Bank of New South Wales (Former)

9 Thames Street, Oamaru

  • Bank of New South Wales (Former). Forrester Gallery.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/11/2001.
  • Bank of New South Wales (Former). Column detail.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/11/2001.
  • Bank of New South Wales (Former) - building on the right. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Donovan Govan Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Donovan Govan. Date: 5/07/2005.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 355 Date Entered 2nd July 1987


City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Town Sec 1 Blk IV Town of Oamaru (CT OT27/269), Otago Land District


The Bank of New South Wales (Former), designed by pre-eminent architect Robert Arthur Lawson in 1882, stands as a landmark building on Thames Street in Oamaru.

The first Bank of New South Wales opened in Tyne Street, close to the bustling harbour precinct in the mid-1870s, and by the early 1880s had negotiated for a new and prominent site in Thames Street, adjoining Lawson’s earlier architectural masterpiece, the National Bank (1870). Designed with the commercial operation on the ground floor, with an additional basement level, and manager’s level on the first floor, the Bank of New South Wales operated in these premises until closure in 1979. The bank building found new life as the Forrester Gallery, named after prominent architect John Meggett Forrester who had bequeathed a generous amount to establish an art gallery in his home town. The Forrester Gallery opened in May 1983.

The bank was designed by Dunedin architect R.A. Lawson, who was renowned for his church architecture but who also completed substantial commercial commissions as well, including the Bank of Otago, next door to the Bank of New South Wales site. The contractors were Philpot and Matheson of Dunedin, while the stone carving was probably by one of Dunedin’s renowned Godfrey brothers.

The Bank is designed in Neo-classical style with a hexastyle portico originally surmounted with a balustraded parapet, now replaced by a more solid structure. The ground floor windows are square headed and those on the first floor are semi-circular. A floriated band of carved stonework marks the level of the first floor. The side elevations are treated in the same manner as the front with fluted pilasters with carved capitals. The rear elevation is plain with a small timber-framed extension to the ground floor. The beautiful exterior ornamentation and the interior ornamentation and fittings make this a special building.

The Bank of New South Wales (Former) is one of Oamaru’s most distinguished buildings, sitting alongside the National Bank, also designed by R.A. Lawson. It is a key building in the history of New Zealand bank architecture by an architect of national importance. Historically it was constructed at a time when Oamaru was expanding and illustrates the importance of banking within the commercial life of the town. The building is an essential component in the impressive array of Oamaru stone public and commercial buildings in Thames Street.

The Gallery’s twenty-fifth year of operation was celebrated in 2008 with an exhibition from the collection by Colin Wheeler and Colin McCahon, and closed with an exhibition focused on the with the exhibition Future present, past- Lawson architectural drawings (of the building) and drawings of the proposed Dunedin architects McCoy Wixon architectural concept for a new addition to the east of the building.

In 2012 the former Bank of New South Wales in its reincarnation as the Forrester Gallery ‘overarches’ the collection and ‘acts as a linchpin and magnet’ for visitors to Oamaru, a landmark building in this town notable for its Victorian townscape.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This building was constructed when Oamaru was undergoing a period of rapid expansion. Its imposing appearance illustrates the importance of the Bank of New South Wales in the commercial life of the town. The building was taken over by the Oamaru Borough Council and converted to an art gallery and cultural centre in 1981.


One of Oamaru's most distinguished buildings it stands alongside the Neo-classical National Bank also designed by Lawson. An imposing dignified structure it is a key building in the history of New Zealand bank architecture by an architect of national importance.


The Forrester Gallery forms a pair of 19th century Neo-classical bank buildings with the National Bank and is an essential component in the impressive array of Oamaru Stone public and commercial buildings in Thames Street.


The beautifully carved exterior ornamentation and interior fittings and ornamentation in the former banking chamber.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Lawson, Robert Arthur

Born in Scotland, Lawson (1833-1902) began his professional career in Perth. At the age of 25 he moved to Melbourne and was engaged in goldmining and journalism before resuming architectural practice. In 1862 Lawson sailed for Dunedin, where his sketch plans had won the competition for the design of First Church. This was built 1867-73. Lawson went on to become one of the most important architects in New Zealand. First Church is regarded as his masterpiece and one of the finest nineteenth century churches in New Zealand.

He was also responsible for the design of the Trinity Church (now Fortune Theatre), Dunedin (1869-70), the East Taieri Presbyterian Church (1870), and Knox Church, Dunedin (1874). He designed Park's School (1864) and the ANZ Bank (originally Union Bank, 1874). In Oamaru he designed the Bank of Otago (later National Bank building, 1870) and the adjoining Bank of New South Wales (now Forrester Gallery, 1881).

See also: Ledgerwood, Norman, 2013. 'R.A. Lawson: Victorian Architect of Dunedin'. Historic Cemeteries Conservation NZ.

Fleming, Bruce

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Philpot and Matheson

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The first bank to open in Oamaru was the Bank of New Zealand, opening a branch in Tyne Street in 1862. The first Bank of New South Wales opened in New Zealand in the wake of the gold rushes in Central Otago, opening seven branches throughout the country. In North Otago the first branch opened in 1876 in wooden premises on Tyne Street, the last of the trading banks to open in the North Otago town.

