Bank of New South Wales (Former)

143 Palmerston Street, Westport

  • Bank of New South Wales (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: L.Wright. Date: 1/06/2006.
  • Bank of New South Wales (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Mike Vincent. Date: 19/06/2012.
  • Bank of New South Wales (Former) January 1989. Original image submitted at time of registration.
    Copyright: NZHPT Field Record Form Collection. Taken By: Trish McCormack.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1706 Date Entered 4th April 2008


Extent of List Entry

The registration comprises the Bank of New South Wales (Former) its fixtures and fittings and the land in Lot 2 DP 11686 (CT NL7B/1307), Nelson Land District.

City/District Council

Buller District


West Coast Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 11686 (CT NL7B/1307), Nelson Land District


The timber, Italianate styled building constructed in 1901 for the former Bank of New South Wales in Westport makes an important architectural and heritage contribution to the town's principal streetscape.

The Bank of New South Wales' history was important on the West Coast from the initial days of the gold rushes. The first agency was established at Hokitika early in 1865 and the second in Westport the following year, as gold prospectors came in increasing numbers to this more northerly section of the West Coast.

This building was the third used by the bank. The first, sited close to the river, was inundated by a tidal wave in 1870, moved further from the river side where it was affected by major flood in 1872 and moved again. A later flood destroyed it and a new building was hastily constructed in 1877 on a safer site. The bank's prosperous status in 1901 prompted the building of grander premises which have continued to serve its original function while retaining much of its original appearance and character. The two storeyed timber building featured Italianate details and was typically planned to incorporate the manager's residence at the rear and above the banking chamber. An early single storeyed addition on the bank's northern side was designed to fully blend in styling with the original building.

The manager no longer lives above his work place, but despite this and the addition of modern interior features, the character and form of the 1901 building can be readily understood. The exterior is little altered and the interior retains many fine original elements, like the timber work and bank vault. Since the Bank of New South Wales' amalgamation with the Bank of Australasia in 1982 this has been Westport's Westpac branch. In 1996 there was a further merger with the Westport Savings Bank.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The bank is historically significant because of its links with early Westport. The first agency was established there in 1866, the year of the major Buller gold rushes to Brighton, Charleston and the northern terraces. The present building is the oldest bank in the town and is one of the oldest bank buildings still used for its original purpose on the West Coast.

The former Westport Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) building has architectural significance because of its Italianate style, using timber in a manner suggestive of stonework. Through the nineteenth century the Italianate style was frequently used for bank buildings as banking practices began in Italy and such a style was considered to provide a secure and trustworthy appearance, appropriate for both large and small buildings. This is a typical illustration of the style which continued to be favoured in the early decades of the twentieth century. As was the usual practice in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, the building was designed with the banking chamber on the ground floor and the manager's residence behind and above. This is a good representative example of that format and is a rare instance of a timber bank from this era continuing in its use as a bank, rather than being replaced or converted for some other function.

Category of historic place (section 23(2)) Category II

Criteria: a, e, g and k

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

The bank building reflects a buoyant period of New Zealand financial history, influenced by the Liberal Government's policies and the Boer War. The Bank of New South Wales had seen its advances and deposits expand steadily since 1895 and by 1900 it was the second largest New Zealand bank.

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

There are long community associations with the bank building, which has served the town for 105 years, after its predecessors had done so for 35 years. The former Westport Borough Council was a long-term customer of the Bank of New South Wales. The building's significant history is recognised by the Bank itself, with placement on the exterior of a bronze panel in 1967 to record the 100 years of service the Bank of New South Wales had given to Westport, along with the more recent addition of a NZ Historic Places Trust plaque.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value or design of the place:

The building's exterior design and interior timberwork are both distinctive and significant. This is demonstrated in the fine craftsmanship of the internal timber detailing and the Italianate features of the exterior. In both its style and plan it is a fine representative example of the timber bank buildings that were constructed throughout New Zealand during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Despite its age and the necessary modifications made to allow the building to continue its commercial function, its historic appearance has been retained. Well maintained, it makes a striking contribution to the streetscape.

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

The building forms part of a wider historical landscape as one of several listed buildings and unlisted 19th century or early 20th century buildings of merit along or adjacent to Palmerston Street. Westport has some modern buildings, though none of an incompatible large scale, so its principal business area retains much of its 19th century character, with the former Bank of New South Wales a prominent feature.

