Bankwood House

660 River Road, Fairfield, Hamilton

  • Bankwood House Front View.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Mike Vincent. Date: 22/04/2008.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 771 Date Entered 15th December 2011 Date of Effect 15th December 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 3 DPS 54638 (RT SA46578), South Auckland Land District and the building known as Bankwood House thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. The extent includes a 1.5 metre curtilage around the footprint of the building. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information.)

City/District Council

Hamilton City


Waikato Region

Legal description

Lot 3 DPS 54638 (RT SA46578), South Auckland Land District

Location description

Bankwood House is part of the campus of the Waikato Diocesan School for Girls. The building can be accessed through the main gate and is situated on the right hand side of the driveway.


Bankwood House was built in 1892 on what was the then rural hinterland to the north of Hamilton as the residence for gentleman farmer and English immigrant, Matthew Farrer. The expansive farm was established from the many one acre allotments granted after 1864 to members of the Fourth Regiment of Waikato Militia. These one acre allotments were part of the 1.2 million hectares confiscated from Tainui after the 1863 and 1864 conflicts. Bankwood House was constructed facing west, on the edge of an upper terrace of the Waikato River. This substantial villa was designed by local architect, Thomas White, who took advantage of the landscape to enhance its impressive style. Bankwood House is a rare surviving example of a homestead built for a large pastoral farm in the Waikato. The house is representative of a significant period of development in the rural economy in the Waikato in the late nineteenth century.

The house was originally connected by a covered way to an earlier house built by John Blair Whyte (MRP for Waikato) which served as the kitchen and additional accommodation until circa 1900 to 1915. After its purchase by John Gordon in 1907, the house was sympathetically altered and enlarged and a kitchen included, with the earlier cottage possibly removed around this time. The house has undergone successive alteration up to and following its purchase in 1929, for the expanding Waikato Diocesan School for Girls.

Bankwood House has strong associations with two influential men in the agricultural industry, John Gordon a manager of the Eureka (Woodlands) Estate, and William Goodfellow, a founder of the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company. From 1929 the building has played an important part in the development of a successful Anglican private girls’ school with staff and students both past and present having a strong esteem for the place.

Bankwood House has architectural significance being designed by prominent Hamilton architect, Thomas Henry White. The place has historical significance due to its links to early European settlement of Hamilton with the farm created from Fourth Waikato Regiment militia land grants. It is also significant for its association with the development and prosperity of the Waikato in the late nineteenth century. Several of its owners have played substantial roles in the development of agriculture in the Waikato and in the burgeoning dairy industry. Bankwood House has social significance for its role in education, having been part of the Anglican School for Girls since 1929. Bankwood House has archaeological significance as it sits on land confiscated from Tainui. The property is surrounded by archaeological sites which relate to the extensive occupation and farming of the land by Maori.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The property had association with the earliest European settlement and the seizure and confiscation of Tainui lands for land grants to militiamen in Hamilton. The original farm was made up of such land grants relinquished by militiamen of the Fourth Waikato Regiment. Bankwood House represents a period of relative prosperity and development in the rural economy of the Waikato, in the late nineteenth century, as the homestead (for gentleman farmer, Matthew Farrer), of a large farm on the outskirts of Hamilton. Farrer expanded the size of the farm and had sufficient wealth to undertake extensive tree planting and landscaping.

The house’s second and third owners were both influential in the development of agriculture and in particular, the burgeoning dairy industry in the Waikato; John Gordon as manager of Woodlands and the Eureka Estate, and William Goodfellow as the founder of the Waikato Dairy Company and co founder of the very successful New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company and other related companies.

