Elms Mission Station

Mission Street, Tauranga

  • Elms Mission Station.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Aranne Donald. Date: 7/10/2003.
  • Elms Mission Station. Plan of Historic Area from registration report..
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Date: 1/07/1993.
  • Elms Mission Station.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Aranne Donald. Date: 7/10/2003.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Area Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7016 Date Entered 1st July 1993


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the Elms Mission House, Library, Sundial, Cairn, Dray Shed, Bacon Curing Shed, Menzies Whare, Domestic Outbuildings, Hand Pump, Shadehouse, Garden Shed, Coachhouse and Stables, Garage, Fencible Cottage, Belfry, Chapel, Caretaker's Cottage, Timber Storage Shed, Fire Engine Shed, Chapel Street Gates, Original Front Gates, Mission Street Gates, Site of Sawpits, Site of First Workshop, Site of First Whares. [The Shadehouse, the Garden Sehd, The Garage, the Timber Storage Shed, and the Fire Engine Shed were removed in the 1990s].

City/District Council

Tauranga City


Bay of Plenty Region


This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. This report includes text from the original Proposal for Registration considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

The station is the original European settlement for the city of Tauranga, and it was the focus of missionary colonialism in the region.

The Church Missionary Society (CMS) extended their activities into the Bay of Plenty in the 1830s, and the present day Elms site was chosen as a mission station site. The original block of land taken over by the mission was known as Te Papa, and was approx. 1360 acres. The present day Elms mission site is a much smaller area of 2.5 acres, the rest having been sold over the years, or transferred to the Government after the New Zealand wars.

The first buildings, constructed of raupo, were erected on the site in 1835, when the first European missionaries occupied the station. The first permanent building on the mission site was completed in 1839. This was the station library, and this building still stands today. The mission house was begun in 1838, but was not competed until 1847, This building, with later modifications, is still standing on the site today, and has the A classification already noted.

In 1864 the mission station became a military camp for government troops fighting the New Zealand wars. The famous battle of Gate Pa was fought on the then edge of the mission site land.

The property was purchased from the CMS in 1873, by Rev Brown, one of the first missionaries. The Elms continued as a missionary station until Brown's death in 1883, when it passed to Brown's widow. The property has passed through members of the family, who established a Trust in 1962. The property is currently empty, but is administered by the Elms Trust.

The area includes many of the very early buildings erected on the site, as well as many later ones. These can be seen in the accompanying plan, and include the mission house, the library, various domestic outbuildings, the chapel, and many others. The garden and landscape aspects of the proposed area are also significant. They include many trees and plants planted by Rev Brown, and the other early missionaries. The garden features represent an attempt to recreate an English garden in New Zealand, and may be one of the earliest ornamental gardens constructed in New Zealand.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Elms is important as the founding European settlement of the city of Tauranga. The land purchases of the first missionaries and the establishment of a military settlement after the 1860s wars were two events closely related to the mission station. Both these events laid the foundations for a city now numbering over 65,000 people. The close association of the area with the Reverend A N Brown, a pioneering CMS missionary, adds to its historical significance.


The Mission House and some of the other structures in the area have considerable aesthetic value and attract many visitors to the area. The gardens are particularly attractive and add to the area's aesthetic appeal.


There are a number of important archaeological features of the conservation area including the sites of original structures, working areas and pre-European settlement.


The Elms Mission House is widely regarded as one of the finest surviving examples of New Zealand colonial architecture. It represents a fine example of the Georgian influenced English colonial style. It was probably designed by George Clark, who also designed the Waimate Mission House.


The historic gardens of the conservation area have great botanical significance as markers of the development of gardening in New Zealand from the 1830s to the present day.


