Historical Significance or Value
The former Courthouse is representative of the courthouses constructed in small towns throughout New Zealand. Constructed in the late nineteenth century at a time when the jurisdiction of Resident Magistrates' Courts was increasing, the Courthouse served in its judicial capacity for eighty years and has local historical significance. Still remembered locally as the 'old Courthouse' the building is considered by the community to be an important part of the historic fabric of the town, and has been incorporated into the Riverton Tourist and Heritage Centre.
The Riverton Courthouse (Former) has additional historical significance as it reflects one of the most significant aspects of New Zealand's history, the process by which the legal status of Maori owned land changed. The Native Land Court was responsible for the large-scale and often unwilling transfer of Maori land into the hands of the Crown and Pakeha private purchasers, in order to facilitate European settlement.
Architectural Significance or Value:
The Riverton Courthouse is a representative example of nineteenth century public works architecture, the Classical detailing of which emphasises the formality and solemnity of the judicial process, but one befitting a small provincial town.
(a)The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The Riverton Courthouse reflects important aspects of New Zealand history, including the spread of the colonial judicial system into the lower South Island.
The Riverton Courthouse (Former) represents the establishment of law in this isolated district. The court was the centre for criminal justice, but also provided a venue for the Warden's Court, which administered gold mining matters in this part of Southland, as well as overseeing civil cases. The theatre of the court system was a significant element in community life, and was recognised as such by the local people.
In addition to its role as the centre of the application of criminal justice in Riverton, the Riverton Courthouse also represents the locus of the relationship between Maori and Pakeha, through the workings of the Native Land Court. From 1865 onwards the history of Maori land is closely connected to the history of the Native (later Maori) Land Court. The Native Land Court has had an enormous impact on the historical development of New Zealand, and a very particular impact on hapu and whanau and their relationship with their land.
(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua:
The Native Land Court was responsible for the large-scale and often unwilling transfer of Maori land into the hands of the Crown and Pakeha private purchasers, in order to facilitate European settlement. In the South Island the Native Land Court dealt with the land granted under the South Island Landless Natives Act (1906) which was often inaccessible and uneconomic, adding to earlier injustice. The relationship with the tangata whenua was a crucial but difficult one, but one where the Riverton Courthouse has the ability to remind all New Zealanders of the impact of the Native Land Court and this complex part of New Zealand's history.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
The Riverton Courthouse has been closely associated with the local community for most of its lifetime, and has been occupied and looked after by groups linked to the local community since its closure as a court in the 1960s.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
Riverton Courthouse (Former) is recognised as a prominent landmark in the historical landscape of Riverton Township. Its location overlooking the Aparima estuary on the main street of Riverton alongside other historic buildings makes it significant in Riverton.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, d, e, and k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
Ancient stories tell the origins of southern Maori, with the waka of Aoraki becoming Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island), and its sternpost, Te Taurapa a Te Waka o Aoraki becoming Bluff Hill (also known as Motupohue). The Maui traditions are also told in the south, with Maui arriving in his waka Maahunui, and throwing out the anchor Te Puka o Te Waka a Maui (Rakiura). Maui's achievements are recognised in place names in the south, including Omaui near Bluff, and Te Tapuwae o Maui and Te Rereka o Maui in Fiordland (Maui's footstep and Maui's leap).
The early generations learnt about the land and its resources: stone sources were found, and stone (especially pounamu) became an important trading item. Whanau moved throughout the southern area to take advantage of seasonal resources and trade, and also for reasons of intermarriage and war. Kaika were established close to resources. Rights and resources and places were established, and traditions established which protected the manawhenua.
According to the Ngai Tahu Statutory acknowledgments in the settlement important villages along the south coast included: 'Te Wae Wae (Waiau), Taunoa (Orepuki), Kawakaputaputa (Wakapatu), Oraka (Colac bay), Aparima (Riverton named Aparima after the daughter of the noted southern rangatira Hekeia, to whom he bequeathed all of the land which his eye could see as he stood on a spot at Otaitai, just north of Riverton), Turangiteuaru, Awarua (Bluff), Te Whera, Toe Toe (mouth of the Mataura River) and Waikawa.'
In the 1830s shore based whaling was established, including a station at Aparima. Tuhawaiki established his own whaling station. Strategic intermarriage of Maori women to whalers strengthened relationships. Flax and timber as well as other commodities were traded.
1853 saw the Murihiku purchase which left Maori south of the Waitaki (excluding the Otakou Block) with only 4,630 acres, the start of a long quest by southern Maori for justice questioning the legality of the purchase as well as the inadequacy of the land reserved. The major settlements on the southern coast near modern day Riverton/Aparima in the mid nineteenth century included Pahia, Ngawhakaputaputa, Oraka and Aparima (established probably in the 1820s), although the largest settlement was on Ruapuke Island.