It was associated with a prominent national and local body politician, J.B. Whyte. Whyte’s association continued through his nephew, Andrew Blair Whyte, who assisted with management of the Waikato Diocesan School for Girls for over 25 years.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

Bankwood House was built in 1892 on land confiscated from Tainui by 1864. The land is surrounded by a number of archaeological sites which are all related to extensive occupation and farming of the land by Maori. There is a strong likelihood that the land on which Bankwood House stands would yield evidence of that occupation or utilisation. Artefacts relating to Maori occupation have been discovered at nearby archaeological sites and the place has potential for further investigations (soil strata or artefacts) that may answer questions about the types of farming that occurred.

Architectural Significance or Value:

Bankwood House is an important surviving example of residential architecture by prominent Hamilton architect, Thomas Henry White; and a rare surviving Hamilton example of a grand rural homestead.

Social Significance or Value:

Since 1929 the homestead has been part of the Anglican Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, initially being the sole building of the school. As such the building has importance for its association with the history of New Zealand schooling, in particular it reflects the well-established tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of segregated private schooling and the prominent early role of religious organisations in founding educational establishments.

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

The house is directly associated with the development of the New Zealand dairy industry through being owned by one of the co-founders of the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company; a precursor to the large dairy factory industry later established in the region.

The property exemplifies both the nineteenth century formation of the large Waikato estates through the amalgamation of militia land and the subsequent twentieth century dismantling of those large estates into smaller, more manageable blocks.

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

As part of Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, Bankwood House has been part of the school’s teaching, social, musical, administration and accommodation facilities for over 80 years and former and current pupils and staff have a fund of stories associated with it. It is remembered with affection by former pupils who lived or studied in the building, featuring in several stories in a publication of reminiscences. It occupies a commanding place in the landscape of the front entrance to the school grounds.

Bankwood House is recognised in several publications celebrating Hamilton’s built heritage as being a notable and significant homestead relating to Hamilton’s early European settlement.

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

Bankwood House contributes to a significant historic landscape within the Waikato Diocesan School for Girls campus that includes a number of historically and architecturally significant buildings from different periods and of different fabric and design, including an early example of Sunshine Classrooms, a substantial arts and crafts period dining hall and 1930 administration and dormitory blocks. It sits amidst a landscape that includes many historic and notable trees.

Summary of Significance or Values

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, e, k.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place


Construction Professionalsopen/close

White, Thomas H.

Thomas Henry White (1843-1923) was born in Birmingham, England, and was educated there and in Paris before briefly spending time in New Zealand in the early 1860s. After practising as an architect in Birmingham, he returned to New Zealand in 1873. White undertook architectural work in the Waikato from at least 1875 and was based in Hamilton from 1877 until 1881. He lived on his farm at Taupiri but maintained an office in Auckland as well.

White undertook numerous architectural commissions in the Waikato, Auckland and Opotiki. His work ranged from bridges and substantial brick and plaster commercial buildings to timber shops, churches and dwellings. Notable buildings were the Catholic Church, Hamilton East (1877), Volunteer Hall, Hamilton (1879), the Waikato Cheese and Bacon Company factory (1882), a grandstand at Cambridge (1878), the re-build of the Royal Hotel, Hamilton East (1890) and a hotel at Runciman (1887). He was responsible for the design and construction of a concrete flour mill store at Ngaruawahia (1878), Firth Tower, Matamata (1881-82), St Peter’s Hall, Hamilton, the Royal Hotel, Opotiki, and St John's Presbyterian Church, Opotiki (1907). He designed shops in Matamata (1886) and Hamilton (various dates); houses in Hamilton, Ngaruawahia, Pirongia, Huntly, Waitoa, Whatawhata and Tamahere and six workman’s cottages, Huntly (1888). White was a trustee of the Kirikiriroa Highway Board, an elected member of the Kirikiriroa Licensing Committee, Honorary Secretary of the Taupiri Domain Board and a Justice of the Peace. He was also a musician, playing clarinet and violin.

He died 16 June 1923. see obit Waikato Times 19 June 1923 p.4.

