Gumtown School (Former)

10 Rangihau Road, Coroglen

  • Gumtown School (Former), Coroglen.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Alexandra Foster. Date: 23/10/2020.
  • Gumtown School (Former), Coroglen.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Alexandra Foster. Date: 23/10/2020.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9400 Date Entered 8th April 2021 Date of Effect 29th April 2021


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Puketutu (RT SA90/20) South Auckland Land District and the building known as Gumtown School (Former) thereon, and the following chattel Gumtown School Desk and Chair. It excludes the structure known as storage shed.

City/District Council

Thames-Coromandel District


Waikato Region

Legal description

Pt Puketutu (RT SA90/20), South Auckland Land District

Location description

NZTM Easting: 2750740.88

NZTM Northing: 6471625.12


Gumtown School (Former) is a well preserved rural school at Coroglen which was built in 1899 during the peak of the settlement’s prominence as Gumtown, a leading centre for the collection and shipping of kauri gum in the Coromandel. One of only two surviving buildings from Gumtown, the place has historical significance for demonstrating the size of the settlement which supported the timber and gum digging industries in the surrounding area and reflects the importance of education to its community. Designed by Auckland Education Board (AEB) architects Mitchell and Watt, the building has architectural significance as a largely intact example of their rural classification IV schools, particularly in relation to its surviving overall form, layout and materials. The place also has social significance as a place of community use and has been directly managed and maintained by its community through the Coroglen School Board of Trustees for over 40 years.

Visited by the great explorer Kupe and later settled by descendants of Te Arawa waka, the Mercury Bay area was a richly resourced landscape with dense kauri and many waterways. The growth of the timber industry and later gum digging industry over the nineteenth century led to the establishment of Gumtown beside the Waiwawa River from 1879 within the rohe of Ngāti Hei. In 1883 the future site of Gumtown School (Former) was owned by Repiu Tokata of Ngāti Hei who claimed ownership by descent and occupation. ‘A leading centre for the collection and shipping of kauri gum’ which supplied the timber camps, Gumtown was a thriving commercial hub by the turn of the century with a wide range of established businesses and supported a substantial Pākehā and Māori population. To provide an education for those families, Gumtown School opened in 1896 followed by the creation of a purpose built school in 1898-9.

In response to the need for economic constraint as the Long Depression (1876-1895) affected the New Zealand economy, in the early 1890s the AEB had created a classification system for new school construction. Gumtown School (Former) was designed by Mitchell and Watt as a classification IV school reflecting its rural location and small roll. The building layout incorporated a single classroom with an enclosed porch at the northern end. It demonstrated many of the features which Mitchell and Watt used extensively in their rural designs including board and batten cladding, unlined interiors, a window in the gable end, a metal stove for heating, and washing facilities.

Classes began in the new building in early 1899 and it was also regularly used by the wider community, particularly for church services and Sunday school. As the timber industry declined in the early twentieth century so did the population of Gumtown and the surrounding area converted to dairy farming. The new community changed the town’s name, and by association the school name, to Coroglen in 1921. Over the twentieth century Gumtown School (Former) was adapted for changing educational requirements and to address safety concerns. When the building was no longer needed as a main classroom in 1978, the community took over its management and maintenance. Gumtown School (Former) was subsequently repurposed for use by a playgroup for over 40 years, has hosted Jubilee celebrations, and remains in use by Coroglen School.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Gumtown School (Former) has historical significance as the original school building at a rural settlement that reflects the importance of education to the local community for 120 years through its community led creation and consistent use for educational purposes. The place includes the oldest surviving building from Gumtown and demonstrates the size and relative permanence of the turn of the century settlement which was able to support a purpose built school. Being one of only two surviving buildings from Gumtown, the place also reflects the origins the town as a leading centre which supported the timber and gum digging industries.

Architectural Significance or Value

Gumtown School (Former) has architectural significance as a substantially well preserved example of a classification IV school particularly in relation to its surviving overall form, layout and materials and is an example of rural school design under the Auckland Education Board’s late nineteenth century classification system. Designed by Auckland Education Board architects Mitchell and Watt in 1898, the single standalone building retains original design features that were common in their rural schools such as Gothic Revival vertical board and batten cladding, unlined interior in porch, physical remnants of early plumbing and heating arrangements, as well as maintaining the original plan and form.

