Bishop's Court

32 Mulgrave Street, Thorndon, Wellington

  • Bishop's Court, Wellington.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Imelda Bargas. Date: 3/04/2007.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1361 Date Entered 22nd June 2007 Date of Effect 22nd June 2007


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes all of the land in RT WN33C/154 and the building, its fittings and fixtures, and gardens thereon.

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Sec 1 SO Plan 26217 (RT WN33C/154), Wellington Land District


Bishop's Court was built in 1879 and is situated next to Old St Paul's Cathedral (1866 (NZHPT Registration # 38)) on Mulgrave Street. The elegant Victorian residence was erected to house Bishops associated with Old St Paul's Cathedral. Designed by prominent architect William Charles Chatfield (1851/52-1930) and built of totara heartwood, Bishop's Court is a fine example of urban Victorian domestic architecture with a touch of colonial New Zealand.

The Court's first resident was noted missionary, Bishop Octavius Hadfield (c1814-1904). Bishop's Court housed three further Bishops until 1940, with only a brief interruption between 1910 and 1917 where the building was sublet. In 1963 the Government took over the building, with the Ministry of Works taking up residence. From then several governmental bodies occupied Bishop's Court, including the Wellington District Family Courts. In 1991, completing a full circle, the Court was repurchased by the Anglican Church and the Missions and Pension Boards took up residence.

Bishop's Court acquires its significance, not so much in its presence alone, but in its relationship with Old St Paul's Cathedral and the early Anglican Church of New Zealand. Old St Paul's Cathedral was a landmark for the city in the early days and a centre for important events. Bishop's Court is also an example of the work of William Chatfield who was a prominent Wellington architect between 1870 and 1915. Together with Old St Paul's Cathedral, Bishop's Court provides a marked contrast to the multi-storeyed governmental buildings in the immediate area and the growing skyscrapers of the Central Business District.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value: Bishop's Court's historical significance lies in its close association with the former Anglican ecclesiastical community. Located alongside Old St Paul's Cathedral, the building played an important role in Wellington and the church's early history. The Court offered accommodation to some very important churchmen, including Bishop Octavius Hadfield; missionary, political agitator, and champion of Maori rights.

Aesthetic Significance or Value: Grandly decorative on all four sides with the main entrance bordered by neatly trimmed hedges, grass areas and small trees Bishop's Court has some aesthetic value. This value is enhanced by its relationship to the open spaces of Old St Paul's Cathedral large gardened section.

Architectural Significance or Value: Bishop's Court is significant as a surviving example of Victorian urban domestic architecture in late nineteenth century Wellington. The classical symmetry of the design plus the external detailing inspired by English stonework gives the heartwood Totara building a sculptural quality. Despite its forcefulness and practicality, Bishop's Court is not without elegance, with carved corbels and a deep cornice, matched by the internal joinery of the stairway and windows. The Court's external appearance, little altered today, presents a picture of a rather grand Victorian residence, classical in inspiration. Bishop's Court is also one of only a small number of buildings designed by prominent Wellington architect, William Charles Chatfield, and is one example of many similar 'grand houses' which have been demolished to make way for the Government Centre and the Central Business District. Together with the church, Bishop's Court provides a marked contrast to the surrounding multi-storeyed offices.

Bishop's Court is also one of only a few remaining buildings designed by prominent architect William Chatfield.

Spiritual Significance or Value: Bishop's Court has spiritual significance as home to the private chapel of the Anglican Bishops' of Wellington who occupied the property between 1879-1909 and 1917-1940.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history: Located in Thorndon, the oldest parish in Wellington, Bishop's Court represents an important site for the growth and development of the Anglican Church in New Zealand.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history: Bishop's Court was the residence of several influential Anglican Bishops of Wellington between 1879 and 1940. The most prominent of these, Bishop Octavius Hadfield, was an important figure within Maori and settler communities between 1839 and 1904.

