Travel Pack Information
Take a look around Timaru CBD and do the Historic Walk and learn a bit about Timaru’s past and evolution in the facades along the way.
OUR FOUNDATION. It was horrible start 2 million years ago when the source of Timaru’s basalt flowed from Mt Horrible to the sea creating rolling hills, a reef and the source of our buildings bluestone. When the glaciers were in full swing 250,000 years ago, a fine silt called loess blew over South Canterbury and formed our clay cliffs. Old seashells formed into hard and smooth calcium rock called Limestone. The Basalt, Limestone and Clay are the foundations of Timaru geology and architecture.
FIRST INHABITANTS. For over 1400 years the Māoriknew “Te Maru” as a place of shelter with Cabbage trees and tussock. They left behind over 500 sites of Rock Art, mostly in limestone overhangs where they sheltered.
The dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to ‘discover’ New Zealand in 1642. Captain James Cook anchored off the coast of New Zealand 1769.
THE WHALERS. When the whalers arrived in 1839 there was a Māori hut on the stoney beach constructed of whale bone and tussock. The Weller brothers established whaling stations, one at Whalers Creek, later named Caroline Bay after a whaling supply ship and Pātītī Point named after a passenger on the Ārai-te-uru waka, which capsized off the North Otago Coastline. Many of the passengers went ashore to explore the land. However, they needed to be back at the waka before daylight. Most did not make it, including Pātītī, and instead were transformed into many of the well-known landmarks of Te Waipounamu. By the time Walter Mantell made this sketch in 1848, the whaling stations were deserted. This was 8 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, an agreement, in Māori and English, that was made between the British Crown and about 540 Māori rangatira (chiefs). Part of Timaru’s famous Coastal Track is the light house at Jacks Point 5km south of Timaru Harbour. The point is named after Tuhawaiki (circa 1805-1844), who drowned in the spring of 1844 when his boat hit rocks at the point now known as Tuhawaiki Point. He was often known as Hone Tuhawaiki, John Tuhawaiki, Jack Tuhawaiki, or by his nickname of ‘‘Bloody Jack”. Tuhawaiki boarded the British ship HMS Herald and signed the Treaty of Waitangi when a copy was brought to him at Ruapuke Island. Tuhawaiki’s nickname was “Bloody Jack” from his frequent use of the word “bloody” from early interactions with Foveaux Strait whalers on account of and it embarrassed him in later years after his conversion to Christianity.
THE FIRST, FIRST’S AND HOUSE. The sea was colonial New Zealand’s highway which is why Timaru’s architecture and heritage goes hand in hand with our Port. The story begins when George Rhodes used our headland to land stores and materials. He built Timaru’s first house in 1851, it only had three walls! This 20 foot hut stood by the beach (centre of these photos) to service his boat landing for his sheep farm at Levels. He employed the Whaler Samuel Williams who came back to Timaru with his wife Ann and daughter Rebecca and just like that Timaru had it’s first permanent immigrant residents.
Our first Pākehā baby William Williams was born in this house in 1856 and slept in a gin crate. A small lean-to was added to accommodate two bunks as Timaru’s first hotel. The first Timaru Herald was published in his kitchen. Sam had the first publican’s licence, and he was even the first to have his pub burn down because someone didn’t like the price charged for beer… bad call as the arsonist was sentenced to death!
George and Elizabeth Rhodes moved to Levels, where their next house had four timber slab walls, a clay floor and a thatched roof. In 1855 some sheep were stolen from the Levels station, by James Mackenzie Legendary sheep rustler who was sentenced to five years hard labour and pardoned in January 1856. This region was subsequently dubbed the Mackenzie Country.
THEN CAME THE ENGLISH IMMIGRANTS. New Zealand experienced a series of major events during the period 1853-1870, which boosted our population. Firstly, the New Zealand Wars brought military settlers. Secondly, the new self-government structure made the Canterbury province responsible for encouraging immigration. And thirdly, there were new economic opportunities of pastoralism and the discovery of gold. Otago’s first gold rush was in 1861 when Gabriel Read found gold. Only a lucky few found riches, and although Timaru was on the fringes, the collective value of the gold kick-started our young New Zealand’s economy.
GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATION. In marched Lieutenant (later Captain) Belfield Wollcombe in 1857. Often referred to as the grandfather of Timaru, he was the government rep, beach master, health officer, registrar, coroner, returning officer and over seer of public works and magistrate. (That’s a lot of multi-tasking!) He built Timaru’s third house at Ashbury Park.
FIRST IMMIGRANT SHIP IN TIMARU. On The Strathallan, a lady wrote; if Timaru was a third of the size of London she would be happy. Imagine the look on her face when she arrived in 1859, and saw only 5 houses and about 19 locals! She took a piano along for the ride, imagine the groans as they somehow they got it off the ship, onto a small boat and onto shore. The ship was two weeks early and caught our towns folk off guard, so the new locals had to sleep in the wool shed until their homes were built. More arrived including six boatmen and their families from Deal, UK. A cob cottage still stands on 20 Avenue Road where one lived. Their skill was critical at the time for landing boats. But it was dangerous and [xxx] became the first to be buried in the Timaru cemetery.
TOWN OF TWO TOWNS. Timaru started as two towns Government Town and Rhodes Town, which is why the roads are out of line at intersections along North Street. Government town was laid out by Samuel Hewlings, he was our first Mayor 1868-1870.
1. Landing Service Building (Former) No. 326. C1. 2 George St.
First bay built in 1871 – third bay built in 1876. Timaru had a landing services building owned by the Government which was run by Captain Cain. Cain went on to build a competitive service with Le Cren out of blue stone with high arches to winch boats through. It become redundant when the first breakwater was built and was then used for nearly a century by the “Loan and Merc” and then Dalgety Ltd to store goods. It’s the only example in Australasia. Here you will find the statue of Captain Cain, the second Mayor Timaru. The towns population was around 3000 when he was poisoned by his greedy son-in-law.
TIMARU IS IN RUINS. In the same year Timaru became a Borough, an accidental fire got picked up by a warm and blustery nor west wind in 1868, destroying 39 wooden buildings, two thirds of the business part of town, including Sam’s pub (yep he had to rebuild yet again!). What had contributed to the advance in trade and prosperity of the port and district was now reduced to brick chimneys and embers. Unfortunately not everyone was insured. There were about 1250 dewellings in the borough.
TIMARU BUILT STRONGER. The fire transformed the town to more fire resistant Bluestone, brick and stone. Tenders were won to design and build our significant architectural heritage of our city which you can appreciate on a stroll through town.
RAIL. The railway helped accelerate progress after the first sod for the Temuka to Timaru railway was turned by the Mayoress, Mrs Cain in 1871.
ROAD. The street lighting used to be lit by hand. 1876 saw Timaru’s new gas street lights replace the kerosene lamps. Stafford street glowed under 1000 candlepower gas lamps in 1907. Electric light came in 1926. Before the streets were sealed, they would get very slippery and muddy when it rained, they would scoop the mud and put it along the side of the road, if you were not careful you could step knee deep into the mud in the dark.
Excelsior Hotel Sailors drifted into the new waterfront tavern the Excelsior (Christened the Criterion) built in 1870 it is a testament to the Victorian-Edwardian period including bluestone walls, quoins, window and door detail, pilasters, cornice moulding and a parapet. Legend has it a cow accommodated at the rear of the pub for a steady supply of milk. The pub had a colourful reputation and became known from Hong Kong to London, in San Francisco and Marseilles and in every port in between. The owner Mr Murphy’s luck ran out when he was charged with permitting gambling in his licensed house.
Gladstone Board of Works Building (Former)
No. 327. C1. 95 Stafford St. Over the road, the Gladstone Board of Works moved into their bluestone office in 1874, where they developed major public works for the region.
SAIL. The Timaru Harbour Board formed January 1877. Apparently deciding whether the Port should be established in it’s current site or at the Milford Lagoon came down to the final vote of the Mayor. Work commenced on a solid mole near the foot of Strathallan St.