It is also one of many bank buildings of a similar vintage surviving in West Coast towns, though most are of permanent materials and few continue in use. It is one of only two early timber banks that still serve their original purpose. The other is the timber Bank of New Zealand in Reefton, a two storeyed structure dating from 1873. Its exterior retains its original appearance but the once imposing interior has been modernised and the historic features removed. (Not on the NZHPT Register)


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The former Bank of New South Wales building is a nationally rare example of a late Victorian bank building that still retains its original purpose. It has had a prominent presence on Palmerston Street, Westport's main street, since it was constructed in 1901. It is an imposing feature in the townscape and its services have been important to local people since the first bank was set up here in the earliest years of settlement.

The Bank of New South Wales was first established in New Zealand in 1861 in Auckland. The Bank of New South Wales Act, passed 29 July 1861, gave the bank the usual responsibilities including the rights to issue their own bank notes. In August that year the Dunedin branch was opened as a response to the great gold rush following Gabriel Read's discoveries on 23 May, 1861. This was a very profitable action for the bank which sent agents through the various Dunstan fields to purchase the prospectors' gold.

Westport was the first place visited by Bank of New South Wales agent George Preshaw when he was sent to investigate banking possibilities on the new West Coast goldfields in October 1864. Preshaw, an English migrant to the Australian goldfields in 1852, tired of the many problems associated with a digger's life. In 1860, seeking a 'more congenial occupation', he was pleased to gain employment with the Bank of New South Wales, Australia's first bank, established in 1817. He proved a very successful bank agent, though his accounts do not suggest that his life was now much easier. With news of the increasing number of rich gold fields opening in the New Zealand, the Bank instructed Preshaw to move to Nelson in May 1864. After a few months purchasing gold from the diggers at Wakamarina diggings he was 'ordered' to go to the Buller. He found it 'a miserable looking place' with only two buildings among some rough shanties and moved further south, making an initial exploration through the region where new discoveries were occurring regularly.

The Bank, receiving his enthusiastic report on the amount of gold being obtained, affirmed the West Coast as his territory. He proved an extremely capable and fortunate agent, gaining many loyal customers and never being attacked or robbed. In this, he was unlike the Bank of New Zealand's agent who was robbed or lost money on three occasions. Preshaw respected the Maori groups he met in the small settlements which he encountered along the coast around river mouths and lagoon areas of the West Coast. Despite the hard life he led, he vigorously carried out his duties acquiring a high personal reputation and a sound customer base for the Bank of New South Wales.

By late 1866 the rushes to Charleston and Brighton as well as the terraces north of the Buller justified the establishment of a local agency, so a building was hastily erected in Westport near the river in Gladstone Street which at that time was the town's commercial centre. Joseph Yates became the first Westport agent, described by the Westport Times as a universally respected 'gentleman of great ability', when he died shortly after his appointment. The first building served as the agency and smelting house. It survived a tidal wave sweeping through it in 1870 and was moved to higher ground. It endured the effects of a further major flood in February 1872. Many other buildings were lost, and one otherwise disconsolate hotel owner was impressed by the fact that his building was 'riding the waves majestically' as it proceeded over the sand bar to the sea. The building was again moved to supposedly safer ground and was finally destroyed by a later flood. Another rather more dignified single-storeyed, timber building was built on the Government reserve in Palmerston Street in 1877 where such major disasters have been avoided. It was given branch status in 1878.

The Bank, with the firm reputation established through Preshaw's activities during the first years of the gold rushes, also gained early prestige when Commissioner Kynnersley, the person in charge of the Nelson South West Goldfield, opened his government account there. Although the Bank of New Zealand was first favoured by the Westport Borough Council when it was established in 1873, the Bank of New South Wales gained the account in 1885 when it granted a loan for gasworks which had been refused by other sources including the Council's own bank. That liaison continued for the rest of the council's existence.

In 1901 the old premises were replaced by the present two-storeyed building in Palmerston Street, a block further north from the earlier building. The construction of a new Westport building in 1901 coincided with a period of prosperity nationally for the bank. By 1900 with its large numbers of both advances and deposits it was ranked second only to the Union Bank in New Zealand. The choice of timber construction was still common, even by this date, for buildings on the West Coast and the choice of classical styling was favoured by most banking companies including the Bank of New South Wales. As was usual for both banks and post offices, accommodation for the manager was part of the building, in this case with an entrance at the side. Shortly after the building was completed a larger banking chamber was required and the building was extended with a single storeyed addition to the north.

Over the following decades the status of the expanding Bank of New South Wales in the New Zealand banking context varied. When the centennial of the Bank's establishment in New Zealand was celebrated in 1961, it was described as being the 'oldest and largest bank in both New Zealand and Australia'. It is certainly the oldest Australian bank but the Union Bank which became the ANZ bank is, in fact, New Zealand's oldest.

