St Bathans Post Office (Former)

1680 Loop Road, St Bathans

  • Post Office, St Bathans.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 3/12/2020.
  • Post Office, St Bathans.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 3/12/2020.
  • Post Office, St Bathans. Public area showing tilted desks with turned legs, glazed privacy screens and nib wall, horizontal sarking and rimu dado.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 19/03/2020.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 2254 Date Entered 22nd June 2007 Date of Effect 22nd June 2007 Date of Last Review 20th May 2021


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as (RT OT4C/1354 NZ Gazette 1982, p. 3480), and the St Bathans Post Office (Former), its interior decoration, fixtures, fittings, outbuildings, and chattels thereon. (See plan in Appendix 1 of the Review Report for further information).

City/District Council

Central Otago District


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 11 Blk I Town of St Bathans (RT OT4C/1354 NZ Gazette 1982, p. 3480), Otago Land District

Location description

Additional Location Information

E 1348118 N 5026340


Set in the historic gold mining town of St Bathans in Central Otago - a rugged landscape and climate of extremes - the St Bathans Post Office (Former), designed by Public Works Department architect John Campbell in 1909, is an elegant two-storied timber building in Imperial Baroque style. It stands on a prominent site at the eastern end of the township. This building was the second post office to be constructed on the site and operated as such from 1909 until 1937 during which time it was largely managed by resident Postmistresses. From 1937 until 1981 the post office was a private residence. Since 1981 it has been a historic reserve, administered first by the Department of Lands and Survey and then its successor the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai. From 1995 to 2008 the post office was a popular tourist attraction and shop named ‘Despatches’. A commission in 2011 nearly saw the post office building converted to boutique accommodation; however the community rallied and were overwhelmingly opposed to what would have resulted in a lack of public access and removal of original heritage fabric, fixtures and fittings. In 2020 the St Bathans Area Community Association (SBACA) obtained a ten-year concession from DOC to use the building as a community space. The St Bathans Post Office is a rare and outstanding example of a Victorian post office with the majority of the interior fabric of the public and private residential spaces largely intact. The patina of age creates a ‘time capsule’ of the building. The St Bathans Post Office has outstanding aesthetic and social values and the public esteem for the building continues to increase in significance.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The St Bathan’s Post Office (Former) has historic significance. Post Offices once formed an important part of the infrastructure of small rural towns, being the centre of government functions, including banking, telegraph and telephone services. The post office played an important role in communication in the years prior to current forms of electronic communication, when the postal and telegraph service was vital to its community. This was also important in an era when travel was slow. The building is a reminder of the social importance of the post office to the community, illustrated by Sir Joseph Ward's involvement in the initial commission of the building.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

The Post Office has outstanding aesthetic significance due to the remarkable preservation of the majority of the original fabric of the interior. The warm timbers of the administrative area and green baize covering on the telephone booth, make way for decorative wallpapers and linoleum as the viewer moves through the building into the domestic area. The timber dado, doors, door frames and the balustrade of the stairway are heavily beaded with the patina of crazed shellac. The textured glass privacy panels and interior windows in the mail room diffuse light creating a particular atmosphere, which intensifies in the narrow wallpapered stairwell with its lushly patterned carpet. The many examples of early 19th century wallpaper are delicate and in places fragile and friable where it is lifting from the walls with the scrim. Up to three layers of papers can be seen in some places, evidence of the postmistresses who spent time negotiating interior upgrades. The lead floor in the bathroom and utilitarian hemp fire escape ropes in the Sitting Room and Bedroom 2 provide a visceral feeling for life in a wooden Victorian building. The patina of age, visible through fixtures and fittings, layers of paint, paper and shellac leave the visitor with a palpable impression of life in the Post Office.

Architectural Significance or Value

The St Bathans Post Office (Former) has special architectural significance as a government building in the Imperial Baroque style. This style was representative of government buildings of the era under the auspices of New Zealand’s first government architect, John Campbell. Clearly the most impressive building in the town of St Bathans, the building maintains a vernacular feel through its use of materials which connects it to the surrounding architecture. Its formal function is downplayed in its styling, a significant departure from the formality of earlier post office buildings such as those in Ophir and Clyde. It is particularly significant due to its state of interior authenticity when compared with other remaining post offices and this elevates its heritage value to being of national significance.

Social Significance or Value

The Post Office has outstanding social significance in the St Bathans area community and has only increased in value this century. A strong community response against a concession proposal in 2011 prevented a potential development of the Post Office into boutique accommodation that would have restricted public access and renovated the building with ensuing loss of heritage fixtures and fittings. Owned by Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai, the building is currently held under a ten-year commission by the St Bathans Area Community Association (SBACA) who intend to develop it as a museum, information centre and community hub. Their initiative has received a favourable response from the community in trialling this initiative.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Post Office is representative of important aspects of New Zealand's history, when this service played a vital role in the infrastructure and communications of small rural communities. It was important for its postal and telegraph services, connecting isolated communities with their neighbouring towns and other national centres.