Source: Registration Report for Woodside, List No. 2693, 12 July 2010, with additional biiographical information about his origins and training added by Heritage New Zealand in May 2019.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The earliest recorded settlers in the Hamilton area were Maori from the Tainui waka. The Hamilton area has a history of Maori occupation and settlement, highlighted by pa sites, traditional gardens and agricultural features along the Waikato River. Maori settlements were established on both sides of the Waikato River, along much of its length. The river terraces were cultivated by a sub tribe of Tainui, who utilised the river as both a food source and a means of transport. The main hapu of Hamilton/Kirikiriroa and the surrounding area are Ngati Wairere, Ngati Haua and Ngati Mahanga.

In 1863, the New Zealand Settlement Act enabled land to be taken from Maori by the Crown. This resulted in 1.2 million hectares of land being confiscated in the Waikato region, and part of this land provided the basis for European settlement in Hamilton.

Bankwood House is a substantial villa built in 1892 as the homestead for the large farm owned by Matthew Farrer on land that was then beyond the northern outskirts of Hamilton. This, the third house on the farm, is situated on Allotment 176, part of a grant of confiscation land allocated to militiamen settlers of the Fourth Regiment of the Waikato Militia, but like many others, its recipient, Walter Sigley, soon sold his allotment.

After several short term owners the property was bought in 1879 by politician and landowner John Blair Whyte (1840-1914). Whyte was the second Mayor of Hamilton, a Liberal who was a Member of the House of Representatives for the Waikato electorate for several years. Whyte’s homestead burnt down in 1882 but was replaced. Whyte planted many ornamental trees on the property, some of which remain and are listed in Hamilton City Council’s Significant Tree Register. In 1887 the farm was conveyed to the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company Limited.

In May 1892 it was announced that ‘..Mr J.B. Whyte’s old farm and homestead..has been Mr Farrer, who recently came into Waikato..’ , A farmer and barrister Farrer came from England with his wife Caroline Rachel and four children; another two children were born at Bankwood House.

In June 1892 it was announced that Farrer ‘intends erecting a handsome residence..’ However the call by architect T.H. White for tenders was for ‘additions’ to the house. Further reports continued to be contradictory as to whether it was a house or just additions and alterations. It is assumed that ‘additions’ refers to the new house being (unusually) connected to the original cottage. The lowest tender for £565 by builder C.H. Warr was accepted in June 1892 and presumably it was built soon after. The rusticated weatherboard house consisted of a substantial bay villa with seven main rooms, plus service rooms.

Farrer extended the size of the farm and planted more fruit and ornamental trees near the house. On 17 May 1907, shortly before returning to England, Farrers sold the property to John Gordon (1846-1932) manager of nearby Woodlands, part of the extensive Eureka estate formerly owned by the New Zealand Land Association. Gordon had managed the estate since 1885 from his base at Woodlands homestead at Gordonton, the district named after him. Gordon was secretary of the New Zealand Agricultural Society, chairman of the Kirikiriroa Roads Board for several years, one of the first members of the Waikato County Council, actively connected with the Waikato Agricultural and Pastoral Association and a highly respected member of the Hamilton-Waikato community.

Gordon had the now 335 acre (135.5 hectares) estate surveyed for sub-division. He and his second wife Alice moved into Bankwood House, but she died in October 1908. In 1910 Gordon married again, but his third wife Margaret, died, on 13 August 1916 at Bankwood House.

Bankwood House with 13 acres (5.3 hectares) was purchased by Irene Clarabelle Goodfellow, wife of William Goodfellow, on 20 August 1920. William Goodfellow (1880-1974), later Sir William, was a hardware merchant who contributed much to the then burgeoning diary industry in New Zealand and particularly Waikato. He established the Waikato Dairy Company in 1909, which after a merger became the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company, the foundation company of the Waikato’s very successful, present day dairy industry. Goodfellow was a shrewd businessmen and philanthropist. The Goodfellows lived at Bankwood House with the oldest four of their children. From early 1926 the house changed hands three times in quick succession. On 28 March 1929 title transferred to the Waikato Board of Diocesan Schools for use for Waikato Diocesan School for Girls. At the time of writing Bankwood House remains an integrated part of the school complex.

