The Petone Magistrate’s Court, opened in 1911, served Petone and parts of the Lower Hutt Community for nearly 80 years, first as a courthouse and then as a police station. It was designed under the direction of noted Government Architect John Campbell, and is almost certainly one of the last remaining Edwardian public buildings in the Hutt Valley.
Prior to the building of the courthouse, judicial proceedings had to be conducted in a local hall. In response to representations made by the local community, who argued that the court facilities were inadequate for a town of 16,000 residents (the 10th largest judicial district in the colony), the government agreed to build a courthouse.
The plans for the courthouse were drawn up by Llewellyn Richards, the Assistant Government Architect in the office of the Government Architect John Campbell (1857-1942). The design was a single-storey masonry building, square in plan, containing a courtroom, magistrate’s room, public office, public area, and witness room. Its overall appearance is Edwardian Baroque, a style that Campbell established as the semi-official style for government buildings in New Zealand. It was apparently almost identical to a courthouse built in Lower Hutt at the same time, but which has since been demolished.
The new Petone Magistrate’s Court was opened in May 1911. As a Magistrate’s Court the cases brought before its bench were generally those of minor criminal offences and civil claims, although on occasion more serious cases were heard. The courthouse was also used for polling booths for national and local body elections, as well as local body referenda. In about 1948 the courthouse closed and cases were moved to Lower Hutt.
About 1950 the Petone Magistrate’s Court was identified as a suitable location for the Petone Police Station. The previous building, built in 1909 on a site adjacent to the courthouse, was considered too small. Eventually the 1909 building was shifted behind the courthouse to provide cell accommodation. The Police Station opened in the courthouse in 1952. By the end of 1991 the Police had moved out to accommodation elsewhere in Petone, and a new police station was eventually opened on Jackson Street, in 1994. The 1909 Police Station was relocated again, almost adjacent to the new police station to be used by community groups. In 2002 the ownership of the Petone Magistrate’s Courthouse was transferred to the Wellington Institute of Technology, whose campus backs onto the courthouse. However, the courthouse has remained empty since 1991.
Architecturally the Petone Magistrate’s Court is a typical example of a courthouse designed in the Edwardian Baroque style by John Campbell, the Government Architect from 1909-1922. It is one of only two remaining examples of this type of court building in the Greater Wellington region. It was built at a time when changes were being made to the way courts operated following the introduction in 1893 of the Magistrate’s Court, which replaced the Resident Magistrate’s Court. The Petone Magistrate’s Court served the Petone community for over 80 years, initially as its first purpose built courthouse and then as the police station. With its lack of use, the building’s prominence has waned somewhat in recent years but it is still a familiar landmark for many Petone residents.
Historical Significance or Value
Historically, the Petone Magistrate’s Court was built at a time when changes were being made to the way courts operated, in the wake of the replacement of Residents Magistrate’s Courts with the Magistrate’s Court in 1893. The courthouse occupied the Elizabeth Street premises for 41 years and during this time the court heard all manner of predominantly minor criminal offences (and occasionally serious) as well as civil claims.
In 1952 the Petone Magistrate’s Court became the Petone Police Station. Policing in Petone has had a long history that dates back to the establishment of the settlement at Britannia in 1840. The police station was first sited in Elizabeth Street in 1909 and it remained in Elizabeth Street for 82 years. The courthouse was the home of the police station for 39 of those years.
With these two long-standing uses, the building is clearly of considerable historic importance to Petone as the premises for two of the town’s most important government activities.
Architectural Significance or Value
Architecturally the Petone Magistrate’s Court is a typical example of a public building designed in the Edwardian Baroque style by John Campbell, the Government Architect from 1909 -1922. Edwardian Baroque is a highly decorative and distinctive form of Classicism and Campbell made it the de facto ‘state’ style. This is one of only two remaining examples of this type of court building in the Greater Wellington region.
