Oamaru Chief Post Office (Former)
20 Thames Street And Meek Street, Oamaru
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
28th June 1990
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 21229 (OT13A/1386), Otago Land District, and the building known as the Oamaru Chief Post Office (Former) thereon. (Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 8 October 2015.)
Lot 1 DP 21229 ( OT13A/1386), Otago Land District
This grand building, Oamaru’s former Chief Post Office, was designed in the French style by architectural partnership Forrester and Lemon in 1883. The building has historical, architectural and social significance as a testament to the importance of communication and postal services in nineteenth century New Zealand, and as ‘the most splendid and ambitious monument to civic pride built in Oamaru’.
Oamaru’s first Post Office was built on Thames Street in 1864. Designed by Dunedin architectural partnership Mason and Clayton, the Italianate building was soon too small for this prosperous and growing town. The Government voted £4,000 for the new post office in late 1883/early 1883. Forrester and Lemon called for tenders in February 1883.
The North Otago Times described the new building to be erected next to the existing Post Office (List Entry No. 4686). Its frontage to Thames Street was 106 feet [32.2 metres], with a depth of 64 feet [19.5 metres]. It was to have a basement, two storeys and a central clock tower, and be designed in the “Italian order of architecture, in a massive and handsome style’ there being no redundancy of intricate ornamental workmanship about the facings. The main entrance was central on the façade, into a vestibule with postal boxes. A second entrance lead to the large public office 44 feet by 25 feet [13.4 by 7.6 metres], divided by a 35 foot [10.6 metres] counter for letter deliver and money order business, while under the windows was another counter 34 foot [10.4 metres] long for writing telegrams. Behind the office were the despatch and messenger’s rooms. The main part of the ground floor was occupied by the 68 foot by 20 foot [20.7 by 6.1 metres] mailroom, which had an eastern bay of 26 foot by 15 foot [7.9 by 4.6 metres]. Behind this again were the letter carriers’ room (21 foot by 25 foot [6.4 by 7.6 metres]), the operators’ bedroom, and telephone room, and an instrument room 37 foot by 20 feet [11.2 by 6.1 metres]). The postmaster’s room (13 foot by 17 foot [4 by 5.2 metres]) was near the central entrance. The basement contained a battery room, three bedrooms, kitchen, scullery and storerooms. The second floor was not partitioned for any purpose. The ceiling heights on the first and second floors were 16 ft 6 inches [5 metres]. The clock tower was 90 foot high to the apex of the cupola, and was to have a six foot clock face. The base of the building was to be blue stone, while the rest of the building was to be constructed of Oamaru stone. The top floor was used by various occupants, including the Defence Department.
To the disappointment of locals, the Post Office was built without the planned tower. The tower was added in 1894, but the Post and Telegraph Department was adamant that the Oamaru Borough Council should supply the clock and chimes. The clock and tower were erected out of funds bequeathed to the people of Oamaru by John McLean of Redcastle. In September 1903, the ceremony of starting the clock and bells was carried out by McLean’s nephew John Buckley. There were four chiming bells and a single hour bell.
In the mid-1940s, because of concern about earthquakes, many clocks and bells on post offices were removed. Oamaru’s clock tower was on the list to be removed. As with many other places, there was an outcry from the public about removing the clock and tower, and the tower stayed. In 1994, the Post Office moved out of the building and the Waitaki District Council moved in, the building being their new headquarters. In 2015, the former Chief Post Office remains home to the Waitaki District Council.
Historical Significance or Value
Oamaru Post Office is one of the most ornate and impressive post offices in provincial towns in New Zealand and as such it marks a significant development in the public importance attached to such buildings. It was also a mark of the commercial development of Oamaru in the 1880s.
The Oamaru Post Office is one of the finest public buildings in a town noted for the quality of its architecture. This elegant essay in Italianate architecture shows an extraordinary attention to detail and finish of external ornamentation.
As a work in the Classical style by an architect who was a recognised master of the form it is a significant example not just of Thomas Forrester's work, but also a significant example of the style favoured for public buildings in the latter half of the nineteenth century before the advent of Edwardian Baroque, which became the favoured form after the turn of the century.
This building occupies a central position in Oamaru. With its elegant facade and striking clock tower it makes a significant contribution to one of New Zealand's finest streetscapes.
Forrester & Lemon
The architectural partnership of Forrester and Lemon was established in Oamaru in 1872.
Thomas Forrester (1838-1907) was born in Glasgow and educated at the Glasgow School of Art. Emigrating to New Zealand in 1861 he settled in Dunedin and worked under William Mason (1810-97) and William Henry Clayton (1823-77) and later Robert Arthur Lawson (1833-1902). In 1865 he superintended the Dunedin Exhibition and from 1870 he became involved with the supervision of harbour works. Some time after 1885 he became Engineer to the Oamaru Harbour Board and in this capacity designed the repairs to the breakwater following storm damage in 1886 and later the Holmes Wharf. On his death in 1907 he was still in the employ of the Harbour Board.
