The Retreat

6882 State Highway 1, Pakaraka

  • The Retreat.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Stuart Park. Date: 1/10/2002.
  • Image courtesy of Priscilla Williams.
    Copyright: Priscilla Williams.
  • Kitchen wing south side. Image courtesy of Priscilla Williams.
    Copyright: Priscilla Williams.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 70 Date Entered 15th February 1990


City/District Council

Far North District


Northland Region

Legal description

Pt OLC 54 (CT NA533/273), North Auckland Land District


The Retreat is an early Northland residence, which is closely associated with Henry Williams (1792-1867), a leader of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in New Zealand. Williams was an important force in efforts by the London-based CMS to convert Maori to Christianity, and also helped to formulate the Maori versions of the 1835 Declaration of Independence as well as the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi - New Zealand's founding document. Built in 1850-1852, the timber dwelling was erected for Williams and his wife Marianne (1793-1879) on their family estate at Pakaraka in the Bay of Islands. It was constructed soon after Williams had been dismissed from his position as the leader of the CMS mission at nearby Paihia. Williams' departure was due to complaints about his purchase of the Pakaraka estate from Maori in the 1830s, of which 3,645 ha (9,000 acres) remained in family hands. Much of this land had been intensively farmed in previous centuries, with a network of Maori fields and settlements on the fertile soils surrounding Pou E Rua pa.

Named 'The Retreat' by Williams, the new house was surrounded by fields on which the family raised cattle and other animals, and had experimented with imported crops such as wheat. The residence lay immediately next to the house of Williams' son, Henry junior (1823-1907), and opposite a church that Williams also erected in 1850-1851 (see 'Holy Trinity Church, Pakaraka'). Reinstated by the CMS in 1854, Williams based his later missionary activities from The Retreat, which he occupied until his death in 1867. The house continued to be lived in by his wife for a further twelve years.

Large and well-appointed for its time, the single-storey residence was constructed in a symmetrical Georgian style. It appears to have been similar to Henry Williams junior's house, having a hipped roof and a verandah on at least three sides. Sited in 1.2 ha (3 acres) of grounds, its main frontage faced away from Holy Trinity Church towards open estate land. An avenue of trees was planted to the original rear of the dwelling, leading directly to the church. The weather boarded structure was erected with internal walls and ceilings of lath and plaster, building on the expertise that Williams gained at Paihia in 1828, when he claimed to have created the first plastered ceiling in New Zealand. The residence included a parlour, bedrooms and a windowless chamber reputedly used by Mrs Williams for delivering local babies. The building was considered expensive to construct, a factor ascribed by Williams to the high cost of labour. A Maori workforce prepared at least some of the timbers, while Henry Williams himself erected one of the brick chimneys.

The pastoral atmosphere of The Retreat was enhanced by the addition of a glass conservatory by the 1870s, while further exotic trees were planted in the gardens. A road (now State Highway 1), however, was constructed dividing the dwelling from the church. When the first Liberal Government (1891-1912) sought to break up large rural landholdings, family members sold off parts of the estate, including the area around the house in 1906. In 1908 the house was transferred to the Anglican Church, who leased it to a succession of tenants. A timber service wing at the current back of the building (originally the front) is said to have been a small cottage or farm building transported from elsewhere on the estate, possibly at this time. Other modifications reflect changing attitudes to living standards in the 1950s, and have included the construction of a bedroom wing, which was later employed briefly as a tearoom. The house is now a private residence owned by a Williams family trust.

The Retreat is nationally significant for its links with early missionary activity in New Zealand, and Henry Williams in particular. It has connections with important events in New Zealand's constitutional history, including the Treaty of Waitangi and earlier developments, of significance to Maori and Pakeha. The building is notable for its association with the establishment of large, privately-owned estates in pre- and early colonial New Zealand, and their use into the late nineteenth century. It demonstrates the importance of family networks during the initial stages of Pakeha settlement, and the complex links between spiritual and material life within a prominent missionary family.

The dwelling, including its service wing, contains evidence of early colonial construction techniques, with its lathe and plaster elements being of particular importance due to Williams' role in early experimentation with this form of construction in New Zealand. The building's physical fabric also potentially reflects significant aspects of social history, including the role of women in early rural healthcare. The structure is part of a broader historic and cultural landscape, demonstrating changes in land use and ownership from pre-colonial to recent times. The building is closely associated with other historic structures, including nearby Holy Trinity Church, as well as archaeological sites such as Henry Williams junior's house, and nineteenth-century plantings.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Archdeacon Henry Williams was an influential churchman and important historical figure in the evangelising and European settlement of New Zealand. 'The Retreat' was his home for some 15 years prior to his death, and stayed in family ownership until its vesting in the existing Trust. It is a place of considerable significance to the many Williams descendants. Together with the nearby Holy Trinity Church, the Ludbrook house, other buildings of the same period, and the well-established exotic trees, "The Retreat" forms an important historical precinct.