Social Significance or Value
The Petone Courthouse served the Petone community for over 80 years, initially as its first purpose-built courthouse and then as the police station. With its lack of use, the building’s prominence has waned somewhat in recent years but it is still a familiar landmark for many Petone residents. Older residents will retain memories of the building’s uses, both as a police station and courthouse.
The building has been recognised by the Hutt City Council, and is listed as a Heritage Building on the district plan.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Petone Magistrate’s Court reflects the development of the magistrate’s court in New Zealand during the twentieth century.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The Petone Magistrate's Court was designed under the noted Government Architect, John Campbell (1857-1942), and drawn up by Llewellyn L Richards, later the assistant government architect. John Campbell was the Government Architect from 1909-1922. In 1911 Campbell won the nation-wide architectural competition for the design of Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Although only partially completed, Parliament House is the crowning achievement of Campbell's career
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The Petone Courthouse served the Petone community for over 80 years, initially as its first purpose built courthouse and then as the police station.
It has been recognised by the Hutt City Council and is listed as a Heritage Building on the district plan.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The Petone Magistrate’s Court is a competent, if low-key example of John Campbell’s Edwardian Baroque style. During his time as Government Architect (1909-1922) Campbell established Edwardian Baroque as the government style for police stations, courthouses and post offices throughout New Zealand.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Adjacent to the Petone Magistrate’s Court are the three remaining police houses built in the 1960s. The 1909 Police Station is located nearby in Jackson Street, adjacent to the current police station.
The Maori discovery and settlement of the Wellington region is connected with several prominent figures in New Zealand’s history. Ancestral figures such as Kupe, and Toi are both associated with the area. Wellington Harbour, Te Whanganui a Tara (the great harbour of Tara), was named after the chief of Ngai Tara, and his people as well as Ngati Ira from Hawke’s Bay were the earliest iwi to settle in the Wellington region. At various times Rangitane, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu have also occupied parts of the Wellington region which sometimes resulted in inter-tribal conflicts. However, for the Ngati Ira based at Pito-one the biggest upheaval occurred in the 1820s when they were displaced by northern iwi, Ngati Mutunga and Te Ati Awa. Twenty years later Te Puni was the paramount chief of local Te Ati Awa who occupied a pa on the waterfront at Pito-one. Te Puni encouraged European settlement in the area and as such the first European settlement in Wellington was located close to the pa, and after initially being called Britannia this eventually became known as Petone.
The first of these European settlers arrived in late 1839 to buy land and scope out the New Zealand Company’s Port Nicholson settlement. The Petone site for the settlement was a poor choice mainly because it was subject to frequent flooding. Therefore, many of these early immigrants moved to a new site in Thorndon, but some battled on at Petone. Because of flooding the town could not progress substantially until stopbanks were constructed in 1900, although by this time it had already begun its development into a major New Zealand industrial and manufacturing centre; a dominating characteristic that Petone would retain throughout the twentieth century.
The Petone Magistrate’s Court 1911- c.1950
The Petone Magistrate’s Courthouse was opened in May 1911. Originally, Petone citizens appearing before the court had to travel to Lower Hutt. At that time the courthouse was located in a building near the Lower Hutt railway station. The Petone Borough Council decided that it would be better for Petone to have its own court, and offered to rent the Oddfellows Hall for the purpose. The Justice Department accepted the offer and hearings began in February 1906. However, the Oddfellows Hall was far from suitable for hearing court cases. By 1908 the hall was also being used as an auction house. There is one newspaper report of the time claiming that the table and other furniture that had been requisitioned by the court for the judges had been sold at auction, leaving the court officials nothing but a packing case for a judge’s bench. The Oddfellows Hall also lacked a place for the provision of safe custody of court documents, which meant that the local policeman had to take them home for safe keeping. There was also a need for increased police cell accommodation.
In March 1908 a deputation of local officials, Justices of the Peace and the local Member of Parliament met with the Minister of Justice. They argued that the current facilities were inadequate for a town of 16,000 residents and the ‘10th largest [judicial] district in the colony.’
