The Elms Mission House and Library
15 Mission Street, Tauranga
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Able to Visit
23rd June 1983
Bay of Plenty Region
Pt Lots 49,53 Lot 50 DP 13870
The timber library and mission house at The Elms in Tauranga are the oldest known surviving buildings in the Bay of Plenty region. They are remnants of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) settlement at Te Papa mission, which had been founded in 1835. The mission was located on a peninsula between the Ngaiterangi pa settlements at Otumoetai and Maungatapu, and was part of a southward expansion of CMS operations from their earlier base in the Bay of Islands. It became the major station in the area from early 1838, ministering to Maori settlements and other CMS stations in the surrounding regions including Thames and Rotorua. With a growing sense of permanence, raupo buildings in the settlement began to be replaced with timber structures during the same year, including the mission house and library. These marked an important stage in the development of the mission, asserting an identity that contrasted more strongly with its surrounding Maori environment.
The library is the earliest of these timber buildings to survive at Te Papa, having been constructed in 1838-1839. It was erected to house books and religious papers, reflecting the importance of education to the CMS mission. The single-storey building is of simple Georgian style with a central door and flanking windows. It is small and square in plan, originally with a small basement, while a chimney was added in 1844 to prevent damp. Construction of the one and a half-storey mission house was started in 1838 to a similar Georgian design. Built to house the missionary Alfred Brown (1803-1884) and his family, it was not finished until 1847, after Brown had been raised to the position of archdeacon. The dwelling is arranged with several large rooms downstairs, with shuttered French windows looking out onto a garden planted with imported species, including Norfolk Island pines and an English oak. The building is closely associated with later events in the third New Zealand - or Waikato - War (1863-1864). Fighting between Maori and British troops occurred at the Battle of Gate Pa immediately to the south of the mission land, and a peace was concluded in front of the house. After the government obtained most mission land for a military settlement, now modern Tauranga, the dwelling and its grounds were purchased by Brown and his second wife Christina (nee Johnston, c.1818-1887) in 1873, and run as a small estate re-named The Elms. Little altered in their basic form, the house and library belonged to the same family until 1998 and continue to be surrounded by extensive gardens and other remnants of the mission complex and estate, now part of The Elms Historic Area.
The mission house and library are nationally significant for reflecting early contact between the CMS and Maori in the Bay of Plenty region. They are important for their association with the spread of Christianity in the Bay of Plenty and beyond. The library is particularly valuable as the earliest surviving purpose-built structure of its type in the country, while both the library and house are among a very small group of New Zealand buildings built or started in the 1830s. They are also among the best-preserved early structures in the country, and are important for our understanding of construction techniques and design in the early colonial period. They similarly provide valuable information on attitudes towards religion, education and domestic life, including those involving gender, race and class. The buildings are extremely valuable for the extensive survival of their original interiors and fixtures, while also retaining numerous chattels such as original books. They have important connections with the third New Zealand War, and prominent colonial personalities such as Alfred and Charlotte (1795/96?-1855) Brown. The buildings are significant as the major surviving buildings in an extensive cultural landscape - The Elms Historic Area - that is one of the best-preserved mission sites in the country. The buildings are associated with related structures, buried archaeological deposits, and historic plantings from one of the longest-surviving gardens in New Zealand. The buildings are particularly valuable to the city of Tauranga due to their links with the town's establishment. The structures enjoy high public esteem for their rarity and age, and as icons of early missionary activity in the region.
Registration covers the buildings, their fixtures and fittings. It also includes recent modifications. The structures are associated with extensive buried archaeological deposits linked to the mission station and the possible remains of an earlier pa site.
1838 - 1839
Construction of library
1838 - 1847
Construction of mission house
Fireplace and chimney added to library
Mission house skillions extended and corrugated iron roof added
Concrete stairway to enlarged library basement added
Internal walls in mission house stripped back to original timber
1976 - 1979
Alterations to mission house including new corrugated iron roof and creation of basement
Structural repairs to mission house, including replacement of some weatherboarding and one set of shutters
1996 - 1997
Modification of library, including replacement of shingles and corrugated iron, and removal of internal paint layers
20th November 2001
Report Written By
Stephen Cashmore, ''The Elms' Mission Station, Tauranga: A Management Plan', [Auckland], 1999 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Jinty Rorke, 'Alfred and Charlotte Brown', Vol.1 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990
Jamie Mackay, 'The Elms Mission Station Conservation Area', NZHPT report, Wellington, 1992 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
Porter, 1983 (2)
Frances Porter (ed.), Historic Buildings of New Zealand: North Island (2nd edn.), Auckland, 1983
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.