This school began in 1909 as Sonning School, established in central Hamilton. In 1927 the Waikato Diocese of the Church of England leased the school; its name changed to Waikato Diocesan School for Girls in 1928. Religious organisations have a long tradition of founding private schools in New Zealand, starting with the establishment of mission schools throughout the country in the 1800s. Oliver Farrer and Andrew Blair Whyte (nephew of J.B. Whyte) were on the special committee to establish the school; Whyte had a close association with the school as bursar and secretary to the board until 1954. The school board engaged the Hamilton firm of Edgecumbe and White as architects to make changes to Bankwood House homestead plus design a dormitory and administration block.

The initial adaptations to Bankwood House by Edgecumbe and White were minor. Two drafts of plans in April and July 1929 show that the north, west and south verandahs were still open except for two rooms enclosed within the southern half of the west verandah. The school moved to Bankwood House for the first term of 1930 and the dormitory block opened on 26 May 1930.

As the roll grew, the school expanded considerably with more land and several additional buildings. Between 1930 and 1933 Bankwood House was simultaneously used as a dining room, library and staff accommodation, with the students’ dining room next to the staff dining room. The headmistress lived in the homestead until 1936.

During 1946/47 ‘the younger boarders lived in a few dormitories created in the old homestead that also housed the science block’; reportedly the girls took delight in climbing into the ceiling and spying down through the ceiling roses. In 1953 the homestead was home to 32 boarders, and the library ‘was a small room off the hall’ being part of the original drawing room. In 1956 the house was lined and painted. From 1967 the house served as staffroom and arts and crafts block, and from 1968 to circa 1978 the matron lived in the house.

The surroundings of the school remained relatively rural, although with sparse housing by 1949 when the school’s section of River Road was incorporated into Hamilton city. The large and numerous trees were identifying features of the landscape.

Bankwood House is currently used as meeting rooms and offices for staff and students.

The house is noted in a newspaper article and an historical guide to the Waikato as being one of Hamilton’s notable older buildings. The house has featured in newspaper articles and in a monograph describing 36 of Hamilton’s historic structures. It featured in an exhibition about Hamilton’s architectural heritage in 1981. It is ranked A on Hamilton City Council’s Heritage Items Schedule, recognising its highly significant heritage value. Despite some boys- only private schools ending sex segregation and becoming co-educational, the Waikato Diocesan School for Girls remains a single sex school.

Bankwood House is one of only three known surviving homesteads of large estates in Hamilton, The Woodlands homestead was built in approximately 1880 and Lake House was erected in 1873.

Physical Description

The front of the house faced approximately west to the Waikato River parallel to the edge of a natural terrace, the architect taking advantage of the landscape to enhance its impressive style. The rusticated weatherboard house consisted of a substantial bay villa with seven main rooms, plus service rooms. The three largest rooms with bays extending under multi-faceted hipped roofs were the drawing room (facing north), dining room (south) and main bedroom (west). There were verandahs on parts of all four sides and the east side was connected to the cottage, approximately two metres away, by a covered way. The front verandah was zigzag in plan and a door opened onto it from the drawing room. The front door, a glazed and panelled door with side lights, also opened onto this verandah which had a set of wide steps facing north. The verandahs had square-section posts set in pairs, or threes at the corners; the upper edges had deep decorative fretwork. The roof of the north facing verandah was concave in section and had striped corrugated iron roofing. The south verandah had a turned wood low balustrade with a pair of gates above a short flight of steps and was accessed from the main bedroom and the dining room. The north and west verandahs were open with no balustrades. The east verandah had similar posts and was probably also open. The cottage contained the kitchen with at least two bedrooms, presumably for servants. There were initially four brick chimneys in the main building, tall waisted structures with heavier decorative courses on top; the northeastern chimney was broader and probably served two hearths, in the northeast and north central rooms. The windows were double hung sash two light windows. The dining room had a dado of wooden panels on each wall; this room and the drawing room had built-in window seats. There was a pressed-metal dado in the north central room and in part of the hallway.

