Thomas Forrester


Date Born/Established
16 May 1838
Date Died/Ceased
25 Mar 1907
Place Of Birth
Glasgow, Scotland
Place Of Death
Oamaru, Otago, South Island, New Zealand
Biographical Display
Thomas Forrester

Thomas Forrester was born on 16 May 1838, the only son of George Forrester (a plasterer) and Janet Watt of Glasgow, Scotland.

Training in Glasgow
It is likely that Thomas received formal schooling and training at nearby Glasgow High School and, later, at the Glasgow School of Art. He served his plasterer’s apprenticeship under his father. This training enabled him to undertake a variety of design tasks, from draughting plans of buildings and engineering works, to preparing sculptural designs and maps. Thomas and George eventually became partners.

Forresters emigrate to New Zealand
In 1860 Thomas Forrester married Elizabeth Megget. Their first child was born in 1861 and two months later they sailed, with Thomas’ parents, to New Zealand on the sailing ship Pladda, arriving in Dunedin on 31 May 1861. Although there is no evidence of Forrester’s work as a plasterer in Dunedin, his obituary notes that he worked on many of the important buildings in the developing town. His draughting skills were employed to draw up New Zealand’s first geological map in 1865.

Thomas Forrester comes to Oamaru
In 1869 he was sent to Oamaru as supervising architect for Lawson’s Bank of Otago. By 1871 Forrester was listed as an architect in Oamaru, and he was appointed Inspector of Works for the Oamaru Dock Trust. (Coincidentally, John Lemon was also a member of the Dock Trust, and by 1872 the pair had officially formed a partnership – Forrester and Lemon.)

Forrester and the Oamaru Harbour Board
As Inspector of Works for the later Harbour Board, Forrester was involved with the fast-developing Oamaru port, supervising the massive task of building the 564-metre breakwater. In 1879 he confirmed that the harbour floor (thought to be solid rock) could be dredged, allowing for deep-water wharves to be constructed. His final work was the designing of Holmes Wharf which opened in 1907.

After John Lemon’s death, Forrester retired, devoting himself to his many interests. He was first honorary curator of the Oamaru Museum and undertook geological research, including a study of North Otago’s unique diatoms. Actively involved in Oamaru’s cultural life, he was a parishioner of St Luke’s Anglican Church, President of the Philharmonic Society and a long-time member of the Athenaeum Committee.

A modest Scot
Despite his prestige in the town, Thomas Forrester lived modestly in a small stone house in Wharfe Street (purchased in 1879) until his death in 1907. It could be said that his greatest legacy was not any individual piece of engineering or architecture, but the very “styling” of Victorian Oamaru itself.
Related information - Person|Te Ara Biography


Subject person

Refine Results