(d) The importance of the place to tangata whenua: Located within Pipitea pa, one of the largest pa in the town of Wellington, the land on which Bishop's Court is located was likely the site of Maori habitation or cultivation prior to its inclusion in the New Zealand Company's now discredited purchase of Port Nicholson in 1839. It is in the vicinity of other identified sites. Bishop's Court may also have some significance to tangata whenua for its association with the Anglican church, in particular Bishop Octavius Hadfield, a strong champion of Maori rights. It is anticipated that the importance of the place to tangata whenua will be further explored during consultation.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place: Built in 1879 Bishop's Court is a fair example of surviving Victorian urban domestic architecture with colonial influence in design and construction. The Court was designed by William Chatfield, who was a prominent architect working in Wellington between 1870 and 1915. The Court is a 'Grand House' in Italianate or Classical design with carved corbels and pronounced cornice, yet was built with Kauri and Totara heartwood in a colonial method famed for simplicity and versatility. Reflecting Chatfield's personal style, Bishop's Court is a structure of immense strength both in symmetrical design and in building materials.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape: Bishop's Court sits next to Old St Paul's Cathedral, a church renowned for its wooden architecture in New Zealand and an important place of worship for the Anglican community in Wellington. Together the buildings represent a stark contrast to their modern surroundings.


Bishop's Court acquires its significance, not so much in its presence alone, but in its relationship with Old St Paul's Cathedral and the early Anglican Church of New Zealand. Old St Paul's Cathedral was a landmark for the city in the early days and a centre for important events. One can easily sense the historic role of the church in the early development of Wellington, with Bishop's Court, the home of the important figures who led the Anglican Church playing a central role too. Bishop's Court is also an example of the work of William Chatfield who was a prominent Wellington architect between 1870 and 1915. Together with Old St Paul's Cathedral, Bishop's Court provides a marked contrast to the multi-storeyed governmental buildings in the immediate area and the growing skyscrapers of the Central Business District.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Chatfield, William Charles

Chatfield (1851/52-1930) was born in Sussex and educated in Brixton, Surrey. He came to New Zealand at the age of sixteen in 1867 and was immediately engaged in architectural work. He joined the Public Service in 1872 as Chief Draughtsman and Assistant Paymaster and Engineer in the Engineer's Department of the Wellington Province. He held these positions until 1876 when provincial government was abolished. During this time he worked on the Thorndon reclamation and designed many bridges.

He went into private practice in 1876 and designed several large office and warehouse buildings such as Kings Chambers, corner Willis and Willeston Streets (1902), the Wellington Opera House (1886) and the Colonial Mutual Insurance Building, corner Customhouse Quay and Willeston Street (1897). Stewart Dawson's Building (1900)

Chatfield's buildings were characterised by their enormous strength resulting from the use of heavy masonry reinforced with railway irons for foundations, cornices and columns.

Chatfield contributed to the foundation and development of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and was elected first president for the 1905-6 term. He was re-elected for the following term, 1906-7, and again in 1914-15.

Mitchell & Thompson

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Just up the rise on Mulgrave Street, bordered by great pohutukawa trees and the spire of Old St Paul's Cathedral (1866 (Register No. 38)), stands Bishop's Court (1879), a stately residence once home to Wellington's Anglican Bishops.

The land for Bishop's Court was gifted to the Diocese of Wellington in trust for the site of a Bishop's residence by Hon Algernon Gray Tollemache (1805-1892) on 27 September 1860. Tollemache had come to live in New Zealand in 1849 and took an active role in the affairs and early settlement of Wellington. In 1855 he purchased the land for the residence, known at that time as Town Acre Section 541, for the sum of £675 from John Wickham Flower, who had in turn purchased it from the New Zealand Company in London in 1839. Located within what was once the boundaries of Pipitea pa, one of the largest pa in the town of Wellington, the land was likely the site of Maori habitation or cultivation prior to its inclusion in the New Zealand Company's now discredited purchase of Port Nicholson in 1839. It was located adjacent to the tenths reserves selected by New Zealand Company surveyors in the area (adjoining Town Section 542); reserves which would later be seen as denoting the extent of Pipitea pa. Evidence of Maori habitation was also found on another adjoining site, Town Section 540, during excavations for the Government Printing Office in 1962 (now the site of Archives New Zealand).

