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Timaru Landing Service Building


Landing Service Building (1871-76)

A colonial beachhead

The sea was colonial New Zealand’s highway. Towns unfortunate enough to lack safe natural harbours had to borrow heavily to build artificial ports. Timaru’s port story began in 1851 when George Rhodes used what little natural shelter its headland offered to land stores and materials for his house. Soon he was landing goods for others. In a landing service boats run down a slipway, are rowed or hauled out to ships anchored offshore, pick up goods and then return to the shore, where they are hauled up again. In 1857 Rhodes sold the business to H.J. Le Cren and Captain Henry Gain. Nine years later the Canterbury provincial government stepped in, but it charged so much and performed so badly that within a year an opposition Timaru Landing and Shipping Company had set up further along the beach at George Street.

The company had little capital, so it leased the original (1871) portion of this two-storeyed, hip-roofed bluestone building from publican and entrepreneur Peter McRae. Note the three portals for drawing boats inside. In 1875 McRae sold it to the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Company, which made additions at the rear. But by now the landing service was struggling. In 1875 the railway line went through in front of the building and four years later it suffered further inconvenience when shingle accumulating behind the advancing breakwater covered its launching ways. It replaced them, but the opening of the first wharf in 1881 signalled the end of the boating service.

For 99 years the ‘Loan and Merc’ and then Dalgety Ltd stored goods in the building, which is now 400 m from the sea. Its future looked bleak in 1984 when the Timaru City Council bought the land for a car park, but fortunately local conservationists persuaded city hall to save what is now claimed to be the only landing service building in the southern hemisphere.

The Landing Service Building now hosts Timaru’s information centre, a bar and microbrewery, and conference facilities. Until recently it also shared space with another piece of Timaru’s maritime history, the Timaru Maritime and Transportation Trust’s 1864 lifeboat, Alexandra. The boat is now in storage, with the space occupied by a charged-admission rock art tourist facility. Along with the crudely covered portals, this is a reminder that progress in heritage is not always smooth.

Further information

This site is item number 39 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.



  • C.E. Hassall, The port of Timaru, Timaru Harbour Board, Timaru, 1955

Text: Gavin McLean, 2013

Main image: Jock Phillips

Other contemporary images: Gavin McLean, 2001 and 2013

Historic image:

Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: PAColl-7469-01
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of their images.

How to cite this page

Timaru Landing Service Building, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated