Chinese Joss House (Former) [Relocated]

12 Maryport Street [Relocated To Lawrence Chinese Camp, Rapid No. 116, Lawrence-Beaumont Highway (State Highway 8)], Lawrence

  • Original image submitted at time of registration.
    Copyright: NZHPT Field Record Form.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed - Review Initiated List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5185 Date Entered 1st July 1993


City/District Council

Clutha District


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 10 Blk 22 Lawrence



Following the widespread discovery of gold in Central Otago during the early 1860s, starting with that at Gabriel's Gully in 1861, Chinese miners were encouraged to come to New Zealand from the Victorian goldfields. In 1866 the first group of such miners arrived in Otago and by 1871 there were about 4200 Chinese men in the province. After they were forbidden to settle in the existing townships on the goldfields in 1867 these men established camps on the outskirts of Lawrence, Naseby, Cromwell, Arrowtown and Nevis. The Chinese camp at Lawrence, located approximately one kilometre west of the town, was the largest in Otago with about three hundred residents by 1870.

The former Chinese Joss House was originally erected in the Chinese camp at Lawrence to serve as a meeting house for the Panyu and Fah clans who were in the majority in the Tuapeka area. Built in 1868 and officially opened in the following year, the house had a variety of functions over its years of use by the Chinese. In later years, for example, the dead and very ill were laid out in one room, whilst the other was used as a shrine. Two carved tablets, bearing the inscriptions "Happiness" and "The Seat of an Ancestor's Spirit", decorated the interior of the house and these are now held by the Early Settlers' Museum in Dunedin.

The last Chinese resident of Lawrence camp died in 1945 and approximately three years later the Joss House was purchased by Miss Isabel Turnbull, a lecturer at Otago University, who moved it to its present site using two tractors. Since that time it has been used as a holiday home by Dunedin residents. The former Chinese Empire Hotel (c. 1890s), which is now a private home, is the only building left on the site of the Chinese camp and thus serves to fix its location in relation to the township of Lawrence.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

"Chinese fortune seekers comprised the largest ethnic minority among the many nationalities who came to New Zealand in quest of gold last century" (N. Ritchie, Historic Places in New Zealand, No. 26, Sept. 1989, p. 10) and of all the Chinese camps established in Otago the one outside Lawrence was the largest and, with that at Cromwell, the longest surviving. The former Joss House stands, albeit on another site, as a visible reminder of the significant role played by the Chinese during the gold-rush era in New Zealand and of their clan associations which were a major factor in their success overseas.


Set well back from the street and partially obscured by two modern outbuildings, the former Joss House makes very little impact upon the streetscape of Lawrence.


A modest structure in the vernacular style this building does not appear to have any distinctly Chinese architectural characteristics and may therefore be compared to the countless cottages erected throughout New Zealand in the nineteenth century.


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description



It is not known who was responsible for the design and/or construction of the former Joss House.


The former Joss House is a small colonial style cottage which stands on an elevated site south of Lawrence's town centre. Facing north and lying perpendicular to Maryport Street, the cottage has a pitched roof and a lean-to verandah which is decorated with cast-iron brackets which may be later additions. The north and east walls of the building are clad in rusticated weather-boards whereas the south and west walls are sheathed in lapped weather-boards; a fact which suggests that on its original site the building was also aligned so that its principal elevations faced north and east.

Two six pane sash windows flank the French doors which open off the verandah and a similar window also pierces the rear (south) wall of the house. An external chimney breast built against the west wall is framed by single pane sashes, whilst the small window on the east side of the building is clearly a later addition. Inside the cottage partition walls divide the living area from the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom which are grouped in the south-east corner of the building.


c.1948 Moved to present site; internal partition walls erected.

Date unknown:

Carved tablets removed to Early Settlers' Museum, Dunedin.

Toilet built on to west end of verandah, east window added.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1869 -

2016 - 2016
Relocation back to its original site, Lawrence Chinese Camp

Construction Details

Timber frame, clad in weather-boards and supporting a corrugated iron roof, rests upon wooden piles and a partial concrete foundation pad. Brick chimney and ornamental cast iron verandah brackets.

Information Sources

Lemon, 1979

Daphne Lemon, Stars in Orion, Tuapeka then and now, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1979

Mayhew, 1949

W.R. Mayhew, Tuapeka: The Land and Its People: A Social History of the Borough of Lawrence and its Surrounding Districts, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1949

Otago Witness

Otago Witness

September 18 1869, p. 11

Tuapeka Times

Tuapeka Times

September 25 1869.

Historic Places in New Zealand

Historic Places in New Zealand

N. Ritchie, 'The Last Days of Cromwell's Chinatown', No. 26, Sept 1989, p.10.

Porter, 1983

Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Proposal for Classification 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.