The Elms Mission Station has great significance as one of the best preserved sites representative of pre-treaty missionary activity in New Zealand. This activity, whether seen as positive or negative, had a major impact on relations between Maori and Pakeha in nineteenth century New Zealand and has had an important influence on the shaping of our cultural history ever since


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The following text was prepared as part of a Research report completed Sept 1992:


In the early 1830s the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) decided to extend their activities southward from their first settlement at the Bay of Islands. Between 1833 and 1836 stations were established at Puriri (Thames), Mangapouri, Matamata, Rotorua and Tauranga. There had been several brief visits to Tauranga by C.M.S. missionaries before this time and it was known to be a suitable area for establishing a mission. The place where The Elms now sits was first chosen as a station site by C.M.S. missionaries Alfred Nisbett Brown and Williams Williams. These two men staked out the dimensions of two raupo houses to be built on the site, then known as Te Papa, in September 1834, though the mission was not actually occupied by Europeans until 14 August 1835. The first missionaries to live at Te Papa were William Wade and Phillip King from the C.M.S. (Brown meantime had gone to establish a mission at Matamata). They arrived to find that the local Maori had erected the two raupo huts as arranged, though one had since been taken down and relocated to Maungatapu, across the estuary, where a trader by the name of Chevalier Dillon was living. Barely a week after their arrival at Te Papa, Sarah Wade began a school. Here she started teach 30 female Maori the precepts of the Christian faith.

The choice of Tauranga for a mission station was based on its central proximity to the large Maori population in the immediate vicinity and in the area between the Thames Valley and Rotorua. Also the fact that it was on a harbour meant that it was regarded as a relatively safe place for missionary families, in that they could be quickly evacuated by ship should the need arise. The site of Te Papa itself was chosen because of its central location between the two local Ngaiterangi people's pa at Otumoetai and Maungatapu. Te Papa had been a Ngatitapu pa site, but was destroyed in 1828 by an attack from the Ngatimaru of Hauraki.

Wade and his wife remained at Te Papa until May 1836, during this time they were joined by John Alexander Wilson and his family. Both Wage and Wilson became involved in trying to prevent a war between Ngati Haua and Ngaiterangi of Matamata and Tauranga, and the Ngati Whakaue of Te Arawa who occupied the Rotorua and Maketu districts. Their attempts at peacemaking had little effect, however, and fearing for their safety Wilson's wife and children left with Wade in May. Wilson abandoned the station in July 1836.

The 'Rotorua' war which Wade and Wilson had tried to prevent was to last ten years. Eighteen months after it began Alfred Brown returned to Te Papa and supervised the re-establishment of the mission station. For a number of years Brown was the only ordained priest from the C.M.S. in the district. This resulted in Tauranga becoming the central mission station in the area, ministering to other stations in Thames, Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty. Brown was made an archdeacon on 31 December 1842 by Bishop Selwyn, and Tauranga became known as his archdeaconry.

No rental or payment had been given to local Maori for the mission land until 30 September 1838, when Brown, on behalf of the C.M.S. purchased Te Papa Block No.1, an area of 30 acres [12.5 hectares], from the Ngaiterangi. The price he paid for the land was 20 blankets, 10 spades, 10 adzes, 10 axes, 10 hoes and 10 iron pots. Prior to this date the Maori had been reluctant to sell the land, but the prospect of invasion by Waikato seems to have encouraged them to accept the missionaries offer. Brown often mentions in his journal the difficulties he had getting local Maori to sell their land to him. Reading between the lines it seems that there was probably a fundamental misunderstanding on both sides. Brown seems to have not recognised that the land was owned by different groups of Maori who were each concerned with getting a fair reward for their individual land. It also seems likely that the Maori would have had little concept of 'selling land' in the European sense. Nevertheless, by 30 March 1839 Brown managed to secure the purchase of a neighbouring 1334 acres (240 hectares), the whole of Te Papa peninsula as far inland as Pukehinahina Hill (Gate Pa), virtually the whole of what was until recently the Borough of Tauranga. This time the price paid was 1 calf, 40 adzes, 60 large blankets, 40 axes, 40 shirts, 40 trousers, 12 spades, 100 pipes and 100 pounds of tobacco, 24 scissors, 24 razors, 24 plane irons and 100 fish-hooks. The document of sale for Te Papa Block No.2 was signed by 28 Rangatira of the Ngaiterangi. Brown assessed the value of the purchase goods to be 'near £200'. (As a comparison, this was the same price that is cost to build the original chapel.) Whether Brown made these land purchases in order to secure good land for future emigrants to settle on, or whether he was concerned to save the land for the Maori people by preventing Pakeha traders, or slygroggers buying it first, is a matter of some debate. However, the purchase was certainly made as a symbolic statement to the Maori population about the permanence of the missionaries in the district. The sale of this land was upheld and legitimised by the commissioners constituted by the Treaty of Waitangi in 1844.

