Gisborne Gaol (Former)

Awapuni Road, Gisborne

  • Gisborne Gaol (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Mike Vincent.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Mike Vincent.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Mike Vincent.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3567 Date Entered 5th April 1984


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 4310 (Recreation Reserve Gisborne Domain NZ Gazette 1955 p.686) and Lot 1 DP 4297 (Recreation Reserve Gisborne Domain NZ Gazette 1958 p.703), Gisborne Land District, and the building known as Gisborne Gaol (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Gisborne District


Gisborne Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 4310 (Recreation Reserve Gisborne Domain, NZ Gazette 1955 p.686) and Lot 1 DP 4297 (Recreation Reserve Gisborne Domain, NZ Gazette 1958 p.703), Gisborne Land District


The Gisborne Gaol (Former) is an important example of built heritage associated with law and order in the Tairawhiti region, and as a physical record of the way prisoners were incarcerated in the first half of the twentieth century. Located on the waterfront at Churchill Park, Gisborne, its construction was first proposed in the early 1900s, after a report by Inspector of Prisons, Colonel Hume, found the existing police jail to be too small to service the growing region of Tairawhiti. By 1907 Hume was promising that the government would purchase land for the new prison, suggesting that he would...

'like to see a place of about three acres chosen, which would allow for gardening - the growing of vegetables, and so on. Any building put up would require to be on such lines that extensions could be made as the increase of population required.'

After some controversy about the beachfront site at Waikanae (part of eight acres of land set aside by the Government as a railway reserve), a tender was accepted in August 1910 and construction began. Gisborne Gaol was formally gazetted as a public jail on 31 August 1911. When the jail opened for business on the 4th September 1911, the warder was Mr Parker, from Lyttleton, responsible for moving one prisoner from the police jail, an Ernest John Mathews, serving four days for drunkenness.

The Gisborne Gaol (Former) is a one-storey building with an irregular floor plan. It has concrete foundations, brick walls (stretcher bond), and a corrugated iron roof. The lower third of all walls and building corners are plastered. No evidence has been found to support the claim that the Gisborne Gaol was designed by local architects Joseph H. Burr & Israel Mirfield. The Gaol was divided into two sections. On one side were the cells, day room, bathrooms and exercise yard for the men. The other side had much smaller facilities for women prisoners, as well as bedrooms, dining and sitting room, bathroom and office for the wardens. Soon after the jail opened, prison labour was used to build a concrete wall around the outside of the section, as well as plant a stand of macrocarpa trees on the site. A series of windows and doors, mostly boarded over to prevent damage, run around the building. Most of these were added when the building ceased to be a prison. The façade design is unusual, with a brick 'lean-to' extending from the centre of a flat wall. A parapet was formed along the top of the flat wall above the lean to by placing a small pillar on each side of its roof, originally with an iron railing running between them. A further decorative element is the use of coloured bricks to create a diamond pattern along the side and rear walls. A verandah has been constructed along the south half of the west side of the building.

Gisborne Gaol (Former) was built at the same time as the New Zealand prison system was undergoing a radical shake up. From deterrence and punishment matching the crime, the focus shifted to seeing crime as a kind of illness and the prison as the place for cure. This new philosophy was let down by New Zealand prison buildings, which weren't designed to allow appropriate treatment of the inmates. In a sense, Gisborne Gaol was outdated as soon as it opened, but despite its limitations remained in use until 1950, when the Gisborne Police Station became a police jail and longer term prisoners were sent elsewhere. Quick to take advantage of a beautiful site and a quirky building, the 30,000 Club fundraised to transform the Gisborne Gaol and surrounding land into the Churchill Park Motor Camp. The men's exercise yard was roofed and windows were punched into the exterior walls so the cells could be used as bunkrooms. The jail remained a camping ground until 1984, when it was briefly used as a dojo for a local judo club, and as clubrooms for the Gisborne Airforce, Army and Sea Cadets. It is currently unoccupied.

The former Gisborne Gaol is an important example of built heritage associated with law and order in the Tairawhiti region, and a physical record of the way prisoners were incarcerated in the first half of the twentieth century. It has aesthetic significance as a well-known feature of Churchill Park and the Waikanae beach waterfront, and architectural significance as a pleasingly designed brick building with modest ornate details. The former jail has historical value through its associations with the police and the justice system in Tairawhiti, reflecting ideas about prisons and the treatment of prisoners in regional centres. As a jail and then later holiday accommodation, the building has social significance for many local residents, embodying important if contradictory aspects of local history.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Burr & Mirfield

J H Burr became an Associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1905. Mirfield began his career as a clerk of works before entering into partnership with Burr in 1912.

Burr and Mirfield were responsible for many buildings in the Gisborne district including the Masonic Hotel (with Rene Natusch), the New Zealand Insurance Building, the Kaiti Memorial Church (with Clere and Williams, 1925), the Public Trust Office and some large residences in Gisborne.

Buildings designed by the Gisborne architectural practice of Burr and Mirfield - other than the Rangatira Hotel - include the New Zealand Insurance Building (1915), 50 Childers Road, Gisborne (NZHPT Registration # 3553, Category II historic place); the Public Trust Building (1922), 40 Childers Road, Gisborne (NZHPT Registration # 3552, Category II historic place); a house (1925) at 233 Harris Street, Gisborne (NZHPT Registration # 3512, Category II historic place); the Kerridge House (1935), 75 The Esplanade, Gisborne (NZHPT Registration # 4421, Category I historic place); and the M. Zemba Ltd Building (1937), 63 Peel Street, Gisborne (NZHPT Registration # 3542, Category II historic place).

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1911 -
Opened for use as a prison

1912 -
Wall constructed around prison, built using prison labour

1950 - 1960
Major alterations including roofing men's exercise yard, inserting windows into exterior walls, converting cells to bunk rooms

1953 -
Purchased by local 30,000 Club transformed into the Churchill Park Motor Camp opened as

Completion Date

21st June 2010

Report Written By

Damian Skinner, Gail Henry, Linda Pattison

Information Sources

Gisborne Herald

14 Dec 2012

Gillingham, Marianne, 'Historic jailhouse just short of 100', 23 Nov 2007

‘Holiday camp to be ready by Christmas', Gisborne Herald?, 9 Dec 1953. GDC Property File, 6660-100, v.1.

Poverty Bay Herald

Poverty Bay Herald

Durance vile', 15 Sep 1904; 'Proposed new gaol: interview with Colonel Hume', 25 Jun 1907; ‘New Gisborne gaol’, 1 Sep 1911; ‘The new gaol’, 5 Sep 1911

Pratt, 1992

J. Pratt, Punishment in a Perfect Society: the New Zealand Penal System, 1840-1939, Wellington, 1992

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the NZHPT Lower Northern 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.