mount cook police station in 1956

The Mount Cook Police Station as it looked in 1956.

Credit: Alexander Turnbull Library, Evening Post Collection. Reference: EP-1956-1396-F. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

One of the many historic buildings on Pukeahu is the Mount Cook Police Station, on the corner of Buckle Street and Tasman Street. This two-storey brick building, with distinctive striped arches above its windows, is one of New Zealand’s oldest purpose-built police stations.

Early policing

In 1876, after New Zealand abolished its provincial governments, the Armed Constabulary (a military police force) absorbed the provincial police and was renamed the New Zealand Constabulary Force. The new force had two main divisions – one policed the towns and cities, the other undertook military style surveillance over Māori in some areas.

The colonial frontier was considered to have been fully ‘tamed’ by the mid-1880s. As a consequence, the military and police functions of the constabulary were formally separated. In 1886 the civil constables were reorganised into the New Zealand Police Force, the first fully unified national force.

After 1886 new police stations were built to serve the growing towns. Eight police stations were opened around the country in 1894, with three in the Wellington, including one at Mount Cook. Between 1880 and 1900 Wellington’s population doubled, with the Mount Cook/Newtown area becoming one of the most densely populated in the country.

Building the police station

There were plans to construct a police station in the Mount Cook area as early as 1887. However, it wasn’t until 1893 that work began.

Unlike most other public buildings, construction was overseen by the Prison Department, not the Public Works Department. This was because the work was done by local prisoners, and the bricks were made by prisoners at the Mount Cook brickworks. Each brick was marked with a distinctive arrow, which can be seen on the bricks used for the police station, boundary walls and the brick wall on Tasman Street.

The station officially opened in 1894, consisting of a two-storey building with offices and dormitories, an enclosed yard with a scullery, stores and cells. Further accommodation and cells were added in 1903, and a two-storey timber extension was built on the south-west corner in 1912, adding more accommodation and a billiards room.

Training at the station

An 1898 royal commission into policing recommended ‘the establishment of a central depot at Wellington for the training of recruits for the colony.’ Before a new a new facility was built, it was decided that Mount Cook Police Station would carry out this duty. The first recruits arrived in December 1898. Later, a purpose-built facility was constructed in Newtown, with the last recruits leaving Mount Cook in 1910.

Reprieve and closure

By the 1930s there was a plan to demolish the building, clearing the land for use by the Dominion Museum and National Art Gallery. However, a suitable alternative site for the station could not be found so it remained standing, and the museum later expressed an interest in using the building.

The Mount Cook Police Station was finally closed in 1956, with the staff moving to the Taranaki Street station. The police continued to use the building as a clothing store until around 1967. At this point the museum was finally able to occupy the building, which lessened some of the strain on accommodation in the main museum building. They stayed there until the completion of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) on Wellington’s waterfront in the late 1990s.

Following the museum’s departure, the Mount Cook Police Station was sold to private investors, housing a number of small businesses. In April 2016 the building was sold and it was the first time that this Wellington landmark had been placed on the open market. This building was offered for sale again in December 2020.

Further information

Read more about the Mount Cook Police Station on Heritage NZ

Dominion Post article - Wellington couple buy heritage Mt Cook police barracks (22 April 2016)

NZ Herald article - One of New Zealand's most historic police buildings on the market in Wellington (02 December 2020)

Updated on 3rd December 2020