Otautau Courthouse (Former)

146 Main Street, Otautau

  • Otautau Courthouse (Former). South west elevation to Otautau's main street.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 1/06/2008.
  • Otautau Courthouse (Former). South east side elevation.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 1/06/2008.
  • Otautau Courthouse (Former). Witness box and detail of fire surround.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchaop. Date: 1/06/2008.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 3822 Date Entered 15th October 2010

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Section 56 Blk I Town of Otautau, (CT SL10A/754), Southland Land District, and the building known as Otautau Courthouse (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Southland District

Region

Southland Region

Legal description

Sec 56 Blk I Town of Otautau (CT SL10A/754), Southland Land District.

Summaryopen/close

The handsome Otautau Courthouse (Former), a solid and conservative brick building built in 1909 representing the presence of law and justice in the small Southland town of Otautau, stands on the main street. Designed by the Public Works Department, and built by local builders Thomson and Georgeson, the building is a reflection of the town’s importance as a rural centre in the early years of the twentieth century.

The European settlement of Otautau began as a camping place ‘where the itinerant bullock dray paused only long enough for the wayside greeting’ on the way from Riverton to the interior and to the Lakes District beyond. As a flood of hopeful gold miners made their way to Central Otago in the 1860s the settlement developed. The town was surveyed in 1872 and land was set aside in the centre for reserves associated with government buildings. The Police Reserve and the Telegraph Reserve were located next to each other, with the town hall and athenaeum to be located nearby. The Town Board wanted a substantial prosperous-looking town centre, and to encourage this passed a bylaw in 1907 proclaiming that all buildings within a defined area in the centre of town had to be constructed of brick, stone or concrete.

Court sittings were initially held in Otautau’s town hall. The Town Board and the magistrates had approached the Government about the urgent need for proper facilities in Otautau.The District Engineer called for tenders for the construction of a timber courthouse in August 1907. The Public Works Department acceded to the request that the new building be brick. Tenders for the design in brick were finally called for in April 1908, and a tender for between £1,100 and £1,200. The contractors began work in June 1908.

In the early 1980s the Justice Department declared the courthouse was surplus to its requirements. The Wallace County Council eventually acquired it and used it for the Otautau Library. Later it was sold to the Otautau Heritage Trust. It is used for meetings, exhibitions, and workshops by the Otautau & District Creative Arts Trust and the Otautau Museum Trust and according to the museum is one of Otautau’s oldest buildings.

The Otautau Courthouse is a single-storey double brick building, basically square in plan (12.4 by 11.8m). It is brick construction with brick pillars and infill brick which forms the basis for the decorative scheme of the building. It has a double hipped, corrugated iron roof. The principle elevation faces Main Street with its formally styled Classical façade, with a stripped back Palladian motif. The façade is divided into three bays, the central encompassing the formal double-doored entrance, flanked by symmetrically-placed arched and paired casement windows. The roofline is concealed behind a square pediment which proclaims the construction date as 1908.

With its solid formal presence the former Courthouse makes a significant contribution to the streetscape of Otautau. It reflects important aspects of New Zealand history, including the spread of the colonial judicial system into the lower South Island. The Otautau Courthouse (Former) represents the establishment of law in this isolated district. The court was the centre for criminal justice, but also oversaw civil cases, and provided a focus for the administration of justice in the town and district.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

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 over sixty years and has local historical significance. The building is considered by the community to be an important part of the historic fabric of the town, and houses the Otautau Museum, and continues to be a meeting place.

Architectural Significance or Value:

The Otautau Courthouse (Former) 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 Otautau Courthouse reflects important aspects of New Zealand history, including the spread of the colonial judicial system into the lower South Island. The Otautau Courthouse (Former) represents the establishment of law in this isolated district. The court was the centre for criminal justice, but also oversaw civil cases. The theatre of the court system was a significant element in community life, and was recognised as such by the local people.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape.

The Otautau Courthouse (Former) is a significant element in the historic streetscape of Otautau. The Courthouse was constructed at a time when there was a bylaw which required buildings on the town’s main street to be constructed of brick, and this led to a collection of substantial buildings which gave the town a feeling of solidity and permanence.

Summary of Significance or Values

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, e, f, and k.

