The Elms Mission House & Gardens Tauranga


The Elms Mission House is Tauranga’s pre-eminent monument to early European settlement.

Standing in the now mature and increasingly well-maintained garden it’s impossible to see the original geographic configuration of the Otamataha Pa site on the Te Papa peninsula promontory. Land reclamation has removed the sea and major motorway development to the Port of Tauranga has all but obliterated the view to Mauao the guardian mountain of Tauranga Moana.

It’s here the Church Missionary Society representative Reverend A.N. Brown bought land and in 1838 led the establishment of the CMS Te Papa Mission subsequently building what we call The Elms. I’m given an unexpected tour of the property by the engaging Mr Des Ferrow. The style and grace of the home, even now, is enviable – shelves of books, beautiful objects, a collection of Maori artefacts lining a bedroom wall.

The impressive dining table now memorable as the setting for the final dinner of British officers killed the following day at the Battle of Pukehinahina-Gate Pa. Des Ferrow points to the larger chair in the corner where Army Surgeon Dr Manley had his dinner – no room at that tragic table; Manley being the only British Army survivor of that evening meal.

The protective cover is taken off the breathtaking, jewel bright quilt created by Euphemia Maxwell in 1880. The Elms brochure describes the quilt as “stunning” – it’s an outstanding example of the art created by women of the period. Despite its history there’s a sense of the comfortable in this building which until acquired by The Elms Foundation was for 150 years lived in as a family home.

The Elms Mission House is not the only building on the site. There’s a replica of the original chapel (which can be booked privately for weddings), a separate Library building and appropriately this was the first permanent building erected at the Te Papa Mission Station. It houses over 1,000 books. There’s a small old red barn and a resited Fencible Cottage. Nearer to the Mission House itself are a Bacon Curing Shed, a Bake House and a Mangle Room and a Dairy!

I meet the hardworking and energetic woman, Paula, who with the assistance of a team of volunteers has and is adding to the charm of the mature garden. There’s a mass planting of deep purple blue pansies to take your eye as you walk on the white shell paths and piles of cleared branches and foliage from extensive garden tidying and renovating. A Garden Guide has been created too so that visitors can identify both the exotic and native trees towering in the garden. What’s so good is that entry to this beautiful place is free during opening hours. I’ve been coming here regularly since I moved to Tauranga and no matter what the season it’s always been a place to enjoy a walk.

Like many of New Zealand’s older European settlement buildings and properties much of the work of maintenance and development is undertaken by volunteers whether it’s at a consultative level, hands on practical work, acting as a Trustee or supporting the work of the Friends of the Elms. It’s also very interesting to learn how well supported The Elms is financially – not only through accessible government and community funding but also by local residents, businesses and Trusts. This is particularly noticeable in relation to land acquisition and specific maintenance and upgrading projects. Despite appearances though I know there have been years of hard slog and effort by all concerned in this venture.

As part of its financial sustainability efforts The Elms Mission House and gardens host an increasing number of international cruise ship and local visitors and tourists. There is a fee for the guided tours within the buildings. There are also regular fundraising events. On the 18th January 2015 The Elms will host the 21st birthday celebration of the Bay of Plenty British Car Club. It will involve 20 British Car Clubs. There will be a brass band playing in the garden. Cruise ship passengers visiting on that day will be in for a special treat.

The Elms Mission House currently presents as a mature and established property. What it needs to remind us of is the effort that went into its establishment.

The Elms Mission House is located at the corner of Mission and Chapel Streets, downtown Tauranga. The House and Library are open to the public (there is an entry fee) Monday to Friday between 9am and 4.30pm seven days a week during the cruise ship season. The venue is available for weddings and other ceremonies. Prebooked tours for groups and schools are also welcomed. Phone (07) 577 9772 email You can become a Friend of The Elms and donations are welcome.

ARTbop archive contains articles about the 2014 commemorations of the Battles of Pukehinahina-Gate Pa and Te Ranga.

Rosemary Balu


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