The following year, plans were drawn up for a new courthouse by the office of the Government Architect, John Campbell (1857-1942). Campbell emigrated from Scotland, arriving in Dunedin in 1882. In 1883 he gained a position in the Dunedin Branch of the Public Works Department. Within five years Campbell had transferred to Wellington where he became a draughtsman for the Public Building Department. In 1899 he was appointed architect for the Public Works Department (from 1909 he was known as the Government Architect). Although he designed some of his most impressive buildings in other styles (Dunedin Law Courts, 1902, Gothic Style /Scottish Baronial; and Dunedin Police Station, 1895-1898, Queen Anne), Campbell was to establish Edwardian Baroque as the semi-official style for government buildings in New Zealand. Some of his most noted designs were the Magistrate’s Court Wellington (1901-1903), the Chief Post Office Wellington (1901), the Chief Post Office Auckland (1909-1912) and the Public Trust Office Wellington (1909). The style was applied to government buildings both big and small, particularly courthouses and post offices. In 1911, Campbell, along with the architect Claude Ernest Paton, won the competition to design the new Parliament Buildings. Although only the first stage of the building was completed, the building remains an impressive example of the architect’s work. Campbell retired from the position of Government Architect in 1922.
The plans of the Petone courthouse are signed by Arthur Thomson Ford (architectural tracer), and Llewellyn L Richards (architect). Llewellyn Richards joined the Public Buildings Department /Architectural Branch as a temporary draughtsman in 1899. He quickly won the respect of Campbell and worked closely with him on many projects, including the Public Trust Building, Wellington. In 1909 Richards was appointed the Assistant Government Architect. He remained in this position until his retirement in 1922, on the same day as Campbell.
The Petone Courthouse was designed as a single-storey masonry building, square in plan, containing a courtroom, magistrate’s room, public office, public area, and witness room. An outbuilding contained the toilet and storage area. The building was apparently similar in appearance to the Lower Hutt Courthouse built two years before. In fact during the period 1908-1911 there were at least 25 courthouses either newly built, under construction or planned to be built across New Zealand. A number of existing courthouses were also being added to, including the Wellington Magistrate’s Court. Of this number the closest example to Petone of a masonry courthouse building designed in the Edwardian Baroque style still extant is the Masterton Courthouse.
The new Petone courthouse was located adjacent to the Police Station built in 1909. The construction contract was let on 24 October 1910 to G. C. Smart of Wellington for £1,264. In May 1911 the new Petone Courthouse was officially opened in the presence of the mayor, Mr McEwan, justices of the peace and other local dignitaries.
The new court was what was known as a Magistrate’s Court. These courts were founded under the Magistrate’s Court Act 1893 and replaced the system of Resident Magistrate’s Courts. The court was presided over by a Stipendiary Magistrate, although over the years the jurisdiction of the Magistrate’s Court was expanded, eventually requiring that all magistrates were to be barristers or solicitors of five or more years standing. The Magistrate’s Court, like its predecessor, essentially heard minor criminal offences and civil claims. Cases heard before the magistrate’s bench in Petone ranged from minor infringements, non-payment of debts, burglary, breaches of labour laws and civil suits such as breaches of contracts. On one occasion a person was brought before the court to be charged with the far more serious crime of rape. It was also the venue for inquests. In 1910 the Destitute Persons Act gave jurisdiction to stipendiary magistrates for the maintenance of destitute persons, illegitimate children, and deserted wives and children. It also allowed the stipendiary magistrate to grant affiliation, separation and guardianship orders. One such case under this law was brought before the Petone court in 1918:
‘A sad incident in connection with the recent epidemic in Wellington took place at the Petone Magistrate's Court last week when ten bright faced, intelligent, healthy, well-bred children were committed to the charge of the Education Dept. They were the children of the late Mr & Mrs JEFFERIES who were victims of the epidemic. Some of the children will be taken charge of by the relatives and others will remain in the direct care of the Government.’