The authenticity and integrity of the fabric of the building, particularly the interior elements of the public and private spaces, reflect both the formulaic approach to designing post offices of the time and the materials used, but also the latitude allowed by resident staff to decorate over decades of occupation. As a post and telegraph office it provides an outstanding example of what members of the community would have experienced in its days of operation. With the dwindling number of intact rural post offices in New Zealand, this example only serves to increase in heritage value.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The Post Office has an association with two people of particular importance in New Zealand's history. The Post Office was constructed following the visit to St Bathans of Liberal deputy Prime Minister Joseph Ward, who also held the role of postmaster general. On this visit, Joseph Ward authorised the construction of the new post office, a reward for the town’s support of the Liberal Party in the 1906 election. The building is also associated with Public Works architect John Campbell, in charge of the design of government buildings throughout New Zealand from 1889 until his retirement in 1922, becoming in 1909 the first person to hold the position of Government Architect.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

The community hold their Post Office in high esteem, as is evidenced by its inclusion in the Otago Goldfields Park, and in the concern expressed when the building was restored. It remained in use as a postal agency until 2008 and is recognised as significant in its status as a historic reserve in the town of St Bathans. A strong community response against a concession proposal in 2011 prevented a potential development of the Post Office into boutique accommodation that would have seen the renovation of the building, loss of heritage fabric, fittings and fixtures. The recent success of the SBACA to obtain at 10-year concession from the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai is testament to their vision and documented support within the community.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The Post Office has great potential as a place of public education due to its intact nature which reveals not only the administrative side of the building, and its public use, but also the residential area in which the postmaster and later, postmistresses lived. This latter area in particular is unique amongst extant heritage post offices in Aotearoa New Zealand and provides great insight into the lives of people working in the rural postal service. The heritage fabric provides a rare resource for experiential learning.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area

The Post Office forms an important part of the wider historical and cultural landscape of St Bathans and Central Otago. Standing at the approach to the town's main street, the Post Office is an impressive building that introduces the visitor to the historic streetscape of St Bathans. While it stands out as different from earlier mud brick structures such as the hall, hotel and the former billiards room, the weatherboard two-storied Post Office building signifies its official function in the town. It is associated with other historic post office buildings throughout the small historic towns of Central Otago, the majority of which ceased to function as post offices some years ago.

Summary of Significance or Values

The Post Office in St Bathans is an outstanding example of a Victorian rural post office designed in the Imperial Baroque style. It has historical and architectural significance due to the period in which it was built and its important role in this mining town. However, it is the aesthetic and social values of the Post Office that distinguish it as a Category 1 historic place of national significance. The interior of the public and private spaces of the Post Office are largely original, like a time capsule, providing glimpses into the administrative and private side of life from 1909-1937. The patina of age and layers of heritage fabric are evident on every surface, every wall. The esteem and support of the community for this place, particularly in the last decade exemplify its outstanding social value in the community.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Campbell, John

John Campbell (1857-1942) served his articles under John Gordon (c1835-1912) in Glasgow. He arrived in Dunedin in 1882 and after a brief period as a draughtsman with Mason and Wales joined the Dunedin branch of the Public Works Department in 1883. His first known work, an unbuilt design for the Dunedin Railway Station, reveals an early interest in Baroque architecture.

In November 1888 Campbell was transferred to Wellington where in 1889 he took up the position of draughtsman in charge of the Public Buildings Division of the Public Works Department.

He remained in charge of the design of government buildings throughout New Zealand until his retirement in 1922, becoming in 1909 the first person to hold the position of Government Architect. Government architecture designed under his aegis evidences a change in style from Queen Anne to Edwardian Baroque. His best-known Queen Anne design is the Dunedin Police Station (1895-8), modelled on Richard Norman Shaw's New Scotland Yard (1887-90). Among his most exuberant Edwardian Baroque buildings is the Public Trust Office, Wellington (1905-09). Although Campbell designed the Dunedin Law Courts (1899-1902) in the Gothic style with a Scottish Baronial inflection, he established Edwardian Baroque as the government style for police stations, courthouses and post offices throughout New Zealand. 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.

Drummey, Jerimiah

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Instone, John

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

John Symons Ltd

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early History

There is little information about early occupation of the St Bathans area by Māori; current archaeological records reveal no evidence of occupation, and early histories consulted provide no oral or documentary tradition of occupation. Land-locked and not immediately near awa (river) for travelling, or gathering of resources and kai, may indicate why there is little archaeological or other evidence of early settlement by tangata whenua. Māori place names between Central Otago and the Rangitātā drawn by Rāwiri Te Maire in 1898 do not reveal any Māori names in the specific area.