Social Significance or Value

Gumtown School (Former) has social significance as a valued community place for the Coroglen community. The community, as represented by the Coroglen School Board of Trustees, has maintained and managed the place as a community asset for over 40 years, and former students have returned to the place during school jubilees. Outside of its ongoing use by the primary school, Gumtown School (Former) has had continued community use for informal education and as a second hand shop.

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

Gumtown School (Former) reflects the development of service towns to support developing industries around New Zealand in the late nineteenth century. The place is one of only two surviving buildings associated with Gumtown and represents the size and scale of the town that supported the gum digging and timber industry at the turn of the century.

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

The place is associated with the development and wide application of a standardised system for school building construction by the Auckland Education Board and its architects Mitchell and Watt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century during a period of constraint and economic depression. Gumtown School (Former) is a substantially well preserved example of a classification IV school which retains original features that reflect the size of community and the cost of construction.

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

As an integral part of Coroglen for over 120 years, the strong community association with Gumtown School (Former) is reflected through its community led retention in 1978 and subsequent ongoing use by the local community who have managed and maintained the place for over 40 years.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

Gumtown School (Former) has the potential for public education as a place which has been used for educational purposes for over 120 years and retains a large amount of intact heritage fabric as well as its original form and layout. The potential is enhanced by a chattel and a large amount of available documentary material related to the place since its creation.

Summary of Significance or Values

Gumtown School (Former) is one of only two surviving buildings at Coroglen which survive from the period when the settlement was a leading centre for the timber and gum industries in the Coromandel. The place demonstrates the scale and permanence of the turn of the century settlement. Containing a substantially well preserved classification IV school building, the place is an example of Mitchell and Watt’s rural school designs for the Auckland Education Board, particularly with regard to its form, layout and materials. The place is of social significance to its community as a community facility they have managed for over 40 years.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mitchell & Watt

John Mitchell (c.1859-1947) and Robert Martin Watt (1860-1907) were in partnership at Auckland by 1892.

Mitchell was born in Ramelton, Northern Ireland, and received his architectural training in Ireland before emigrating to New Zealand in 1888 and settling in Auckland. He became known for his early use of reinforced concrete. In 1893 he invented a baked earthenware block which was used in domestic construction. He left for England in 1912 and was involved with a prefabricated housing project at Bournemouth. He retired in 1922 and returned to New Zealand.

Watt was born in Scotland and studied architecture in Glasgow with the firm of Barclay Bros. He immigrated to New Zealand about 1878 for health reasons and practised in Auckland both on his own account and in partnership with Mitchell. In 1960 he was elected president of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Mitchell and Watt were appointed architects to the Auckland Education Board in 1892. Mitchell undertook new work while Watt undertook rebuilding projects and renovations to existing buildings. Their work includes schools at Te Mata (1905) and Maungatautari (1905), additions to schools at Cambridge (1900) and Dargaville (1905), the Seddon Memorial Technical College (1908-13). Non-educational buildings include Mt Eden Congregational Church (1900). Watt was responsible for the design of the Ley's Institute, Ponsonby (1905-06).

Coldham, Charles

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical and associated iwi/hapu/whanau

Ngati Hei

Historical Narrative

Early History

Whitianga Harbour, also known as Te Whitianga-o-Kupe, was visited by the Polynesian explorer Kupe on his travels around Aotearoa. The area was later settled by descendants of Te Arawa waka and the site of Gumtown School (Former) lies within the rohe of Ngāti Hei. The area was rich in resources with dense kauri forests covering the Coromandel Ranges and navigable waterways connected to Whitianga Harbour and the coast. The longest waterway in Coromandel was the Waiwawa, a partly navigable river which many smaller waterways in the south eastern ranges flowed into before reaching the harbour. Overlooking the future Gumtown settlement site was Nganangaia, a terraced hilltop pā with a view of the lower reaches of the river. When Pākehā came to the area from the mid-nineteenth century, a Māori settlement known as Te Hoho was located near the mouth of the Waiwawa.

The Kauri forest brought the timber industry and Pākehā settlers to the area from the 1830s at which time a spar station was built near the mouth of Whitianga Harbour. Later in the century timber mills were built at Whitianga and Upper Mill and the forest was reduced by extensive logging activity which also utilised the waterways to transport the kauri to the coast. Along with logging came kauri gum digging, precarious and sometimes fatal work to retrieve deposits of kauri gum which could be on sold overseas for use in the manufacturing of varnish and other product.