The Petone Magistrate’s Court also played host to polling booths for local body elections and referenda on issues of the day such as the decision of whether to introduce trams to Petone. As the jurisdiction and status of the Magistrates Courts grew, they became accepted as ‘the people’s courts’ for their accessibility, wide-ranging jurisdiction and growing prestige.
In 1948 the Petone Courthouse was closed and cases were moved to Lower Hutt. It is not clear why the courthouse was closed. It is possible that the new Magistrate’s Courts Act 1947 meant that the courthouse in Petone was no longer suitable for hearing cases. Four years later the courthouse became Petone’s new Police Station.
The Petone Police Station 1952-1994
Policing in Petone dates back to the early days of the New Zealand Company settlement, then known as Britannia, where the some of the first constables in Wellington were stationed. The others were based in Thorndon. By June 1840 there were four constables based at Britannia. As a result of the Police Force Act 1886, two constables were stationed in the Hutt, one at Lower Hutt and the other at Petone. At that time the police station was the officer’s home in Nelson Street. In the following year the station was relocated to the corner of Hutt Road and Korokoro Road, only to be moved back to Nelson Street by the turn of the twentieth century.
In 1909 a new police station was constructed in Elizabeth Street. Four constables were based here. It was the first station in the Hutt Valley to rise above the constable rank with the appointment of a sergeant at about this time. By 1923 the Petone Station was in charge of the entire Hutt Valley. In that year the first Senior Sergeant to be appointed to the Hutt Valley, took charge of the Petone Station. In 1931 a new sub-district was constituted with the Hutt Valley and Eastbourne under the control of the Senior Sergeant at Petone. However, despite the increase in responsibilities and number of staff working from Petone, there was no improvement in facilities. The cramped quarters led to a high turnover of staff and by the mid-1930s the accommodation was described as deplorable.
In 1939 the site of the Police Station was earmarked for educational purposes and the properties 1, 3, 5 and 7 Elizabeth Street identified as the site of a new police station. Over the next four years or so the land was taken under the Public Works Act.
In 1943 Lower Hutt police station was upgraded, and Petone was no longer considered the main station in the Hutt Valley. Very little was done to improve the conditions of the police constables at Petone. Eventually Petone’s Town Clerk was forced to write to the Police Commissioner concerning the dire working conditions of the 10 men stationed at Petone. The Commissioner, the Minister in Charge of Police, the Superintendent of Police at Wellington and the Secretary of the Police Department travelled to Petone to see the situation for themselves. At that visit it was suggested that the Magistrate’s Court might provide the necessary accommodation for the police. In about 1950 the Justice Department agreed to transfer the courthouse to the police and they shifted in that same year.
During 1951-1952 Kauri Building Co. of Lower Hutt, converted the courthouse into a Police Station. The work involved the removal of the cell to behind the courthouse, additional partitions, new fencing and asphalting the surrounding grounds. The 1909 police station was also shifted behind the courthouse to provide storage.
From about 1957 the nearby houses acquired for a new police station were gradually removed and new houses were erected in their place. These houses remain today. In 1959-1960 a shelter was erected over the front porch to stop the weather getting into the building.
In 1986 the site of the Petone Courthouse and adjacent site were set aside for a Technical Institute. However it appears that the courthouse continued to be used by the police. In 1988 the police station at Petone was closed but the ex-courthouse continued to be used as a patrol base for a community constable and a patrol car unit. In 1991 the police moved to 21 Elizabeth Street, which served as a base for two community constables and a youth aid constable. In following year, as a result of the integration of the Traffic Safety Service with the Police Force, Petone’s Police Station was temporarily moved to the former Traffic Safety accommodation in Pretoria Street.
