Reefton Courthouse (Former)

47 Bridge Street, Reefton

  • Reefton Courthouse (Former). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Derek Smith. Taken By: Derek Smith - travelling-light. Date: 2/08/2010.
  • Reefton Courthouse (Former). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Derek Smith. Taken By: Derek Smith - travelling-light. Date: 27/06/2012.
  • Reefton Courthouse (Former). CC Licence 3.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Mattinbgn - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Mattinbgn. Date: 29/11/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1685 Date Entered 27th August 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent of registration includes the land described as Sec 1382 Town of Reefton (NZ Gazette 1979 p 1710), Nelson Land District, and the building known as Reefton Courthouse (Former) thereon.

City/District Council

Buller District


West Coast Region

Legal description

Sec 1382 Town of Reefton (NZ Gazette 1979 p 1710), Nelson Land District


The Courthouse at Reefton on the West Coast has been a distinctive feature of the small town since it was constructed in 1872. Reefton was founded after the discovery of quartz reefs in the surrounding Inangahua region in 1870. The Inangahua quartz field became the most important goldfield in New Zealand after the Hauraki field declined and between 1870-1914 produced nearly five million pounds worth of gold. As with other towns that owe their origins to the discovery of gold, the first formal representation of colonial law in Reefton was the appointment of a resident warden. Wardens issued miners' rights, registered mine leases and settled mining disputes. Charles Broad, Reefton's first resident warden, who later acted as the resident magistrate, recommended the construction of the courthouse soon after the town was laid out in 1872.

The Reefton Courthouse is a single-storey building, with a central courtroom with a gable roof, flanked by two small, flat-roofed wings. These side wings originally comprised the main entrances to the court as well as offices for the magistrate, lawyers and witnesses who appeared before the court. A circular ventilator under the main gable, three round-headed windows and a simple cornice provide a decorative effect to the front façade. The courtroom was fitted out with a judge's bench, dock, witness stand and jury recess and was lit by clerestory windows. The jury recess is of particular interest being a small alcove with a raised floor and a curved rear wall, which projects into the two offices behind it. Later additions, erected around 1897, added offices, a brick strong room, a public inquiries counter and a waiting room to the rear of the building. The only access to these is through an external entrance on the south side of the building. Originally the courthouse was roofed with shingles. These were replaced with corrugated iron at a later date.

The Courthouse was designed under the aegis of William Henry Clayton (1823-1877), New Zealand's only Colonial Architect, from 1869 until his death in 1877. Clayton was responsible for the design of a number of courthouses throughout New Zealand. These typically consisted of a central section with a long low gabled roof, which housed the courtroom and either one or two flanking wings which contained offices for the judge, clerk of the court and so on. These lower wings generally had hipped roofs and the entrance to the building was through a porch located in the side wing. In these small courthouses the Italianate-influenced style that Clayton favoured was expressed in the alternating square and round-headed windows and the decorative timber brackets. Lapped weatherboarding was commonly used as cladding. While the Reefton Courthouse has many of these features, it differs slightly in that the two side wings have flat roofs, there are three round-headed windows on the front façade, the gable is higher and more compact than was typical of Clayton's designs and it is clad in rusticated weatherboards. It is difficult at the moment to confidently assign the design of the Courthouse at Reefton to Clayton, although it was probably produced in his office.

The Courthouse at Reefton served the town for almost 100 years. It closed in 1972 and the hearing of court cases was transferred to either Westport or Greymouth. The building was saved from demolition by the local community and gazetted as an historic reserve in 1979, thus coming under the ownership of the Department of Conservation. The control and management of the courthouse was vested in the Reefton Historic Trust Board, which has maintained and conserved the building, and leased part of it as artists' studios. The main courtroom is used for community events and for meetings by a religious group.