The site was ideal for a Bishop's residence as it was located directly beside the property gifted for the new cathedral (now Old St Paul's Cathedral) by Bishop George Augustus Selwyn (1809-1878) and Sir George Grey (1812-1898) that same year.

Bishop's Court would be the second building erected on the Mulgrave Street site. In about 1862 a residence was built and occupied first by Bishop Charles John Abraham (1814-1903) and then, from 1870, by Bishop Octavius Hadfield (c1814-1904). By 1878 the house was in such disrepair 'that it was really hardly safe to occupy'. A public meeting was held to decide the future of the residence for the Bishop of Wellington, with the Governor, George Augustus Constantine Phipps Normanby (1819-1890), the Marquis of Normanby, presiding. The Governor observed that it was 'the duty of the diocese to afford proper maintenance and proper accommodation for the bishop whom they selected'. It appears that about £2000 was required, and the Governor noted that this was a sum that, 'if there was any sincerity in the members of the Church, there ought not to be any difficulty whatever in raising'. The resolution to erect a new residence for the Bishop was carried unanimously; subscription lists were opened and a committee formed.

Mr Barraud (likely the Wellington chemist, philanthropist and artist C D Barraud (1822-1897)), on seconding the resolution to open subscription lists, was reported as having remarked that 'the health of the Bishop and his family had been suffering in consequence of the defects in the construction of his residence,' while the Hon W Gisborne (1825-1898), on seconding the resolution to appoint the members of the committee, reportedly remarked that seeing the 'comfortable houses or mansions rising around them in this flourishing city ... it would be discreditable to them as members of the Church of England, to allow the Bishop of Wellington longer to occupy the wretched and inconvenient building at Thorndon'.

The Bishop's new residence would have no problems fitting into Wellington's growing cosmopolitan scene. The new building, dubbed Bishop's Court, like the regal court of a King, proved to be more than comfortable for the churchmen who would occupy it.

At a subsequent meeting the committee reported that they had appointed prominent architect William Charles Chatfield (1851/52-1930) to design the new residence with Messrs. Mitchell and Thompson being awarded the building contract of £3145 in December 1878. By January 1879 the existing building had been demolished and the new one was underway, and would be completed later that year.

The Court's first resident and perhaps its most famous was Bishop Octavius Hadfield (c1814-1904). Hadfield has been described as a 'courteous, reserved man, a scholar, dogged by ill health.' Hadfield is renowned for his missionary zeal. His sophisticated knowledge of Maori language and traditions, in conjunction with his mediating skills, led Hadfield to become a strong champion of Maori rights.

Hadfield was the first vicar to be ordained in New Zealand. Keen to offer himself for missionary service, his lack of a university degree, brought about by years of ill health, proved an obstacle to ordination in England. Finding that William Broughton (1788-1853), the Bishop of Australia, was prepared to 'ordain suitable men without a degree for work in Australia and New Zealand' Hadfield left England for Sydney in February 1838. He was admitted to deacon's orders in Sydney later that same year and was subsequently ordained in Paihia in January 1839.

After a brief period teaching at the mission school in Waimate North Hadfield moved to the Kapiti Coast, where 'by the end of 1841 he was ministering to some 7000 widely scattered Maori and supervising 18 schools set up to provide elementary European education'. Consequently, Hadfield formed close relationships with Te Ati Awa, Ngati Toa and Ngati Ruakawa tribes around Waikanae and Otaki.