By 1994 a new police station was built on Jackson Street, in front of the closed Petone Central School site. The 1909 police station was relocated nearby, and opened as the office of the Jackson Street Programme, an organisation set up to promote Jackson Street and Petone. The courthouse in Elizabeth Street remained unused. In November 2002 the ownership in fee simple of the building and land was transferred to the Wellington Institute of Technology Te Whare Wananga o te Awakairangi (WelTec), whose Petone Campus backs onto the courthouse. However, the building has been empty since 1991. In recent years concern has grown in the community over the future of the building. In 2008 the Hutt City Council issued a notice to WelTec to earthquake strengthen the building or demolish as required under the Building Act 2004. This has yet to be acted on.
The Petone Magistrate’s Court is located in Elizabeth Street not far from Jackson Street, the main street of Petone. Elizabeth Street is primarily residential, and backs onto the Petone Recreation ground, where WelTec is located. To the west of the courthouse is a recently built childcare centre for WelTec. To the east is a dwelling.
A tall fence has been erected around the southern and western boundary of the courthouse. A low fence is on the northern boundary. The courthouse is set back from Elizabeth Street with a semi-circular driveway at the front of the building. A large pohutakawa tree is growing in the front yard of the building. The driveway and grounds are overgrown.
The courthouse is a single-storey brick masonry building. The roof consists of two flanking hipped gabled roofs with another flanking smaller gable abutting the pediment on the southern (main) facade.
The main facade is symmetrical, with two arched windows on either side of an arched double door. The façade is brick, rendered and lined out to look like a stone structure. On each of the eastern and western corners of the main façade is a heptagonal projection, which is echoed in the door surrounds. On the entablature above the door are rendered garlands. In front of the door there is a timber and glass porch.
The other facades are exposed brick. The western façade has five rectangular single opening sash windows - that is the upper, six-paned sash is fixed in place. The northern façade consists of one single opening sash window. A small brick porch, containing the rear door, cuts the middle of the façade. On the eastern façade there are three single opening sash windows. This façade also features the back of the strong room.
Inside, the rooms are arranged around a north–south axis. On entering the courthouse the L-shaped lobby gives access to four rooms. To the left is what was the public space (later the Police watch house). A counter was built across the room at a later date. Returning to the lobby on the right as you enter the courthouse is the former witness room. Moving further into the building, there is a doorway to the left leading to what was once the courtroom, but has now been divided into two. This room features a blocked-up fireplace that has had its decorative surrounds removed. The lower walls are lined by a dado, with timber dado rail, wainscoting and skirting board. The ceiling is coved. One of the windows and a portion of the wall have been damaged by arson. Returning to the lobby, the fourth doorway gives access to a large room that was once the public office. On the north-eastern side of the room is a fireplace and behind this is the strong room, access to which is from the public office. From the public office there is a passage leading to the other half of the now divided courtroom and the Magistrate’s room. The former contains a small kitchenette. The ceiling continues the coved form, with a rosette above the centrally located light. In the Magistrate’s room there is a fireplace that also backs on to the strong room. This is the only room where the dado and window frames have not been painted. At the end of the passage there is a door leading to the back porch.
1910 - 1911
1950 - 1952
Courthouse converted to police station.
Porch added to front of building.
Former 1909 Police Station relocated to Jackson Street.
30th March 2011
Report Written By
Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)
Archives New Zealand (Wellington)
Government Buildings, Petone Police Station and residence 1946-1973, AAQB W 3950 615 25/240; Petone Police Station Land, AAQB ACC W3950 615 25/240/1.
Susan Butterworth, 'Petone, A history', Auckland, 1988
Sherwood Young, With Confidence and Pride; Policing the Wellington Region 1840-1992, Wellington Police Trust, Wellington, 1994
P. Spiller, J. Finn, R. Boast. A New Zealand legal history, 2nd ed, Brookers, Wellington [N.Z.], 2001.
A fully referenced registration report is available from the Central Region Office of the NZHPT.
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.