The former Landing Service Building is the only structure to remain from the various landing services that operated in Timaru before the artificial harbour was built. Built between 1870 and 1876, it is one of the oldest buildings still standing in the town. Landing services enabled goods to be loaded on and off ships when the depth of water and lack of harbour facilities meant ships had to anchor off-shore. Little boats would run along a cable which stretched between the shore and buoys anchored out by the ships' moorings. At first the boats were pulled back and forth along the cable by means of a capstan and manual labour. Later steam engines were used haul the boats. Upon reaching the shore the boats were pulled into a landing service building and the goods were off-loaded.
Te Maru or Timaru had long been a landing place for Maori moving up and down the eastern coast of the South Island, as Patiti Point and the reefs provided some protection from the open sea. However, it did not have a natural harbour in the way Lyttelton or Otago did and because of this it was not initially considered as a major place for Pakeha settlement. Settlement in the area began, as it so often did, with the arrival of the whalers. In 1839 the Weller brothers, Joseph (1804-1835), and Edward (1814?-1893) established a whaling station on the shore and also laid claim to vast inland areas of land. In 1851 another pair of brothers, George (1816-1864) and Robert Heaton Rhodes senior (1815-1884), moved 5,000 sheep from Akaroa to Timaru, claimed over 150,000 acres (60,703 hectares) of land and established a sheep station, The Levels. George's first house and woolshed were erected on the Timaru coast. Nearby he established a landing service, which enabled wool from the Levels to be loaded onto ships at this point and supplies from Lyttelton to be off-loaded. It appears that this site was at the foot of what is now Strathallan Street in Timaru.
By 1854 other runholders were also shipping goods from the area and a regular service between Lyttelton and Timaru had been established. In 1857 the Rhodes brothers passed the landing service onto Henry John Le Cren (1828?-1895) and his partner Captain Henry Cain (1816-1886). Le Cren and Cain ran a successful landing service, despite competition from two other companies between 1860 and 1865. With the development of the landing services Timaru grew rapidly and by 1864 wool was shipped directly from Timaru to London. In 1865 the Canterbury Provincial Government passed the Timaru Landing Service Ordinance, which allowed the government to charge rates and tolls on any goods landed at the piece of land on the foreshore taken by the government in 1864 for landing services at Timaru. In 1864 the provincial government purchased Le Cren's landing service, (thereafter known as the Government Landing Service) but were unable to run it successfully, irritating merchants and runholders by charging high rates for a poor service.
As a consequence local businessmen established the Timaru Landing and Shipping Company in 1867. Initially the company tried to lease the Government Landing Service but its tender of £10 was turned down. In 1868 it was granted the use of the beach at the foot of George Street and began operations with two fixed launching ways and, by February 1868, two 36 foot boats. It also erected a number of modest sheds. The company acquired the adjacent land, Section 10, in June 1869. In 1870, however, it sold all its plant, gear and the lease of its original site, Section 9, to Captain Cain for £975. Section 10 was taken over by the mortgagees, the Union Bank of Australia, and sold to Peter McRae, owner of the local Club Hotel.
McRae began to build what became the first bay of the Landing Service Building on Section 10 in 1870-1871. Two-storeyed and built in blocks of the local bluestone with a hipped roof, the front of the building had three arched entrances through which the boats were drawn up. A substantial building with a low parapet, round-headed windows on the ground floor and square-headed windows on top, it, like other nineteenth century warehouses, was ultimately modelled on Renaissance palazzi.
McRae leased the building to Captain Cain, who decided to keep running the landing service under the Timaru Landing and Shipping Company name. A second bay was erected by McRae, to the west of the first, sometime between 1870 and 1876. This again was rectangular, with a hipped roof and lit by skylights. At the time it was erected the Landing Service Building was located on the waterfront. The extension of the main railway line through Timaru around 1875, which ran between the water and the building, created difficulties for the company, who had to drag its boats over the lines.
