Clyde Courthouse (Former)

7 Blyth Street, Clyde

  • Clyde Courthouse (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand.
  • Clyde Courthouse (Former). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 20/02/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2379 Date Entered 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the land in certificate of title OT 18D/1080 and the building, fixtures and fittings thereon. (See plan in Appendix 3 of the registration report.)

City/District Council

Central Otago District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 27008 (CT OT18D/1080), Otago Land District


The history of the town of Clyde is intrinsically linked with the history of the discovery and mining of gold in Central Otago. The first post office building dates to the beginning of the town in 1863. Although it was officially named Clyde in 1864, the town was first known as Dunstan in the 1850s and as Hartley's township after his discovery of gold in 1862.

Gold mining began in Central Otago with Gabriel Read's discovery of gold in Gabriel's Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. The following year Hartley and Reilly left this gully and travelled further into Central Otago. They spent the winter prospecting in the now-flooded Clutha Gorge between present day Clyde and Cromwell, finding enough gold in the area to travel back to Dunedin and lodge 87 pounds with the Gold Receiver.

The 1862 discovery precipitated a rush to the area, with the first passenger-carrying coach travelling from Dunedin to Clyde in November of that year. Six weeks earlier, the first gold escort had left Clyde for Dunedin with packhorses. Subsequent gold escorts consisted of a solid covered wagon with armed guards. A ragged canvas town quickly sprang up, and by December of that year between six and seven thousand miners and settlers occupied Clyde and the surrounding areas. Sunday afternoons would see up to 4000 men congregate in the town. At Christmas 1862, 320 people sat down to dinner at one of the "innumerable" hotels, the cost of the meal being 10s 6d. While Clyde was itself the centre of mining activity in 1862, as gold was quickly discovered in other parts of Central Otago such as Arrowtown and Queenstown it was also the source of supplies for those travelling on to other areas.

A photograph dated c. 1862 shows a profile of canvas and wooden buildings along the terrace above the river where the town now stands, and a small collection of wooden structures on the lower beach . McCraw gives a date of 1865 for the same photograph, a more likely date given the number of structures and roads visible, and has annotated it with details of the infrastructure used to mine a seam of coal along the riverbank. By the late 1860s photographs show a row of single-storied wooden buildings running cheek-by-jowl along the main street, now known as Sunderland St. The buildings all feature flat-fronted facades with business signs, among them one named the Dunstan Hotel, and the Hartley Arms Hotel can be seen several doors along. These were just two of many hotels in the town.

Within a week of the first report of Hartley and Reilly's discovery the first Goldfields Commissioner, Jackson Keddell, was dispatched to the Dunstan. The district was legally proclaimed a goldfield on September 23 1862, and Keddell's appointment confirmed in the Otago Gazette of 1 October 1862. A police officer and a gold receiver travelled to Clyde with Keddell to take up their appointments. The first court building on the site of the former courthouse was constructed out of calico and scantling in 1862. Police superintendent Bayly's outward letters for 1863 note court appearances, for example a hotelkeeper being fined 20s on 2 February 1863 for keeping his bar open after hours, the sixth time he had committed such as offence, while the police "Diary of Duty" details work allocated to policemen and records daily events such as deaths and arrests for robberies. The first courthouse was destroyed in the storm of 1863, and replaced the following year by the present structure. As well as providing a venue for court hearings the building was the administration headquarters for the Dunstan goldfields. Offices were located here for the Commissioner for the Goldfields and the Mayor. Keddell only remained in this post until 1863, when he travelled north to fight in the New Zealand land wars with troops he had raised on the goldfields, but he returned to Clyde as a magistrate in 1879. A subsequent influential Goldfields commissioner stationed at the courthouse was Vincent Pyke, who was also first chairman of the Vincent County Council that was based at Clyde. Pyke returned a detailed report from the Otago goldfields to the government in 1863, but gives no information about public buildings and government infrastructure in Clyde at this time.

The former courthouse once stood on a section reserved for general government buildings and stood about a block back from the centre of the town. The complex included law enforcement and civic administration buildings. A survey plan dated 1879 shows the council chambers on a triangular shaped site next to the courthouse, while a larger section to the south of the courthouse shows police offices, a prison, warden's quarters and inspector's quarters. The section is stamped "reserved for Buildings of General Govt". Sullivan notes that a stone house built in the 1860s for the Sergeant of Police (possibly the inspector's or warden's quarters noted on the survey plan) still remains, but the stone jail on the same site has now been demolished. Up to fifteen mounted troopers were once housed in an adjacent area. The troops policed the goldfields, where crimes such as robbery were rife, and acted as escorts for the gold coach travelling to Dunedin. Any prisoners from the goldfields committed to serve sentences were taken back to Dunedin shackled to the escort wagon, and stayed overnight on the way chained to a ring in the Styx jail, halfway between Clyde and Dunedin.