Conclusion

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

The Otautau 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. It now houses the Otautau Museum, illustrating its ongoing significance.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

As the centre for the study of the history of Otautau and the surrounding district, and the focus for exhibitions and displays which provide insight and information into the past, the former Courthouse has a place in public education.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori History

The Southland Plains, on which modern day Otautau is located, recall the history of the Takitimu waka, the waka of Tamatea Pokaiwhenua, Tamatea Pokaimoana, Tamatea Ure Haea. The Takitimu Mountains, named after the wreck of the waka of Tamatea, stand at the edge of Fiordland. The Plains formed when the Aoraki’s canoe capsized, and Aoraki and his brothers were forced to climb onto the back of it to avoid drowning. The broad stern of the waka formed the Southland Plains, culminating in the tip of the stern being Motu Pohue (Bluff Hill). The bodies of Aoraki and his brothers were changed into mountains. The origin of the Maori name for Otautau links to the meeting of the Aparima River and the Otautau Stream The importance of the Takitimu Range to Ngai Tahu is provided by way of topuni, pursuant to the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlements Act 1993.

The land in the Otautau area was alienated from Maori through the purchase of the Murihiku Block in 1853. The Murihiku purchase 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.

Otautau was located along the trail between the south coast and Te Anau. There are a number of find sites and occupation sites in the vicinity of Otautau, but none known to be associated with the block of land in question.

Otautau

The European settlement of Otautau began as a camping place ‘where the itinerant bullock dray paused only long enough for the wayside greeting’ on the way from Riverton to the interior and to the Lakes District beyond. As a flood of hopeful gold miners made their way to Central Otago in the 1860s, an accommodation house became necessary, leading to the erection of the first building in what was to become Otautau – reported variously to be an accommodation house or wagoner’s shack.

The town gradually grew up around these modest beginnings. The land around the town was in large pastoral estates which limited the population growth, and once these had been subdivided, Otautau developed as a rural service centre.

The town was surveyed in 1872 and land was set aside in the centre for reserves associated with government buildings. The Police Reserve and the Telegraph Reserve were located next to each other, with the town hall and athenaeum to be located nearby. In 1876 the headquarters of the Wallace County Council were transferred from Riverton to Otautau giving the growing town a sense of civic pride.

The Town Board wanted a substantial prosperous-looking town centre, and to encourage this passed a bylaw in 1907 proclaiming that all buildings within a defined area in the centre of town had to be constructed of brick, stone or concrete.

Otautau Courthouse

Court sittings were initially held in Otautau’s town hall. The Town Board and the magistrates had approached the Government about the urgent need for proper facilities in Otautau.

Money was granted for the construction of a courthouse in Otautau in 1906. While the money had been handed over to the Justice Department and plans prepared, the section on which the facility was to be built had been vested in the Postal Department, which ‘declined to transfer it’, maintaining the post office may need to be expanded in the future. There were only a few sections in the hands of the Crown in Otautau and hurried negotiations followed.

Otautau’s new post office opened in December 1906. The Premier the Hon. Joseph Ward attended and received a deputation led by Member of the House of Representatives J.C.Thomson about the necessity of having the courthouse constructed on the adjoining site, with the Premier finally agreeing to that request.

The District Engineer E.R. Ussher called for tenders for the construction of a timber courthouse in August 1907. As the Town Board had passed a resolution declaring that this part of Otautau was a ‘brick building area’ the Public Works Department acceded to the request that the new building be brick. Tenders for the design in brick were finally called for in April 1908, and a tender for between £1,100 and £1,200. The contractors began work in June 1908.

The contractors were Thomson and Georgeson. James Thomson moved to Otautau from Invercargill to take up the construction contract with George Georgeson. The partnership worked on many local projects including the erection of the Yellow Bluff Bridge, and commercial premises for Robertson’s drapery. In addition to their building work they erected a sash and door factory, where they also made furniture, and were considered an important local manufacturer.

The Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle reported on the finishing touches as the building neared completion:

‘[t]he courthouse is a solid brick structure, with central entrance leading into a lobby 11ft by 4ft….Turning to the left on entering the visitor finds himself in the courtroom itself, a solidly finished handsome room 36ft by 20ft, with 15ft by 9ft railed off for the public. Within the railing there are the witness box and the dock. Counsel is provided with table and drawer accommodation, while just below the Magistrate’s Bench is the Clerk’s desk. Turning left on entrance from the front is the waiting room for witnesses, and adjoining that is the Public Office, with ample counter room for the public also a large strong room. Immediately behind the Public Office is the Magistrate’s private room, which also communicates with the courtroom.’