No. 2044. C2. Benvenue Ave. A lighthouse was originally planned for Patiti Point, until people realised a flame in front of their ammunition store was a bad idea, so John Blackett a Marine Engineer designed one for The Terrace in 1877 (since moved to Benvenue Cliffs). His other claim to fame was his disapproval of the breakwater and it’s effects on the coastal long shore drift, he recommended that structure already built be “blown up” and removed. An effigy of him was marched down the main street to the end of the breakwater and blown to smithereens.
Hibernian Hotel. There was a riot in 1879 between Irish factions. Catholics from the district met at the Hibernian Hotel. While the riot took place in Timaru with most of the Christchurch police in attendance, the Orange procession was attacked in Christchurch. The landlord of the Hibernian Hotel was fined £100.
While Bob Fitzsimmons was working as a black smith with his brother at 295 Stafford Street he was developing powerful arms and shoulders and learning to box. He won the first New Zealand boxing champs in 1880, and three world boxing titles, middleweight, lightweight and heavyweight in 1897 at the age of 40. He also later owned a pet lion when he lived in the USA.
The population was around 4000 when Cecil Woods of Timaru created the first New Zealand-built motor vehicle in 1896. You can see a monument to him on the Corner of Stafford Street, and a plaque on the wall on the corner of Gray Road and Church Street marking the spot of his home.
No.2062. C2. 5-7 George St. James Meehan and his brother ran a grain and seed business, you can see the date 1913 at the top of the façade. The architect Thomas Lusk was also involved in the remodelling of the Dominion Hotel. His daughter Doris Lusk, the well known New Zealand painter born in 1916. Lusk’s building follows a building form seen in London in the late 18th century. The premises would have struck a bold statement of stability and success for the Meehans’ clientele thanks to the elaborate façade, marble floor and elevator. This building conveys a message in a competitive world.
Werry’s Private Guest Hotel on the corner (now Morton’s building) provides a link to the quite bulky building on the seaward side, creating a special precinct in the CBD. Probably designed by Maurice Duval, a Belgian architect.
D.C. Turnbull & Co. Limited Buildings
Heritage No. 2055. Catergory 2. 1-7 Strathallan St. Designed by D.C. Turnbull’s architect brother, James Stuart Turnbull. He had a 40 year career in Timaru and designed the town house now Art Gallery in 1906, Chalmers Presbyterian Church (1903-04), stone wall and entrance piers for Timaru Cemetery, Residence at Beverley for C.A. Wray, Esq. (1898), Shops in Stafford St., for John Mee, Esq. (1899), Erection of four shops and offices in Stafford St. (July 1901).
Alexander Grant had built the Aigantighe, 235ft frontage facing Wai-iti rd, double brick faced with concrete, two storyed, ten roomed house, kauri staircase and parquet flooring.
Le Crens store D.C Turnbull and Co. was the first traded here at the waters edge on Strathallan Street. These walls tell the story of the area’s prominent role in the grain and wool trade. Turnbull’s brother was an architect who ran his own practice in Timaru for 40 years having a strong influence on Timaru Architecture over the first part of the 19th century.
Brick Tunnel and Railway Siding
No. 7307. C2. 9 Strathallan Street & The Terrace
No. 324. C1. 2 Strathallan St, Cains Terrace & Station St.All important ports needed an impressive Customs House, ours was built in 1902. The stone building is a neoclassical style, with two pairs of columns framing the entrance. The classical elements from ancient Greece and Rome makes a firm statement about the authority.
Theatre Royal No. 5393. C2. 118-122 Stafford St. The Theatre Royal was reconverted into a theatre in 1877 by Maurice Duval. You can see the Timaru coat of arms in the window. A young boy fell and died.
- C2. Cains Terrace and 8 Beswick St., redeveloped by architect James Turnbull in 1915 Edwardian Baroque style. When New Zealands premier arrived by train he popped in for a quick champagne to clear the soot from his throat before continuing on to Dunedin.
Shops and offices, Flemish Baroque style was built around 1930.