Considered an authority on Maori affairs, Hadfield was consulted by Sir George Grey and other governors on issues such as Maori land tenure. He is also credited with preventing Te Rauparaha and his excited followers from sacking Wellington and its inhabitants in the weeks following the Wairau Massacre in 1843. However he was not always popular in Pakeha circles for his work with Maori, acquiring the nickname of 'political parson' for his efforts encouraging Maori to exercise their right to vote. Indeed at a time when he pushed for a reexamination of the Waitara purchase and recall of Governor Gore Browne he described himself as being 'very nearly the most unpopular man in the colony'. For his actions he was attacked in the press and eventually summoned by Parliament for judicial questioning.

Hadfield had declined the bishopric of Wellington in 1857, largely due to his ill health and because he was not ready to give up his life as a missionary. In 1870, the opportunity was presented to Hadfield once again, which this time he took, and on 9 October 1870 he was consecrated in St Paul's Cathedral (now Old St Paul's Cathedral), succeeding Bishop Abraham as Bishop of Wellington. In 1890 Hadfield was elected as the third Anglican Primate of New Zealand, a post he held until his retirement in 1893.

While Bishop's Court was prepared for him, Hadfield moved to Wanganui with his family for the first six months of 1879. He wrote to his brother Charles:

They are going to build a new Bishop's residence, and are going to spend about £4000 on it. I never complained of the old house, or expressed any wish for a new one; but church people began to think the house rather discreditable now that Wellington has grown into an important place.

Yet despite his initial scepticism, Hadfield used Bishop's Court to entertain political and ecclesiastical contemporaries and resided there until his retirement. He was even reported to have noted in an address to the Synod late in 1879, that removal of the old house afforded ample proof that it had become unfit for further use, and that the new residence was '...all that could be desired, ought for many years to prove a suitable residence for my successors.'

Unfortunately the well-meaning congregation encountered difficulties in paying for the elegant Bishop's residence. The cost of the new Bishop's residence escalated from the sum first envisioned at the community meeting (£2000), with the additional costs of architect's fees, furniture and furnishings adding to the bill. Less than half the final cost of Bishop's Court (approximately £4000) was subscribed, with a sum of £2000 having to be raised by debentures at eight percent being guaranteed by the Diocese. The Minute Book of the Board of Trustees of the Diocese repeatedly notes the Secretary being 'requested to write to the Debenture holders regretting the delay in payment of interest.' The Diocese not only found itself unable to pay these off by £100 annually, as was originally intended, but they were also continually in arrears with the interest. The Bishop's residence proved a heavy financial burden for the Diocese, and it was not until 1905 that the debt was repaid from the proceeds of a sale of land.

By 1909 the character of the area had altered significantly and the Bishop and the Board of Trustees were dissatisfied with Bishop's Court as a residence. The close vicinity of Bishop's Court to the hustle and bustle of the railway station meant that the Court could not be the serene dwelling that it had been intended to be. Bishop Frederick Wallis (1853-1928) was not in good health and it has been suggested that he found the house too noisy. The noise could be very disturbing around the export season, with Thorndon Quay being very dusty, and combined with smuts from the trains, it was also very dirty. The Board asked the Synod for authorisation to lease or sell the house, and permission was given to let the present Bishop's residence, and to lease a more suitable house elsewhere.

From 1910 until 1917 Bishop's Court was sublet to Mrs M. Peter for five years and then to Mrs Nicholson for the rest of the time. Bishop Wallis resigned in 1911 and, after the lease of the alternative residence in Kelburn expired in 1917, Bishop Thomas Henry Sprott (1896-1942) decided to return to Mulgrave Street. After seven years as a boarding-house repairs and renovations were needed, including the installation of electric lights. A description of the layout of the building as it was in approximately 1917 was given to the Buildings Classification Committee of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1961. The description was given by a Mr Coleridge who lived at Bishop's Court with his family from 1917, his mother the then Bishop's daughter. The description from the report reads:

