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Picturesque Dunedin: or Dunedin and its neighbourhood in 1890

Architecture of Dunedin

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Architecture of Dunedin.

The Architectural features of Dunedin, unlike those of Victoria and the older and more populous Australian colonies, owe their origin more to private enterprize than to the Government of the colony. Here no Parliament houses, treasury buildings, printing offices, public library, handsome railway station, nor modernised hospital, such as the Alfred Hospital at Sydney, rear their classic columns or pointed gables to attract the attention of our neighbours, who may honour us with a visit to our National Exhibition. Nor have we any engineering monument like the Princes Bridge. Nor would it be becoming of us to boast of the Exhibition building, though we may cherish a latent pride in contemplating the proportions to which it has grown from small beginnings, if we may not enter into comparisons with the vastness and grandeur of the buildings erected for exhibition purposes by our "Victorian and New South Wales neighbours.

The Dunedin Exhibition building has been designed more with a view to economy than appearance, more for utility than effect, more for large proportions to provide space for exhibits than for symmetry and beauty of design, and more with a view to subsequent utilization and substantial returns, than for present visual gratification. Yet it is not altogether without pretensions. Its façade, in comparison with other structures of the kind hitherto attempted in New Zealand, is indeed palatial and imposing, and bears the stamp of some originality, and has some commendable features.

Strangers and tourists in search of health or pleasure, or travellers on business bent—and a large number of both classes visit us for the sake of our salubrious climate, or to obtain a share of our trade—all speak highly of our city and of its buildings, and the architectural merit they display. Some even betray sur-page 127prise at the rapid advancement of so young a province, and give expression to their feelings by applying such words as "magnificent," "beautiful," and "substantial," as descriptive of some of the buildings.

During the earlier years of the Province, the discovery of the gold fields and the consequent rapid influx of population, gave such an impetus to buildings, that the town grew mushroom-like to large proportions, and wooden buildings sprang up as if by magic on all sides, with here and there a bank or store of more ornate and substantial pretensions. But the mercantile requirements were of such a pressing nature, and the wants for domestic accommodation were so urgent, that the question of materials to be used was decided by the speed with which they could be manipulated and transformed into shape.

Notwithstanding the necessarily flimsy character of many of the buildings erected at that time, a foundation of prosperity was being laid that has enabled the pioneers to replace many of them with commodious and substantial and even handsome structures.

The site upon which the young and growing city stands is one of the most picturesque in the southern hemisphere. It is bounded on the east by the beautiful land-locked bay, and beyond by the Peninsula—famed for its fertile and productive soil, over which the rising sun sheds his fructifying rays, and lights up the church spires and the tall smoking factory chimneys. All round on the other side it is encompassed by numerous hills and glens, whose sides are covered with rich native bush, filled with ferns and flora peculiar to the district. A portion, of these encircling hills form the Town Belt, which has this advantage—that no matter how embarrassed in pecuniary matters the civic authorities—who are the trustees—may find themselves, they cannot alienate any part of it; nor indeed would they be permitted to do so if they had the power, so jealously is the right to it, as common property guarded by the citizens. Would that the beautiful native shrubs and foliage were as rigidly preserved and protected from the vandalism that prevails. Hence town sections bordering on the "belt" are rated at higher values, and outside of this "tapu" boundary the suburbs spread out fan-like, with neat and trim-looking cottages, and well-kept gardens, studding the valleys and hill sides; while nearest to the "belt," both on the page 128town and suburban sides, many of the more successful citizens-have built themselves picturesque and commodious villas that add to the beauty and attractiveness of the landscape.

Anterior to the stirring times of the goldfield days, the progress was slow, though none the less sure and of a permanent character. During this period little or no attention was given to-the architectural appearance of the "buildings; hut this notice would be incomplete and lacking in a most essential part, without some reference to the buildings of the early settlement.

Some few framed houses were brought out with the early settlers. These were of the ordinary type of three or four roomed cottage architecture. Others of what the Australian would call the "wattle and daub" style, that is, the Ti-tree or Manuka scrub and puddle, were speedily improvised. While others again slightly more pretentious, had their walls constructed of fern trees, placed upright side by side, the inside being plastered with puddle-clay, which adhered firmly to the rough fern tree, and made comfortable and warm rooms, less draughty than many of the more modern and rough lined and papered houses. The writer lived in one of these earlier erections near Port Chalmers for a few years, and one of them still stands and can be seen in Roslyn at the "Half-Way-Bush," nestling in a grove of native bush, and forming one of the prettiest features in the district.