A reserve was set aside at Aparima but was inadequate. The Aparima reserve was the site of the main kaika and included an urupa and a tauranga waka. The majority of the reserve was later taken by the Public Works Act for a secondary school, with only the tauranga waka remaining as reserve, a source of continued grievance.
Establishment of Government Services in Riverton/Aparima
Though settled in the 1830s the Town of Riverton was not surveyed until 1858 and 1861. The Township of Riverton created by proclamation in June 1871. In 1868 land was set apart as sites for 'Government Buildings', police stations and the like in Riverton. An 1871 survey shows the reserve with building footprints shown: the customhouse, telegraph office and courthouse.
The Public Works Department took over control of the office of the Colonial Architect in 1874. Further reorganisation saw the position of Engineer-in-Chief replaced by the Chief Engineer in each island, with separately organised operations. Maintenance of public buildings, such as the courthouse, was carried out by provincial staff.
The original courthouse was burnt down on the morning of 15 March 1882. The fire was so fierce that it was only with great effort that it was prevented from spreading to the adjoining Post and Telegraph Offices.
Riverton/Aparima residents were keen for a substantial building which adequately reflected the importance of government functions to the population:
‘Why not stop patching up these rotten old wooden buildings, and let us have a suitable place for all General Government work put up. There is a fine site available, and as the Government does not insure, let us have stone or brick. As it is at present, there is the Customs-office, the Land-office, and the old Post-office. I am of opinion that they should all be pulled. So far as the Custom-house is concerned, if they don't pull it down soon, it will fall down, as it is perfectly rotten. I like retrenchment, but to be spending money in patching up old buildings is penny wise and pound foolish. I trust our Liberal member has got his eye on these obnoxious structures, and that if not he will take the hint and act upon it.'
In 1882 £800 was granted towards the new building. The Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR) reported that the plans were in preparation in 1883. In April 1883 the tender for the courthouse contract was advertised by district engineer W.W. Dartnall with plans and specifications available for view in both Riverton/Aparima and the Public Works Department in Invercargill. Nelson-born William Whitney Dartnall (1844-1929) had a significant career as an engineer in both New Zealand and Australia. He was district engineer in both Invercargill and Nelson/Picton, and served as chief engineer in Perth, Western Australia, for sixteen years, until his retirement in 1908.
Riverton/Aparima residents were impatient when there was delay in building the replacement courthouse. In March 1883 it was announced that the contract was to be let out for tender shortly, ‘better late than never' was the correspondent's disgruntled opinion. When the plans became public the Otago Witness reported that the new brick building ought to be ‘an ornament to the town.' Work on the Riverton Courthouse was underway in 1884 as the building progress was reported in returns to the Minister of Public Works.
The citizens of Riverton/Aparima were proud of their public buildings, the hospital, post and telegraph office and courthouse. The courthouse with its ‘multifarious offices' was the place where Riverton/Aparima residents met to watch and be involved in the play out of drama which was a ‘day in court.' As the Otago Witness reported, ‘litigation is a game freely played by the western people, and court day draws a greater audience than a sale or political meeting.'
The Riverton Courthouse also provided a venue for Native (later Maori) Land Court hearings. Iwi relationship with the land is of pivotal importance and the loss of land through the Native Land Court process a source of continued grievance. From 1865 onwards, when the Native Land Court was formed, the institution was the means by which millions of acres of Maori land were transferred to the Crown and to private purchasers throughout New Zealand. The Native Land Court facilitated the individualisation of title (Maori land was held by kin groups rather than individuals), which in turn made alienation of land from Maori ownership much easier, and undermined the idea of communal ownership and the ability of Maori to make decisions about their own land. In the South Island the situation was somewhat different as the huge scale of land alienation through purchase left Ngai Tahu essentially landless, with additional land granted back through the South Island Landless Natives Act (1906). The Native Land Court then dealt with complex issues of succession as iwi struggled to deal with often inaccessible uneconomic blocks.
Native Land Court hearings at Riverton/Aparima were often a source of frustration and distress for iwi, with one suicide reported in the local newspaper as a result of disappointment because of a court judgement. One man complained that the Court had awarded Crown Grants to people who did not belong to the land: ‘Is it a likely thing that I would take the ground from my own people and give it to strangers...it was in my possession, and for seven generations before me; and Mackay [Judge Mackay] must divide it to strangers without my consent, and make roads in the map and make the place public, that I have nothing but trouble.' At times four hundred individuals attended the hearings in Riverton, with the sittings reported in the paper. The facilities which were in poor repair anyway would have struggled to support such attendance. The Native Land Court also sat at Waikouaiti and Bluff in the nineteenth century.
