Various iwi have inhabited the Manawatu, primarily along the rivers, for approximately 300 years before European incursion into the area began. Despite the presence of these settlements the area was not heavily populated, but it was known as a wonderful hunting and gathering ground for eels, waterfowl, and other native birds and fruits. Around the area which would become Rongotea Maori occupation seems to have been focused around the banks of the Oroua River and mainly consisted of Rangitane kainga during the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, Ngati Apa began to impinge on Rangitane land around the river. This became a source of conflict between the two groups, but also resulted in intermarriage and the creation of Ngati Tauira. In the 1830s Ngati Kauwhata and Ngati Raukawa deposed the existing iwi from some of their lands around the Oroua River and Rongotea, and as such when early European missionaries travelled down the river they recognised Ngati Kauwhata as the dominant iwi.
Because of the various periods of conflict and displacement, by the late 1840s the right to sell the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block to the Crown was contested between several iwi and '...there raged for years a storm of litigation around the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block which not only strained the relations between [iwi and] European settlers, but at one time threatened to break out in inter-tribal war.' Therefore, it was not until the conclusion of several Native Land Court cases in the late 1860s that the European settlement of the block was able to progress to any extent.
Despite Crown sections being advertised for sale in the Rongotea area in late 1872 as part of the Township of Carnarvon there was limited interest until the Foxton to Sanson road was completed in 1874. This increased access encouraged a partnership of two Otago runholders, Hon. Robert Campbell (1843-1899) and John Douglas, to purchase a block of land called the Douglas Block, in which they established Campbelltown, whose name was later changed to Rongotea. However, the establishment of the town took some time due to the less than transparent activities of Campbell, a member of parliament, in the purchase and proposed settlement scheme. Therefore, it was not until 1876 that parliament sanctioned the settlement under the Special Settlements Act (1871). Once the legalities were resolved and other preparations made, sections of land in Rongotea sold relatively quickly. By February 1880, nine months after being put up for sale, it was reported that approximately half of the town sections had been sold.
The town and surrounding farming area continued to develop over the next decade and by the late 1890s, Rongotea was described as:
'a lovely farming centre..The town itself, with a population of 153 inhabitants, is prettily laid out and well situated, and the roads are capital, the land being chiefly occupied by dairy farmers, who are fairly prosperous.'
The facilities in the town included a public school, Post Office, as well as Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Wesleyan churches. A notable absence was that there was no hotel in the town because of prohibition which was passed in 1896. The building of churches and the 'dry' status of Rongotea coincided in the late nineteenth century and their combined influence meant that Rongotea was nicknamed 'The Holy City.'
The Bank of New Zealand in the Manawatu
Auckland businessmen Thomas Russell (1830-1904) and John Logan Campbell (1817-1912) founded the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) in 1861 in time to take advantage of the boom period of the Otago gold rush. The incorporating Act for the bank was passed in late July 1861, which also authorised the BNZ to issue its own banknotes. The pattern of BNZ banks opened in the Manawatu is reflective of the progress of the railway from Wellington, with the first opened at Foxton in 1874, followed by an agency in Sanson, and another branch in Palmerston North in 1877.
By the late 1890s branches of the BNZ were also present in Bulls and Feilding, and several local businesses in Rongotea had accounts at these branches. Due to growth in the area a BNZ Bulls sub-office was opened in Rongotea on 14 June 1895 and it was staffed from Feilding in 1899, at which time Rongotea was said to be 'still booming.' This initial office was in a rented space and by 1905, when the BNZ was forced to take up temporary premises because of a fire in the shop they had been located in, there were calls for a local manager to be appointed. Later, in 1907 it was planned that the office would move into another rented space in a large dairy company building that was being constructed. However, this move was forestalled by the purchase of a section of land on Douglas Square, the commercial and physical centre of the town, from A.G. Hickford in order to construct a purpose-built bank for the Rongotea office.
