Topic: Biography of Thomas Herbert Bates (1873-1954)

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 T.H.Bates (1873 - 1954)


T. H. Bates, New Plymouth about 1950

(Puke Ariki collection, PHO2007-007)

Photo courtesy L.Girling-Butcher

Thomas Herbert Bates was born in Adelaide on 22 December 1873. He grew up there, trained at the local School of Mines and married Emma Watson. They had six children, four daughters and two sons. 

In 1900 he travelled to work in Britain but after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake he moved there to help with the reconstruction for a couple of years. About 1908 he arrived in Auckland and was offered a contract at Auckland Grammar School. 

In 1916 he moved to New Plymouth to supervise the building of the auditorium of Everybody's Theatre (which became the Mayfair) on behalf of the Auckland architects, Grierson and Aimer. He then completed a similar contract for Frederick de Jersey Clere's AMP Building on the Egmont/Devon corner of (now Peggy Gordon's).  

Soon after this he set up business on his own account in the old King's Building on the Brougham/Devon corner. His first project was the designing and construction of the McEwan's Building in King Street (demolished 1996) and, in 1925-26 he built his own offices, the Empire (now Victoria) Building alongside.  

King's Building Office

W.R. King's Building on Brougham/Devon St corner.

Bates' first New Plymouth offices were on the first floor

From 1918 and through the 1920s and 30s, Bates was the predominant figure in New Plymouth's commercial building-design field. He had arrived in the town at a time of great change, with experience in the burgeoning use of concrete for construction and with a respect for the devastating effects of a major earthquake. Many of the late 19th century wooden facades of Devon Street's commercial heart were, at the time, nearing the end of their useful lives. New technology, social systems and community expectations were overturning the old order following the upheaval of World War I.

Of more immediate impact, however, was the disastrous fire of 22 July 1916, which destroyed the Theatre Royal and a number of surrounding buildings. The fire all-but-cleared - except for the White Hart Hotel - the Devon Street block from Queen to King and Egmont Streets. It is this block that, now, contains the greatest concentration of Bates' work.

Perhaps Thomas Bates' greatest legacy to Taranaki is his 1924-25 Opera House - now the TSB Showplace - which continues to fully serve the community. When completed, the building was acclaimed for its elegance and impressive acoustics and is, without doubt, one of the district's most notable structures.

During the 1930s he was also responsible for a number of the new generation of enlarged, concrete dairy factories in the region. His last contract was the refurbishment of the Criterion Hotel (now demolished) for the Queen's visit in 1954.

His daughter, Mrs Maud Walker, was a talented draughtsperson and drew many of the elegant watercolour plans for her father.

Throughout his life Thomas Bates was involved with local and national cricket administration, being at various times, Taranaki Provincial Committee Chairman and Chair of the New Zealand Association.

Hawke Cup Cricket Team - 1926

Hawke Cup Cricket Team - 1926

Thomas Bates (Manager) Middle row -far right

Thomas Bates, along with 32 others, was killed in a BOAC airliner crash at Singapore Airport in 1954 while on a flight to London.

(See the newspaper report attached as an Image)



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Biography of Thomas Herbert Bates (1873-1954)

Last Name:Bates
Place of Birth:Adelaide
Biography of Thomas Herbert Bates (1873-1954) by Christine Nana is Copyright Act 1994