Government Buildings (Former)
14 Sewell Street, Hokitika
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
28th June 1990
Date of Effect
28th June 1990
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 3239 (RT WS8B/652), Westland Land District and the building known as Government Buildings (Former) thereon. See extent map tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 30 April 2019.
West Coast Region
Lot 1 DP 3239 (RT WS8B/652), Westland Land District
The Government Buildings/Courthouse at Hokitika was one of a number of government offices built throughout New Zealand at the beginning of the twentieth century designed by Government Architect, John Campbell (1857-1942). It was built in two stages primarily as a response to the local Lands and Survey Department's plea for larger and better accommodation. The Liberal Party, who came to power in 1891, introduced a series of social and economic reforms, which led to New Zealand being known as the 'social laboratory' of the world. This led to a growth in state bureaucracy and a corresponding increase in the number of government buildings needed to house this bureaucracy. Although the Liberals' building programme started slowly the Minister of Public Works from 1891-1896, Richard John Seddon (1845-1906 - later Premier of New Zealand), and his successor William Hall-Jones (1851-1936), succeeded in turning the Public Works Department into 'the country's largest construction agency'.
Campbell designed the building to house a number of other government departments as well as Lands and Survey. The building was also designed to contain a new courtroom, as complaints were rife about the existing courthouse's dirtiness. Contract plans were ready by January 1908 and tenders were called for the first half of the building the following month. While the tenders were being considered the Minister of Public Works, Hall-Jones, suggested that the building be set back 20 feet (approx 6m) from the street to accommodate a statue of Seddon, who had died while Premier of New Zealand two years earlier. Campbell reluctantly agreed to set the building back but only so shrubs could be planted in front of it as he didn't believe 20 feet would provide sufficient space for a statue. The statue of Seddon was unveiled in front of the Government Building on 25 May 1910. (The statue is also registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Pouhere Taonga.)
As with Campbell's earlier Napier Departmental Office, the Hokitika Government Buildings was erected in two stages. Construction of first half was completed by 8 June 1909. This consisted of the main entrance and the wing to the left. It stood incomplete for some time as Campbell was too busy to draw up plans for the second stage of building. However, by November 1911, plans for the second half were drawn up, a tender accepted in January 1912, and the building completed by end of 1913. The second stage of the building contained the new courthouse. Originally it had been planned to house the Supreme Court above the Magistrates' Court on the ground floor. However, the Supreme Court was shifted to Greymouth in 1911 and the plans were redrawn, with a boardroom being put in above the Magistrates' Court.
Campbell was noted for establishing Imperial Baroque as the government style of architecture in New Zealand. In doing so he was part of a wider attempt by British and colonial architects to give architectural expression to Britain's imperial power. Architects looked back to the English architecture of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, which they saw as a particularly English style suitable to express the glory of the British Empire and this message was spread throughout the Empire by expatriate architects. Campbell's interpretation of Imperial Baroque developed over many years. His design for the Hokitika Government Buildings was more restrained than some of his earlier works and based on his design for the Wellington Magistrate's Court (1901-1903), a building which architectural historian Peter Richardson argues 'established the architectural vocabulary used by the Architectural Branch...for the next twenty years'. (Richardson, 1997: 302) While the 'centre and ends' composition and the internal floor plan are similar to that of the earlier Napier Departmental Building and the banding of brick and plaster, the open-bed pediments, oversized keystones and cartouches remain, the overall effect is more muted and the Flemish-inspired gables of the late nineteenth century have been replaced by giant aedicules. Although more restrained in terms of Campbell's oeuvre, the Hokitika Government Buildings still presents a rich three-dimensional surface to the street.
The building continued to house various government departments until the 1990s, although the courtroom was closed during the 1970s as part of a national programme of restructuring by the Department of Justice. It was sold into private ownership in 1994 and the current owners have begun restoration work.
The Hokitika Government Buildings/Courthouse are one of the most impressive extant examples of Campbell's large provincial government office buildings and a fine example of his later, more restrained work. Reflecting New Zealand's ties to the British Empire, the Imperial Baroque style favoured by Campbell also provided New Zealanders with government buildings which reflected the growth and prosperity of New Zealand. The size of the building, one of the largest in Hokitika, reflects the contemporary importance of the town as the administrative centre for the West Coast, an economically and politically important region at the time. In conjunction with the statue of Seddon situated in front of the main entrance, the building also stands as a memorial to Seddon and the public buildings programme he initiated. It housed the local representatives of central government for over ninety years and remains a prominent feature of the Hokitika townscape today.