'The Retreat' is a well preserved house of the Colonial mission past. Despite several additions, the principal portion of the house is a well-proportioned Georgian style building.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The house was the home of Archdeacon Henry Williams following his dismissal from the Paihia mission and his move to Pakaraka where his sons had established their farming enterprise.

Williams lived in the house until his death in 1867. The house is now known by the firmly established name "The Retreat", but this is not the sense in which the word was first used by Williams who viewed Pakaraka as a place of retreat in its widest meaning as a place of intellectual, spiritual and pastoral renewal.

He stayed on at 'The Retreat' following his later reinstatement by the Church Mission Society. Williams was an influential pioneer missionary in New Zealand. He accompanied Marsden to New Zealand on his fourth visit, and became head of the church mission to the Maori people. After a difficult period of endeavour in the early 1830s he eventually achieved success at Otaki and the East Coast, before his involvement in the Bay of Islands. Williams was a potent influence in persuading many

Maori to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. He came into dispute with the church authorities because of his land purchases on behalf of his family and was dismissed from the mission at Paihia, although he did retain his ordained status. Following investigation of his land claims he was reinstated by the mission, although he did not return to the Paihia station.

The house was in 1908 transferred from the Williams family to the trusteeship of the General Trust Board of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland, which now leases it at a pepper-corn rental to the Clarkes.

Physical Description


It is generally believed that the house was built by or for Henry Williams, though the role he actually played in designing or building the house is not documented. He was not a trained architect, but the missionaries and settlers of the period were resourceful people who were quite capable of designing and constructing their own buildings. It is likely that this was the case with 'The Retreat', although because of his age the actual building was probably done by his sons with the assistance of local Maori labour.


This is a Colonial mission style building. It is a basically rectangular building with a hipped roof. The main elevation has a classical symmetry. It has one main six-panelled top-glazed door with sidelights, and four French casements equally spaced, two on each side of the door. A verandah runs along three sides of the house, its roof slightly below the eaves of the main house. It is supported by stop chamferred wooden posts.

At each end of the back of the house are wings which have been added to the original structure. To the left is a more recent gabled structure with similar fenestration to that of the original house, with double hung, 'twelve light' sash windows. To the right is a two-storeyed wing with a steep gable which has been extended to the rear with a skillion roof. At the back of the house are several additions. Some have gable roofs, but others are lean-tos.


'The Retreat' has undergone many alterations and modifications, mostly undocumented.

Wings and lean-tos have been added to the rear. Internally smaller rooms have been combined, and linings changed; plaster ceilings have been replaced. Windows and doors have been removed, and some reinstated. The original kauri shingles have been replaced with corrugated iron. The steps at the front have been replaced recently.

Notable Features

Registration covers the building, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. The structure is associated with historic trees and other plantings, and likely archaeological deposits of nineteenth-century and - possibly - earlier date.

Its general historical and ecclesiastical associations.

Construction Dates

Possible site of Maori field system

Original Construction
1850 - 1852
Construction of dwelling

Conservatory added against northern verandah

Conservatory demolished

1950 -
Northeast bedroom wing added, with internal alterations to the main dwelling

Southeast service wing (possibly a relocated 1840s cottage)

Construction Details

Timber framing with weatherboard cladding; boxed corners with scribers; all in kauri. Hipped roof, now with corrugated iron. Timber piles.

Completion Date

10th July 2002

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Boese, 1977

Kay Boese, 'Tides of History: Bay of Islands County', Whangarei, 1977

pp. 164-169

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Robin Fisher, 'Henry Williams', Vol.1 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990

Sarah Marianne Williams, 'Marianne Williams', in W.H. Oliver (ed), Vol.1 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990

Williams, 1961

Henry Williams, The Early Journals of Henry Williams 1826-40, (ed.) L.M. Rogers, Christchurch, 1961


Keene, 1978

Keene, F., Legacies in Kauri: Old Homes and Churches of the North, Whangarei, 1978

Langley, 1968

R. W. Langley, 'The Retreat, Pakaraka', BArch measured drawings, University of Auckland, 1968

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

'The Retreat', State Highway 1, Pakaraka, North Auckland', NZHPT Buildings Classification Committee Report, Wellington, 1989 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Ross, 1967 (2)

R. M. Ross, 'The Retreat (Mrs Poore), Pakaraka', unpublished ms., Auckland, 1967 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Ross, 1967 (3)

R. M. Ross, 'Garden next door to The Retreat, Pakaraka', unpublished ms., Auckland, 1967 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen

Stacpoole, 1979

John Stacpoole, 'The Retreat, Pakaraka, Bay of Islands', New Zealand Historic Places Trust Report, Wellington, 1979 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Sutton, 1994

Douglas G. Sutton (ed.), The Archaeology of the Kainga: A Study of Precontact Maori Undefended Settlements at Pouerua, Northland, New Zealand (2nd edn.), Auckland, 1994

Other Information

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