Another of these romantic-looking fern tree cottages stood at the corner of London and Pitt-streets, and was originally occupied for many years by Dr Purdie. Sir Prancis Dillon Bell, at that time Mr Bell, afterwards became proprietor, and wishing to enlarge the residence, found the old structure in the way, and felt much disposed to raze it to the ground. But being imbued somewhat with archaeological tendencies, at lastdecided to surround it with such accommodation as he required. The premises are now occupied by Dr Maunsell, and the old cottage still exists ensconced within a setting of more luxurious surroundings than the flax bushes and maori heads, which grew abundantly in George-street, during the earlier years of its occupation. Passing from these older associations and pleasing reminiscences-of the past, which are tempting to dwell upon, to give some idea of the progress of architecture in Otago, it will be necessary to page break
The First Church, Dunedin.

The First Church, Dunedin.

page 129notice some of the more prominent buildings. Amongst the first of these are the churches.

The First Church was designed by Mr R. A. Lawson, architect. It is a handsome building of early Decorated Gothic, with a finely proportioned tower and spire rising to a height of 175 feet. It is built of Oamaru stone and with the Manse close by, occupies a most conspicuous site on Church Hill, overlooking the harbour.

Though named "The First Church," it is really the fourth building erected for the congregation. The first building was erected in 1848 where the Standard Insurance Company's building now stands. It was a wooden building of no pretensions, to which followed a stone structure of a primitive style, and that also had to be vacated for a larger though temporary building of wood, which was erected fronting Dowling-street, on the site occupied by the Lyceum, now called the City Hall. This third, building was sold for removal, and was converted into tramway stables, and was ultimately burnt.

Of the first building, the Rev. Dr Burns, the first and able minister, who with Captain Cargill, was the pioneer founder of the Presbyterian settlement, very humorously and with considerable feeling said: "The poor old church ! Never was there an "honester, a more faithful, or a more useful servant. I may say "that it was a good servant of all work. It could cleverly turn" its hand to anything. Its sacred—its proper work was on Sunday, "but from Monday to Saturday it held itself ready for any service. "It was a schoolroom; it was a public lecture room; it was the "humble servant of the Dunedin Land Investment Company;" it lent itself to many a stormy political meeting; it was the "willing servant of the Horticultural Society; with patriotic zeal," it accommodated the Provincial Council; it lent itself to many a "concert, to many a musical party; and then it was without pride, "and it had no ambition; from the highest to the lowest, it was" equally at the command of all.

"It was possessed of at least one great quality that should not" be left untold—it utterly disdained a mercenary spirit; it never "would work for wages—and it was this great quality that" hastened its fall. Adversity came, and so soon as its last trials "began, they came thick and fast.

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"The first trial was indeed hard to bear—our congregation turned its back on it for ever. A handsome new church rose under its very nose; and, last of all, it was itself let out for hire. For seventeen long years, it had occupied with the utmost credit to itself, the high and honourable position of the First Church of Otago. In one sad hour it fell from its high estate—the First Church of Otago was converted into a wool-shed—it sank down to the level of a common hired drudge of the lowest grade. The poor thing never recovered the blow—it died of a broken heart—it perished like a martyr at the stake; it breathed its last in the midst of devouring fire. Peace be with the ashes of our poor old church."

Knox Church, designed by the same architect, is of the same style—perhaps less ornate externally, and yet as pleasing in appearance. The inside is an improvement on the First Church. The galleries are continued round the sides, and meeting over the pulpit, form the organ loft there.

The first building erected by the Episcopalians was also temporary. It stood fronting Cumberland-street, nearly opposite the gaol. It, too, had to make way for more commodious buildings; and St. Paul's (pro-cathedral), fronting the Octagon and Stuart-street, was built in. 1862, and has since been followed by St. Matthew's and All Saint's in the city, and by several smaller churches in the suburbs. Recently, the spire of St. Paul's has been taken down. The stone of which it was built was a loosely compacted limestone, and had disintegrated so much as to become dangerous.

The Wesleyans were early in the field, and erected a large church of wood fronting Dowling-street, which has since been taken down, and the stone building at the corner of Stuart-street and Moray-place is now occupied by the congregation. Numerous other smaller churches have been built in the city and suburbs by that body.

The St. Joseph's Cathedral, Roman Catholic, is an imposing building, and occupies a commanding site. The nave and two front flanking towers only, have been constructed so far; the transepts and central tower are to be added as funds accumulate.

