Oamaru Post Office (Former)
12 Thames Street, Oamaru
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
27th July 1988
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes the land described as Lot 3 DP 21229 (CT OT13A/1385), Otago Land District, and the building known as Oamaru Post Office (Former), thereon
Lot 3 DP 21229 (CT OT13A/1385), Otago Land District
This small stone building, home to Oamaru’s first post office, has historical, architectural and social significance as the town’s oldest public building. Designed by prominent Dunedin architectural partnership Mason and Clayton, it opened in 1864.
Early postal services and buildings were haphazard, and as the Acting Postmaster-General reported in 1863, were ‘the great obstacle in the way of a thorough and complete organisation of the Postal Service in New Zealand.’ He wrote, ‘[e]ach settlement has sprung from very small beginnings. In the first instance “one or at most two rooms” answered the purpose well; as population increased and Inland Townships were formed the Office accomodation [sic], when it became cramped, was increased by the addition of “another room,” and still another, till the Post offices in the most important Towns, instead of being as they ought to be, large, commodious and well-arranged buildings, are nothing but labyrinths of rooms, in which order arrangement, and complete classification are impossible.” In the late 1850s, Oamaru’s first postal agency operated from France’s store in Humber Street, but soon became too small. In the mid-1860s centres such as Dunedin and Wellington got new Post offices; Oamaru’s was soon to follow.
Dunedin architectural partnership Mason and Clayton designed the Post Office. They had also designed Post Offices in Port Chalmers (1863), Milton (1863) and Waikouaiti (1863), as well as the General Post Office (1864) in Dunedin. Mason and Clayton advertised for tenders in April 1864. The North Otago Times was hopeful that the building would be ‘composed of stone, it being almost as cheap as wood.’ The building was described as ‘designed after the Italian style, but of no particular order. It will have a frontage of fifty-two feet [15.8 metres] to Thames-street by a depth of twenty-seven [8.2 metres]; elevation to wall plate, ten feet six inches [3.2 metres]’ and to ridge, fifteen feet [4.5 metres]; main elevation of tower, with clock in front, twenty-nine feet [8.8 metres]. When erected, it will be a handsome edifice, and will be sufficiently large to contain both Post and Telegraph Offices.
The Otago Daily Times reported the opening of the Post Office in August 1864. It was, the reporter wrote, a ‘substantial and commodious building’ that ‘cannot fail to be a great accommodation to the public, as well as a comfort to the officials and will conduce to the despatch of public business’. Charles Lemon was the first postmaster.
In 1869, a new wing was added to accommodate the Customs Department. The addition was 21 by 30 feet [6.1 by 9.1 metres], with a lobby for private boxes, and two rooms for the Customs Department, one a private office and the other a public office. Above the lobby was the ‘rectangular tower’ of about 22 foot high [6.7 metres] ‘evidently intended by the architect as a receptacle for a three-dial clock’, but the openings were to be filled with glass as the clock was not installed. Clayton was once again the architect, while the contractors were Calder and Munro. The North Otago Times lamented that the ‘new wing being of greater height, is disproportionate to the older portion, and the “tout ensemble” is such as to give the idea of incongruity.’ The public were keen for a clock to be installed in the tower.
By the late 1870s, there were plans to erect a larger building, reflecting Oamaru’s burgeoning population. Any demands for a clock tower were put off until a new post office was erected. In 1884, the Post Office moved out of this building and into a grand building next door, designed by Oamaru partnership Forrester and Lemon (List entry No. 2294). In later years, the first Oamaru Post Office was home to various government departments, and was known as the Social Security Building. In the 1990s it was sold into private ownership, opening as the Last Post Restaurant in 1992. In 2015, it remains home to the Last Post Restaurant.
Historical Significance or Value
Oamaru's first post office was operated at Papakaio by the Filleul Brothers in 1857, the mail coming on horseback from Dunedin and taking three days. In 1859 the post office was moved into Oamaru proper where Mt Henry France ran it from his business premises in Tyne Street. In 1864 this building was erected to provide for all the post office functions, including a savings bank. By 1883 the building was too small and a contract for the larger building to the north was let and business transferred to it in October 1884. The older building was retained by the government and used to house such departments as Customs, Health and Social Welfare. It is significant for its age and its function as the first purpose built post office in Oamaru.
A very fine simple Italianate building which forms a striking contrast with the later post office building alongside.
Though small, this is a very distinctive building among the larger and more ornate Oamaru stone buildings of Thames Street.
Mason and Clayton
In 1863 William Mason took W H Clayton into partnership. Clayton had had 15 years experience, mostly in Tasmania. He was a Tasmanian by birth who had trained in Brussels and London. He stayed in Dunedin for only six years and then moved to Wellington as Colonial Architect. Buildings designed by Mason and Clayton while the latter was in Dunedin included All Saints Church, Edinburgh House, the Bank of New South Wales on Princes Street and the old Provincial Chambers on the present site of the Chief Post Office. Of these only All Saints Church remains. Clayton is also probably the architect of Lisburn House, a polychromatic brick building similar to All Saints.
Architectural Description (Style):
This style is simple Italian classic
A matching wing was added to the north side of the tower in 1869 for the Customs Department but later removed, leaving the building with an unbalanced appearance. The line of the gable is still visible where it encroached on the tower. A painting in the Forrester Gallery shows the wing still present about 1938. Presumably the roof was once wholly covered with slates and the corrugated iron is likely to be recent. The remaining slates are in poor condition but the Oamaru stone is in good condition. The interior has been relined, the ceiling lowered and doors modernised.
Additional building added to site
Wing added to accommodate Customs Department (included clock tower)
Converted to a restaurant
The Post Office is a small building (52 by 27 feet) in Oamaru stone with a square clock tower only 27 feet high. It is quite unlike other local post offices and has two low gables flanked by a verandah with the clock tower on the front corner. Simple classical details include round headed keystoned windows and a simple arcade in the base of the tower. The tower has empty 'portholes' for clock faces which were never installed and a simple pyramid like roof. The roof of the clock tower and the northern gable is covered with slates and the rest of the building with corrugated iron. The front door is panelled but may not be original. Inside a lowered ceiling cuts across the top of the arched woodwork of the window frames. The building once had a small back yard surrounded by a high Oamaru stone wall, but this has been filled in with a modern extension to the building.
3rd August 2015
Report Written By
North Otago Times
North Otago Times
5 May 1864, p. 4; 24 Aug 1869, p. 2
The Government as architect and builder in the nineteenth century, Wellington, 1984, National Archives
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.
A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Office of Heritage New Zealand