Historical Significance or Value
The Post Office has historic significance. Post Offices once formed an important part of the infrastructure of a small rural town, being the centre of government functions, including banking, telegraph and telephone services. The post office played an important role in communication in the years prior to current forms of electronic communication, when the postal and telegraph service was vital to its community. This was also important in an era when travel was slow. The building is a reminder of the social importance of the post office to the community, the community focus illustrated by Sir Joseph Ward's involvement in the initial commission of the building.
The Post Office has architectural significance. The building was designed by Public Works Department architect John Campbell. Campbell was in charge of the design of New Zealand's public buildings from 1889 until his retirement in 1922, and also designed a large number of other government buildings including the Dunedin Law Courts, Dunedin prison, the Public Trust head office in Wellington, and the Rotorua Government Bathhouse. The architectural style of the post office demonstrates a public role within the community; however it is domestic in scale, and its formal function is downplayed in its styling, a significant departure from the formality of earlier post office buildings such as those in Ophir and Clyde.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The Post Office is reflects representative important aspects of New Zealand's history, when the post office played a vital role in the infrastructure and communications of small rural communities. It was important for its postal and telegraph services, connecting isolated communities with their neighbouring towns and other national centres. With the dwindling number of rural post offices, St Bathans Post Office is also significant in that it still functions as a postal agency.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
The Post Office has an association with two people important in New Zealand's history. Local histories record the association with Deputy Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward, and note it as a significant visit in the township's history. The Post Office was constructed following the visit to St Bathans of Liberal deputy Prime Minister Joseph Ward, who also held the role of postmaster general. On this visit, Joseph Ward authorised the construction of the new post office. The building is also associated with Public Works architect John Campbell.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:
The community hold their Post Office in high esteem, as is evidenced by its inclusion in the Otago Goldfields Park, and in the concern expressed when the building was restored. It is still used as a postal agency, and is recognised as significant in its status as a historic reserve in the town of St Bathans.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
The Post Office forms an important part of the wider historical and cultural landscape of St Bathans and Central Otago. Standing at the approach to the town's main street, the Post Office is an impressive building that introduces the visitor to the historic streetscape of St Bathans. While it stands out as different from earlier mud brick structures such as the hotel and the former billiards room, the weatherboard two storied post office building signifies its official function in the town. It is associated with other similar historic post office buildings throughout the small historic towns of Central Otago, many of which ceased to function as post offices some years ago.
The St Bathans Post Office, designed by Public Works Department architect John Campbell in 1909, is an elegant two-storied timber building standing on a prominent site in the historic gold mining settlement of St Bathans in Central Otago. Gold mining began in Central Otago with Gabriel Read's discovery of gold in Gabriel's Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. Gold discoveries in 1862 pushed into inland Otago, with bustling settlements springing up to service the miners. In 1863 there was a rush at what would become St Bathans, leading to the birth of the town. First known as Dunstan Creek, the name was changed to St Bathans in 1866, after St Bathans in the islands of Iona in Scotland, famous from the time of early Christians. At the height of the gold rush, the population in the area numbered around 2,000, with thirteen hotels catering to local demands during the 1860s. The town had two banks, a police station, courthouse, jail, hospital and many businesses. The first post office, forming an important part of the infrastructure of such Central Otago towns, opened during the gold rushes of 1864, operating from storekeeper John Campbell's premises.
An 1873 Survey Office Plan records that a plot of land (Section 11 Block I, Town of St Bathans) was reserved for the site of a Telegraph Station. In 1874 a purpose designed Post and Telegraph Office was built on the present site. Its location did not please the townspeople. On 14 March 1874 the Mt. Ida Chronicle reported that the new Post Office was “situated on the rise at the east end of the street, just beyond Murray's old bakery and a more inconvenient site can hardly be imagined. It is quite outside the township, and in winter can only be approached through a sea of mud.”
The construction of the 90 kilometre long telegraph line between Naseby and Clyde, with a loop line to St Bathans, was started in June 1874. The telegraph office at St Bathans was opened in October of the same year, and a money order and savings bank department was opened in 1876. Prior to coaches running to St Bathans in 1879, mail was carried on horseback. In 1898, 20,020 letters and postcards were dispatched from the office, and 22,563 letters and postcards delivered; 2,946 telegrams were dispatched and 2,626 received.
The St Bathans people were fervent Liberal Party supporters and in 1906, when Joseph Ward (1817-1892) became Prime Minister, there was much rejoicing. Ward was postmaster general in 1891, and in 1899 when he was Deputy Prime Minister he also held the portfolios of colonial secretary, industries and commerce, to which were soon added railways and public health. Some time after 1906 Ward, who had introduced the penny post in 1901, visited St Bathans and rewarded the town for its support by granting a permit to call for specifications and tenders for the erection of a new post office.
The Post Office was temporarily relocated during the construction of the new building. In 1908 the postmaster, Reginald Noake, rented the premises of the former Bank of New Zealand, located some doors down Loop Road. The Post Office was relocated there in January of the following year, when the old building was demolished. The new building opened in November 1909. Noake was apparently the best remembered of all the postmasters for his engineering and mechanical skills, as well as for the many practical jokes he liked to play on his customers.
