Situated in a beautiful waterfront setting in the Bay of Islands, this French-style printery and tannery combines momentous Māori and Paheka history, glorious gardens, and hands-on fun.
The property is just five minutes’ walk from the wharf at Russell, formerly known as Kororareka and infamous as the ‘hell-hole of the Pacific’ for its drunken and raucous behaviour.
It was against this colourful backdrop that a group of French Marist Brothers – including Jean Baptiste Pompallier, after whom the property is named – arrived to set up a Catholic Mission in the settlement.
Built in 1842, Pompallier Mission originally housed a printery where Church texts were translated from Latin to te reo Māori, then printed and bound. It is just one of several buildings, including a chapel and various outhouses, which once stood in this crowded enclave.
Today the Printery stands as New Zealand’s oldest industrial building, as well as the oldest of rammed-earth construction, distinctly French in style and making use of local materials including sand, rock and timber.
Pompallier Mission offers one of New Zealand’s most enjoyable heritage tours, starting at the gatehouse beyond which lie the glorious gardens that surround the Printery. A guided walk through the building reveals its unique architectural features and provides a fascinating step-by-step insight into nineteenth-century printing and bookbinding. The Mission’s original printing press, fully restored to working order, provides just one of many opportunities to experience hands-on the curious printery and tannery equipment.
Such old-fashioned fun is a great distraction for younger visitors while the adults absorb the nationally significant pioneer history recounted in museum displays.