North of St Bathans is Te Poho-o-Rakitāmau / Mount St Cuthbert, east of Te Ao Mārama (Lake Benmore). Te Poho-o-Rakitāmau was an ancestor on the Ārai-te-uru waka that capsized near Matakaea (Shag Point) on the Otago coastline who was transformed into this maunga. West of St Bathans lies the Dunstan Range over which the Māori Pass / Thompson Pass crosses. Early Māori used this passage between Moeraki and Makarora. South of St Bathans lies Ōmakau / Blackstone Hill. The name has also been applied to the wider region, and the nearby settlement located between Alexandra and Ranfurly on the north-west bank of the Manuherikia River. The awa flows into Mata-au / Clutha River and is a recorded kāinga nohoanga and kāinga mahinga kai where tuna, pora, weka, pārera, pūtakitaki, and kōareare, were gathered. Weaving its way from mountains to the sea, the Mata-au has been used as an ara tawhito by successive iwi from the earliest, Hāwea and Rapuwai; then Waitaha and Kāti Māmoe before Kāi Tahu became the dominant iwi in the late 18th century.

Early Māori had settlements in other areas in Central Otago – there were six settlements at Lake Hāwea (Te Taweha o Hāwea, Mahaea, O tū Purupuru, Turihuka, Te Taumanu o Taki and Pakituhi) and one near Cromwell (Wairere). The moa-rich area was known for camps where moa were butchered and cooked (for example there were large sites in the Hawksburn and Happy Valley areas, as well as the Nevis Valley, and there were quarries used for stone tools in the region of Tiger Hills and Mount Benger. The swampy plains in the Maniototo provided eels and other food resources. These seasonal activities continued through multiple generations prior to a change in land tenure when the controversial sale of land occurred during early colonial-Kāi Tahu encounters. Once colonists found their way to the interior (ironically assisted by Māori) these activities were curtailed, especially once European colonists ‘discovered’ gold. Though Māori are known to have joined the gold rushes, nothing is known about their participation in the gold rush at Dunstan / St Bathans. The resulting mining works devastated the landscape beyond recognition and any evidence of early occupation by Māori is unlikely to have survived.

From Dunstan Creek to St Bathans

Gold mining began in Central Otago with Gabriel Read's discovery of gold in Gabriel's Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. Gold discoveries in 1862 pushed into inland Otago, with bustling settlements springing up to service the miners. In 1863 there was a rush at what would become St Bathans, leading to the birth of the town. First known as Dunstan Creek, the name was changed to St Bathans in 1866 by John Turnbull Thompson, Chief Surveyor, after a place of the same name in Berwickshire where his maternal grandfather lived. At the height of the gold rush, the population in the area numbered around 2,000, with thirteen hotels catering to local demands during the 1860s. The town had two banks, a police station, courthouse, jail, hospital and many businesses. The first Post Office, forming an important part of the infrastructure of such Central Otago towns, opened during the gold rushes of 1864, operating from storekeeper John Campbell's premises.

An 1873 Survey Office Plan records that a plot of land (Section 11 Block I, Town of St Bathans) was reserved for the site of a Telegraph Station. In 1874 a purpose designed Post and Telegraph Office was built on the present site. Its location did not please the townspeople. On 14 March 1874 the Mount Ida Chronicle reported that the new post office was, ‘situated on the rise at the east end of the street, just beyond Murray's old bakery and a more inconvenient site can hardly be imagined. It is quite outside the township, and in winter can only be approached through a sea of mud.’

The construction of the 90-kilometre-long telegraph line between Naseby and Clyde, with a loop line to St Bathans, was started in June 1874. The telegraph office at St Bathans was opened in October of the same year, and a money order and savings bank department in 1876. Prior to coaches running to St Bathans in 1879, mail was carried on horseback. In 1898, 20,020 letters and postcards were dispatched from the office, and 22,563 letters and postcards delivered; 2,946 telegrams were dispatched and 2,626 received.

The St Bathans people were fervent Liberal Party supporters and in 1906, when Joseph Ward (1817-1892) became Prime Minister, there was much rejoicing. Ward was Postmaster General in 1891, and in 1899 when he was Deputy Prime Minister he also held the portfolios of colonial secretary, industries and commerce, to which were soon added railways and public health. Sometime after 1906 Ward, who had introduced the penny post in 1901, visited St Bathans and rewarded the town for its support by granting a permit to call for specifications and tenders for the erection of a new post office.