John Lemon (1828-1890) was born in Jamaica and travelled to England before emigrating to New Zealand in 1849. He settled in Oamaru in 1860 and with his brother Charles established a timber merchant's business. By 1869 he was in partnership with his father-in-law, George Sumpter calling themselves "Timber and General Merchants, Land and Commission Agents". This partnership was dissolved in 1872 and Lemon entered into partnership with Forrester. Lemon had no architectural experience at all, but had a wide circle of business contacts and was an efficient administrator.
Buildings designed by the partnership of Forrester and Lemon include St Paul's Church (1875-76), the Harbour Board Offices (1876), Queen's (later Brydone) Hotel (1881), Waitaki Boys' High School (1883), The Courthouse (1883) and the Post Office (1883-84), all in Oamaru. Forrester and Lemon contributed greatly to Oamaru's nineteenth century character. On Lemon's death in 1890 the practice was taken over by Forrester's son, John Megget Forrester (1865-1965).
Forrester, John Meggett
John Meggett Forrester (1866-1965) grew up in Oamaru where his father Thomas Forrester (1838-1907) was practising as an architect. Having been educated at Oamaru Grammar School, he entered the architectural profession and in 1890 took over his father's practice, Forrester and Lemon, following the death of John Lemon (1828-90).
He was responsible for the Oamaru Opera House (1907), the Borough Council building, the World War I Memorial and the Waitaki Boys High School Hall of Memories, all in Oamaru. In 1919 he was joined in partnership by Ivan Steenson and he retired in 1931.
Forrester was prominent in Oamaru public life. He was a Justice of the Peace for many years, an Oamaru Borough Councillor (1913-33) and Mayor of Oamaru (1931-33). When he died in 1965 he left a bequest for the establishment of an Art Gallery in North Otago. The Forrester Gallery was opened in 1983 in the former Bank of New South Wales building.
W. Littlejohn & Son
No biography is currently available for this construction professional
Thomas FORRESTER (1838-1907)
John Meggett FORRESTER (1865-1965) - clock tower
The Oamaru Post Office is a large two-storeyed structure in an Italianate style crowned by a 28 metre high clock tower. The principal or Thames Street facade is symmetrical about the main entrance. The entrances are defined by bays.
The ground floor is rusticated from a lower string course level with arched windows and entrances crowned with keystones. There are small balustraded balconies below each window. A string course runs around the ground floor at the springing line.
The first floor treatment echoes that below. Arched windows repeat those at ground floor level while above each entrance are square headed windows with segmental pediments. There is another course of balconies at the foot of the windows. Each window is defined by half columns with richly ornamented capitals. Pilasters frame the bay windows.
A parapet, once balustraded, with segmental pediments over minor entrances and a triangular pediment beneath the tower, caps the building. The tower repeats many of the principal features of the lower floors. Rustication, arched windows, pilasters and triangular
pediments are used relatively sparingly. A Mansard roof with a cast iron railing caps the tower.
A sympathetic extension was made to the Meek Street elevation in 1937. Although lower in height it shares features in common with the main building such as the rustication, arched windows, triangular pediments, balustraded balconies and parapet.
1903 - Clock tower added. Extension to the mail room.
1937 - Meek Street extension added.
Date Unknown - Balustraded parapet replaced with plain parapet.
The clock tower.
1883 - 1884
Clock tower added
Clock and chimes installed
Building restored and converted for use as Waitaki District Council Offices
Foundations and walls, Oamaru limestone. Roof, timber framed clad in corrugated iron. Interior walls, timber framed and plaster lined.
3rd August 2015
Report Written By
Alexander Turnbull Library
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
'New Zealand Biographies', 1983 Vol. 2 p 128
'TL 3/1/2', 19 July 1983, 4 August 1983, held at Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
Frederick William Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953
Hardwicke Knight and Niel Wales, Buildings of Dunedin: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to New Zealand's Victorian City, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1988
Conal McCarthy, Forrester and Lemon of Oamaru, architects, Oamaru, 2002
North Otago Times
North Otago Times
North Otago Times, 18 Sep 1903, p. 1.
North Otago Times
North Otago Times
North Otago Times, 20 Feb 1883, p. 2.
G. H. Scholefield, A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1940
John Stacpoole, Colonial Architecture in New Zealand, Wellington, 1976
P C McCarthy, Victorian Oamaru: The Architecture of Forrester and Lemon, Thesis, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 1986
Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.
pp144, 146, 168, 177
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.
A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Office of Heritage New Zealand