The discovery and settlement of the Wairarapa region is connected with several prominent figures of New Zealand’s history. Ancestral figures such as Hau-nui-a-nanaia, Kupe, Whatonga, Tara Ika and Toi have all been said to have connections with the region and are responsible for the naming of many of the Wairarapa’s features and places. It has been estimated that Rangitane settled in the region by about the sixteenth century. Marriage links with Rangitane saw a group of Ngati Kahungunu retreat to the Wairarapa in the subsequent century as the result of internal hapu conflict. The two groups cohabitated mostly in the south Wairarapa for a period, but then the Ngati Kahungunu newcomers negotiated several sections of land for themselves. This process was not seamless and instances of conflict continued between the two iwi over the centuries. The next significant period of change in the area was in the early nineteenth century with the progression of Te Rauparaha and others. This ushered in an era when many different iwi, including Ngati Whatua, Ngati Awa, Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tama, and Ngati Mutunga, made advances into the region and some Ngati Kahungunu hapu withdrew.
European incursion into the Wairarapa only began after the New Zealand Company’s Port Nicholson settlement was established. Based on the reports of the exploring and surveying parties that the company sent out, the southern Wairarapa became one of the first extensive tracts of land to be occupied by Europeans, although the Crown titles, negotiated by Donald McLean, were not obtained until 1853. However, it took substantially longer for settlement to progress beyond Masterton, which was linked to Wellington by road in 1859. Further incursion was slow because the northern Wairarapa was heavily forested, as opposed to the south with its relatively clear and large grass plains. In particular, the forest north of Mount Bruce was dense with rimu, tawa, matai, maire, kahikatea, and rata, and was known as Forty Mile Bush, which was within the larger Seventy Mile Bush that also encompassed places such as Dannevirke and Norsewood. Maori referred to this forest as Te Tapere Nui o Whatonga (The great forest of Whatonga) and an abundance of birdlife resided there amongst giant ancient trees, some of which were large enough for groups of local Maori to shelter within their trunks.
The forest acted as a significant barrier and therefore, while there was some European settlement in the northern Wairarapa before the late nineteenth century, it was not until roads were extended further and the railway link to Wellington established that the area was opened up for substantive settlement. In preparation for the construction of the railway the government had an active role in the foundation of several places in the Wairarapa and Tararua regions. Towns such as Mauriceville, Eketahuna, Norsewood, and Dannevirke were all initially formed as bases for the railway labourers. Part of the preparation for the railway construction included building a road through the district which had progressed by the mid to late 1870s.
This increased, albeit rudimentary, access meant that land sales in the Pahiatua area earnestly began in the early 1880s. An initially slow sales market was boosted greatly by purchases made on behalf of Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930), who later went onto become British Prime Minister and Earl Balfour. In this way, when Pahiatua township was eventually established in 1881 it differed from most of the other settlements in the area because it was not created by the Crown, instead it resulted from private subdivisions of land. The site of Pahiatua had previously been a Maori village called Te Pohatu. It is thought that Pahiatua’s founder, Masterton nurseryman William Wilson McCardle (1844-1921), named the township after his friend and local Maori Chief, Koneke Pahiatua. Pahiatua, which means resting place, or camp, of the atua refers to a seventeenth century event when an atua rescued a Rangitane chief from invading forces to the south.
Once the subdivisions were made, Pahiatua quickly emerged as a frontrunner to become the main service centre of the area, which attracted further settlement and businesses to the town. By the mid 1880s local tenacity meant that the burgeoning town of about 500 people had shops, a hotel, and a road board, but had been by-passed by the railway despite Main Street having been specifically made unusually wide to compensate for the potential railway line down its centre. The fact that Main Street was prone to flooding was a valid reason for the government engineer to recommend the railway tracks be laid west of the town, but Pahiatua people saw this as a deliberate snub. Because it was a privately created town Pahiatua was slow to accrue many of the public facilities that were established comparatively early in other towns. However, the rapid growth of the town and wider area led to the creation of the Pahiatua County Council in 1888 and the Pahiatua Borough in 1892.
In 1908 Pahiatua was described as a ‘rising town.’ Although the timber industry was not as dominant as in the initial settlement period, it was still important locally. However, by the early years of the twentieth century the dairy industry was the major economic contributor to the area, and this was supplemented by sheep farming and fruit production and processing. Accordingly, in the early twentieth century the town also featured branches of several different banks, including the Bank of New Zealand and the Union Bank of Australia. The Bank of New Zealand had a relatively substantial and elegant Pahiatua branch building, which was a contemporary of that constructed by its competitor the Bank of New South Wales. However, this Bank of New Zealand building was demolished to make way for a new branch building in 1974.