A New Post Office

The St Bathans Post Office (Former) was designed by Public Works Department architect John Campbell (1857-1942), first draughtsman (1889-1899), then architect from 1899 until his retirement in 1922. Campbell was responsible for the standardisation of the architecture of government buildings, particularly evident in the design of post offices. During a post office building boom between about 1900 and 1914 he was largely responsible for two major post office buildings of similar design (the Auckland and Wellington chief post offices), and many smaller post office buildings. In 1900 Campbell had also designed the post office for Naseby, another small town in the Maniototo region of Central Otago. Writer and architect Lewis Martin reported the design for the St Bathans Post Office displayed, ‘Light touches of Campbell's characteristic decoration transform domesticity into a modest public building’.

In 1908 the postmaster, Reginald Noake (1877-1951), rented the premises of the former Bank of New Zealand, located some doors down Loop Road during the construction of the new building. Noake was Post Master at all three iterations of the post office, and apparently the best remembered of all the postmasters for his engineering and mechanical skills, as well as for the many practical jokes he liked to play on his customers. The post office was relocated to the former BNZ in January 1909, when the old building was demolished. The new post office was opened on 26 November 1909. The tender to build the post office was won by Jeremiah Drummery with a construction cost of £6,854 ($1,196,860), Drummey ran over time by six months and was penalised £3 ($526) per week.

The new post office had public functions on the ground floor, with a mailroom and public space separated by the counter. Telegraph and telephone areas along with post boxes were also on the ground floor, with the post master's residence (two bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen, bathroom and scullery) on the top floor, accessed via a stairwell from the rear of the mailroom. The schedule of works describes the material used in construction including rimu for window and door architraves, sarking, stair treads, risers and stringers, TG & V panelling and rafters. All dados, architraves and skirtings and all woodwork in bedrooms, sitting room, passage and staircase were oiled, stopped and varnished with three coats ?. Pumice was used in the walls to provide sound proofing and Muranese glass at the public counter and privacy screens. The service rooms were painted and the hallway, sitting room and bedrooms were wallpapered in colours and designs typical of the period.

The 21 private letterboxes were accessible from the porch, and kauri posting boxes for letters and newspapers were set in the east elevation of the building. A handwritten note in the schedule of works suggests the addition of snow strapping to the spouting. Outbuildings, originally identified as a washhouse, coal room and earth closet were also constructed.

In 1915 Mrs Coffey obtained permission to add a room on to the building at her own expense and providing it was removable. She did and subsequently removed it in 1918. The building was later extended, with a small sunroom added on the west corner which was demolished in the 1980s. Rain damage in 1922 saw the removal of the water tanks and a new iron cover installed. It also required the removal of damaged scrim and wallpaper. On 15 March 1923 it was decided that the level of business at St Bathans no longer warranted a permanent Post Mistress. Mrs Coffey retired in November that year. Miss Gladys Nicolson took over in April 1924 (she became Mrs Garrett in 1932). A site inspection in 1927 noted severe smoke damage in the passage and kitchen, and damage to the wall papers in a bedroom and the sitting room. Two years later, a relieving postal cadet noted in his report that only one of the 21 private boxes was in use, and that by the police. He did note that school children collected mail after school. “This being an old mining town which is now worked out, there are no means of increasing the revenue from the office in any way.’

The Big Downturn

Mining operations ceased after the 1930s and as the population dwindled, buildings were either demolished or moved elsewhere. St Bathans suffered a downturn. An infestation of bees in the post office was noted in 1932, their hive was later discovered in the wall beside the fireplace in the main bedroom. The following year, Mrs Sabina Nicholson (mother of Gladys) purchased the post office for £100 ($12,775). The St Bathans Post Office closed on 5 February 1937, the telephone exchange was removed at a cost of £76 ($8,618), and the business was transferred to the local store, owned by John Enright at the time who became an agent. His wife, Elizabeth Enright also became an agent in May 1942. The office closed permanently on 15 November 1952. Following Sabina Nicolson's death in 1952 the property was inherited by her daughters Gladys Nicolson-Garret and Hilda Nicolson. In 1971 it was transferred to Thomas Duffy, who acquired freehold title in the same year. The house remained in the family until 1981.

Historic Reserve

In 1981 the St Bathans Post Office was transferred to the Crown as an historic reserve, under the management of the then Department of Lands and Survey in order to, ‘protect the historic vista of the main street and for its intrinsic worth.’ The post office was described as containing, ‘most of its original fittings. The upstairs flat is much as it was when occupied by the postmaster. Original fittings and wallpapers remain.’ The management plan outlines the use of the building as an historic post office with the restoration of postal service, and the maintenance of the flat ‘in its present condition’.

Community Support

When the St Bathans Post Office became part of the Otago Goldfields Park, there was concern within the community about its future. At this time the building was somewhat dilapidated. There was particular concern about the plan to restore the building as the locals valued its ‘well weathered patina of age’ which gave it ‘the majesty it deserves in its position towering over the rest of the town.’ The proposed coat of paint and the demolition of the later sunroom addition caused much debate in the local paper and resulted in the Otago Goldfields Park Advisory Committee to mount a public defence of its plans. The Committee explained that they wanted to show the building as an ‘an authentic example of an early twentieth century post office’ and that it would be ‘unrealistic and historically inaccurate to present the site in a state of decay and disrepair. Buildings of this type and function were always maintained regularly throughout their working life.’ Sympathetic restoration followed in 1984, when the ground floor was refurbished as a post office of the 1915 - 1920 era. The building was re-piled and painted in 1984.