The earliest gum diggers in Hauraki were local Māori but they were joined by Pākehā diggers in the late nineteenth century as the worldwide Long Depression affected the New Zealand economy, particularly between 1876 and 1895, and led to unemployment and poverty. Many diggers, a largely transient workforce mainly comprised of young single men including many from the Dalmatian Coast, lived at bush camps near their work away from established settlements. Permanent service towns, where shopkeepers not only sold necessary supplies to the diggers but also graded and purchased kauri gum, formed near these camps as the industry developed in the late nineteenth century. One of these service towns, Gumtown, was established at the furthest inland navigable point of the Waiwawa River from the mid-1870s to cater to the thousands of diggers and bushmen who came to work in surrounding area and lived in camps along the river. The town became ‘a leading centre for the collection and shipping of kauri gum and supply of timber camps’. The heyday of Gumtown’s success and activity came between 1890 and 1912 when the commercial premises at the town variously included a large hotel, two boarding houses, four stores, a butchers shop, a saddlery, a carpenters shop, a shoemakers shop, horse stables and a forge, a bake house, a surgery, a barbers shop, and two gum sheds, and a billiard room.

In 1883 a block of land known as Part Puketutu, land which was located immediately beside the earliest settler shops and other buildings along the river edge and included the future school site, was subject to a title investigation at the Māori Land Court. Following the hearing a title for the land was issued to Repiu Tokata of Ngāti Hei who claimed ownership by descent and occupation. The land was subsequently acquired in the following year by Thomas Carina, a settler from the Dalmatian Coast, who was the proprietor of the first hotel at Whitianga in the 1860s.

Carina died in 1888 and the land was transferred to his trustees before it was purchased by Hector Mackay. Mackay had been the first settler at Gumtown and held the town’s first accommodation licence for sleeping quarters on his farm in 1879 before the construction of the two-storey Waiwawa Hotel in 1881. He transferred a portion of Part Puketutu to his widowed daughter Kate Norris in 1894. In 1898 Norris agreed to sell two acres of the land to the Auckland Education Board (AEB) for a school site.

Creation and early use of Gumtown School (1898-1921)

As the population at Gumtown grew through the 1880s and 90s the number of families with children increased. With the nearest permanent school located at Whitianga the Gumtown community petitioned the AEB for a school and a teacher at in February 1896. The request was granted in April that year and when the teacher arrived in May the school opened with nineteen students from local Māori and Pākehā families in an existing building on the Peebles farm. Although the Board initially deferred requests for a purpose built school, following notice from the farmer that he would begin charging the school rent, they authorised construction of a school building in 1898 on the proviso that the community secured a suitable site. Shortly after this decision Kate Norris agreed to sell the Board two acres of her land. The new school site was well placed in the settlement being only around 200 meters south of the hotel and wharf, the hall, and the shops.

In the early 1890s a classification system for school construction was developed by the AEB in conjunction with the new Board architects John Mitchell (c.1859-1947) and Robert Watt (1860-1907) who were responsible for designing all new schools and additions between 1892 and 1907 and their designs “are held to represent an important phase in the architectural development of school buildings in New Zealand”. Created during a period of constraint and economic depression in the New Zealand economy, the system was intended to facilitate continued expansion of the education system in the Auckland province which reflected the location and size of the school while reducing costs and managing expectations. As a rural school with a small roll, Gumtown was a classification IV school with a single classroom and a small enclosed porch, 24 feet (7.3m) by 18 feet (5.5m) built of kauri timber with a low pitched corrugated iron roof. The design incorporated elements which Mitchell and Watt used extensively in their small rural schools including vertical board and batten cladding in the Gothic Revival tradition, a window in the gable end as well as the sides, and it was entirely unlined with heating from a metal wood burning stove in the classroom while the porch had cloak hooks and washing facilities for the students. Gumtown School was oriented with the entrance porch on the north side looking towards the main street and river. A water tank was located on the east side of the building with plumbed pipes connected to washing facilities in the porch. The classroom was lit by two windows in each side and one in the southern gable.

The tender for construction was put out in early October 1898 and the contract for the school construction was quickly awarded for £183 to Charles W. Coldham, a builder from Onehunga who built a number of Board schools across the province. The school site was stumped, cleared, ploughed, and fenced in November with construction beginning shortly afterwards which was completed by early 1899. The new school also became an important place for wider community use after it was built, particularly during the period when the earlier community hall, known as Black Hall, burnt down and a new hall had to be built in the early twentieth century. Gumtown School was used for church services and Sunday school as the settlement never had its own church although funds were raised, and it was also used as the local polling booth for many years. After further community requests for more school facilities, shelter sheds were built at Gumtown School and a second school was opened nearby at Whenuakite in 1907.