In appearance it was much the same as today [1961], except for the upstairs porches and the extension southwards of the wash-house and a small larder beside it. The lean to, which ran along the back of the servant's wing on the ground floor, went right to the central block and there was, of course, no wash-house or larder on the east side. The interior, too, is little changed. Rooms 2 and 3 (the numbers refer to the attached Ministry of Works plan [Appendix 5] were the Coleridge family room, Rooms 4 and 5 the drawing room. Room 6 was used as a waiting room for visitors who wanted to see the Bishop and there was a door leading into his study, Room 8. Room 19 was the dining room and Room 17 was a small servery (the partition has been removed). Room 16 was the entire square, a combined kitchen with the coal range and servant's sitting room. Room 14 was the back kitchen and Room 15 was a pantry. There was a green baize door between the servants's wing and the rest of the house which has been removed. Upstairs were bedrooms, except for the chapel in Room 22. Room 28 was a separate bedroom. A door has been added in the corridor and the green baize removed. And, of course, there was a garden.

Bishop Sprott resided at Bishop's Court until 1936, and he was followed by Bishop Herbert St Barbe Holland (1882-1966) who lived there until 1940, again moving reportedly because of ill health and the noise. The Court was then sublet again between 1940 and 1963 as a boarding house and apartments and the Bishop moved to a residence in Eccleston Hill, Thorndon.

In 1963 Bishop's Court was sold for the sum of £16 500 to the Ministry of Works, who occupied it until 1969. The residence was transformed into an office building, with such alterations as the removal of the back staircase to increase the size of the library. Bishop's Court came under the control of the State Services Commission shortly after the purchase by the Ministry of Works and from this time was occupied by various divisions of the Justice Department. More internal alterations and redecoration were carried out around this time, including the erection of a wind lobby at the main entrance off Mulgrave Street in 1981, for the enlarged District Family Courts, who occupied the building from 1982 until 1992.

Since 1993 Bishop's Court has been owned by, and acted as an office for, the New Zealand Anglican Church Pension Board and the Anglican Missions Board. The website of the New Zealand Anglican Church Pension Board notes that they operate superannuation schemes for clergy and employees of the Anglican Church and other religious charitable organisations. It also notes that the Board is the Trustee of various trust funds available to assist Anglican clergy and their surviving spouses in times of need and for other specified purposes (e.g. health costs). The website of the Anglican Missions Board notes that their role is to challenge Christians to constantly enlarge their sense of mission; to raise funds for global missions; and to resource associated Anglican mission agencies, Tikanga mission enterprises and partner Churches. Other current tenants in the building include a counsellor and a psychologist.

Although there have been several internal changes; from additions made in 1903 so that Bishop Wallis and his wife could be better enabled to entertain members of the Diocese, to the opening up of the ground floor to make room for governmental offices in the late twentieth century; Bishop's Court still stands resolutely and as elegant as ever. Built from heartwood totara, the residence has stood the test of time and is still in remarkably sound condition.

Physical Description

General Location: Bishop's Court is located on Mulgrave Street, Thorndon, Wellington in a government area flanked by Old St Paul's Cathedral and the multi-storey Archives New Zealand. On the opposite side of Mulgrave Street there are several multi-storey apartments and office blocks. Together Bishop's Court and Old St Paul's Cathedral represent a contrast to their modern surroundings.

Bishop's Court is sited on a compact landscaped section with large trees. The Court is complimented by the open spaces of Old St Paul's Cathedral large and lushly gardened section. The rear of the property forms a car park.

External: Bishop's Court is a large two-storey house, rectangular in plan. It is Classical or Italianate in style with carved corbels and a pronounced deep cornice. The main component of the house forms a square with a large extra wing and lean-to completing the rectangular shape. The extra wing and lean-to formed the servant's quarters and washhouse in the original plan. The ground floor of the front facade features a main entrance flanked by two square bays that are replicated on the first floor and rear of the building making the design pleasingly symmetrical and stately. The building is set close to the footpath edge and bordered by neatly trimmed hedges, grass areas and small trees. The effect is grand and dignified. The roof is clad in corrugated iron with the rest of the house in wooden weatherboards. The Court has generally large, double-hung two-pane windows symmetrically arranged, six in each ground floor bay and two on the first floor bays. Carved corbels, that include an intricate leaf pattern, combine with the framing to give the impression of columns between the windows of the ground floor bays. Further corbels adorn the support columns of the portico (main entrance). In contrast, the servant wing and washhouse windows are smaller unembellished double-hung with two-pane glazing. Upper sashes have curved top rails.