The year of 1907 seems to have been a particularly good year for the local dairy industry and a busy building time in Rongotea and the surrounding area, with a Masonic Hall under construction, as well as numerous large residences. When the BNZ purchased the section of land in Douglas Square it was hoped that they would build a 'more pretentious building than the one they are currently using.' Such a building would not only be a credit to the banking institution but was also a matter of civic pride. This was indeed the BNZ's proposal and the plans were prepared by Joshua Charlesworth (1861-1925), who in his role as the BNZ architect for the lower North Island was also responsible for the new Feilding branch building erected during the same period. Charlesworth was a prominent Wellington architect in the early twentieth century, and other than Bank of New Zealand buildings, such as those in Takaka and Dannevirke, he also designed the Wellington Town Hall, as well as commercial and residential buildings. The Rongotea building was completed in 1908 by a local contractor, W.J. Pye, and was a small scale but distinguished looking building with its Edwardian Italianate style front façade.
Only a few years later in 1911 the office was elevated to the status of a BNZ branch. In conjunction with this the building was extended to create a space for a resident staff member. The creation of the Rongotea Branch is perhaps indicative of the growth and prosperity of the local dairy industry. Indeed, between 1912 and 1926 an office operated in Glen Oroua, which was under the management of the Rongotea branch, because of the dairy factory there. It was routine for the Rongotea Bank Manager's monthly visits to the Glen Oroua office to coincide with the date the dairy factory paid its suppliers. During this period the Rongotea Branch seems to have gone from strength to strength resulting in the substantial westward extension of the rear section of the building by Edward Herbert de Jersey Clere (1884-1967) in 1922-23, which expanded the manager's area and created a bathroom for the residence.
The ongoing importance and relevance of the Rongotea branch within this successful rural area was demonstrated in the mid twentieth century with another extension of the building. The designs by R. and W. Thorrold-Jaggard Architects, a Palmerston North firm, involved the construction of a westward extension on the front of the Rongotea BNZ in 1945-46. The work entailed replicating aspects of the original façade so that a larger manager's office could be incorporated into the building. In turn, this enabled the area that was previously the manager's office to become a general working space for the other staff.
However, by the 1960s the demand for localised banking facilities was decreasing because of the increased access to Palmerston North that occurred with the upgrading of the Tangimoana-Longburn highway. This relative ease of access, and the lack of requisite shopping facilities in Rongotea, convinced the BNZ to close the Rongotea branch in 1968, although this was not before a kitchen lean-to was added to the east side of the building. However, as an agency of the Palmerston North branch, the BNZ in Rongotea was still staffed three times a week by employees from the city. Most of the branches and agencies elsewhere in the district shared a similar fate or were closed, and with the exception of Feilding and Palmerston North, by 1981 the Rongotea BNZ was the only one that was still operating. However, by 1985 the BNZ in Rongotea had closed as well which was reflective of a general decrease in available facilities in the town. The removal of the BNZ from Rongotea followed the discontinuation of the daily bus service to Palmerston North and also the closure of the Post Office. For the largely older population of the town this was particularly problematic, but others in Rongotea were also reportedly 'feeling isolated and frustrated with these changes.'
In 1989, at a time which corresponded with Area Health Boards setting up rural health centres, a group of local people decided that something was needed to forestall these feelings and bring the community together. With the help of Area Health Board and other groups, such as the Lottery Grants Board and Lions, the Rongotea Community Centre Incorporated Society was formed and based itself in the former BNZ building which the Manawatu District Council purchased in 1985. Some alterations and repairs were made to the building at that time which the Council paid for. The Community Centre operated as a primary health care provider, and as well as a range of medical related services the Community Centre was also a place for people to meet up and talk over a hot drink, and a venue for community meetings. This was a popular local service and in 1993 approximately 200 people came to the Centre every month.
In recent years the Community Centre has begun to focus more on being a general facility for the Rongotea community. The Community Centre acts as a kind of unofficial citizen's advice bureau and it now also features a small library service, as well as continuing to be a well-patronised drop-in centre for local people. The volunteers who staff the Community Centre are from the area and are a wealth of information regarding its inhabitants and history, therefore genealogists and the like also find it a useful place to contact.