The design, by Mr F. W. Petre, is of the Gothic 15th Century Decorated. The complete building will be cruciform in page 131plan, and will have a tower and spire rising to a height of about 220 ft. The extreme length and breadth will be 222 ft. and 102 ft. respectively. The stained glass windows are from the Royal Factory at Munich, and are beautifully executed, and some of the stone carving inside is very rich, and peculiar to the style. Already, £22,000 has been expended on this building.

Of the scholastic institutions, the University building occupies the first place. Although unfinished, it looks a venerable pile. The style is Domestic Gothic, somewhat severe, being built of basalt, slightly relieved with Oamaru stone; and with the quaint-looking, Queen Anne style of dark-red brick houses for the Professors, adjoining, it looks altogether what it is intended for.

"Were it not that criticism would be out of place in a semi-historical sketch like this, a hint might be given, that were a few trees planted about the site and the adjoining grounds to the south, which belong to the University, and a more becoming fence erected, with the approaches neatly laid out, its appearance would be vastly improved.

The Boys' High School, a semi-ecclesiastical building, pertaining more to the Domestic Tudor style of medieval architecture, stands up prominently on the western outskirts, overlooking the harbour. Its interior arrangements consist of a large hall with galleries, surrounded with class-rooms providing accommodation for 450 scholars.

The other school buildings, known as Government schools, of which there are five in the city and several in the suburbs, very much resemble each other in outward appearance and in internal arrangements; and were it not for the surroundings, a stranger who has just been examining one, and coming suddenly upon another in some other part of the town, would—as a recent traveller in Holland said in describing the monotony and sameness of the buildings there—imagine he had retraced his steps, so much alike are these buildings.

The public buildings, such as the Post Office and Court House, Telegraph Office, Custom House, and Public Works buildings, and the Railway Offices, affect no style; but may be classed utilitarian. Built with little or no pretension to art, they are suitable for the purposes to which they are devoted, except, perhaps, the Supreme Court House, which is tacked on to, or page 132rather, is a part of the Post Office "buildings, and was originally erected as a chamber for the Provincial Council meetings. Upon the abolition of the provinces it was transformed into a Supreme Court House; but its adaptation is not a success. These buildings are all within easy distance of each other, and occupy prominent positions in the centre of the city. The functions of the New Zealand Government evidently do not embrace the development or cultivation of aesthetics in architecture. If they did, the public institutions should bear the impress.

The Cargill Monument, which was erected to the memory of the late Captain Cargill—the founder of the Otago settlement—stands in the triangle between the Custom House and the Bank of New Zealand. It is one of the finest and neatest pieces of early Decorated English Grothic architecture to be met with anywhere. Though more ornate, it almost reminds the beholder of the Queen Eleanor Crosses, erected by Edward the First.

The Museum is an unfinished concrete building, being the central block only of what was intended for a large structure, and the blank panels in the upper part of the facade were designed for sculpture intended to be characteristic. It is now well filled, and under the able and enthusiastic management of Professor Parker, will soon require to be enlarged.

The Hospital, like many other buildings in Dunedin, notably the Colonial Bank and Supreme Court House, is used for a purpose for which it was neither designed nor suitable. It was built ostensibly for a public market; but a rumour was current at the time that the Colonial Legislature might be located in Dunedin, and that this building would become the central block, and be used for the departmental offices, while larger buildings would be erected on either side for the two Parliament Houses. Dame Humour on that occasion was at fault, and "what might have been is not yet." The building is of the Italian style, designed by Mr William Mason, architect. The first use made of it was for the purposes of the First Dunedin Exhibition, held in 1865. Some of the annexes then erected still stand, and now form part of the Hospital. As a hospital it has served the purpose well, and can comfortably accommodate over 100 patients. Though not conveniently arranged, it is kept by the management in fairly good sanitary condition, and its low average page 133death-rate may be attributed to the skill and unwearied attention of the medical staff. In connection with the Hospital there is a medical school and an operation theatre which accommodates over forty students.

The Lunatic Asylum is the largest public building in the colony. It was designed by Mr E. A. Lawson, after the Scotch Baronial style, and stands on a commanding, though insecure site, overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 20 miles north from Dunedin, presenting an imposing appearance to travellers by land or sea. It was built to accommodate 350 patients, and cost about £80,000.

The gaol—well, it is nothing to boast of. It was—compounded (perhaps is the better word, and more applicable than designed or constructed) of stone and corrugated iron. But it was one of the early buildings, and has been added to as occasion required. The idea of building a new one has been talked of, and perhaps the authorities will one day realize the necessity.

The banks until recently led the van in erecting ornate and handsome buildings; but now their claim to the first position is disputed by the Insurance Companies and hotels.