Historical Significance or Value
Designed to house a Magistrate's Court and a variety of government departments, the Government Building in Hokitika is one of a large number of public buildings erected during the era of Liberal government. Its scale reflects the West Coast's historical role as one of the country's most important regional economies.
Hokitika's Government Building is an impressive example of the Edwardian 'Imperial' Baroque architecture favoured by Campbell for public buildings. The building contains distinctively British elements in its design and illustrates the impact of work such as John Belcher's Colchester Town Hall (1897-1902) on government architecture in New Zealand during the first two decades of this century. The Government Building, Hokitika, derives its considerable architectural quality from the manner in which Campbell combined elements which were ultimately derived from eighteenth century British architects. It was one of the key buildings which established Edwardian Baroque as the style of government architecture in New Zealand in the early part of this century.
The Hokitika building is one of the more substantial remaining examples of Campbell's work and shares features with his earlier and more exuberant Public Trust Building in Wellington although it is better compared with the Napier Government Building, destroyed in the 1931 earthquake.
The Government Building is one of the largest buildings in Hokitika. With the Seddon Statue in front it is a prominent landmark within the civic centre of Hokitika
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.
Plans for a building to replace the old county offices and courthouse in Hokitika were prepared by Campbell early in 1907. The new building was part of the extensive public building programme initiated by Richard Seddon when he was Minister of Works (1891-1895) and maintained by his successor William Hall-Jones (1896-1908).
A substantial building was planned to cater for Hokitika's important role as an administrative centre for the whole of the West Coast which at the time was a region of considerable economic and political importance. Before construction began William Hall-Jones had suggested that the building should be set back approximately six metres from the street to allow for a memorial statue of Richard Seddon to be erected in front of the building at a later date.
Campbell grudgingly agreed to the setback after initially opposing the erection of a statue in such a constricted space. The Seddon Memorial was subsequently unveiled on 26 May 1910.
The foundation stone of the Government Building was laid by the Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward, on 7 May 1908. The first half of the building, including the central entrance bay, was completed on 8 June 1909. Two years later the Government Architect was asked to provide the plans for the south end of the building and this section of the building was ready for occupation by the beginning of 1914.
The Government Building in Hokitika is a two-storey edifice with a symmetrical 'centre-and-ends' floor plan and principal elevation. It is designed in the Edwardian Baroque style which John Campbell had established as the style of government architecture in New Zealand by c.1900. Characteristic features of this style include horizontal bands of brick and concrete; the use of segmental and triangular pediments to crown windows and larger units within the composition; the bold handling of elements such as oversize keystones, rusticated pilasters and columns, and sculptural ornament, creating a rich, three-dimensional surface texture. All of these elements may be found in the facade of the Government Building, although the pediments and cornice which originally crowned this imposing elevation, have been replaced by a plain parapet.
The shorter end walls of the building also feature horizontal banding and the use of cement plaster trim to highlight door and window openings, but here the effect is more restrained than on the principal elevation. At the south end of the building separate entrances to the former court room and prisoners' rooms are provided. The rear elevation is entirely devoid of ornamentation.
Inside the building the floor plans of the ground and first floors are very similar. Communication between the two is provided by a central staircase from which narrow halls extend the length of the main wing. Large rooms in the end wings provide open-plan offices and public meeting spaces. The smaller rooms in the main section of the building are used as individual offices .
Date unknown: - Cornice and pediments removed.
1987 - Various rooms partitioned. Judge's bench removed from the Court room. False ceiling installed in the first floor room at the north end of the building.
1908 - 1909
Foundation stone laid May 1908. First part of building completed June 1909
1912 - 1913
Second half (south end) erected. Court became occupied from 1914
1907 - 1908
Brick and concrete. Corrugated galvanised iron roof.
2nd September 2002
Report Written By
Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)
Archives New Zealand (Wellington)
Public Works Department Plan Index
Files: Public Works Department Correspondence, National Archives, Wellington
Department of Conservation
Department of Conservation
Research file, Hokitika
West Coast Times
West Coast Times
2/3/6 April, 7/8 May, 18 July & 25 August, 1908
Rosslyn J. Noonan, By Design: A Brief History of the Public Works Department Ministry of Works 1870-1970, Wellington, 1975
Plans: Ministry of Works Accession No. 86
Peter Richardson, 'An Architecture of Empire: The Government Buildings of John Campbell in New Zealand', MA Thesis, University of Canterbury, 1988
Peter Richardson, 'Building the Dominion: Government Architecture in New Zealand 1840-1922', PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, 1997
West Coast Historical Museum
West Coast Historical Museum
Photographs: Photographic Archive
Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Maurice, Kidd, Unpublished Notes on New Zealand Courthouses. NZHPT Canterbury/West Coast Office
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
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.