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Pompallier Building Restoration

The Pompallier Printery, Tannery and Book Bindery is the last remaining building of others in the compound constructed by the founding French Catholic Mission for the entire western Pacific and is also the oldest surviving industrial building in New Zealand.

Constructed in 1841-2 and named for the founding bishop, Jean Baptiste Pompallier, its primary use was as printing house, but it also contained a tannery producing leather for book-binding. The printing house contained an original Gaveaux printing press, brought to the mission from France in the early 1840s. Between 1842 and 1849 it printed over 30,000 books and tracts-some of the first in Te Reo Maori.

The French missionaries used the rammed earth construction method common in their original home of Lyon. Earth was dug on site and supplemented with sand and rocks from the nearby beaches with the lime made by burning shells. The upper floor was constructed with earth supported by timber frames.

In 1850, the mission relocated its headquarters to Auckland and subsequent owners progressively altered the original building by converting it to a house. The Government purchased it in 1941 and the Ministry of Works undertook the first restoration to back to what was (incorrectly) considered to be Bishop Pompallier’s House. The thus restored building was opened as a public monument in the late 1940s.

A second more exacting restoration was undertaken in the 1990s by The New Zealand Historic Places Trust with the guidance of Jeremy Salmond, based on detailed historical research and painstaking investigation of the physical fabric. Controversially, at the time, later additions to which the public had become accustomed were stripped away to reveal the original printery and the original printing press was restored to working order so that the place now offers an insight into the technologies of the 1840s era as well as the introduction of print culture and literacy to New Zealand. The surrounding gardens remain as a typical example of the Victorian and Edwardian gardens as enjoyed by its latter owners.

Salmond Architect’s ground-breaking work and faithful restoration of the building was award winning and established a new benchmark in conservation practice in NZ. This work continues today in the current work of Salmond Reed Architects.

NZIA National Award 1995

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