By the early 1910s the price for gum had begun dropping and, particularly following the outbreak of the First World War (1914-1918), much of the transient workforce left the area. Without a large workforce to support it, the permanent population of Gumtown declined and in 1915 the AEB reduced the school hours at Gumtown and Whenuakite to halftime in response to the low numbers of enrolled students and the schools were each open three days a week with a shared teacher. The thriving town centre beside the school disappeared as tradesmen closed their businesses and left Gumtown. The Waiwawa Hotel which had been an essential accommodation facility during the peak of the town’s success, even being extended to twice its nineteenth century size before 1910, burnt down in 1922 and was never rebuilt. From 1911, when a dairy company was established at Whitianga, the surrounding area began developing into a predominantly dairy farming area and the opening of a direct road across the ranges to Tapu that year increased Gumtown’s importance as a transport junction between the east and west coasts of the Coromandel peninsula. While most gum diggers had left the area, some purchased farms, and by extension status, with their earnings and established themselves and their families as permanent residents of the district including a small number of Dalmatian diggers. This shift from digging to farming is demonstrated in the changing demographic of Gumtown School (Former) students from 1915 when Lena Rakich was the first of a number of students with Dalmatian heritage to attend the school.

Coroglen School and recent use (1922 – Present)

In 1921, to reflect the changed community and increased importance of the farming industry, Gumtown residents opted to change the name of the town name to Coroglen, Coro from the peninsula and glen describing the valley location of the town. The school was renamed Coroglen School although the original school building became known as the Gumtown Room in later decades.

The name wasn’t the only change at the school during the twentieth century. Over time the school was modernised with alterations to keep in line with changing school requirements including replacement of the water tank with underground plumbing, tongue and groove lining of the classroom interior, and the addition of a back door as a secondary exit from the classroom. The window arrangement around the building was altered during or after the 1930s to align with twentieth century approaches to glazing and ventilation of classrooms. To improve the internal lighting in the morning and afternoon, the window from the south gable and one of the windows from the west side were moved to the east elevation, forming a continuous line of windows facing the road and maximising in the morning sun, while two new windows replaced the relocated west window to increase light from that direction and the south wall was reclad.

In 1932 the school resumed full time operation although the roll hadn’t increased substantially. However, by 1949, requests for a second classroom to accommodate the junior students were becoming urgent and Coroglen Hall was used as an additional classroom when plans to relocate the Kuaotunu school building to the site didn’t eventuate. A new classroom and administration block were built in 1951-2 immediately northeast of Gumtown School (Former) expanding the school facilities. The school was connected for electricity in 1960. Plans for a further classroom in the late 1960s almost saw Gumtown School (Former) being closed and replaced. However, these plans were unexpectedly cancelled in 1972 and the school opted to reline the classroom instead which continued to be used as the junior classroom.

In 1978 the 1950s block was extended and Gumtown School (Former) was no longer needed for a classroom. Instead of removing or demolishing the building the Coroglen School Committee, made up of members of the community - now Board of Trustees, took over its management and administration including funding of maintenance and repairs and chose to repurpose it as the venue for a new community playgroup shortly afterwards. As part of the conversion into a suitable space for pre-school children, the playgroup fundraised cover the cost of the necessary work which included re-piling the building and removing the metal wood burner stove which was replaced by wall heaters. The playgroup continued to use Gumtown School (Former) for over 30 years until August 2015 when the group closed due to low numbers. The building was also used as part of Coroglen School jubilee celebrations, the earliest being 1946, and in recent celebrations was used as a display room for former students to visit and commemorate their time at the school.

Through those decades the community continued to fund maintenance and repairs of Gumtown School (Former). In 1986 the building was reroofed and repainted and in c2009 the ridge flashings were repaired. In 2020 the building remains in use by Coroglen School for Art and Gymnastics classes as well as being used by the community as a second-hand shop in recent years.

Physical Description

Current Description


Gumtown School (Former) is located at Coroglen, a small farming community south west of Whitianga Harbour on State Highway 25. Gumtown School (Former) is one of two buildings remaining at the settlement which date from the turn of the century township known as Gumtown, the other being Coroglen Hall (constructed early 1900s, Category 2 historic place, List No. 4615). The surrounding rural landscape, on either side of the Waiwawa River, has a number of twentieth century houses and the Coroglen Tavern is located on the opposite side of the river.

