Te Rau Kahikatea

34 Cobden Street, Gisborne

  • Te Rau Kahikitea.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Gail Henry. Date: 8/11/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 812 Date Entered 16th November 1989


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 4, Pt Lot 3 and 6 DP 2008 (CT GS5B/1102), Gisborne Land District and the building known as Te Rau Kahikatea thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Gisborne District


Gisborne Region

Legal description

Lot 4, Pt Lot 3 and 6 DP 2008 (CT GS5B/1102), Gisborne Land District


Te Rau Kahikatea is one of the earliest surviving houses in Gisborne and an unusual example of Carpenter Gothic architecture in the region. Erected in 1876, only six years after Gisborne was founded, the two-storey building was constructed for Archdeacon W. Leonard Williams (1829-1916), one of the pre-eminent Church Missionary Society (CMS) clergymen in the East Coast area. Located on the fringes of the colonial town, the homestead was used as a family home and for the theological instruction of Maori candidates for the Anglican clergy. Williams had been commissioned by the CMS to train indigenous students in 1850, continuing his efforts after his mission station at Waerenga a Hika near Turanga had been destroyed in the Pai Marire conflicts of 1865. Shifting his base from missionary enclaves to the new Pakeha town of Gisborne, Williams' foundation of Te Rau Kahikatea may have marked a change in the way the CMS approached the religious instruction of Maori. Indigenous faiths such as Pai Marire had caused concern among the established churches, who generally regarded such developments as 'heretical'. Training was further institutionalised when the house became the nucleus for Te Rau Theological College from 1883-1885, at which time specialised educational buildings were erected nearby. The college subsequently took Maori candidates from across the North Island, and was run by Williams until his election as Bishop of Waiapu in 1895.

The change from a Maori to a Pakeha location for theological teaching was mirrored by the striking choice of Carpenter Gothic design for the 1870s house. The elaborate bargeboards, profusion of gables and ornate verandahs of this style contrasted strongly with the simple Georgian design of Williams' previous homes. Gothic Revival architecture was closely associated with the Anglican Church in mid nineteenth-century New Zealand, and may reflect a retreat from the more egalitarian ideas of the Enlightenment, which were partly embodied in Georgian style. Asymmetrical in its layout, the interior of the building had at least four upstairs bedrooms, including one used by a maid, while the ground floor contained the Archdeacon's bedroom as well as reception and service rooms. A room with separate access off the main entrance verandah may have been used for teaching. Complemented by extensive plantings of indigenous and exotic flora in the large gardens, the house can be seen to reflect a retreat from the more direct contact with Maori culture engaged in by early missionaries in the region, including Williams himself. The house was occupied by Williams' son Herbert from 1895, when he followed his father as college principal and later as a Bishop of Waiapu. The house was employed as a vicarage from 1915, and continued to be associated with the Anglican Church until the 1990s. It was moved within the site and rotated by 90 degrees in 1976, at which time many of its lean-tos were demolished.

Te Rau Kahikatea is significant as an early building in the Gisborne region, and one that demonstrates changing relationships between Maori and Pakeha after the 1860s. It has a long and important association with the Anglican Church, being used in different capacities as Gisborne evolved from a pioneer town to a prosperous Pakeha settlement. It is significant for its association with both Leonard and Herbert Williams, who were prominent members of the Anglican clergy and members of an important missionary family. The building is a valuable example of Carpenter Gothic architecture, of additional worth for its rarity in the region. It is the only remnant of Te Rau College, which played a significant role in the religious education of Maori. Its importance is enhanced by its association with a broader historical and cultural landscape, including remnants of nineteenth-century plantings in surrounding gardens. It enjoys high public esteem for its age and aesthetic qualities, being a tangible reminder of pioneering Gisborne.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This house has been associated with the Anglican Church in Gisborne since it was built. With its central location and its role as a Maori theological college and then a vicarage it has been a significant part of Gisborne life for 115 years. The house has a direct link with the Williams family, particularly Leonard Williams and his father William, the famous missionary.


