Courthouse (Former)

Guinness Street, Greymouth

  • Courthouse (Former), Greymouth.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand.
  • Courthouse (Former), Greymouth. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 3/09/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5016 Date Entered 28th June 1990 Date of Effect 28th June 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 4 DP 3250 (RT WS8B/702), Westland Land District, and the building known as Courthouse (Former) thereon.

City/District Council

Grey District


West Coast Region

Legal description

Lot 4 DP 3250 (RT WS8B/702), Westland Land District


The Greymouth Courthouse was one of Government Architect John Campbell's (1857-1942) last designs. It is a single storey building built between 1911 and 1912, in the centre of the town. It replaced the wooden courthouse built in 1876. The earliest attempts to enforce Pakeha law in Greymouth occurred with the appointment of William Horten Revell as Warden in 1865. Previously the Inspector of Police in Timaru, Revell was appointed Resident Magistrate in Greymouth in 1868. By the end of the same year (the year Greymouth became a separate municipality), three courts were operating in Greymouth; the Warden's and Resident Magistrate's administered by Revell, and the District Court, presided over by a judge. From 1876 court hearings were held in a 'wood and iron' building in Hospital Street (later renamed Guiness Street).

The first sitting of the Supreme Court was held in Greymouth in 1909. With its arrival the 1876 courtroom became seen as small and inadequate. A newspaper report on the December 1909 sitting of the Greymouth Supreme Court reported that the Honourable Mr Justice Cooper had already approached the Department of Justice about the need for better accommodation. The foreman of the Grand Jury supported this move and requested that further efforts be made in this regard. These requests were eventually successful and tenders were called for a new courthouse in 1911. Local builders Kelsall & Son were the successful tenderers and the foundation stone was laid in March 1912.

The architect of the Greymouth Courthouse, Campbell, joined the Public Works Department in 1883 and became Draughtsman in Charge of the Architectural Branch of the department from 1889. Campbell was responsible for the design of government buildings throughout New Zealand for over thirty years (until his retirement in 1922), and established Imperial Baroque as the official style for government buildings. The courthouse in Greymouth is one of Campbell's more restrained designs, typical of his later work. In his recent thesis on government architecture, architectural historian Peter Richardson points out that the Greymouth Courthouse is unusual in that it, along with the Masterton Courthouse, were designed with a specific model in mind, that of Stewart, Lanchester and Rickards' Law Courts and Municipal Buildings in Cardiff, (designed in 1897 and built 1901-1904). It was more common for the Architectural Branch to combine standard floor plans with a standard range of Baroque elements rather than look directly to a specific overseas example.

The Greymouth Courthouse is significant as an example of one of Campbell's later, more restrained designs and as one of a few buildings designed by him that refers directly to a specific overseas model. It was built during a major period of government construction throughout New Zealand and continues to serve as the centre of local justice. In Greymouth a new courthouse, post office, and departmental building were all erected within ten years of each other, and this reflects both the town's growth in this period and its contemporary importance within the West Coast region.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Greymouth Courthouse was built during a major period of government construction in New Zealand. This building, and the nearby Post Office, reflect the state of development attained by Greymouth in the first forty-five years of the township's existence, and of the regional importance of the West Coast.


John Campbell established the Imperial Baroque style as the style of government architecture in New Zealand in the first two decades of this century. The Greymouth Courthouse was one of the last provincial buildings to be designed by the architect (Ibid, p113), and it illustrates the more restrained character of his later work. The building 'has the familiar open-bed pediments of Campbell's work but little additional ornamentation' (Ibid.) and it may therefore be compared with the Masterton Courthouse of the same date.


Standing on Guinness Street in the town centre, the courthouse makes a bold contribution to the streetscape of Greymouth.


