119 Church Street, Opotiki

  • Courthouse, Opotiki. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Ulrich Lange - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ulrich Lange. Date: 3/02/2010.
  • Courthouse, Opotiki 2007.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: K Pfeiffer.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3502 Date Entered 5th April 1984


City/District Council

Opotiki District


Bay of Plenty Region

Legal description

Allot 447 Sec 2 Town of Opotiki, Justice Purposes Gaz 1991 p.3522


The courthouse at Opotiki reflects the town's historical role as a centre for the administration of law and order in the eastern Bay of Plenty. It is also linked with the ongoing improvement of government facilities following New Zealand's establishment as a Dominion in 1907. Built in 1910-1911, the timber building was erected on the corner of Church and Elliott Streets, the main crossroads in the settlement. The structure replaced an 1870s courthouse on the same site, which was part of a group of government buildings - including a post office and police station - that were rebuilt in the years immediately after 1910. The courthouse occupied the most prominent position of these buildings and was the first to be replaced.

As one of the most pre-eminent government buildings in Opotiki, the courthouse symbolised the presence and authority of government rule. The administration of government, and law and order in particular, was a significant issue in Opotiki, whose foundation as a military and commercial settlement in the 1860s had occurred on confiscated Te Whakatohea land. Erected at least partly as a result of local pressure, the courthouse was built not only shortly after New Zealand's Dominion status was achieved, but at the same time that civic government for the town was cemented. Opotiki was constituted as a borough in 1911, when its population was just over 1,000 inhabitants. The building fulfilled functions other than those connected with the judicial system, including the registration of births, deaths and marriages. The site had an important association with the first establishment of local government in the eastern Bay of Plenty, as a meeting in the previous courthouse in 1877 had founded the Whakatane County Council.

The courthouse was erected as a single-storey weatherboard structure, with a courtroom, judge's chamber, offices, and a strong room towards the rear. It was constructed at an initial cost of £1,073 under contract to C. M. Grant of Opotiki. Designed by the Public Works Department headed by John Campbell, the building incorporated influences from domestic architecture, including elements of transitional bungalow style. These included a low-pitch roof with cross gables, exposed rafters, and mouldings under the windows. Nevertheless, the scale of the courthouse and aspects such as the logo 'GR' ('George Rex', or King George V) above the main door, made it evident that it was a government building. The restrained ornamentation was part of a trend seen in other courthouses designed by John Campbell in the 1910s. This can be seen as displaying a more 'democratic' approach to the appearance of some government architecture in the years following the establishment of the Dominion. A strong influence from domestic architecture on the design of provincial courthouses was a common theme in northern New Zealand, extending back into the nineteenth century.

Although the building was formally opened in February 1911, additions were made using day labour by 1912. A long outbuilding to the rear may have been erected partly as a coach house, and was being used as a garage by 1948. For much of the century, prisoners were brought to the courtroom from a lock-up behind the police station next door. Following the closure of the station, a cell block wing was added to the courthouse in 1997. Earlier modifications included relocating the courtroom to the southern side of the building, partly to improve the waiting facilities and create additional office space. The structure avoided the fate of many small courthouses in the 1990s, when many were closed, and remains in regular use by the Department for Courts.

The courthouse at Opotiki is a well-preserved example of small-town judicial architecture from the early 1900s, still being used for its original purpose. It is linked with the improvement of the administrative infrastructure of New Zealand in the early years of the Dominion (1907-1947), and the architectural work of John Campbell. The building demonstrates Opotiki's administrative role in the Bay of Plenty region, and is believed to be the earliest purpose-built government building in the town to survive in its original location. It retains elements, such as an original safe, that are directly related to its early judicial and administrative functions. Located on the site of an earlier courthouse, its position directly reflects mid nineteenth-century ideas about the layout of new military and commercial settlements. The building adds to the streetscape and distinctive character of Opotiki, being located on a prominent corner. It is part of a valuable historical urban landscape of nineteenth and early-twentieth century date, which contains other heritage buildings, including the nearby Masonic Hotel and War Memorial.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Campbell, John

John Campbell (1857-1942) served his articles under John Gordon (c1835-1912) in Glasgow. He arrived in Dunedin in 1882 and after a brief period as a draughtsman with Mason and Wales joined the Dunedin branch of the Public Works Department in 1883. His first known work, an unbuilt design for the Dunedin Railway Station, reveals an early interest in Baroque architecture.

In November 1888 Campbell was transferred to Wellington where in 1889 he took up the position of draughtsman in charge of the Public Buildings Division of the Public Works Department.

He remained in charge of the design of government buildings throughout New Zealand until his retirement in 1922, becoming in 1909 the first person to hold the position of Government Architect. Government architecture designed under his aegis evidences a change in style from Queen Anne to Edwardian Baroque. His best-known Queen Anne design is the Dunedin Police Station (1895-8), modelled on Richard Norman Shaw's New Scotland Yard (1887-90). Among his most exuberant Edwardian Baroque buildings is the Public Trust Office, Wellington (1905-09). Although Campbell designed the Dunedin Law Courts (1899-1902) in the Gothic style with a Scottish Baronial inflection, he established Edwardian Baroque as the government style for police stations, courthouses and post offices throughout New Zealand. In 1911 Campbell won the nation-wide architectural competition for the design of Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Although only partially completed, Parliament House is the crowning achievement of Campbell's career.

Grant, C.M.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Registration covers the building, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. It is associated with an early outbuilding to the west, while archaeological deposits linked to the 1870s courthouse - as well as earlier colonial and Maori settlement - may also survive. The whare from which the Rev. Volkner was taken for his execution in 1865 is reputed to have been located on the post office site, a short distance to the south of the courthouse.

Construction Dates

Site of earlier courthouse

Original Construction
1910 - 1911
Construction of Courthouse

1912 -
Additions using day-labour

1987 -
Internal alterations

1997 -
Cell block wing on south-western corner

Completion Date

20th June 2003

Report Written By

Martin Jones & Shirley Arabin

Information Sources

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

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

1908, D-1, p.xi; 1911, D-1, p.46; 1912, D-1, p.86

Auckland Weekly News

Auckland Weekly News

8 October 1908, p.39

Clark, 1977

Lindsay Clark (ed.), Opotiki 100 Years: 1877-1977, Whakatane, 1977

Richardson, 1988

Peter Richardson, 'An Architecture of Empire: The Government Buildings of John Campbell in New Zealand', MA Thesis, University of Canterbury, 1988


Other Information

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.