On 12 December 1995 local resident Sharon Hinds officially opened her retail business ‘Despatches’ in the St Bathans Post Office. The business operated successfully selling antiques and memorabilia, and providing postal services until June 2008. During this time the post office was repainted and repiled again. The post office was visited by thousands of people during this time. The many visitor books in Keith Hinds collection are testament to the enjoyment of access to the St Bathans Post Office, the ability to send post from there, the experience of the building and its ambiance were all greatly appreciated. Under the management of Sharon Hinds, the St Bathans Post Office saw thousands of visitors. From the collection of visitors’ books, a number of comments stand out in their reference to the use of the building, their sentiment often repeated throughout the years,

‘Great usage for the old PO’, ‘It’s great to see the PO open for business again’, ‘Wonderful to see new life in the old building’, ‘Great to see the Post Office open and in such a good state’, ‘A wonderful step back in time’, ‘Great to see history being cared for’, ‘Has an authentic, historic air to it.’

Several comments were written by former residents or descendants who expressed pleasure at seeing pictures of family, or the importance of visiting where ancestors lived and worked for example, ‘A happy nostalgic return of a nephew of Israel Jewiss who worked here in 1913’. Following the death of Sharon Hinds, ‘Despatches’ closed. The final entry in the visitors’ book for 2008 reads, ‘The end of an era. Always loved, never forgotten.’


A concession was applied for in 2010 to transform the St Bathans Post Office into boutique accommodation. There was an overwhelmingly negative response to the proposal – 190 submissions against, four in favour and one neutral. The refurbishment of the post office for this purpose would have meant a lack of public access to the building. More concerning for many in the community, it would have seen the mailroom converted to a bedroom, the conversion of a bedroom to a bathroom upstairs, changes to the kitchen and overall changes to fixtures and fittings and losses of heritage fabric. Jeremy Salmond provided an informed and passionate critique of the proposal in favour of retaining the important heritage fabric.

There followed a period of inactivity; several small businesses used the space after this but until 2019 the St Bathans Post Office lay empty. In 2020 it was utilised by the St Bathans Area Community Association (SBACA) who obtained a short concession from the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai to trial the space as a community museum. A feasibility study was conducted by the SBACA in 2019 which stated the purpose of the ‘Post Office Proposal’,

‘St Bathans is a growing community. It needs a space where it can continue to celebrate and showcase its history and heritage. The St Bathans Area Community Association aims for a vibrant space that attracts more people and activity to celebrate our heritage and landscapes, promotes local pride and visitor interest. We need to breathe new life into the St Bathans Heritage Precinct, so that it’s [sic] well-known as a visitor destination and celebrated more by locals. We also need to think about the kind of facility the community requires.’

The SBACA received a, ‘great response from the community in trialling this initiative’, have sourced collections for display, and ‘have welcomed visits from groups in the local community and further afield and have provided guided tours to explain the local history and gauge interest in this venture’. During this short period, the visitors’ book expresses the community, and visitors’ appreciation at the building being open,

‘Great usage for this old PO’, ‘Its [sic] great to see the PO open for business again.’

The SBACA successfully applied to DOC for a ten-year concession to develop the space as a museum, information centre and community hub. Their application to use the St Bathans Post Office and former Gold Office were supported by the community. Their application included letters of support from the community, one statement of support read,

‘I would be very happy to see the St Bathans Post Office building regain its place as a focal point in the community. It makes no sense to have a landmark building such as this effectively standing idle. Considerable care and expense went into its restoration in the early 1980’s. Some years later, Sharon Hinds operated a paper-themed business on the ground floor. This was a sensitive use of the building, celebrating its previous function. ... I wholeheartedly support this application as a way of returning the St Bathans Post Office to a useful role in the community.’

Their period of tenure began on 1 December 2020.

Physical Description

Current Description


St Bathans in Central Otago is a unique, small, historic gold mining town. Dramatically changed by mining activity, it is a landscape of extremes: flush with growth from the heritage trees in spring, blisteringly hot and dry in summer, awash in golden leaves and light in autumn, and in winter, freezing cold with drifts of snow. The St Bathans Post Office (Former) sits on a prominent site on Loop Road, the main street. It is the first and most prominent of the buildings. Other public buildings include the former Bank of New South Wales Gold Office (List No.331) and Public Hall (List No. 2256). Private buildings include the Vulcan Hotel (List No.2259), the former Vulcan Hotel billiards rooms and stable (List No.2255), the former jail and a number of residences. The Anglican (List No.2252) and Catholic churches (List No.3210) stand at either end of the town, and the stone ruins of the school (List No.3208) are located above the main street. The view from the post office is easterly, directly across the road to a reserve and a road that leads down to the Blue Lake formed by historic mining activity.