The Bank of New South Wales was among these early banks to set-up in Pahiatua. The Bank of New South Wales had previously established its presence in the wider area through branches in Dannevirke (1891) and Masterton (1895). A Pahiatua branch was opened a few years later in 1899 in leased rooms, becoming the 35th Bank of New South Wales branch opened in New Zealand since its first in 1861. It may have been a report from the Masterton branch manager that motivated the bank to consider opening the Pahiatua branch. He believed that ‘the land is of first quality and is rapidly being broken in and I am confident [that Pahiatua] would be a desirable place to open.’
After establishing themselves in the leased office space on Pahiatua’s Main Street, the Bank of New South Wales soon started looking for a permanent home in this economically promising area. In 1902 it purchased a site on Main Street, however this seems to have not been in an ideal location and was eventually sold when the property which the Bank of New South Wales (Former) was to be constructed upon came up for sale. Now in possession of land in the central business area of town, the bank set about building the chambers most likely designed by its Wellington architects Crichton & McKay, complete with manager’s residence.
Crichton & McKay, and the subsequent forms of this firm, were the Bank of New South Wales’ architects from 1901 until 1979, and was a reputable and well-established Wellington firm. As well as being the bank’s architects they were also responsible for a range of residential, commercial and public buildings, such as Braemar Flats (Former) in 1924, the Fever Hospital (1918-19), and the Dominion Building (1928), all in Wellington. Their Pahiatua Bank of New South Wales was completed in March 1912 and was overdue as prior to this the Bank of New South Wales still operated from rented offices, which were not centrally located, and which the bank had long outgrown. In comparison Mr Lea, the branch manager, described the new premises as ‘well situated, and very suitable for our requirements.’
After its building’s construction the business at the Bank of New South Wales in Pahiatua was subject to the ebbs and flows of the economy. It was another event beyond the control of the bank, an earthquake, which necessitated the only significant changes to the building. The lower North Island is known for its history of large earthquakes, particularly along the Wairarapa fault. Large quakes included those in Wellington in 1855 and the Wairarapa earthquake of 1942. There was also a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in Pahiatua in 1934. This period seems to have had a concentration of seismic activity, with the Murchison earthquake in 1929, the devastating Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 1931, and the Wairoa quake in 1932. Loss of life during the Pahiatua earthquake was restricted to one person probably because the quake occurred close to midnight when most people were asleep. However, the effect of the terrifying earthquake was said to have been ‘apparent in all homes.’ Aside from chimneys falling down all over the area, many businesses in the town centre were also affected.
Although the Bank of New South Wales building was designed to be relatively secure against theft, it was not immune to the effects of the 1934 Pahiatua earthquake. Its masonry construction meant that some of the exterior walls sustained bad cracks, and like other places around the area, it also lost both of its chimneys. As such, there was a reasonable amount of rebuilding and alteration that was necessary in the aftermath of the earthquake, although this did not include interior alterations as this part of the building sustained no damage. Among the works over the following six months was the rebuilding of upper sections of the southwest walls, and also the original parapet was removed and replaced with a smaller concrete equivalent to reduce the risk of the masonry falling on people in the event of another large earthquake.
The plans for the repairs and alterations seem to have been designed by William Mair, a junior in Crichton, McKay & Haughton. This is most likely the same person who went onto to be a partner in the later incarnation of the architecture firm, Haughton, Son & Mair, which practiced from 1954. It is not surprising that the firm’s partners did not take the lead on this project because at the time they were busy designing replacement buildings in Napier after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, such as the former Bank of New Zealand building (1933-34).
Later in the twentieth century, C.B. Horsnell, who had begun his banking career in the Pahiatua branch, returned to become the Bank of New South Wales’ manager in 1967 and seems to have been the motivating force behind the upgrading of the Pahiatua branch in this period. By this time Horsnell and his predecessor lived in an off-site manager’s residence. Over the preceding 55 years the interior of the bank does not appear to have undergone many changes other than upgrading electrical systems and the integration of other technologies. Indeed by this time staff felt that the interior was ‘shabby and antiquated.’ Obviously, the head office in Wellington agreed because in 1969 they decided to tidy up the interior of the Pahiatua branch, modernise some of the internal partitions and spaces, and remove original elements like the large double hearth fireplace and chimney that was a feature of the staff work area, and also the timber panelling around this and the public space.
In the late twentieth century it was the business operations of the bank which underwent the major changes. After over 80 years of service in Pahiatua, in 1982 the Bank of New South Wales merged with the Commercial Bank of Australia, and in doing so created Westpac. In 1997 the business of the Pahiatua branch of Trust Bank was integrated into Westpac’s Pahiatua branch, while the previous year the business of the Eketahuna Westpac had also been transferred to Pahiatua.
Bank of New South Wales (Former) is located in the central business area of Pahiatua’s Main Street, on its northwest side. The surrounding buildings are all commercial in nature and are from a variety of periods. For example, the 1912 bank’s closest neighbour is the large art deco Post Office Building, and on the opposite sides of Mangahao Road and Main Street respectively are a modern ANZ Bank and the 1970s BNZ building. Most of the commercial buildings along Main Street are single storey structures. Prior to the construction of the ANZ Bank building, this business was based in the Union Bank of Australia building slightly northeast of Bank of New South Wales (Former). This area of Main Street therefore seems to have been the banking area of the town since the early twentieth century, as both these buildings date from a similar period, as did the BNZ building which formerly occupied the site of the current branch.