On 24 May 1868, the Inangahua earthquake (7.1 on the Richter scale) had a relatively minor impact when it brought the chimney down, breaking the rafters and damaging the roof. The most lasting impact was on the concrete bank vault which dropped c. one centimetre, splitting the floor joists. It remains in use today, providing full security despite some distortion that prevents the door from fully opening. The neighbouring Commercial Bank of Australia was almost completely destroyed in the major quake and the New South Wales' Bank staff hurriedly sought safety as each aftershock threatened to collapse the building's remaining wall and destroy their premises.

In 1982 the Bank of New South Wales purchased the Commercial Bank of Australia merging the two under the new name, the Westpac Banking Corporation which operates from the Westport building today. In 1996 there was a further merger with Trust Bank, first established in 1965 as the Wesport Savings Bank The bank's expansion has increased so that in August, 2007 Westpac is New Zealand's largest Bank with 30,000 customers, 3,000 shareholders and 196 branches which operate from buildings both old and new.

It is now some 30 years since the bank manager lived on the premises and what formed his residence on the upper floor is used for general storage while the banking chamber now includes all of the ground floor. Since November, 2000 the building has been in private ownership, leased to the bank. The bank sold a number of the properties they occupied at that time with a policy of focussing on banking business rather than property ownership.

Physical Description

The former Bank of New South Wales Building is located on Westport's main street, providing a striking contribution to the town's principal streetscape because of its size and historic character. A number of other distinctive heritage buildings are sited on Palmerston Street but the bank is a prominent feature.

It is sited with its frontage immediately aligned to the footpath. Designed in the Italianate style it features arched windows on the ground floor, long-and-short horizontal corner timbers on the top storey and corbels supporting the roof soffits. The roof itself is hipped style, made of corrugated iron. The central portion is two storeyed and there is a single storeyed wing on the north side that was added shortly after the building's completion. Detailing of this addition relates precisely to that on the original portion. There is a differentiation between the ground floor, functioning as commercial premises, and the upper floor which originally served as the bank manager's residence.

The main door to the bank features a grand entrance porch with the bank's logo above the doorway at the top of the door's arched frame. The impact of this entrance has been somewhat diminished by the recent addition of an advertising canopy extending across the footpath. (This structure would be readily reversible.) Centrally located on the northern single storeyed wing was the domestic entrance to the manager's residence. Although this entrance has been boarded up its location is discernable and the original rhythm of the openings along this northern fa├žade remains intact. The upper floor, which ceased its use as the manager's residence in the 1980s and is now used for storage, has not been inspected.

Interior lining and fittings are largely timber, finished to enhance the natural colours and grain. Decorations on the face of the tellers' counter appear to be of some manufactured material, toned to blend with the timberwork. There have been some internal modifications, notably the removal of the building's three large chimneys and fireplaces, plus some alterations to meet changing space demands. The interior now has a very open appearance with modern partitioning including glass panels but the retention of original timber detailing - doors, skirting boards, corbels, etc. and evidence of original layout - contribute to the early 19th century character of the building. The vault is clearly visible and the open nature of the premises allows a view to the large, east facing bay window that was once part of the manager's residence.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1901 -
Bank built

1910 - 1920
Single storeyed section added

1957 -
Renovations to building interior

Demolished - Other
1968 -
Inangahua earthquake damage demolished the chimney, damaging roof and breaking rafters

Relocation of stairway to upper floor, internal modifications including partitions, closure of entrance to residence, addition of front entrance canopy

Construction Details

Timber construction with corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

12th October 2007

Report Written By

Les Wright, Pam Wilson

Information Sources

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

Westpac Archives

Westpac Archives

Westpac. '125 Years at Westport', Anniversary Edition Westpac News

Macdonald, 1973

B. Macdonald, Westport - Struggle for Survival, Westport, 1973 [Westport Borough Council]

Mathews, 1999

Ella Mathews, Yesterdays in Golden Buller. Cadsonbury Publications. 2nd edition, 1999

Preshaw, 1888

G O Preshaw, 1888. Banking Under Difficulties or Life on the Goldfields of Victoria, New South Wales and New Zealand by a bank official. Edwards, Dunlop & Co. Reprint by Capper Press, 1971.

Sinclair, 1987

Keith Sinclair (ed.), Tasman Relations: New Zealand and Australia, 1788-1988, Auckland, 1987

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region 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.