The St Bathans Post Office is a two storied timber building clad in rusticated matai weatherboards with a hipped corrugated iron roof . The building is painted a light mustard yellow with dark green facing boards, window frames and doors; window sashes are painted the same colour as the weatherboards. Many of the windows feature decorative brackets beneath the sills. The east elevation facing the street has steps up to the main entrance, and at the northern end, stepped back, there is the entrance to the residence . There are two brick chimneys, a massive external chimney breast on the southern elevation set almost flush with the weatherboards, and the second, an internal chimney connected to the scullery and mailroom fireplaces. Both are finished in plaster above the roof each with two ceramic chimney pots. The majority of the ground floor space was allocated to the postal and telegraphic services, with a wing on the north side providing a staff entrance to the post office and stairs to the residence on the first floor.

The main east elevation faces Loop Road. A double hung sash window with four panes in the upper portion sits adjacent to the main entrance. The main door is a four-panelled door with a six-pane light above it. A pair of six-pane double-hung sash windows are situated to the right of this beneath which are two mail slots; there is a flight of three concrete steps up to these slots. The second storey has a pair of six-pane double-hung sash windows above the entrance to the porch, and one six-pane double-hung sash window positioned symmetrically above the lower pair. Between these is fixed the ‘Post Office’ sign.

Set back at the northern end of the elevation there is a four-panelled door with a side light covered by a porch – this was the private entrance to the residence; above this is a four-pane double-hung sash window.

The north elevation has one small sash window to the stair landing and two windows on the first floor.

The west elevation has two six-paned double-sashed windows in the mailroom and a four-paned double-sash window in the telephone exchange. The second storey has three windows; two six-paned double-sash windows flanking a four-paned double sash window.

The south elevation is dominated by the large brick chimney breast set just proud of the face of the weatherboarding; either side of this there is a six-paned double hung sash window at ground floor level, with a small three-paned window through to the telephone exchange in the western corner. There are no windows on the second storey.


It is important to note that there is a high level of authenticity throughout the interior of the building in terms of the fabric, fixtures and fittings. This was ascertained more than a decade ago by Guy Williams in his 2009 Heritage Inventory, and this level of authenticity has largely been maintained despite some damage in two upstairs rooms. Walls are a combination of TG & V boards fixed horizontally and painted, TG & V dados, and wallpaper. Ceilings are 12 inch boards with moulded battens and cornices.

Ground Floor – public space

The ground floor forms the public area of the post office and consists of a public area with a telephone bureau, two counters through to the mailroom, and a telephone exchange. On entering the building, the original private boxes would have been on the immediate right of the porch. This has been infilled with T G & V board.Ahead against the left wall are public writing desks with turned legs and glazed privacy partitions in two groups of three separated by a nib wall. The glazing is reeded/striated glass .To the immediate right is a door leading to the mailroom, and ahead on the right is the kauri service counter separated into two cubicles. Two double hung sash windows enable the counter to be closed off to the public. The star-spangled glass allows light through but would also have provided privacy. At the rear left of the room is the lush green baize lined telephone bureau with a double door for the purposes of sound proofing. A wall mounted Ericsson telephone with bakelite mouthpiece hangs on the western wall.

The floors throughout the building are kauri and the ceilings are rimu. On the ground floor the ceiling timber is varnished. Remaining original joinery includes doors, skirting boards, tongue and groove lining on the walls in public areas and in the postmistress’s quarters upstairs. Switches are ceramic and bakelite, as are the power outlets. Above the dado, walls are clad in horizonal rimu boards painted a light green and beneath this is a varnished rimu dado which reaches to window sill height. Rimu window and door frames are thickly beaded with shellac. The original glass in the modesty screens separating the desks, and the internal sash windows into the mailroom from the public area diffuse and soften the light. The floor in the public area is covered in carpet tiles.

Ground Floor – mailroom

The mailroom is dominated by the expansive timber ceiling, timber dado and large kauri counter. Like the public area, the walls are clad in horizontal timers painted green. The telephone exchange is in the south west corner. A door in the north west leads outside. In the north east corner, a fireplace sits at an angle to the room, it has a cast iron coal fire insert and a timber mantlepiece with carved corbels. A significant fixture is the timber mailbox cupboard in the eastern wall. The floor in the public area is covered in carpet tiles. Much of this room is now used as a display area for local history material.