Gumtown School (Former) forms part of the Coroglen School campus, which is situated near the main road between Whitianga and Tairua. The place is prominently sited near the centre of the wider school site which includes the 1952 school building with 1978 extension, tennis court, swimming pool, and playground to the east and the school field to the west. A bus garage is present at the south east corner on land which is not part of school property.


The Gumtown School (Former) site is a rectangular piece of land orientated north-south which is largely filled by a single stand-alone 1898-9 building. The north end of the site is paved with wooden steps into the building above the original single concrete step. A path continues along the east side of the building and at the rear (south) side is located a storage shed directly adjacent to the building. A set of wooden steps lead to the rear door. The site is in grass on the west side.

School Building

The original Gumtown School building is a well preserved classification IV school designed by Mitchell and Watt. It is particularly well preserved in regard to its surviving overall form, layout and materials.


The kauri building is clad with Gothic Revival influenced vertical board and batten cladding with a corrugated iron roof and is raised on timber piles. The building has no detailed decoration. The main entrance is in the centre of the north elevation with a modern door with a window providing natural light into the porch. Above the door is a sheet of timber with a long piece of timber extending from the apex of the gable which may have been associated with a flagpole during the twentieth century. The front doorway has evidently been narrowed to accommodate the current front door.

On the east side there are four multipane double hung sash windows in their twentieth century arrangement. The first and third windows from the south end are in their original locations while the two other windows have been relocated from the rear and west sides of the building to maximise light entering the classroom. At the south elevation a door has been added to the eastern side and the original window position has been reclad. On the west side are three windows, one original window at the north end beside two plainer, shorter double hung sash windows. The twentieth century plumbing pipes are visible externally northwest corner while holes in the cladding on the east elevation indicate the original plumbing arrangement associated with the 1899 water tank.


The entrance porch remains entirely unlined as originally constructed with the timber framing visible and is open to roof height. There are two sinks to the west of the front door associated with twentieth century plumbing changes. The original cloak hooks are fixed in two generally alternating rows along the back wall of the porch. The entrance into the classroom is located at the east side of the porch with a four panel door that is visually similar to the original front door although it is evidently fixed to the opposite side of the door frame than its original location.

The classroom is a single rectangular space. The original floorboards are covered by a layer of vinyl flooring and a ceiling with a central electric light has been added. The north wall, shared with the porch, is lined with wide tongue and groove boards which form the original wall lining. In the centre of this wall beside the doorframe is the large classroom blackboard. The northwest corner and space below the blackboard is lined with a layer of plaster board over the original timbers. A concrete pad, which formerly held the metal stove, is located in the northwest corner. Two further blackboards are located at the southern end of the room, a narrow board with wraps around the south west corner below window height, and a medium sized board on the south wall above the narrow board. Narrow tongue and groove boards line the wall to dado height below the blackboards and windows on the south and west walls. The walls have a plasterboard lining above dado height. The east wall is entirely lined with plasterboard with a dado rail below window height. The plasterboard below the window is twice as thick as elsewhere in the room, suggesting it may cover an earlier layer of tongue and groove lining as used on the other walls. The rear timber exit door has a ‘Henderson’ iron bolt. In the ceiling cavity the original rafters are visible along with the original chimney hole which is not visible externally.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1899 -

Door in south end; tongue and groove lining.

Removal of water tank; New plumbing into porch

Relocation of windows to east elevation; Addition of windows to west elevation; recladding of south elevation

1960 -
Electricity connected

1972 -
Classroom relined

Repiling; stove removed

Construction Details

Kauri timber

Corrugated Iron

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

2nd February 2020

Report Written By

Alexandra Foster

Information Sources

Riddle, Janet

Riddle, Janet, Saltspray and Sawdust: One Thousand Years of History in Mercury Bay, Te-Whanganui-a-Hei, Coroglen, 2006.

Hamiton, Zillah & Riddle, Janet

Hamiton, Zillah & Riddle, Janet, From the Land our Strength: A Century of Gumtown/Coroglen School, Coroglen, 2006.

Gumtown-Coroglen School Jubilee Committee

Gumtown-Coroglen School Jubilee Committee, Gumtown-Coroglen 75th Jubilee 1896-1971, Thames, 1971

Other Information


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.

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Mid-Northern Area Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.