Undated [1910-16] photographs show that changes to the house had occurred. It is assumed these were either in (1908) or in approximately 1910. The northeast room was extended in a bay to match the drawing room and this more impressive and now symmetrical north elevation became the front of the house. The curtailed north verandah was modified with the addition of a central gabled pediment and a sloping roof, with turned wood balusters along the front edge. It is probable that at this stage, or soon after, a larger door with side lights was installed to form a grander front door into the central room behind, plus an additional window to make a symmetrical front. The cottage was moved further from the house and a new kitchen installed in the main house; this necessitated other changes to the service areas. A minor change was to the west verandah, with its north side being enclosed with a solid lower wall and coloured and opaque patterned glass panels above. The turned-wood balusters that had been added since the Farrer family first moved in were incorporated into the wall. The arch between the end of the hallway and the new front room may have been added at this time; the coloured-glass door (in similar style to the verandah end-wall) from the end of the hallway to the rear passage may date from this period also. At some time (prior to 1924) the east verandah was removed and replaced with a porch.

At some time between 1938 and 1956 (possibly 1936) three additions were made: on the east side a bathroom opening off the northwest bedroom and the enlargement of the room on the southeast corner; and on the south side an enlargement of the kitchen. Each addition was clad in rusticated weatherboard and each had a flat roof. The kitchen extension involved the removal of the wall between the servants’ dining room and the kitchen, and the re-positioning of the pair of original kitchen windows with the single servants’ room window to form a triplet of windows with new architraves. Further re-modelling of the storerooms occurred to form an irregular-shaped space. A door was opened off this space into the main dining room and two small openings into the passage closed in. At some time the south verandah was closed in.

By 1976 the wall between the main bedroom and the dining room had been removed along with the bedroom’s fireplace and chimney to form a large room and the length of the hall altered. By 1982 the south verandah was opened up again. An external door opened from the south wall of the southeast room and other changes had occurred in the kitchen and store. The hall was incorporated into the large room leaving a smaller internal hall. The original drawing room had been partitioned to form a small bedroom at the hearth end; this partition was removed in 2009.

The house is now a single storey bay villa with four bay rooms. Two of these sit either side of an enclosed verandah, forming the front of the house and facing northwest (for ease of description taken as facing north). The other two rooms with bays are on the west and south sides with an open verandah between them. A third verandah on the west side is completely enclosed. Two circa-1940s flat roofed additions are on the east side and another in similar style on the south side.

The house is wooden framed, clad with wooden rusticated weatherboard and has a corrugated iron roof. The main ridges form an H plan, but with an additional intermediary ridge extending to the south and a side ridge extending to the west. All of the ridges end in hips, with those over the bays having three facets, serving to emphasis each face of the bays. Most of the windows in the original (1892 and circa 1910) parts of the house are single double hung sash two light windows. The southern addition has a set of three such windows, probably recycled during renovations. Newer windows in the east additions and the enclosed west and north verandahs are casements. In the meeting room, a fixed window has replaced the door leading onto the south verandah. A few rooms and part of the dog leg back passage are also lit with skylights. No chimneys remain.

There are decorative brackets under the eaves and windowsills. Those on the circa 1910 part of the house are of slightly different form to the 1892 originals.

The two bay rooms facing north are now offices. The Dean of International Students office in the northeast corner has a small room opening off it on the east side partitioned into a toilet and storeroom; from the south end a door leads into a small study, formerly the Matron’s kitchen, and prior to that possibly part of the main room but shown on the 1929 plan as the same size as now but opening from the back passage. On the northwest corner, the Career’s Office (original drawing room) has an arched opening into a small kitchen and from that a door leads into a bathroom and toilet (these three rooms were formerly the west verandah). The fireplace in the Careers Office has been covered over and mantelpiece removed. The bay window has the original built in window seat with lift up lids.