Entrance and Stairwell

The stairwell is located on the north side of the building. A doorway leads to it from the mailroom and another, private entrance, from the street. This door has two top panels of glazing, one with a relief leaf pattern and one with a mottled glazing. The side lights and light sashes are of star-spangled glass. The small hall space is atmospheric with light from the fan and side lights casting on the rich though fragile Japanese style wallpaper, in places sagging on its scrim, and the timber balustrade and stairs heavily beaded with dark stippling of shellac. A heavily patterned thick carpet is a contrast to the utilitarian areas adjacent. The timber dado flows up the stairs with a balustrade of delicate turned balusters and carved newel post.

First Floor

The first floor was built as a residence for the postmaster or postmistress. It consists of a sitting room, two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, and a scullery. A long hallway bisecets the upstairs into kitchen and sitting room to the left facing the street, and two bedrooms either side of a small bathroom facing the rear of the section.

First Floor – hallway

The hall is narrow and the timber dado and Japanese style wallpaper over hessian (dating to 1922 when repairs were required after water tanks leaked) continue up the stairs and along the length of the hallway. Areas of wallpaper are damaged to the point that multiple layers can be seen down to the boards beneath, the original being red. A half round arch with turned corbels marks the transition from the top of the stairs to the adjacent doorways. The original fuse box hangs at the end of the hall to the right of the doorframe into bedroom 1.

Kitchen and Scullery

To the left is the kitchen which is clad in horizontal timbers from ceiling to floor, painted primrose. The ceiling of wide boards and architraves are painted white with a green trim, and the skirting, door and window frames are painted green. There is linoleum on the floor. A four-panel door through to the scullery is painted green with primrose panels. A Shacklock coal range firebox and wetback are set into a fireplace with a simple timber mantlepiece with carved brackets. The scullery floor is rimu boards, there are three original open shelves on the left wall, a bench with an enamel basin and doors with vertical panelling.

Sitting Room

The sitting room is the next room on the left off the hallway. The walls are papered (possibly dating to 1927) and the ceiling of wide boards and architraves is painted white. The skirtings are shellacked. There is loose linoleum on the floor overtop of rimu floorboards. There are three windows casting light from the east and south. A fireplace surround in the south west corner is black painted timber and has a cast iron coal fire set in. Under the window facing the street, a bolt attaches a length of hemp rope to be used as a fire escape. The Victorian chaise longue and chair are original furnishings.

Bedroom 1

Bedroom 1 is adjacent the Sitting Room, the walls are papered (possibly dating to 1927) and the ceiling of wide boards and architraves are painted a light green. There is loose linoleum on the floor overtop of rimu floorboards. Skirtings and the window frame are varnished with shellac. There is a window casting light from the west. A fireplace surround in the south east corner is pink painted timber and has a cast iron coal fire set in.


The bathroom is situated on the right side of the hall between the two bedrooms and like the other rooms in the building has a wide board timber ceiling and characteristic architraves. Significantly, this room has retained its original lead floor. The room is clad in horizontal timbers painted yellow. The bath was on the left side of the room, clearly discernible by difference in paint colour on the wall. A wood seated toilet is situated south west corner. A board with four coat hooks is situated on the western wall .

Bedroom 2

Bedroom 2 is closest to the stairs on the right side of the hall. The ceiling of wide boards, the architraves and window frames are painted white. The skirting is varnished with shellac and the rimu floorboards are bare. The floorboards have suffered some damage. The walls are papered (c. 1927). A hemp fire escape rope is installed under the window .


Adjacent to the south west corner of the post office is a small mudbrick shed with corrugated iron roof. This is in poor repair. Behind the post office is a single height rectangular building comprising three spaces: a toilet on the left, and two storage sheds.

Comparative analysis

Heritage New Zealand has nearly 90 former post offices on the New Zealand Heritage List/ Rārangi Kōrero across Aotearoa New Zealand. They vary enormously in size, style and age. At time of writing there are a total of 19 listed as Category 1 historic places, and 69 registered as Category 2. Rural post offices from the stable of John Campbell varied across the country, though many tended to be small, single storey and constructed of permanent materials. The following post offices have been chosen as comparators with the St Bathans Post Office (Former) because they are most similar in age, form and style.

Post Office (Former), Collingwood (List No. 5111, Category 1 historic place)

Completed in 1904, the Collingwood Post Office is a fine example of the Government post offices erected throughout New Zealand in the early twentieth century and like St Bathans Post Office, was designed by John Campbell in Imperial Baroque style and built using native timbers. Larger than the St Bathans Post Office, with the kitchen and dining room downstairs and four bedrooms and a sitting room upstairs.

Like St Bathans Post Office, the public spaces retain their original post office counter, tongue-and-groove wall lining, doors, skirting and flooring and staircase. St Bathans Post Office however retains more of the original fabric of the building and the patina of age that creates an atmosphere of authenticity, and the exterior has retained traditional paint colours. Both post office buildings continue to serve their communities; Collingwood as an art gallery, and St Bathans as a museum and research centre.