From the late nineteenth century Italianate architecture had been popularly referenced in New Zealand bank architecture because of the associations that this style had with the grand residences of successful Renaissance merchants. Like its earlier counterpart in Westport (1901), the new Bank of New South Wales in Pahiatua was a scaled back version of some of the more elaborate buildings the bank built in places such as Invercargill (1904) and Wanganui (1910) around this period. This is reflective of the relative size of the community and economy the Pahiatua branch served. Perhaps the most elaborate remaining example of a Bank of New South Wales building is now the Forrester Gallery in Oamaru (1884), whose front façade has double height ornate Corinthian columns and pilasters, with a heavy and detailed entablature that wraps partially around its sides, as well as other elements such as arched architraves and keystone detailing on the upper windows, and string courses.
These strong Classical and traditional bank architectural features are present in the partially reinforced masonry and concrete Pahiatua branch building, but the level of decoration is tailored to, and indicative of, the status of the branch. Like the other examples, the focus of the decorative features is on the public face of the building, and because of the Pahiatua branch’s corner site this means the ornamentation is across two facades; the southeast/Main Street façade and the northeast/Mangahao Road façade. The northeast elevation of the building is longer than that along Main Street and includes an extra set of windows. At the diagonal junction of these two façades is the main entrance, and like the flanking sets of windows, the door has an arched architrave.
This public face of the building has a series of Italianate elements which are repeated along the two façades: double austere pilasters flank the windows which have rusticated smooth masonry around them and decorative keystones. The door is singled out as a feature by the absence of similar rustication, but also because a couple of the window keystone elements have been used as ornamental brackets for the entablature. These keystones have a scroll design, which also include acanthus motifs. A string course in line with the top section of the windows and the entrance door wraps around the public façades.
Originally the entablature, whose original signage identifies the building as a Bank of New South Wales branch on both the northeast and southeast façades, was capped with a substantial parapet and there was also a pediment above the entrance. However, after the 1934 Pahiatua earthquake these features were removed and the parapet replaced with a levelled-off concrete equivalent of reduced height. This later parapet is relatively plain although it does feature groups of relief designs emulating balustrades. These are currently partially covered by modern Westpac signage. The front concrete access ramp and steps were added in 1994.
An unusual feature of the building is that certain elements, like the lower string course, pairs of pilasters, and the entablature’s architrave, extend around the rear façades of the building as well. The southwest side of the building steps inwards approximately half way along its length, and it is only the section of this façade which is furthest away from Main Street which is free of any decoration. A report made after an attempted robbery in 1959 described the southwest façade as having two windows. This would suggest that the external door on this side was created by extending the window opening in the late twentieth century, most likely after 1969. Conversely, the former staff entrance at the rear of the building has subsequently been closed-off and a small window created. The incident report also recommended the installation of the bars across all of the rear windows. However, the current interior window grilles are probably from a later period.
Interior – public space
The main interior space of the building corresponds to the highly decorative public façades of the exterior. This has always housed the customer and business spaces, although the internal non-structural partitions have varied over the years. The most recent fittings in this respect seem to have been undertaken circa 1994, although it is unclear when the panels which lower the ceiling height, and slightly obscure the tops of the windows and the ornate ventilation grilles, were installed. Prior to 1969 there was a large double hearth fireplace adjoining the eastern corner of the strong room. This heated the staff work area as well as the storeroom which connected to the staffroom and is now part of an enlarged work area on the north side of the building. The dado and skirting in the public and office areas were removed in the late twentieth century, as were the original timber panel porch doors which were substituted for glazed ones.
At the rear of the bank in the west corner of the property is a small masonry building approximately one metre deep and five metres long. This building seems to be contemporaneous with the bank and acted as its ablutions block until late in the twentieth century. It was still in use in the 1960s and contained two toilet stalls flanking a basin, each area having its own external door and the outer stalls each with a narrow window. By this period the area between the former staff entrance and these external bathroom facilities had a covered walkway. This no longer exists because the toilet facilities have been moved into the main building and the outbuilding is now a storage space.
Southwest walls rebuilt after earthquake damage. Parapet replaced
Existing rear entrance enclosed and new one created on southwest façade. Installation of further bathroom facilities
Concrete, glass, masonry, plaster, timber
4th November 2010
Report Written By
A. G. Bagnall, Wairarapa; An Historical Excursion, Trentham, 1976
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1908
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 6, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, Wellington, 1908
An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1966
Ian Bowman, 'A Heritage Inventory for the Manawatu District Council,' February 2000, Manawatu District Council
Grant, I.F., North of the Waingawa: The Masterton Borough and County Councils, 1877-1989, Masterton, 1995
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region 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.