Lower Stafford Street has many fine examples of two and three storey commercial buildings of the late Victorian to Edwardian period.
The Arcade Chambers, a more restrained version of the Edwardian era. Cast iron columns above allow for maximum glazing of shop fronts. The Royal Arcade used to be a side street known as the Ross Arcade, Ross was trailed for fraud. It used to be an orchard, they later worked this out when a bad smell was investigated and the rotting stumps were discovered. In the Royal arcade is a 5ft green door which used to lead to a cellar with storage made from salvaged metal from the Benvenue wreak. The shop on Stafford Street was William Ferriers studio, we owe a great deal to his visual story telling through photography and painting. His grandson was the celebrated modernist painter Colin McCahon. Ferrier also helped establish Timaru’s Arts Society who collected and gifted the foundations of the Aigantighe Art Galleries public art collection.
Bank Street Church No. 3155. C2. 38-40 Bank St
No. 7107. C2. 2 Elizabeth Place & Sophia St
The first churches were all built on land gifted by the Rhodes brothers to the Anglican, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, Methodist and Baptist churches.
St Mary’s Church (Anglican)
No. 328. C1. Church St & Sophia St. Built in local bluestone, was designed by architect, W.B. Arnson. The fleche (the narrow spire) located on the ridge line. The pillars in St Mary’s Church’s nave (one fo the few examples of the English Gothic Revival architecture in the southern hemisphere) was were constructed with from Aberdeen granite used as ballast in boats. The same stone was used as headstones at the cemetery and for the seafarers monument on Sofia Street. Timaru’s treacherous winds and reefs claimed 28 ships from 1865 until 1890. Four ships were wrecked in four months in 1882 including the Benvenue which drifted to the foot of the cliff and capsized, and almost immediately the City of Perth broke loose and crashed into it.
Timaru City Council Offices & Former Public Library
No. 2075. C2. 2 King George Place & Latter St. The Oamaru stone municipal building was completed in 1912. It was designed to match the adjourning library (1907-1979) which had been established with a grant from wealthy USA steel merchant Carnegie. The clock tower was transferred from the post office to this building in 1934. Books were loaned for free to rent and rate payers in the district. The building origingally housed the nucleus of the cities art collection and museum.
Chief Post Office was designed in 1881 by R.A. Lawson. (No longer used as a post office.). The old post office building used to have a clock tower, at the time of construction it was the largest clock manufactured in New Zealand, it moved over the road to the Council Chambers. The light on top is to remember those who served in the wars. the chimes were gifted by James Craigie who was the Mayor of Timaru for ten years from 1902 to 1912. Craigie also donated the trees in front of the Basilica on the avenue named after him.
Tekapo Buildings No. 3163. C2. 255-265 Stafford St. These well-tailored bulky 3-storeyed building with its stripped classical façade were designed in 1926 by Herbert Hall.
Farmers Trading Company Building.
No. 2057. C2. 256 Stafford St.
No. 2067. C2. 284-296 Stafford St.
No. 2053. C2. 334-336 Stafford St. The hotel was designed by Lusk and Moriarty in 1912-1913 and the exterior was Oamaru stone. The original Dominion Hotel, dates back to the 1870s. There was a knock three times on the rear door policy to gain admission after hours back in the era of the six o’clock swirl.
PROHIBITION. Social reformers who argued that alcohol fuelled poverty, ill health, crime and immorality nearly achieved national prohibition in a series of hotly contested referendums. Six o’clock closing which was a way of life for 50 years when war time efficiency measures become permanent in 1918. In the short period between the end of the working day and closing time at the pub, men crowded together to drink as much beer as they could before bar service ended and the ‘supping-up’ time of 15 minutes was announced.
Upper Stafford Street shows many good examples of small city Victorian and Edwardian buildings. The late Victorian FTC building and Tekapo buildings were designed by James Turnbull.
Offices on the Terrace are an example of the arts and crafts style. There was a riot in 1879 between Irish factions. Catholics from the district met at the Hibernian Hotel. While the riot took place in Timaru with most of the Christchurch police in attendance, the Orange procession was attached in Christchurch. The landlord of the Hibernian Hotel alone being fined £100
1902 a beautifying association took over the work of beautifying Caroline Bay. 1911 the Caroline Bay Association was formed.