Although unusual in the Gisborne region this house is a particularly fine and attractive example of Carpenter Gothic architecture. The verandah and gable decoration and the dormer and gable treatment add much visual interest to this large house. The Vicarage makes a fine contribution to New Zealander's legacy of colonial domestic architecture.


For many years the house was a prominent landmark in the treeless landscape. From the turn of the century it has reverted to very good streetscape with a generous and well planted setting.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative


'Te Rau Kahikatea', the Vicarage, was built for Archdeacon Leonard Williams (1829-1916) the son of the prominent missionary William Williams. This house became the nucleus of the Te Rau Theological College, and Maori candidates studying for holy orders resided there in the winter months.

In 1883 the New Zealand Maori Trust Board took over the financing of the training of Maori ordinands. The Waikahua Cottage was brought to the grounds of Te Rau Kahikatea and other cottages were built to form Te Rau College.

Following his consecration as third Bishop of Waiapu in 1895, Leonard Williams moved to Napier and his son Herbert Williams (1860-1937) took over the home as principal of Te Rau College.

He ceased in 1902 due to ill health but he resided in Te Rau Kahikatea and recovered to become Archbishop of Waiapu in 1907. In 1913 the house was left to a caretaker who took in boarders. Since 1915 the house has been a vicarage.

Physical Description


This is a large two-storeyed Carpenter Gothic house. The gable ends have unusual decorative scissor bar King-post truss bracing capped with finials. The balcony roof is covered with corrugated iron while the rest of the house is clad with asbestos tiles. The windows are generally double hung sash. Alongside the main entrance is a bay window. The verandahs have chamfered posts with elaborate fretwork and brackets. Visual interest is enhanced by the irregular arrangement of gables and dormers particularly the dormer that caps the main entrance.

Notable Features

Registration covers the entire building, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. Although not in its original position, the building may be associated with archaeological deposits linked to the nineteenth-century garden.

Unusual gable treatment.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1876 -
Construction of Te Rau Kahikatea

1895 -
Replacement of internal staircase, and dormer window moved

1900 -
First storey room with balcony added, and shingled roof replaced by corrugated iron

1915 - 1932
Enclosing of front verandah with glass (later removed)

Extension of sitting room to include part of former verandah

Demolished - Other
1976 -
Demolition of associated lean-tos including kitchen and larder. New kitchen installed in N.E side. Balcony roof and top hung window added, other small renovations completed.

1976 -
House moved to tennis court and turned 90 degrees. In conjunction with this move the house was extensively modified and renovated, including reroofing, upstairs balconies excluded from two bedrooms on S.W side.

1984 -
Bathroom upstairs converted into linen cupboard. Maid's bedroom halved to make present bathroom

Construction Details

Concrete piles. Timber frame with rough sawn weatherboards. Roof, originally shingled, now tiled. Board and batten ceilings.

Completion Date

2nd February 2002

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Frances Porter, 'William Leonard Williams', Vol.2 1870-1900, Wellington, 1993

Gisborne Herald

14 Dec 2012

Article: 'Gisborne House has 89 Years of History', 15.6.65. Original clipping file number 241.1-3.

Hill, 1985

Martin Hill, Restoring with Style, Wellington, 1985.

Morrell, 1973

W. P. Morrell, The Anglican Church in New Zealand: A History, Dunedin, 1973

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

'The Vicarage (Te Rau Kahikatea), 34 Cobden Street, Gisborne', NZHPT Buildings Classification Committee Report, Wellington, 1989 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Rosevear, 1960

William Rosevear, Waiapu: The Story of a Diocese, Hamilton, 1960

Salmond, 1986

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

Ward, 1960

Alan D. Ward, A History of the Parish of Gisborne, Gisborne, 1960

Barker, 1976

Harry Barker, 1976 Baskets Away, 1976

Hitchcock, 1958

Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1958

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.