Bishop's Court is grandly decorative on all four sides. The east side, directly opposite from the main entrance, lacks none of the fine detailing. This side of the building, where there were once doors out to a garden area, contains the porch of the former entranceway, wider and more grandly flanked, than the main entrance, by double columns. The decoration on all four sides is probably due to the fact that when built the building was visible on all four sides. It was probably quite a prominent building -located on the rise.

Internal: The main entrance leads to a vestibule, which opens into a large entrance hall. The entrance hall features an original and triple archway with kauri Corinthian columns and carved wooden keystone. The original staircase is located to the rear of the entrance hall, on the right hand side, which features a large arched window at the turn of the second flight. The entrance hall gives direct access to all the rooms of the ground floor, which are now occupied with various offices and conference rooms. Generally, the rooms are distinctly visible. They have windows, finishing timbers, floors and ceilings in tact. Walls, some joinery and some ceilings have been changed with late 20th century renovations. The ground floor fireplace in the Boardroom is new while the fireplace directly above in the first floor room is original. In addition new openings have been created and additional walls installed.

The symmetrical design has the four large rooms of the ground floor placed in each corner, with a small room located between the rear rooms. A doorway beside the stairway leads to the old servant quarters and lean-to washhouse. The dinning room and reception room occupied the front rooms in the original design, with a drawing room and study in the rear with a small waiting room between them. The dining room has since been divided into three smaller rooms forming separate offices. The large wooden door-ways and high roof give the main house a spacious feel in contrast to the servants' quarters that consists of four small rooms plus washhouse (all now offices, storage and staff kitchen).

The first floor consists of twelve separate rooms that join to a central hall (now offices and reception area and similarly modified). The hall itself is divided from the stairway by a removable glass partition. In the original design the rooms consisted of nine bedrooms, two bathrooms and a chapel. Again the first floor of the servant's wing is much smaller and compact.

Notable Features

Original fireplace (first floor)

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1879 -
House construction complete

1894 -
Renovation and repairs.

1903 -
Single storey lean-to added.

Original north wall removed.

1922 -
Repairs to chimneys and roof

1922 - 1927
Roof replaced with corrugated iron

1936 -
Renovation and repairs including a new garage added and the provision of sliding doors between two reception rooms on north side of the house.

1940 - 1960
Removal of first floor porches and addition of fire escapes

1961 -
Garage demolished and rebuilt. South lean-to removed. Washhouse and larder built on east side.

1963 -
Conversion of house into office building.

1968 -
Removal of fire escapes on street frontage.

Original Construction
1976 -
Gas heating installed and landscaping to Mulgrave Street frontage.

1977 -
Additional toilets installed.

1978 -
New flagpole.

1980 -
Pedestrian ramp for disabled.

1982 -
Internal alterations.

1985 -
Security screen installed.

1996 -
Interior remodelling, Sound proof internal walls installed in front room.

1891 -
House repainted

1917 -
Electricity installed

Construction Details

Built with high quality kauri and totara timber. The original slate roof replaced with corrugated iron.

Completion Date

22nd June 2007

Report Written By

Jonathan Sarich, Paulette Wallace, Imelda Bargas, Alison Dangerfield

Information Sources

Francis, 1961

S. Francis, Research Report on Old Bishopscourt, Wellington New Zealand Historic Places Trust, Buildings Classification Committee, 1961.


Government Property Services Ltd, 1989

Government Property Services Ltd, Bishop's Court. 32 Mulgrave Street. Wellington: A History, Conservation and Maintenance Plan, Wellington: Government Property Services, 1989

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central 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.