Introduction

Recent work that strengthened the piles is the first stage of a number of improvements planned for the Category 1 historic building. This includes work on the interior linings, rebuilding the Magistrate’s Bench and other prominent courthouse furnishings and reinstating some of the old original detail to the finishing timbers.

The old Napier Courthouse is now set to last another 150 years according to Department of Conservation project manager Pat Sheridan,

Recent work that strengthened the piles is the first stage of a number of improvements planned for the Category 1 historic building.  This includes work on the interior linings, rebuilding the magistrate’s bench and other prominent courthouse furnishings and reinstating some of the old original detail to the finishing timbers.

Pat Sheridan (standing), Dick Clark and Campbell Diack from Herbert Construction inspecting the repairs. Photo: Barbara Curtis.
Dick Clark and Pat Sheridan from DOC inspecting the repairs with Campbell Diack from Herbert Construction 

“Work to earthquake strengthen the building sent us underneath where we discovered DOC staff were sitting on what amounted to be a time capsule,” Pat Sheridan said.  

Hawke's Bay archaeologist, Elizabeth Pishief provided the expertise to unravel the mystery.

“There was physical evidence from many of the key periods of the courthouse,” she said. 

Starting with the early Maori period, there was evidence of occupation and food gathering.  The courthouse was built in 1874/5 and there were a lot of the original shavings from the native timber that was planed on site as well as kauri off-cuts and home-made nails.

A newspaper dated 15 April 1916 and other building debris point to the alterations done around that time to the western side of the building.  Butchered bones, old cigarette packets, fragments of clothing and an old broom are examples of unwanted materials swept under the building in what can be assumed as an effort to ‘tidy’ the site.

Elizabeth Pishief said during the 1931 earthquake, the interior lathe and plaster was shaken from the walls of the courthouse. 

"Beneath the courthouse there are many pieces of plaster and lathes which had fallen down through the internal walls or perhaps some of it may have been swept through holes in the floor that was damaged by the earthquake.”

Old documents and notebooks associated with the work of the various departments that were located in the courthouse during the early to mid 1950s were also found.  Elizabeth suggests these may have been associated with the extensive renovations to the Courthouse that took place in 1955-6.

So what started out as routine maintenance on a well loved old building in Napier has turned up treasures from past decades. 

“This shows how important these buildings are and how we all create history every day, even in the littlest way,” Pat Sheridan said. ENDS

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