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.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative


The first sitting of the Supreme Court in Greymouth was held on 8 June 1909. Tenders for the courthouse were called two years later and the foundation stone of the new building was laid on 12 March 1912 by Sir Arthur Guinness, Speaker of the House, and the Hon. R. McKenzie, Minister of Public Works. The building was completed by the end of the same year at a cost of nearly six thousand pounds by the builders J. Kelsall & Sons.

Physical Description


The Greymouth Courthouse is a single storey building designed in a restrained Edwardian Baroque style. Largely symmetrical in plan and elevation, the courthouse has load-bearing brick walls resting upon concrete [or more likely sandstone] foundations. All the decorative surfaces of the principal facade are plaster clad and this treatment extends around the corners of the building, whereas the brickwork of the side and rear walls has been left exposed. Large sash windows light the ancillary rooms around the perimeter of the building and a ramp along the west wall provides wheelchair access to the courthouse.

The facade has a 'centre and ends' composition with very little applied ornament which is confined between a base imitating cyclopean rustication and a blocked cornice and simple parapet. The polygonal end bays each feature a large rectangular sash window, with a decorative architrave and oversize keystone. These windows are flanked by smaller sash windows and ornamental plaques set within panels of smooth banded rustication. A short flight of stairs leads to the main entrance which is framed by pairs of engaged columns and crowned by an open-bed pediment which breaks through the cornice above. Beneath the pediment the arched doorway is emphasised by a rusticated surround and a decorative console in place of a keystone. Flanking the entrance are paired sash windows with decorative architraves and keystones set off against a ground of exposed brick.

Inside the building the plan is dominated by a central courtroom and the hallway which surrounds it. The courtroom has a pitched roof supported by four arch braces and is lit by clerestory windows. Public entry to the court is provided at the rear of the room, opposite the main entrance, whilst two doors set within each side wall communicate with the hallway, providing access for court officials and jury members. Hipped roofs shelter the ancillary rooms, chief among them being a holding cell, jury room and law library on the west side of the building and the judges' rooms and concrete strong-room on the east side.


c.1970 - Court room reroofed.

1980s - Mezzanines constructed over most of the ancillary rooms on the west side of the building; the largest of which are those above the staff training room and the bailiff's room in the north and south corners respectively. Removal of wall and installation of public inquiry counter in the south-east corner of the building.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1911 - 1912
Tenders called 1911. Foundation stone laid March 1912

1970 -
Court Room reroofed

Mezzanines constructed over most of the ancillary rooms on the west side of the building; the largest of which are those above the staff training room and the bailiff's room in the north and south corners respectively.

Removal of wall and installation of public inquiry counter in the south-east corner of the building.

Construction Details

Brick and concrete, roof of corrugated galvanised iron and coloursteel. Sandstone.

Completion Date

20th May 2002

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1906

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 5, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, 1906


Flood, 2001

John Flood, Greymouth recalled: an historical collection of photographs to mark the 2000 millennium, Greymouth, 2001


Grey River Argus

Grey River Argus

Thursday 9 December 1909, p.1

13 March 1912, p4

14 March 1912, p5

Jackson, 1968

Oswald Henry Jackson, Greymouth: the first 100 years, 1868-1968, Greymouth, [1968]

Kerridge, 1993

Peter Kerridge, Glimpses of Greymouth and district: a 1993 record of the development of Greymouth and district over the past one hundred and twenty-five years and some of the activities and achievements of its citizens, councils and community organisations, 1868-1993, Greymouth, 1993

Lord, 1928

E. Iveagh Lord, Greymouth district diamond jubilee, (1868-1928), Greymouth, [1928?]

Richardson, 1988

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


Richardson, 1997

Peter Richardson, 'Building the Dominion: Government Architecture in New Zealand 1840-1922', PhD thesis, University of Canterbury, 1997


University of Canterbury

University of Canterbury

Files: New Zealand Architecture File, School of Fine Arts Reference Room

Ministry of Justice

Ministry of Justice

Maurice, Kidd, Unpublished Notes on New Zealand Courthouses. NZHPT Canterbury/West Coast Office

Other Information

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.