In a photograph dating to the 1860s the armed, mounted gold escort is shown at Clyde outside a barracks building with a flagpole in the foreground, most likely the barracks used to house the troopers, associated with the courthouse. Gilkison describes the gold being transported "in a strongly built covered van drawn by six magnificent horses and accompanied by an officer with several troopers on horseback". A later photograph of Clyde taken in the early twentieth century shows the council chambers on the other side of the courthouse prominent on its corner site to the rear of the main street, but the courthouse is not visible .

In 1958 the former courthouse was vested in the Vincent County Council under the Land Act (1948) , and transferred to the Central Otago District Council in 1990 after the reorganisation of local government in the late 1980s. From 1966 the former courthouse was used as the local museum until 1992, when it was moved into the neighbouring former Vincent County Council Chambers. The former courthouse stayed empty for a number of years until the Central Otago District Council sold it to private owners in 1999. In 2001 the courthouse was purchased by its current owner, Murray River Investment Ltd, and was until recently used as a café.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The former Clyde Courthouse is a building of architectural, cultural and historical significance.

Culturally and historically, the former courthouse is significant as it once played an important role in the infrastructure of a small rural town. The first scantling and canvas structure on this site dated to 1862, the year gold was discovered near Clyde, and this demonstrates the importance of maintaining law and order on the potentially lawless goldfields. The stone building with its formal composition demonstrates the historic importance of the law in the gold fields.

Its simple, formal architecture and schist construction material reflects a common theme in historic buildings in Clyde and throughout Central Otago. The main street elevation has a plastered front in a Victorian Italianate style, with a smooth plaster finish, an arched doorway and windows and quoins, demonstrating a formal, public function within the community. The other three walls are unplastered shaped rubble brought to course, a common vernacular building material in many of Clyde's historic structures.

The former Clyde Courthouse is representative of important aspects of New Zealand's history, when the courthouse played an important role, socially and physically, in this small rural community. Historically, towns such as Clyde were geographically isolated, separated from other gold mining settlements by long distances that could only be travelled on foot, on horseback or by coach. In this context the courthouse represents the establishment of law and governance in a previously unsettled terrain, associated with the first police force in Clyde.

The community hold their former courthouse in esteem. After government restructuring the Courthouse was vested in the Vincent County Council in 1958 and ceased to operate as a court by this time. In 1966, the Vincent County and Goldfields museum opened in the building, staying there until 1992 when it moved to the adjacent former Vincent County Council building. During these years the building was vitally important to locals, as letters written by Enid Annan, concerned with the protection and maintenance of the former courthouse, amongst other buildings in Clyde, demonstrate. It was also among a number of buildings that Fleur Sullivan carried out research on, all significant to the local community.

The former courthouse forms an important part of the cultural and historical landscape and streetscape of Clyde and Central Otago. A number of other buildings in Clyde reflect the character of the frontier town of the 1860s, particularly in the main street, Sunderland St. The use of schist is a common theme in buildings in Clyde and throughout Central Otago, and its use in the former courthouse demonstrates its close association with other buildings in the town and surrounding landscape. It is also a building that formed an important part of the infrastructure of the historic town of Clyde, and so the building represents an important aspect of this historical and cultural structure of governance and the maintenance of law and order.


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The former Courthouse is a single-storey rectangular-plan building. The North East elevation to Blyth Street is detailed in a Victorian Italianate style, with a smooth plaster finish, an arched central doorway, flanked by two arched windows with false keystones and pilasters. A round window is placed centrally at the gable end of the north east elevation. The South East elevation has four evenly-spaced double-hung sash windows. The North West elevation has c.six (obscured in photograph) double-hung sash windows. There are contrasting quoins on the North West and South West corners.

A number of other heritage buildings, principally constructed from local schist, can be found in Clyde, dating to the early days of the town. The main street, Sunderland Street, retains remnants of its character that can be seen in photographs dating to the 1860s. Although not registered with NZHPT, the building of the Hartley Arms hotel still stands several doors down from Dunstan House, its original stone now disguised with a roughcast exterior. Dunstan House and Dunstan Hotel, two impressive schist two-storied buildings dating from around 1900, when they replaced earlier wooden structures, stand out above the other buildings.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1864 -
Constructed to replace an earlier calico and scantling structure that was blown down in the storm of 1863.

Construction Details

Local schist stone smooth plastered on the street frontage face; corrugated iron roof.

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

Gives Vincent Pyke's Goldfields report 1863

Angus, 1977

J. Angus, One Hundred Years of Vincent County Council, Vincent County Council, Dunedin, 1977

Clyde Promotion Group

Clyde Promotion Group, n.d. Walk Around our Historic Town Clyde (updated version of Sullivan n.d.). In NZHPT Clyde general file.

Gilkison, 1978

R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978

McCraw, 2003

J. McCraw, Gold on the Dunstan, Square One Press, Dunedin, 2003

Moore, 1953 (reprint 1978)

C. Moore, The Dunstan, Whitcombe & Tombs, Dunedin, (First published 1953, Capper Press reprint 1978)

Sullivan, nd

F. Sullivan, An Historic Town set in the heart of Central Otago's Goldfields Park (Guide to Clyde buildings), nd.

Veitch, 1976

B. Veitch, Clyde on the Dunstan, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1976

Other Information

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.