The Post Office was designed by Public Works Department architect John Campbell (1857 - 1942), first draughtsman (1889-1899), then architect from 1899 until his retirement in 1922. In 1900 Campbell had also designed the post office for Naseby, another small town in the Maniototo region of Central Otago. Writer and architect Lewis Martin has noted of Campbell's design for the St Bathans Post Office: “Light touches of Campbell's characteristic decoration transform domesticity into a modest public building”. Campbell was responsible for the standardisation of the architecture of government buildings, particularly evident in the design of post offices. During a post office building boom between about 1900 and 1914 he was largely responsible for two major post office buildings of similar design (the Auckland and Wellington chief post offices), and many smaller post office buildings.
The Post Office had public functions on the ground floor, with a mailroom and public space separated by the counter. Telegraph and telephone areas along with post boxes were also on the ground floor, with the post master's residence (two bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen, bathroom and scullery) on the top floor. Private letterboxes were accessible from the vestibule, and posting boxes in front of the building. Outbuildings, originally identified as a washhouse, coal room and earth closet were also constructed. The Post Office has two chimneys, one in the north corner and the other at the east (upper) side. The construction cost £6854. The building was later extended, with a small sunroom added on the west corner. This room has since been demolished.
By the 1930s, with the end of mining in the district, St Bathans suffered a downturn. Mining operations ceased after the 1930s and as the population dwindled buildings were either demolished or moved elsewhere.
The last leasee of the Post Office was Sabina Nicolson, who signed the lease in 1933. The Post Office closed on 5 February 1937, and the business was transferred to the local store, owned by John Enright.
Following Sabina Nicolson's death in 1952 the property was inherited by Gladys Nicolson-Garret and Hilda Nicolson, presumably the daughters of Sabina. In 1971 it was transferred to Thomas Duffy, who acquired freehold title in the same year.
In 1981 the property was transferred to the Crown as an historic reserve, under the management of the then Department of Lands and Survey, and the public spaces recognised as “ideal for interpretation purposes” and to allow the significant historic buildings (such as the Post Office and the Public Hall) to be open to the public and to be maintained. At the same time two sections adjoining the building were also purchased to maintain this “well known and much photographed scene of the township.”
When the building became part of the Otago Goldfields Park, there was local concern about its future. At this time the building was apparently somewhat dilapidated. There was particular concern about the plan to restore the building as the locals valued its “well weathered patina of age” which gave it “the majesty it deserves in its position towering over the rest of the town.” The proposed coat of paint and the demolition of the later sunroom addition caused much debate in the local paper, and resulted in the Otago Goldfields Park Advisory Committee to mount a public defence of its plans. The Committee explained that they wanted to show the building as an “an authentic example of an early twentieth century post office” and that it would be “unrealistic and historically inaccurate to present the site in a state of decay and disrepair. Buildings of this type and function were always maintained regularly throughout their working life.” Restoration followed in 1984, when the ground floor was refurbished as a post office of the 1915 - 1920 era. The building was re-piled and painted in 1984, and again in 2000, and the ceiling of the mailroom has been replaced.
Where the main street once had some forty businesses, there is now a small straggle of buildings still standing, mostly located on the west side of the road. The first of these, at the east end of the town, is the post office. Other public buildings include the hall and the former gold office. Private buildings include the former Vulcan Hotel billiards rooms and stable, the Vulcan Hotel, the former jail and a number of residences. The Anglican and Catholic churches stand at either end of the town, and the stone ruins of the school are located above the main street.
In 1995 local resident Sharon Hinds opened a retail business, “Despatches”, in the Post Office. In 2006 this business continues to function in the old building, selling antiques and memorabilia and operating postal services.
The St Bathans Post Office sits on a prominent site on Loop Road, the main street of the small historic gold mining town of St Bathans in Central Otago. It is one of the only two storey historic buildings in the town, and sits close to other significant buildings on the street including the Vulcan Hotel, the St Bathans Public Hall and the Gold Office.
The Post Office is a two storied timber building clad in weatherboard with a hipped roof. The main body of the building housed the postal services, with a second wing housing the stairs to the first floor, and providing a staff entrance to the Post Office and the residence. The main north-east elevation faces Loop Road. At street level is the main entrance opening onto the footpath.
The ground floor forms the public area of the Post Office, and consists of a public area with two counters through to the mailroom, a telephone bureau and a telephone exchange. The first floor was built as a residence for the postmaster.
The upstairs residence consists of a sitting room, two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, and a scullery. The stairwell is located on the northwest side of the building, and has an external doorway as well as an internal doorway from the mailroom.
On the ground floor all the original fittings and fixtures remain in place, although part of the former mailroom is now used as a retail area. On the first floor the walls are covered with scrim and several layers of wallpaper. The rooms retain their original fittings as well as some of the former furniture. In the sitting room, the large bolt with rope tied through it that functioned as a fire escape is still in place below one of the windows. This area is vacant although some rooms are used for storage. The ground floor still operates as a postal agency.
Department of Lands and Survey carried out restoration - painting and repiling, and demolition of an outbuilding
Post Office repiled and repainted
Weatherboard and corrugated iron.
22nd June 2007
Report Written By
Janet. C. Cowan, Down the Years in the Maniototo: A Survey of the Early History of Maniototo County and Naseby Borough, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Whitcombe and Tombs, Dunedin, 1948
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Richardson, Peter. 'Campbell, John 1857 - 1942', updated: 7 April 2006, URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978
N. Harwood and P. Woodmansey, Historic buildings appraisal, St Bathans, Otago, Department of Conservation Science Internal Series 185, 2004
Lewis E. Martin, Built For Us: The Work of Government and Colonial Architects, 1860s to 1960s, Dunedin, 2004.
G. Nicolson-Garrett, St. Bathans, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1977
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland 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.