In 1882 authority was given to the Bank of New South Wales’ inspector to purchase a quarter acre building site adjacent to the National Bank. The site had been occupied by timber merchant Henry Aitken

In early 1883 architect Robert Arthur Lawson advertised for the ‘ERECTION of OFFICES’ in Thames Street. Lawson, one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent nineteenth century architects, was well known for his church designs, but also undertook significant commercial work. His commercial buildings included banks, offices, shops and warehouses. His notable bank buildings included the Bank of Otago in Oamaru (1870 - later the National Bank building, Record No. 363, Category I) and the Union Bank of Australasia in Dunedin (1874, later the ANZ Bank, Record No. 2138, Category II).

In August 1883 the North Otago Times reported that the tender of Messrs Philpot and Matheson of Dunedin had been accepted at a cost of something over £5,000. Philpot and Matheson were active in Dunedin in the early 1880s, and in 1884 were the successful tenderers for the construction of the Southland Meat Company’s Freezing Works at Bluff. Little else is known of their work.

The site was immediately to the south of the National Bank with a 62 foot (18.9 metre) street frontage. The paper reported that the plans showed ‘’an exceedingly handsome building in the full Corinthian order of architecture, the beauty of which will be enhanced, as in the National Bank, by a piazza, having a parapet and balustrade,, supported by six projected fluted Corinthian columns.’

The bank had three levels - ground and first floors with a basement level - 43 feet (13.1 metres) above the street line, 13 (4.0 metres) proud feet higher than the National Bank. The principal elevation was divided into five bays separated by columns. The depth was 50 feet (15.2 metres). The public entrance was through the porch into the banking hall, a generous room of 29 foot by 22 foot (8.8 metres by 6.7 metres), with a height of 17 foot (5.2 metres). The ceiling was panelled in ’12 divisions with enriched cornices and centre flowers.’ The waiting room and manager’s room were to the south of the entrance. Off the hall were a strong room and lavatory and other service areas. The upper storey housed the manager’s residence, though the dining room was on the ground floor. The basement provided space for kitchen and offices. The private entrance was on the south frontage, ‘approached from the street by a stone causeway.’ The result, the paper enthused, was a ‘graceful while massive building, and one which will be second to none in the town.’

The intricate carving is thought to be the work of one of the Godfrey brothers. One of the Godfrey brothers had worked with Lawson on the Bank of Otago (National Bank) next door.

The bank opened on 19 September 1884. The Bank of New South Wales traded on this site for the next 95 years.

By the 1970s the building no longer suited the needs of the Bank of New South Wales and the head office approached the Oamaru Borough Council with the view of exchanging the Borough’s leasehold land nearby for the bank’s freehold land and building. The bank was conscious of the ‘architectural and historic value’ of the building and hoped it might be used in a manner beneficial to Oamaru. The mayor noted that architect J.M. Forrester who on his death in 1965 had bequeathed over $70,000 to the borough to form the basis of an art gallery, and that the offer of the bank at that time was ‘fortuitous.’

In 1981 plans were prepared by architect B.R. Fleming of Dunedin architectural partnership Mason and Wales to redevelop the building which included earthquake strengthening and interior alterations. Approval in principle to the first stage of development was agreed in June 1981 – internal alterations, with a second stage planned for an addition to the rear of the building (though this was seen as some distance in the future if it was to happen at all).

The new Forrester Gallery, named after John Meggatt Forrester, was officially opened in May 1983. The venture was praised as a ‘community and team effort’ and one which remembered one of Oamaru’s ‘most distinguished citizens.’

The centenary of the building was marked in 1984. Celebrations included a selection of architectural drawings depicting North Otago by Forrester and an exhibition of paintings by Oamaru-born Colin McCahon.

In 2012 the former Bank of New South Wales in its reincarnation as the Forrester Gallery ‘overarches’ the collection and ‘acts as a linchpin and magnet’ for visitors to Oamaru, a landmark building in this town notable for its Victorian townscape.

Physical Description


Neo-classical building with a hexastyle portico originally surmounted by a balustraded parapet. Columns and pilasters set on high pedestals are of the Corinthian Order.


The original parapet has been replaced by a more solid structure in Oamaru stone and interior changes were made with the conservation of the building into a gallery.

Construction Dates

1950 -
Wall removed to the right of the main entrance doors

1953 -
Portico added to the entrance to the manager’s residence

1956 -
Alterations to Kitchen, bathroom etc in manager’s residence

1965 -
Fire escape erected

1979 -
Bank closed

1983 -
Conversion to Art Gallery (Bruce Fleming, Mason and Wales, structural engineers Brickell and Moss)

2004 -
Alteration to entrance foyer and reception, wheelchair access ramp

Original Construction
1883 -

2014 -
Restoration of the original polished floor boards in the street level galleries, reception and stairway

Construction Details

Oamaru stone

Completion Date

7th May 2012

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

McDonald, 1962

K C McDonald, 'White Stone Country', Oamaru, 1962

McIndoe, 1979

John McIndoe, Oamaru, Dunedin, 1979

North Otago Times

North Otago Times

21 Aug 1883, p.3

Stacpoole, 1976

John Stacpoole, Colonial Architecture in New Zealand, Wellington, 1976

Cochran, 1997

Chris Cochran, ‘Forrester Gallery Thames Street, Oamaru, Conservation Report’ prepared for the Waitaki District Council, 19 September 1997

Muirhead, 1990

Syd Muirhead, Historic North Otago, Oamaru Mail, 1990

'The Three Bank Buildings'

Other Information

A fully referenced Upgrade Report is available from the Otago/Southland Area office of NZHPT.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.