Not the first BNZ on Queen Street

Between 1960 and 1980 there was a widely circulated image which purported to be ‘The first Bank of New Zealand opened in 1861 in Queen Street’. It was in fact an image of the first BNZ building in Russell in 1865 and depicted the back of the building rather than the front.

The image has been reproduced by a number of artists and has appeared on Christmas cards, a calendar with early New Zealand buildings, was framed and hung in BNZ branches around the country, and given as presentation gifts. At the time various bank staff had queried the authenticity of the image. In February 1979, Peter Glynan, a staff member, and Robyn Griffiths, the bank archivist, decided to investigate.

One of the original artists was a Mr W J Woods who had produced the sketch drawing from a book on loan from the Birkenhead Library. Unable to remember the title, and the library having no record, Peter and Robyn set to work to find the mysterious book.

The book appears to have been ‘Historic Auckland’ by John Hood Alexander which was first published in 1961. The book shows historic buildings around Auckland and indeed has a drawing similar to the one by Mr. Woods. The caption being ‘The first Bank of New Zealand building in Auckland’. It is believed this may be the source of the confusion. They think that this sketch was done from a photograph which was found in the Alexander Turnbull Library files of the old Russell building but was wrongly attributed in print.

The early BNZ Russell building stood until it was demolished in 1965. An article from around that time discusses the demolition and the hope of the local Historical society to save the building;

‘Back from the Strand (in Russell) an ancient bake house and flour shed, both of brick, are to be pulled down while alongside, the future of one of Russell’s oldest buildings – a former branch of the Bank of New Zealand, opened on January 2 1865 is in the balance.

The Northern Regional Committee, of the New Zealand Historical Places Trust, hoped to have the bank building saved.

The former bank was believed to be the only brick building in Russell in the early days. It has the added distinction of having a roof made of slate, thought to have been imported from Tasmania.’

From The Northern Advocate, 8 July 1965

The archives are still regularly contacted by people with sketches or paintings of what is believed to be the first BNZ building in Queen Street, Auckland.

Russell premises occupied c.1876

BNZ building Russell 1865. Front of the building.

Bank of NZ Queen St.1861

Painting by A R Jones

Russell premises occupied 1865 ATL Ref 1101MNZ

BNZ Russell building 1865 rear view.