Ōamaru bank buildings

Ōamaru bank buildings (1871 & 1883)

Southern capitals for southern capitalists

For many people these buildings symbolise Whitestone Ōamaru. They have stood side by side since 1883, when Robert Lawson’s Bank of New South Wales appeared alongside its older neighbour. They show how much the gold rushes stimulated banking. Until 1861 the low volume of business had severely restricted banking activity and profitability. Now, though, overseas banks rushed in, staking claims of their own in southern mushroom towns like Dunedin and Ōamaru. The British-owned Bank of Otago arrived in Ōamaru in 1866. In 1871 it made a statement with this building, which ‘with its pillared portico, would have been an ornament to any town in the country, even if it did look like a temple strayed from Athens’. Strayed or not, the temple had better staying power than the Bank of Otago. In 1873 another British bank, the National, moved in. It has been here ever since, though in 2012 its owner, the ANZ Bank, replaced the National brand with its own.

In 1883 the Bank of New South Wales succumbed to a severe case of portico envy and commissioned Lawson to design an even more imposing neighbour. The Edinburgh-trained classicist added two more Corinthian columns and replaced the triangular pediment with an elaborate balustrade (now slightly reduced). Since the 1980s the building has housed the Forrester Gallery, named after architect J.M. Forrester. There are ambitious plans to redevelop the gallery, but these are subject to funding priorities and establishing the degree of earthquake strengthening required. In the meantime, the old stalwart must settle for the 2013 gift of a flagpole from its friends group.

Further information

This site is item number 38 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.



  • K.C. McDonald, White stone country, North Otago Centennial Committee, Oamaru, 1962
  • Gavin McLean, Oamaru history & heritage, Otago University Press, Dunedin, 2002

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