Kaeo Post Office (Former) (List No. 9519, Category 2 historic place)

Like Collingwood and St Bathans, the Kaeo Post Office is a two-storey timber structure designed by John Campbell. The former Kaeo Post office was built in 1911, and is similar to St Bathans in layout, with the public spaces downstairs and all of the private spaces on the second storey. The front elevation of Kaeo is more similar to St Bathans that Collingwood with its stepped design, however a major deviation to the original design is an extension to the building. A further major difference is the significant interior renovation that has meant the loss of original wall linings and surface finishes.

The design for Kaeo Post Office was based on one of two standard approaches for smaller post offices, which consisted of a two-storeyed block of three bays with a hipped roof. Unlike earlier examples of this type, which generally emphasised the middle bay by incorporating a central gable and front porch, it was more aligned with designs created in the second decade of the 1900s which provided an entrance in each of the end bays and paired windows in a central bay. At Kaeo, the design dispensed with visual symmetry, incorporating a public front door in the western part of its front elevation and a secondary entrance for staff in a set-back bay on the east side. Like many of the later examples, its appearance was simpler and less ornate than the earlier types. Its timber construction differed from Campbell’s general preference for more durable materials, although many Northland post offices of the period were similarly erected of wood. Its two-storey design contrasts with many of Campbell’s timber post offices, both in Northland and elsewhere, which were generally a single storey in height.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1874 -
First post office constructed

Original Construction
1909 -

1915 -
Addition added by Postmistress

Partial Demolition
1918 -
Addition removed by Postmistress

1918 -
Redecoration of the kitchen

1922 -
Tanks above entrance removed. Paper stripped, scrim re-stretched, new paper applied in stairwell and entrance hall. Fire escape ropes installed in sitting room and bedroom.

1923 -
Plumbing work conducted

1927 -
Possible repapering in residence

Two windows added to the north façade in scullery and in bedroom 2.

1937 -
Private boxes removed from the porch? Lean-to added at the rear of the accommodation entry/staircase

1984 -
Department of Lands and Survey carried out restoration - painting and repiling, and demolition of an outbuilding

1984 -
removal of lean-to at the rear of the accommodation entry/staircase

1988 -
Flush toilet and septic tank

1991 -
Window glass replaced (frosted pane in teller area, two lounge windows and kitchen window)

1995 -
Window fixed and doors eased

2000 -
Repiled and repainted, ground water drain installed

Carpet squares laid in public areas

Structural upgrade
2003 -
Repacking of piles

Fire protection improvements
2004 -
Chubb fire sprinkler system installed and drainage on north side of the post office building

2010 - 2011
Removal of Bath

2011 -
Phone and powerlines placed below ground. Honeycomb removed from upstairs wall cavity beside the chimney, replacement weatherboards, sash windows freed up and cords respliced. Roof guttering replaced and lead reformed. Underfloor insulation installed. Air vents replaced. Picket fence replaced on east, west and southern boundaries. Internal concreting of the two chimneys.

2015 -
Utilities upgraded

1919 -
Possible painting of the interior

Construction Details

Brick, timber and corrugated iron

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

8th March 2021

Report Written By

Sarah Gallagher

Information Sources

Cowan, 1948

Janet. C. Cowan, Down the Years in the Maniototo: A Survey of the Early History of Maniototo County and Naseby Borough, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Whitcombe and Tombs, Dunedin, 1948

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Richardson, Peter. 'Campbell, John 1857 - 1942', updated: 7 April 2006, URL:

Gilkison, 1978

R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978

Harwood, 2004

N. Harwood and P. Woodmansey, Historic buildings appraisal, St Bathans, Otago, Department of Conservation Science Internal Series 185, 2004

Martin, 2004

Lewis E. Martin, Built For Us: The Work of Government and Colonial Architects, 1860s to 1960s, Dunedin, 2004.

Nicolson-Garrett, 1977

G. Nicolson-Garrett, St. Bathans, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1977

Richardson, 1988

Peter Richardson, 'An Architecture of Empire: The Government Buildings of John Campbell in New Zealand', MA Thesis, University of Canterbury, 1988

St Bathans Reserves Management Plan, 1985

Department of Lands and Survey, St Bathans Reserves Management Plan, 1985.

Richardson, 2006

Peter Richardson, 'Campbell, John 1857 - 1942', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography updated: 7 April 2006,

Sutton, 2011

Marion Sutton, St Bathans Post Office Historic Reserve Archaeological Assessment of Proposed Site Upgrade Work on Sections 11 and 12 Blk I Town of St Bathans, January 2011.

Williams, 2009

Guy Williams, St Bathans Post Office Heritage Inventory, commissioned by Department of Conservation, 2009.

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the Otago/Southland Area Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.


Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.