay. This was the first contact between European and Maori. When Cook arrived in the area, it was occupied by four main tribal groups; Rongowhakata, Ngai Tahupoo (later known as Ngai Tamanuhiri), Te Aitanga a Mahaki, and Te Aitanga a Hauiti. Heipipi Pa is said to have stood nearby the present-day intersection of Gladstone Road and Customhouse Street. Although there was no planned European settlement, by the 1830s traders and whalers had ensconced themselves in the region and trading posts later established by settlers such as Captain Read led to further European settlement. In 1868 the Government purchased 741 acres of land for the town site of Gisborne, which was surveyed into sections two years later.

In 1852 Captain G.E. Read, was invited by local Maori to establish a trading store. For thirty years this enterprising pioneer shaped and influenced the development of Poverty Bay and Gisborne’s town centre establishing Gisborne's first hotel, the Albion, and the courthouse as well as introducing his own early currency system involving £1 notes that only he could cash. At the time of his death in 1878 it was estimated that he had created three quarters of the town's business property. As observed by the Gisborne Herald, ‘Peel Street owes a tremendous amount of its progress to the pioneers of the town who moulded the commercial area of Gisborne into what it is today.' The redevelopment of the street in the decades either side of 1900 was at a time when large contingents of settlers began pouring into Gisborne. It was a boom time for farming that generated trade and saw development of the land around the town; Gisborne flourished and town expansion was required in order to serve the hinterland. The original timber buildings were replaced with architecturally designed masonry structures as a statement of civic pride and confidence in the area’s continuing prosperity.

Te Rau Press was built as the Erskine Building, being designed and constructed for James Erskine, a local baker, caterer and confectioner. It was part of an ambitious business expansion to provide a range of quality hospitality and retail outlets for the town. As described in the Poverty Bay Herald, it was,

‘A modern two-storey brick building is about to be erected in Peel street to the order of Mr Jas. Erskine, baker. The preparation of plans has been entrusted to Mr H. J. Brownlee, architect, and his drawings show a frontage of 66 feet, of a uniform height with Mr F. Hall's [Charlie Browns] new building.’

The article went on to detail that the ground floor would feature four shops with plate glass windows, as well as a refreshments room, dining room, kitchen, scullery, pantry and bathroom. Upstairs, the building featured private living accommodation, a ‘large social hall’ and a balcony running along the front. ‘The building’, concluded the Poverty Bay Herald, ‘will form a very fine addition to the architecture of the town.’ Another article in the Poverty Bay Herald, dated 8 June 1906, noted that tenders for the building had been received, but that there were ‘private reasons for the delay in the acceptance of tenders.’ Earlier historical records place the date of the building 1910 to 1912. However, two Poverty Bay Herald articles indicate that the building was completed by July 1908. One, for example, mentions that Mr H.N. Holmes, general secretary of the Wellington Y.M.C.A. was to attend a dinner on 30 July 1908 ‘in the upstairs portion of Mr J. Erskine's new building.’ The newspaper also featured a public notice in October 1908 that Erskine’s tearooms and supper rooms were now open for business. This is also what the Gisborne District Heritage Study indicates, arguing that the plans are dated 1907, but photographs taken in 1910 don’t show the building standing, thus implying that construction was delayed.

James Erskine’s business was originally located in Gladstone Road and he showed much confidence and entrepreneurship in his promotions, in what was then only a burgeoning hospitality sector, but no doubt buoyed by the growth and optimism that abounded in the town at the time. A newspaper advertisement from 1904 suggested that

‘HAVING secured the services of an experienced Pastry and Fancy Goods Baker, the undersigned is now in a position to Cater for BALLS, PARTIES, PICNICS, Etc., in a manner hitherto unknown in Gisborne. The Ladies will find, by consulting with J. E., the labor of entertaining is reduced to a minimum, Large and Small Parties being catered for on the most LIBERAL TERMS. THE BAKERY is in charge of a very capable man, and Householders will find no better Bread is obtainable in town, only flour of A1 quality being used in connection with this part of the business.’