The Reefton Courthouse forms an important part of Reefton's historic townscape, which includes the former surveyor's residence (1871), a former bank (1874), two churches and the School of Mines (1886). As one of the town's earliest buildings it illustrates the important role played by the judiciary in the West Coast mining settlements of the nineteenth century and served as the local courtroom for nearly 100 years. It was designed under the aegis of Colonial Architect William Clayton and contains some interesting variants on his standard designs of small provincial courthouses. The Courthouse is of immense importance to the local community, as witnessed by their endeavours to save, preserve and find a new use for the building since the 1970s. The community's success in this regard has led to an increased interest in Reefton's heritage and the preservation of a number of other historic buildings in the town.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

One of the town's earliest public buildings, the Reefton Courthouse illustrates the important role of judiciary in the mining settlements of the West Coast in the late nineteenth century.


The Reefton Courthouse is an unpretentious wooden building which conveys an impression of dignity and classical symmetry. It exemplifies a class of public building erected in fledgling townships all over New Zealand during the latter part of the nineteenth century.


The Courthouse situated at the intersection of Bridge and Church Streets makes an important contribution to the streetscape of Reefton.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Reefton Courthouse was built following the recommendation of the town's first resident warden, Charles Broad, after whom Reefton's main thoroughfare was named. In addition to issuing miners' rights, registering their leases and settling their disputes, the local warden usually acted as resident magistrate, and this was the case in Reefton for many years. After nearly one hundred years of judicial service the courthouse was finally closed on 30 June 1972. Seven years later the building was gazetted as an historic reserve.

Physical Description


The courthouse is a single storey building, largely symmetrical in plan and elevation. The central court room has a gabled roof with clerestory windows and is flanked by flat roofed wings containing small rooms for the magistrate, lawyers and witnesses. At the rear of the building, beneath a hipped roof, are the clerks' offices. Access to these rooms is provided by a separate entrance on the south side of the building.

Principal access to the court room is provided by two entrance porches which flank the gabled section of the facade. The latter is devoid of applied ornament but relies instead on a circular vent within the gable apex, a simple cornice and three arched windows, which light the court room, to create a decorative effect. Inside the building the judge's bench remains in place, although the court room is now used as a place of worship. An interesting feature of this room is the small alcove with a raised floor which has been built into the north wall, its curved wall projecting into the two offices behind it.

On the other side of the court room are two more rooms, one of which communicates with the entrance foyer on the south side of the building. From this foyer a door opens into the public office which is adjacent to the large clerks' room and communicates with it by way of a large wall hatch. In addition to a private office off the clerks' room, a large brick safe is built into the north-east corner of the building. A second safe lies below the first and has external access only on the north side of the building. The roof of the courthouse is clad in corrugated galvanised iron and features iron chimney pots with a serrated upper edge.


Post 1972 - Room off court room on south side of building partitioned to accommodate toilet and wash basin.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1872 -
Courthouse reported as almost completed in September 1872.

1999 -
Chimneys removed to roofline because of safety concerns

Shingles replaced with corrugated iron

1897 -
Additions to the rear of courtroom

Post 1972 - Room off court room on south side of building partitioned to accommodate toilet and wash basin.

Construction Details

Timber piles; timber frame with rusticated weatherboard cladding; brick safe; corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

24th October 2002

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Chch)

Archives New Zealand (Christchurch)

Files: Accession 164, Reefton Courthouse 1912-55, 2 Vols

Bowman, 1996 (3)

Ian Bowman, 'Reefton Courthouse: A Condition and Remedial Work Report for the Department of Conservation Reefton Field Centre', September 1996.

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1906

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 5, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, 1906

Richardson, 1997

Peter Richardson, 'Building the Dominion: Government Architecture in New Zealand 1840-1922', PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, 1997


The Press

30 August 1978, p.2

Press, 22 May 1979, p3

Walls, 1997

Robert Walls & Tristan Reynard, 'History of Civil Engineering: Reefton Courthouse Condition Report', University of Canterbury, April 1997

Porter, 1983

Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.

Ministry of Justice

Ministry of Justice

Maurice, Kidd, Unpublished Notes on New Zealand Courthouses. NZHPT Canterbury/West Coast Office

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.