Local converted Maori had added a number of structures during the time that the station had been under the control of the missionaries who lived there before Brown. These included a two-room raupo whare measuring 41 feet by 24 feet. This was probably Brown's first home at Te Papa, though it was only 10 weeks after his arrival in 1838 that he and his family were able to move into a larger and more comfortable cottage. This cottage, like most of the other buildings at that time, was built with raupo walls and reeded inner walls and ceiling. Other buildings that were either already there when Brown arrived in 1838, or built in that year, included a 30 by 12 foot whare, a kauta (kitchen), a weatherboard storeroom, two local schools - one for Maori boys one for Maori girls, - a boathouse (on the beach), a raupo carpenter's workshop, shelters for Maori who had been converted and were living at the mission, and a raupo chapel big enough to hold 200 people. Because of the lack of easily available timber, the first fences consisted mainly of hedges and ditches. None of these structures remain today.

Also in 1838, the converted Maori were in the process of re-building a pa site near the mission house. This pa was later subsumed into the Monmouth Redoubt during the 1860s wars.

Towards the end of 1838 more permanent construction had begun, including the building of the weatherboard mission library. This building was largely complete by December 1839, though a fireplace and chimney was added in 1844 to prevent books from getting damp. This building still stands and is the oldest remaining on the property. The next oldest remaining structure is the belfry which was completed in 1842. Another early building was the first chapel (completed 1843), though now only a 1964 replica of this building remains. The mission house itself was also begun in 1838, but was not completed until October 1847. Up until that date Brown and his family had been living in their raupo cottage.

In 1858 the mission buildings included the house, library, the original chapel, a store and the four-roomed cottage occupied by the Volkners, as well as the remains of raupo houses once occupied by the Wilson and Stack families. There must also have been the kitchen block and bakehouse which burnt down in 1860 or 1861.

By 1863 the New Zealand wars had reached Tauranga and virtually marked the end of missionary activity at Te Papa. Many of the missionaries left, though Brown chose to remain and try to save the mission station and dissuade the Tauranga Maori from joining the King movement. However, in January 1864 government troops were sent to Tauranga and the mission station became a military camp. During this time many of the station's buildings were taken under possession as troops headquarters, though not the mission house itself as Brown was still living there. During 1864 the well known Battle of Gate Pa, fought near the boundary of Te Papa, saw a victory to the Maori, though this position was soon reversed in the Battle of Te Ranga two months later.

In 1867, 1085.5 out at a total of 1333 acres (four-fifths) of the mission land was transferred to the government to establish a permanent military settlement. This property became the land where most of modern day Tauranga's central city is situated. The 247.5 acres that were retained by the C.M.S. included the Archdeaconry of 17 acres on which the mission buildings were sited.

In 1873, this 17 acres was bought by Brown himself from the C.M.S., who were at this stage beginning a gradual withdrawal from the country. The 17 acres were bounded on the north by Marsh Street, on the south by Brown Street, on the west by Chapel Street and on the east by the harbour and Brown agreed to maintain this land and the buildings on it at his own expense. It was in this year the Archdeaconry was re-named 'The Elms' by Brown.