It also noted that his refreshment rooms were open from 8am to 9pm every day. In 1906 the Poverty Bay Herald noted that he had purchased a cake mixing machine and current cleaner from England, and congratulated him on his investment in new technologies. In 1909 his business was acquired by the Gisborne Co-operative Bakery Company Ltd, and he joined the board of directors, as well as continuing to work for the company. In 1917 Erskine was made bankrupt, after the bakery business he started in 1913 failed as a result of rising costs and poor cash flow.

The Erskine Building was a two storeyed, plastered brick building with concrete foundations, gabled hip corrugated iron roof, timber joinery, timber floors, and a two storeyed verandah with bull nosed roof and cast iron verandah posts with iron lacework on the ground floor. Such deep verandahs are often associated with colonial Australian architecture. The asymmetrical neoclassical facade, reminiscent of colonial vernacular architecture because of the verandahs, had arched windows, shallow pilasters and plain walls with a parapet and pediment. Open for business by 1908, the Poverty Bay Herald featured a notice about the building and its services, including the tea rooms, ‘which are large and airy and comfortably furnished’ and the supper rooms, with their special feature of the oyster and fish supper.

‘The services of a capable and experienced Chef have been secured, and it is confidently anticipated that the requirements of the Public will be catered for on a scale which is certain to meet with approval. Experienced, smart Waitresses in attendance.’

According to the Gisborne Herald, the first floor was also at some stage home to the L. Hambra billiards saloon. A lean-to was constructed at the back of the building between 1910 and 1912.

From 1924 the Erskine building became the Te Rau Press Building when the Te Rau Press began operating in the building. This part of the building’s history connects it to the Anglican Church in Tairawhiti, and more specifically with theological training and education for North Island Maori at Te Rau Theological College. This was established in 1883, initially in the grounds of Te Rau Kahikatea when the New Zealand Maori Trust Board began financing Maori ordinates. William Leonard Williams, known as Mita Renata to Maori, one of the preeminent Church Missionary Society (CMS) clergymen in the East Coast area, was the first principal of the College and established Te Rau Press for printing of mission publications. It was equipped with sets of Greek and Hebrew letters and was used for many years to print the examination papers of theological students taking those languages, as well as for producing publications for Maori students and eventually a weekly newspaper, Te Rau Weekly Press. The Te Rau Press Building (Former) is associated also, with the changing relationship between Maori and Pakeha after the 1865 destruction of Williams’ mission station at Waerenga a Hika near Turanga during the Pae Marire conflicts. Pai Marire was a new religion preached by Te Ua Haumene of the Taranaki tribe as a reaction following defeat by British artillery fire. It offered for the demoralised Maori people, a much needed form of nationalism. The religion practiced a faith which combined aspects of Old Testament teaching with the traditional culture and priest craft of Maori. It proved a very effective form of psychological warfare. Shifting his base from missionary enclaves to the new Pakeha town of Gisborne, Williams’ foundation of Te Rau Kahikatea and the Theological College likely reflected a change in the way the CMS approached religious instruction of Maori. The college marked a change to a systematic training of Maori students with a view to recruiting the men as ordinates to the ministry.

The use of this building for the theological college printing business is, aside from the Category 1 Te Rau Kahikatea building (Record No. 812), the only other built remnant of Te Rau Theological College, which played such a significant role in the religious education of Maori from 1883 to 1920. Many distinguished Maori clergy studied at the college. Te Rau Press eventually became a secular firm, which in 1957 went into receivership. The then secretary Max Stevens bought both the building and business and installed Gisborne’s first offset printing machine. He also rented the top floor of the adjacent Hall’s (Charlie Brown) Building and established an office equipment and stationery store on the ground floor. The Gisborne Herald Co Ltd bought the business from Stevens in 1985. In 1996 Te Rau Press and the Herald merged their commercial print operations and moved to new premises, leaving the building to sit empty for the next seven years. Based on the evidence of the plans, the building was altered at some point by the removal of the pediment and parapet on the front façade. These alterations were probably made after the 1931 and 1932 Hawke’s Bay earthquakes. In 1950, repairs and renovations were made to structures at the back of the building to use as a publishing and printing factory. A small section of this was demolished in 1970.