The largest room in the house is the meeting room, comprising the former main bedroom, dining room, hallway and part of the west verandah. Beams and a post have replaced the original walls, but the deep cornices around the former walls and the chimney pieces have been retained. The bay of the former dining room has a built-in window seat and the east wall has the original wooden dado. The room is lit by a sloping glass skylight with match lined side walls; another in similar style is set into the ceiling of the Deans’ Office.

The former north verandah has been built in with casement windows and a door, with a door at each end wall leading into the Careers Office and the Dean of International Students Office. Within the south wall of this verandah the door and side lights have been removed to make a wide opening into the International Students room, but the former windows have been retained. A pressed metal dado is on all sides of this room. A fireplace exists on the east wall; on one side a former doorway (opening into what is now a small office) has been closed up and on the other a cupboard with a plywood door fills the alcove. The circa 1907 arch into the central hallway has been filled in with a narrower door (1929).

The central hallway is a small square internal room with pressed metal dado. It opens on the north into the International Students Room through the former arch, on the west into the Meeting Room through a glazed and panelled door with side lights that may have been the original front door (on the west verandah), and to the rear passage through a panelled door with coloured and decorative opaque glass. The rear passage is a double dog leg which opens at the rear (east) porch. Off the passage are a small office, a toilet, the Deans’ office (formerly the kitchen) and another small room in the southeast corner of the house; the door into the former Matron’s kitchen is closed off. A skylight in the middle section of the passage has a horizontally mounted skylight in similar glass to the passage/central hallway door and may date from circa 1907.

The small room in the southeast corner has a fireplace, on either side of which are cupboards with joinery from two different periods. A beam across the ceiling shows where a wall has been removed, and verandah posts embedded in the south and north walls indicate that this room has incorporated a small verandah (the date of this change has not been established, but pre 1929).

There are differences in elaborateness in the mouldings of the original 1892 main rooms versus the circa 1910 addition. For instance cornices in the four main original rooms and hall are deep (approximately 25 centimetres), wide (approximately 40 centimetres) and elaborate, whereas that in the circa 1910 northeast bay addition are only about 7-10 centimetres deep. The skirtings in the older rooms are 31 centimetres deep and in the 1910 room only 21 centimetres. The architraves are similar but not identical in profile. The ceiling roses are in at least two styles in the three main original rooms, also the original northeast corner room and the north central room, all being wooden fretwork.

The ceilings in the main rooms and hall are wide boards and moulded battens, but with a simpler style in the 1910 bay addition and in the original service areas. The ceiling of the lobby (circa 1910 verandah) is square panels with plain battens. The ceiling in part of the Deans Room (kitchen) is match-lined similar to the wall cladding.

In the Careers Office, the brass window lifting-brackets are curved scallop shapes; in the Dean of International Studies Office they are circular finger-sized rings.

A sprinkler system, installed in 2002, is evident throughout the house.

Significant development of the school grounds took place in the 1920s and 1930s and the grounds are now home to several pleasing out-buildings including an arts and crafts style dining hall and 1930s designed dormitories and administration blocks.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1892 -
house designed and built, connected to earlier cottage

1910 -
substantial bay extension to northeast corner and alteration of north verandah,

1976 - 1981
south verandah opened up and restored

2002 -
sprinkler system installed

Construction Details

Timber (predominantly kauri), corrugated iron, glass; concrete piles

Completion Date

10th October 2011

Report Written By

Lynette Williams, Gail Henry, Linda Pattison

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902

Gibbons, 1977

P.J. Gibbons, Astride the River: A History of Hamilton, Christchurch, 1977

Norris, 1964

H.C.M. Norris, Settlers in Depression: A History of Hamilton, New Zealand 1875-1894, Auckland, 1964

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Lower Northern Area Office

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.