WAR. Global changes has a significant impact on Timaru’s development when war was declared 1914, and the first men to leave Timaru marched from the drill hall down George Street to the railway station. Armistice was 1918, the clanging bell at the fire station first announced the news, then church bells, railway engines, ship and factory sirens took up with vigour. Groups gathered in the streets and sang the National Anthem. Three months later bombs fell on Hisoshima and Nagasaki. Timaru’s preparation for invasion can be seen in the bunkers in the cliff on Station Street. Jack Lovelock won New Zealand’s first Olympic athletics gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Hitler gifted oak saplings with the medals, Jack’s tree lives at Timaru Boys High School. Over the last 180 years Stafford Street has seen many parades for celebration, protest and sorrow.
DEPRESSION. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 brought about 30% of the potential workforce were unemployed in 1933. Phar Lap was a champion Thoroughbred racehorse whose achievements captured the Australian public’s imagination during the early years of the Great Depression. Foaled in New Zealand, he was trained and raced in Australia The basics such were hard to come by, living stripped back lifestyles. It was a factor in Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, which lead to the second World War.
The (Former) Government Life Building, Now the Oxford Building
- C2. 148-154 Stafford St and George St. Turnbull & Rule designed the Oxford Building from 1928 and has the union jack motifs and sunrise reliefs on the parapets. Postmodernism inspired a light hearted touch to this commercial building design. took form from a very good insurance payout and the importance to provide work for locals during the Great Depression.
Phar Lap wins the 1930 Melbourne Cup. Foaled in New Zealand, he was trained and raced in Australia The basics such were hard to come by, living stripped back lifestyles. It was a factor in Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, which lead to the second World War.
Richard William Pearse (3 December 1877 – 29 July 1953) was a New Zealand farmer and inventor who performed pioneering aviation experiments. Witnesses interviewed many years afterward claimed that Pearse flew and landed a powered heavier-than-air machine on 31 March 1903, nine months before the Wright brothers flew.
1948 Timaru was proclaimed a city.
The heritage trail map locations are
Locality Central Timaru, Map No. 2, Time 30 minutes
- Start at the Landing Service Building. Originally used for unloading ships around 1870, this is the only remaining example of such a building in Australasia. It is built of local volcanic basalt, known as bluestone.
- The building on the corner of George Street and Cains Terrace, once Werry’s Private Guest Hotel, probably designed by Maurice Duval, a Belgian architect.
- The Theatre Royal was reconverted into a theatre in 1877 by Maurice Duval. It was upgraded in 1992/93 and a new foyer was designed by Barrie Bracefield Consultancy.
- Grosvenor Hotel, redeveloped by architect James Turnbull in 1915 Edwardian Baroque style.
- Shops and offices, Flemish Baroque style was built around 1930.
- Lower Stafford Street has many fine examples of two and three storey commercial buildings of the late Victorian to Edwardian period.
- The Arcade Chambers, a more restrained version of the Edwardian era, is typical of many of the buildings in Timaru. Cast iron columns above allow for maximum glazing of shop fronts.
- The older part of the Council Chambers, originally the Public Library, was designed by Walter Panton and officially opened in 1909.
- Chief Post Office was designed in 1881 by R.A. Lawson. (No longer used as a post office.)
- South Canterbury Museum, opened in 1966, designed by architect, Ron Dohig.
- St Mary’s Church, built in local bluestone, was designed by architect, W.B. Arnson.
- Timaru Public Library, designed by architects, Warren and Mahoney and built 1977.
- Upper Stafford Street shows many good examples of small city Victorian and Edwardian buildings. The late Victorian FTC building and Tekapo buildings were designed by James Turnbull.
- Offices on the Terrace are an example of the arts and crafts style.
- The Old Customs House – 1902, architect, D. West. Now a restaurant.
Timaru District Council acknowledges the contribution of David McBride.