In 2003 consent was given to earthquake strengthen and prepare the building for reuse as a retail showroom for Gisborne Office Products. This involved making a number of changes, including the demolition of three internal ground floor load bearing walls, the removal of numerous minor non-structural partitions and divisions on both the ground and upper floors, the removal of pressed steel ceilings and the installation of a uniform suspended ceiling, the removal of the split level floor and replacement with a level concrete floor, the construction of new ground beams, portal frames, footings and diaphragm bracing to compensate for the wall removal, parapet support and other general structural work, and to meet Council’s seismic standards. There was minor change to the rear facade to incorporate an inwards goods entrance.

The owners also tried to respond to the historic significance of the building, removing trelliswork between the front verandah posts that had been added in the 1960s, and seeking to integrate the new automatic double doors into the overall architectural scheme with a tiled entranceway and side wing walls. Timber from the original floor was salvaged and reused for repair work, and the original pressed metal ceiling was retained behind the suspended ceiling, which was also set back so as to fit with the upper windows.

In 2008 the building was again altered when the parapets on the north and south sides of were removed after the 2007 earthquake as a preventative measure.

Physical Description

Te Rau Press (Former) is the centre building of three substantial commercial heritage structures on Peel Street in the heart of Gisborne’s town centre. It contributes to the NZHPT registered Peel Street historic area (Record No. 7019). This cluster of historic buildings contributes to the reputation of Gisborne town centre as the ‘Edwardian Capital of New Zealand’; comprising of a group of substantial, two-storey buildings of similar age and scale which form an important, uninterrupted heritage streetscape along one of the town centre’s main roads.

The Te Rau Press Building (Former) is a two-storeyed, plastered brick building with concrete foundations, gabled hip corrugated iron roof, timber joinery, timber floors, a two-storeyed verandah with bull nosed roof, cast iron verandah posts with iron lacework on ground floor.

The asymmetrical neoclassical façade has arched windows, shallow pilasters and plain walls and parapet (parapet and pediment have been removed). One original ground floor doorway with heavy panelled doors remains as do many shop front details.

The ground floor features a large retail showroom, with double automatic doors in a central entranceway. Behind the showroom are offices, and an inward goods entrance. The first floor features offices, accessed by stairways from the front and back facades, as well as a covered balcony running the full length of the facade.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1908 -

1910 - 1912
Lean-to constructed at rear of building

1924 -
Probable minor alterations when building taken over by Te Rau Press

1931 - 1932
Pediment and parapets removed after earthquakes?

1950 -
Repairs and renovations made to rear building for publishing and printing business

1970 -
Part of rear building demolished

2003 -
Alterations including the installation of a new shop frontage, removal of split level floor and replacement with a level concrete floor, the installation of a uniform suspended ceiling, minor changes to the rear facade to incorporate an inwards goods entrance

Earthquake damage to rear building repaired, removal of north and south parapet

Construction Details

Plastered brick, concrete foundations, gabled hip corrugated iron roof, timber joinery, timber floors, cast iron, iron lacework

Completion Date

11th October 2012

Report Written By

Gail Henry, Damian Skinner, Linda Pattison

Information Sources

Robinson, 1990

Sheila Robinson and John Berry (eds.), Gisborne Exposed: The Photographs of William Crawford 1874-1913, Gisborne, 1990

Gundry, 2006

Sheridan Gundry, Small City, Big Heart: Built Heritage of Gisborne’s Commercial District. Gisborne, NZ Historic Places Trust, Tairawhiti Branch Committee, 2006

Robinson, 2004

Sheila Robinson, Gisborne Landmarks: An Historical Guide. Gisborne, Te Rau Creative Design & Print, 2004

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Lower Northern 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.