The building's deteriorating condition is evident in the Public Works Department records. Files from the 1920s indicate a steady programme of maintenance. The harsh weather conditions took its toll on the building, and in 1929 the assistant engineer at the Public Works Department was calling for repairs necessary to preserve the building, and described the interior as ‘dirty' and ‘generally dilapidated.' The original gas lighting was replaced by electricity in the mid 1920s, with the initial request from the assistant engineer for electric lighting connections was turned down as unnecessary expenditure, resulting in the plaintive plea from the engineer that the Riverton/Aparima borough electrification scheme was almost complete, and the town gas supply was about to be cut off, leaving the courthouse without lighting. Electricity was connected shortly afterwards.
In the absence of the original drawings, a valuation from the 1930s provides an idea of the layout of the building when it was functioning as a courthouse. The main rooms were: Court Room, Magistrate's Room and Witness Room. There was also a strong room and an office.
The Riverton Courthouse was in use by the Department of Justice until its closure in the 1960s. In 1969 the Riverton Playcentre took over the building officially opening their premises in July 1969.
In 1992 the building was purchased by the Wallace Early Settlers Association. The courthouse was connected to the Association's adjoining premises, and the building used for displays and office. The Wallace Early Settlers Museum was founded in 1959, evolving from a proposal in 1937 by the district's early settlers' association.
In 2007 the then Prime Minister Helen Clark announced its contribution of over $172,000 to complete the Riverton and District's Heritage and Tourist Centre's project. The grant allowed the redevelopment of the museum which incorporated a Tourist Centre into the museum and an exhibition ‘Te Hikoi' which illustrated the history of the area, focusing particularly on the early contact period between Maori and Europeans. The new facilities were designed by Invercargill architect John McCulloch.
Alongside this development was the redevelopment of the main street, including a ‘Riverton Focal Point' area which provided a focus for the town. The goal was to provide a town centre which would be a focus for both residents and tourists. The development saw landscaping and interpretation on the site adjoining the Courthouse, which took place after consultation with the community. The new Riverton and District's Heritage and Tourist Centre, incorporating the former courthouse, is an important element in this townscape feature.
Riverton Courthouse on its prominent corner site close to the bridge which connects North and South Riverton overlooks the expanse of the Jacobs River Estuary across the bay to the rolling Longwood Hills. The stuccoed building with its formal Classical façade, which now forms part of the Riverton Tourist and Heritage Centre, is a significant element in the historic townscape of this small Southland town. The courthouse sits at the western boundary of the commercial centre.
The Riverton Courthouse is a single-storey double-brick structure built directly to the street front of Palmerston Street. The building is roughly square in plan. Two projecting gables face the street. Between them is the former main entrance with its formal decoration. There is a hipped roof at the rear of the building.
The main entrance has a triangular pediment over the double doors, framed by attached pilasters with decorative consules, and a small toplight and narrow sidelights.
The two gable ends facing Palmerston Street have decorative vermiculated quoins. There are two paired round-headed double-hung sash windows with keystones and engaged pilasters.
The side (east) elevation has a single double hung sash window and a door as the only openings. The north elevation used to have three double hung sash windows but these have been filled in, with their location indicated by a smooth surface in the stucco and a window sill. The west elevation has been incorporated into the Riverton Tourist and Heritage Centre, with the once exterior wall included in the new building as a feature, illustrating how the Courthouse has been incorporated into the new design.
The fittings of the court are no longer apparent in much of the courthouse. The courtroom has been converted into a gallery/lecture space. It has a partially coved ceiling, now painted. There is wide architraving still in place, and the chimney breast indicates the position of the fireplace which has now been covered over.
From the gallery space a single door leads to the central hall and lobby for the court. The vault is now used as a store, and the archives are also stored in the two rooms on the east side of the building. A further exhibition space is located in the large room on the west side of the building. Like the gallery, the chimney breast is still evident, but the fireplace has been filled in.
1883 - 1884
Gas lighting installed
Gas lighting replaced with electricity
Riverton Playcentre takes over premises
Converted for use as museum by Wallace Early Settlers Association. Connected to adjoining building.
Riverton Tourist and Heritage Centre built incorporating the Riverton Courthouse into the new facility.
Brick, stucco, corrugated iron, cement render, timber joinery.
14th June 2010
Report Written By
Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)
Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives
A Anderson, The Welcome of Strangers: an ethnohistory of southern Maori A.D. 1650-1850, University of Otago Press, Dunedin, 1998.
P. Sorrell, (ed) Murihiku: The Southland Story, Southland to 2006 Book Project Committee, Invercargill, 2006
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.