Rongotea has not expanded substantially beyond its original boundaries and is still very much a rural service town on a relatively flat site laid out using a grid pattern. Bank of New Zealand (Former) is situated at the centre of Rongotea in Douglas Square, which since the town's inception has been the commercial area of Rongotea. This is reflected in buildings dotted around the square which date from the early twentieth century or before, such as the Post Office (now a residence) and dairy factory buildings on opposite corners of the square, and the mechanics garage that neighbours Bank of New Zealand (Former). The double face clock in one of the front windows of the BNZ was originally in the Post Office, but was transferred in the late twentieth century.
The BNZ is positioned at the front of its section so that the building has immediate pedestrian access from the footpath. The driveway to the east of the building leads to a carpark, which is the roughly the same size as the building, and adjoins a long gabled late twentieth century building that houses a community arts centre. The area surrounding the buildings and tar sealed area is grassed and largely devoid of plantings.
Given the relative size of Rongotea it is not surprising that the BNZ building in the town was smaller than its counterparts in places such as Feilding, and while strong Classical and traditional bank architectural features were included in the design, the level of decoration is also indicative of the status of the branch. For example, the 1890s Feilding BNZ building (which had been relocated from Halcombe) had pilasters with Corinthian capitals, extensive corbel courses, and a parapet around its roof line which was broken by a pediment bearing the banks name. The replacement for this building was completed in 1907 and was even grander than its predecessor and that which was soon after built in Rongotea, being further distinguished because it was a masonry, rather than timber, building.
From the late nineteenth century Italianate architecture had been popularly referenced in New Zealand bank architecture because of the associations that this style had to the grand residences of successful Renaissance merchants. Therefore, the Italianate references in the Rongotea BNZ, such as the arch-top windows and main entrance with decorative key-stones, the large parapet and entablature, and the Ionic pilasters of the main façade are an interpretation of typical bank architecture at the time, which was tailored to the stature of the town and level of business the office could expect.
The core of this timber building, which is clad in rusticated weatherboards and has a corrugated iron roof, is that which was originally constructed in 1908. The street front façade of this initial gabled building consisted of the main entrance whose shape mirrored that of the arch-top window with fluted lower edges to its west, and the smaller versions on the east façade. The pilasters which flank this original section reference the proportions of columned Classical and Renaissance buildings through a lower 'podium' being defined by moulded timber, as is a column 'base' and 'capital.' The entablature, with its heavy cornice, caps the façade, features the name of the building, and is incorporated into the parapet. The original features of the front façade were replicated in 1945-46 when a section was added to the west side of the building.
The form of the original building can be seen from the east façade in the roofline that begins behind the parapet with a gable and then drops down into a lean-to section that initially housed the staff office area of the building. This rear lean-to was extended further in 1911 with the addition of a small residence to the building. When this rear section was extended westward in 1922-23 the original fireplace on the east façade was removed and the external access door created. It is unclear when the kitchen lean-to which is perpendicular to the 1911 section was added but it seems to be a mid twentieth century extension completed while the Rongotea BNZ was still a Branch office. While the weatherboards of this section are also rusticated, these have not been aligned with those of the original section. The kitchen lean-to has its own external access on its south façade, and rectangular windows on its other two external walls.
A timber ramp wraps around the northeast corner of the building a leads into a small deck that leads to the access to the north of the building, which is provided by a set of 1990s French doors. The depth of the deck matches that of a further lean-to on the northwest corner of the building, which is also a late twentieth century addition and houses an externally accessible toilet. The lean-to in which this is housed is an extension of that created in 1922-23, and expanded the internal space of the former bathroom of the residence so that it could be used as a medical clinic room. This section has small square and rectangular windows on the north façade, but none on the west.
The west side of the building has always been the one situated closest to a boundary and the distinction between this and the public faces of the building, the front and east façades, is demonstrated with the use of standard double-hung sash, rather than arch-top windows. This difference could also be attributed to the 1922-23 and 1945-46 construction periods of this section. The extent of the 1945-46 addition of the manager's office can also be seen in the roof line on this side of the building, with this mid twentieth century section nestled at the intersection of the original gable and 1922-23 lean-to.
