High Court Building
22-24 Waterloo Quadrant, Auckland
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
25th November 1982
Date of Effect
25th November 1982
Pt Allot 13 Sec 12 City of Auckland
The Supreme Court (now High Court) Building is a powerful example of Gothic Revival architecture, and was one of the most impressive buildings in New Zealand when built. It was constructed in 1865-1868 under the direction of Edward Rumsey, a British-born architect who had trained under Gilbert Scott. The two-storey brick and stone building replaced an earlier courthouse in the commercial sector of colonial Auckland, which had been built of kauri timber. The new structure was erected in a more elevated and prominent position, prestigiously located alongside the now-demolished Provincial Council building and the former Government House. This occurred at a time of uncertainty about Auckland's future, soon after the colonial capital had been moved to Wellington and while the British Army troops at nearby Albert Barracks were being withdrawn.
The courthouse was one of the earliest large-scale construction projects in the town, being proclaimed at the time to be the first public building of durable materials erected in Auckland Province. A distinctive Gothic Revival style was employed for its exterior, including a crenellated central tower and pointed-arch arcading. This style was extended to its internal features, contrasting strongly with the classical appearance of earlier structures nearby, including St Andrews Church and the former Government House. Gothic Revival was frequently used in larger judicial buildings during the later colonial period alluding, in part, to the longevity and power of the British justicial system through the use of medieval imagery. Extensive carvings by Anton Teutenberg on the main facades of the Auckland courthouse reinforce such notions of authority, with naturalistic depictions of British royalty, local dignitaries and Maori leaders, such as the Ngapuhi chief, Hone Heke (d.1850). The building was extended in 1935-1936, and more extensively in 1988 when part of the original structure was removed to accommodate new facilities. The interior retains its main original courtroom, including its timber panelling and gallery. The courtroom also contains other items of historic value, such as graffiti on the journalists' benches and a trapdoor in the dock for the accused.
The High Court is nationally significant as an early public building of Gothic Revival style, unusual in its scale and level of decoration in 1860s New Zealand. It graphically demonstrates the growing power of the state and legal system on a national level, as well as the local importance placed on law and order as Auckland was undergoing transformation soon after the third New Zealand - or Waikato - War (1863-1864). The building is notable for its almost continuous use as a courthouse and has been closely linked to legal cases of national and international importance. These have included the earliest trial in New Zealand to involve fingerprint evidence, and the trial of those accused of sinking the 'Rainbow Warrior' in 1985. The building reveals much about nineteenth-century life through its appearance and layout, including attitudes to justice, the organisation of legal affairs and relationships between the public and the state. The preserved interiors also demonstrate prevailing fashions for decor and nineteenth-century craft techniques. The Teutenberg carvings have high aesthetic appeal, and form a significant group of early colonial sculptures. The significance of the building is enhanced by its imposing landmark qualities, and by being one of several structures on their original sites in the Waterloo Quadrant and Symonds Street area.
Rumsey was an English born architect who had studied under the High Victorian Gothic Revivalist Sir George Gilbert Scott. Rumsey came to New Zealand to supervise the Gothic Revival styled Supreme Court Building, Auckland (1865) which he had designed.
He remained in New Zealand for several years, practising in both Auckland and Dunedin. He worked on St Andrew's Anglican Church, Epsom (1867), though the Reverend John Kinder was responsible for the design of this building, and also on the Church of St Peter in the Forest, Bombay (1869) and the much larger St Luke's Church, Oamaru (1865). The design of the Oriental Hotel, Dunedin (1863), has been attributed to him.
No biography is currently available for this construction professional
Registration covers the structure, its fixtures and fittings. It includes recent modifications. The building lies on or close to the site of a Maori pa, Te Reuroa.
Maori pa site
1865 - 1868
Construction of Supreme Court (now High Court)
1935 - 1936
Law library added
1988 - 1991
Demolition of law library and rear bay of original courthouse, modification of interior and construction of extensive addition
12th November 2001
Report Written By
E.A. Evans, 'The Supreme Court House, Auckland', Buildings Classification Committee Research Report, Wellington, 1975 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
John Stacpoole, Colonial Architecture in New Zealand, Wellington, 1976
Dave Pearson, 'A Conservation Plan for the High Court Building', Auckland, 1988 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
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.