The Elms continued to be listed as a C.M.S. station until 1883, a year before Brown's death. According to Duff Maxwell, who first visited the station as a seven year old in 1910, this land consisted of a garden area similar in size to that which remains today, though the orchard was much larger - it extended past the present Mission Street - and there were several small horse and cow paddocks bounded partly by post-and-rail fences and partly with ditch and bank and hawthorn and elderberry hedges. At this stage the original chapel was still standing alongside the belfry, and the boatshed still stood on the beach. About half-way between the mission house and Brown Street stood a rough cowbail in the remains of what had been the blacksmith's shop. The bakehouse oven still remained in the building which later became converted to the Maxwell's washhouse and additional bathroom. The underground brick water tank and pump were still used. Apart from some karaka and cabbage trees, there was a notable absence of other native trees.

After Brown's death in 1884 the property passed to his widow, Mrs Christina Brown (nee Johnston), until in 1887 when she also died and left it to her niece Miss Alice Heron Maxwell, with a life interest to Mrs E.B. Maxwell, sister of Mrs Brown. In 1913, under Alice Maxwell, the land was further subdivided down to 2 ½ acres after her brother Ebenezer Maxwell (Duff Maxwell's father) insisted that this was the only way that the station was going to be able to survive economically. The land to be sold, from Brown Street northwards, was surveyed into 47 building sections and two streets - the present day Mission and Marsh Streets - were formed. Almost half of these sections were sold at an auction held on 25 July 1913 and fetched prices between £120-£360 each. The remaining sections were gradually sold off over the years by private sale. The money gained from these sales gave Alice Maxwell enough money to extend the lean-tos at each end of the mission house by about ten feet in 1914. Alice Maxwell also added much to the gardens and restored the original bell during the 62 years of her custodianship of The Elms.

In 1949 Mr Duff Heron Maxell succeeded to the tenancy of the mission house and grounds and he remained living there until 1991 when failing health forced him to move. During his time there several new buildings were built or moved onto the property (see below), the garden was added to considerably and the historic trees were kept in excellent order. Also renovations were made to many of the buildings to preserve their original appearance. Nobody lives in the mission house today, but The Elm's buildings and land are now run and looked after by The Elms Trust which was first established in 1962.

Physical Description

The following text was prepared as part of a Research report completed Sept 1992:


This conservation area encompasses the land and structures of the site known as The Elms Mission Station, in the city of Tauranga. It is bounded on the west by Chapel Street and to the south-east by Mission Street. On the northern boundary there is a steep slope leading down to reclaimed land used mainly for industry. The station is bounded by private property along the whole of its east side, as well as on part of the western and southern corners. The extent of the area is precisely defined on the accompanying map and a list of the area's buildings is appended to the report along with their New Zealand Historic Places Trust classification, where applicable.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1839 -
Construction of the Station Library

Original Construction
1838 - 1847
Construction of the Elms Mission House.

The Shadehouse, the Garden Shed, the Garage, the Timber Storage Shed and the Fire Engine Shed have been removed from the site.

Completion Date

1st September 1992

Report Written By

Jamie Mackay

Information Sources

Salmond, 1986

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

Shaw, 1991 (3)

Peter Shaw, New Zealand Architecture: From Polynesian Beginnings to 1990, Auckland, 1991

Stacpoole, 1971(2)

J.M. Stacpoole, A Guide to Waimate Mission House, Wellington, 1971

Stokes, 1980

Evelyn Stokes, A history of Tauranga County Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1980

Porter, 1983 (2)

Frances Porter (ed.), Historic Buildings of New Zealand: North Island (2nd edn.), Auckland, 1983

Adam, John

John Adam, 'The Elms Garden, Tauranga, conservation plan' Auckland, 1999

Copy held at NZHPT Lower Northern Office, Tauranga.

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Northern 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.

Historic Area Place Name

Bacon Curing Shed
Caretaker's Cottage
Chapel Street Gates
Coachhouse and Stables
Dray Shed
Fencible Cottage
Fire Engine Shed [Demolished]
Garage [Demolished]
Garden Shed [Demolished]
Hand Pump
Menzies Whare
Mission Street Gates
Original front Gates
Shadehouse [Demolished]
Site of First Whares
Site of First Workshop
Site of Sawpits
Sun dial
The Elms (dwelling), Kitchen Block and Dairy
The Elms Mission House and Library
Timber Storage Shed [Demolished]