The building is entered though double set of main entrance doors which lead into an original small rectangular match-lined lobby. Access to the main body of the BNZ is then via another double set of timber doors, although this couplet has large glazed panels. Aside from its four windows, light into the main area of the building is filtered through the lobby by way of the arch shaped fanlight above the main entrance and the rectangular one above the interior set of doors. A vertical match-lined dado encircles the now open plan space of the 1908 and 1922-23 era building. The public and staff areas of the former bank are clearly defined with the public space having hardboard lining above the dado and staff office space's walls and ceiling, which is also lower than the public area, being match-lined. Remnants of the mid twentieth century bank counters and partitions are also present on the east side of the interior, as well as a post on the wall of the manager's office. This post represents the division of the public and staff spaces and illuminates why the manager's office has two entrances; one was for public use and is on the south side of the post towards the front of the building, and the other to the north was on the staff side of the counter.
The large rectangular manager's office was added in 1945-46 and has retained all of its original timber cabinetry. One set of cupboards occupies much of the east internal wall and extents above the staff entrance. Another set of floor to ceiling cupboards is recessed into the north end of the office. The final set of cabinets is along the front wall beneath the height of the window.
A single door at the rear towards the eastern side of the main space provides access to what was the residence within the building, constructed in 1911 then extended in 1922-23, as well as the subsequent kitchen and other additions at the rear. The central space features original high moulded skirting and match-lining and is a very light area because of its French doors. Due to the large opening, that includes a breakfast bar, this area flows into the kitchen addition on its east side. The kitchen is lined in hardboard and has basic kitchen fittings and facilities. To the west is the entrance to the nurse's room. This is a simple room with chattels associated with its function, and a mixture of 1922-23 match-lining and hardboard lining.
Bank of New Zealand Rongotea completed
1922 - 1923
Expansion of office area and bathroom addition
1945 - 1946
Construction of manager's office which includes front façade extension
Northwest corner extended and rear French doors installed
Concrete, corrugated iron, glass, timber
18th January 2010
Report Written By
Buick, 1903 (1975)
TL Buick, 'Old Manawatu', Christchurch, 1903 (1975)
D. A. Davies & R.E. Clevely, Pioneering to Prosperity 1874-1974: A Centennial History of the Manchester Block (Feilding & Oroua Borough Councils, Feilding 1981)
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Stone, R. C. J., 'Campbell, John Logan 1817 - 1912,' updated 22 June 2007
Stone, R. C. J., 'Russell, Thomas 1830 -1904,' updated 22 June 2007
All: URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
R H Griffin, BNZ Winton: A Century of Service 1878-1978, BNZ Archives, Wellington, 1978.
R.H. Griffin, 'Victorian Bank Architecture in New Zealand: A paper delivered to the Australasian Victorian Studies Association on 26 January 1982 at Massey University of the Manawatu, Palmerston North, New Zealand', BNZ Archives, Wellington, 1983 (with corrections)
S. Mclean, Architect of the Angels; the churches of Frederick de Jersey Clere, Wellington, 2003
An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1966
G. Petersen, Palmerston North; A Centennial History, Wellington, 1973
B. Saunders, Manawatu's Old Buildings, Palmerston North, 1987
Waitangi Tribunal Report, www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz
Anderson, R. and K. Pickens, 'Rangahaua Whanau District 12 - Wellington District: Port Nicholson, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Rangitikei, and Manawatu,' Waitangi Tribunal Rangahaua Whanau Series, August 1996. Updated 14 August 2009
Papers Past, www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz
Feilding Star: 2 November 1899, 15 June 1904, 13 March 1905
Manawatu Herald: 20 February 1880
P Benson, History of Rongotea, Rongotea, 1981
Ian Bowman, 'A Heritage Inventory for the Manawatu District Council,' February 2000, Manawatu District Council
A fully referenced Registration Report is available from the NZHPT Central 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.