The building also contained a toilet facilities and a coal shed. The interior was finished in ‘red pine figured timber’ which was oiled rather than varnished, with a ‘good substantial handsome appearance.’ The walls were plastered, while the ceilings were panelled and painted. Messrs Thomson and Georgeson completed the interior work, and the joinery was manufactured in that firm’s premises in Otautau. The courthouse was completed in early 1909.

An opening ceremony was held in the middle of May 1909. Counsel and magistrates expressed their pleasure at being able to administer justice from the ‘much needed’ new building.

By the 1920s there were a number of ‘substantial’ buildings in Otautau’s commercial centre, which included the large brick post office as well as the courthouse, giving ‘an air of prosperous stability.’

It was not until the 1960s that the title for the Courthouse was regularised and set apart for a courthouse, finally losing its designation as a site for a telegraph office.

Otautau Museum

In the early 1980s the Justice Department declared the courthouse was surplus to its requirements. The Wallace County Council eventually acquired it and used it for the Otautau Library. In 1999 the rear toilets were demolished and a lean-to addition to provide storage space and modern kitchen and toilet facilities was constructed.

Later it was sold to the Otautau Heritage Trust. It is used for meetings, exhibitions, and workshops by the Otautau & District Creative Arts Trust and the Otautau Museum Trust and according to the museum is one of Otautau’s oldest buildings.

Physical Description

Setting

The former Courthouse is located in the small Western Southland town of Otautau, located fifty kilometres north of Invercargill. The Courthouse sits between two empty sections on the east side of Main Street, with modern buildings on either side. Across the road are single storey commercial premises which look to date from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Further to the north are substantial two storey brick buildings.

Exterior Description

The Otautau Courthouse is a single-storey double brick building, basically square in plan (12.4 by 11.8m). It is brick construction with brick pillars and infill brick which forms the basis for the decorative scheme of the building. It has a double hipped, corrugated iron roof.

The principle elevation faces Main Street with its formally styled Classical façade, with a stripped back Palladian motif. The façade is divided into three bays, the central encompassing the formal double-doored entrance, flanked by symmetrically-placed arched and paired casement windows. The entrance doors are not original. The bays are delineated by pilasters, single on the corners, and paired on either side of the double entrance doors. The toplights in the windows have multiple glazing bars. The arches have keystones and moulded archivolts, with the architrave-cornice forming a horizontal moulded decorative band across the front of the building. The horizontal bands are echoed in the string course. The roofline is concealed behind a square pediment which proclaims the construction date as 1908.

The side elevations see a less ornamental version of the main façade, with the structural bays painted a contrasting colour. There are three sets of windows on the north elevation (two three-lights, and one single-light), and two on the south elevation. The rear elevation has a lean-to addition which has a single garage roller door and another access door.

There are two chimneys with decorative brick coursing and clay chimney pots.

Interior Description

The interior walls are generally finished in panelled stained timber to dado height, with plaster above this up to the ceilings. The ceilings are lined with Gib Board.

Like other courthouses, the internal spaces were divided into a lobby, courtroom, offices, vault and public counter space. The internal layout is a slightly offset central corridor with access to what was the court room on the north elevation, and into three offices on the south elevation. There is a small strong room. The building now functions as a museum with creative and exhibition space in the courtroom, and further office and exhibition space in the other rooms.

The entrance lobby has painted plastered brick walls above timber tongue and groove dado panelling. The skirtings, dado rail, doors and architraves are varnished timber.

What was the main court room has similar internal detailing, with a raised floor area at one end delineating what would have been the judge’s bench area. The ceiling has timber panels with timber battens, all painted. There are ornate plaster cornice mouldings. There are two metal ventilation grilles in the ceiling. The original fireplace has been replaced by a built in fire unit. The original fireplace surround and mantle are still in place. The original door furniture is still in place.

The front, central, and rear offices are of similar detailing to the former courtroom. In the east wall of the centre office is a cast iron fireplace with varnished timber surround and mantle. In the south/east corner there is a walk in vault with a heavy steel door.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1909 -

Modification
1982 -
Conversion to a library

Modification
1999 -
Rear toilets demolished and lean-to storage space constructed

Construction Details

Brick, timber joinery, corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

18th August 2010

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Miller, 1975

F.W.G. Miller, West to the Fiords: The History of Western Southland, comprising Wallace & Fiord Counties The Borough of Riverton and the various town districts within those areas, Whitcoulls, 1975, [first published 1954].

Other Information

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.