McRae moved to Waimate in 1875 and sold the Landing Service Building to the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency who took over the running of the landing service. The 'Loan and Merc', as it was affectionately known, ran the landing service in competition with both the Government Landing Service and the second George Street service (opened by Green and Maxwell in 1872) until 1881. By 1876 the third and final bay of the Landing Service Building had been erected. This bay is narrower at its north end and widens as it extends south. Again it has a hipped roof and more unusually a lantern window.
Further difficulties for the landing services ensued when construction on an artificial harbour started in earnest from 1878. The construction of a solid breakwater near the foot of Strathallan Street led to an accumulation of shingle on its south side, pushing the waterfront further and further away from the Landing Service Building. In 1880 the company was forced to move its landing equipment over the railway line to be closer to the sea. In 1881 both private landing services closed as the construction of the north mole and the accumulation of shingle in front of their businesses had made it pointless to continue. The Government Landing Service (transferred to the control of the Timaru Harbour Board in 1879) continued to operate until 1886, when the artificial harbour became fully operational, finally removing the need for a landing service at Timaru.
New Zealand Loan and Mercantile, who were taken over by Dalgety's Limited in 1961, retained the Landing Service Building to store incoming and outgoing goods until 1984. The company also built a large two-storey warehouse adjacent to the landing service building, with sawtooth gables and an Italianate façade, facing George Street. The Landing Service Building became surrounded by offices, woolstores, warehouses and showrooms, and disappeared under a facade. The building was sold to the Timaru City Council in 1984. In 1985 the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taonga (NZHPT) issued a protection notice over the whole of the Landing Service Building, as one of the Council's proposals was to demolish the building and turn the site into a carpark. Ongoing and lengthy negotiations took place between the council, the NZHPT and the local community, many of whom were vocal in their desire to save the building. The Timaru Civic Trust was established and initially focused on preserving the Landing Service Building. In 1987 the council offered the Civic Trust the option to buy the building, and in 1988-1989 it gifted the building to the Trust, and arranged for a long term lease of the land the building occupies.
After strenuous efforts the Landing Service Building formally re-opened in 1997. The third bay was converted to house the Loaded Hog, a bar and brewery, which opened in 1992. The second bay now houses the Information Centre and the first floor has been refurbished and a staircase installed to provide access to it. It is now used for community events and conferences. A toilet block was added to the south of the building. The first bay now houses the lifeboat Alexandra, imported from England in 1863 and used on 'Black Sunday', 14 May 1882, when two ships, the City of Perth and the Benvenue, wrecked off the Timaru coast.
The Landing Service Building (former) is a highly significant part of Timaru's history and probably Timaru's oldest surviving commercial building. It is the only survivor of the early landing services that operated from the beachfront prior to the construction of the artificial harbour, which were vital to the establishment and development of Timaru. The building indicates the historical line of the beach at Timaru, now a substantial distance away and is believed to be the only landing service building still extant in New Zealand. It was used as a warehouse for over 100 years and is a good example of nineteenth-century masonry construction in the local bluestone. The building is significant to the local community, as evidenced by their contributions to its retention and reuse during the 1980s and 1990s.
1870 - 1871
1873 - 1875
Dormer windows inserted into roof. Two skylights on eastern side of roof of second bay
Wool ramp removed from west wall. Machinery shed (lean-to attached to north wall) demolished)
1989 - 1997
Internal modifications including addition of staircase
2nd September 2003
Report Written By
Christchurch City Libraries
Christchurch City Libraries
'The Timaru Landing Service Ordinance 1865', Session XXIV 1865 (November 1865-January 1866), Canterbury Ordinances 1853-1975
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Robert Pinney, 'Le Cren, Frederic 1835 - 1902; Le Cren, Henry John 1828? - 1895', Volume One (1769-1869), pp.238-239
Oliver A. Gillespie, South Canterbury: A Record of Settlement, 2nd edn., Timaru, 1971
Charles E. Hassall, 'A Short History of the Port of Timaru, 1852-1955, Timaru, 1955
Gavin McLean, 100 Historic Places in New Zealand, Auckland, 2002
Win Parkes, 'Discovering Timaru: Past and Present, Timaru, 1984
7 April 1984, p.23
NZHPT Heritage Order (11 February 1985).
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.