The Colonial Bank of New Zealand has its headquarters in perhaps the largest, most conspicuous, and most centrally-situated building of the kind in this city. It was erected in the first instance in the height of the gold-digging days, "the good times," by the General Government for a General Post Office. The then Postmaster-General, in giving his instructions to the architect, after describing the requirements, told him to design the building "after the style of St. Martin's-le-Grand."

As a piece of classic architecture, it is an ornament to the city, and does credit to its founders, and to the architect. The building was never used as a Post Office. The Provincial Government, which was then in power, and the General Government, disagreed as to the terms of occupation in some way; and the former erected the massive but plain red brick building adjoining, that now does duty as Post Office, accommodating the Survey and Registration departments, and the Supreme and Resident Magistrate Courts; and what was intended for the Post Office was handed over to the newly-established University.

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The University Council, after using it for a time for University purposes, and as a Museum, sold it to the Colonial Bank Corporation, and erected premises on what they considered a more suitable position, with the proceeds. This building, now the Colonial Bank of New Zealand headquarters, though of an imposing and stately character, is overshadowed by the Grand Hotel, and threatened by a more imposing building just opposite-now being erected for the Colonial Mutual Insurance Association of Victoria. The Union Bank of Australia, built on the second block further south, also classic, with a handsome Corinthian portico in front, is in like manner thrown into the shade by the-massiveness and towering altitude of Wain's five storied hotel, on the opposite side of the street. The Bank of New Zealand occupies a prominent position on the corner of Princes and Rattray-streets, across the triangle from the Colonial Bank. This is also a purely classic structure, designed with good taste, is boldly relieved, and presents an effective outside. The large-Banking Hall is conveniently arranged, and chastely furnished with richly carved cedar fittings. The ceiling is pannelled and decorated with neatly modelled enrichments. It was the work of the late Mr Armson, Christchurch, and for purity and richness of design after its kind, as a piece of street architecture, stands unrivalled. The Bank of New South "Wales, and the National Bank of New Zealand, built on the same block fronting Princes-street, though both presenting good and imposing facades, do not affect so pretentious a style.

But the large four-storied building recently erected on the-Dowling-street corner of the same block by the Australian Mutual Provident Society, a boldly conceived Italian design, shares with the Bank of New Zealand, the honours of the situation. While exactly opposite the Bank of New Zealand, the New Zealand Government Life Insurance Company has purchased a site, upon which it is anticipated that a building will be erected which will excel all previous structures. The Bank of Australasia occupies one of the finest and most prominent sites in the city, but the building suffers in comparison with all other institutions of a similar semi-public kind, and is completely dwarfed by the New Zealand Insurance Company's buildings, page 135recently erected on the opposite corner of Crawford and Rattray-streets.

The Bank of Australasia building was originally erected for the Otago Daily Times and "Witness Company, and was vacated by that Company for larger premises, their business becoming too extended for the limited accommodation.

The wholesale soft goods warehouses deserve notice. Messrs Ross and Glendining's in Stafford-street, Brown, Ewing and Co.'s in Manse-street, Bing Harris and Co.'s, and Butterworth Bros, and Co.s' in High-street, and Sargood Son and Ewen's in lower High-street, are all large buildings, and present imposing, facades. The last-named is perhaps the most conspicuous, from its prominent position opposite the Railway Station, and fronting the Triangle Reserve.

There are several other buildings in the city, of a more or less ornate character, possessing breadth of design and boldness of execution, such as the U. S. S. Company's offices, the Evening Star Newspaper premises, with its two frontages to Crawford and Bond-streets, the Universal Bond, and W. G. Neill's stores, Briscoe's Ironmongery "Warehouse, and Stout and Mondy's (solicitors) offices; but in the limited space allowed for this article, the details of each, and their architectural merits, cannot be separately discussed.

The several manufactories, too, the Roslyn "Worsted and "Woollen Mills, the Mosgiel "Woollen Manufactory, A. and T. Burt's Copper and Brass "Works, all famed for the quality of their productions, might also be noticed, but would be more in place perhaps, amongst the industries of the town; and to describe the domestic architecture, the variety of styles adopted, and their quaint developments, would require a chapter. But before closing, the Town Hall must be visited. This is an unfinished building, the front part only comprising the departmental offices and the Council Chambers being completed. The facade is after the Italian style of architecture, boldly treated, and is surmounted with a bell-tower and look-out station, rising to a height of 165 feet, from which visitors can get an extensive view of the city. From there can be seen the numerous tall chimney stalks, emitting dense volumes of smoke, the "stately edifices" towering one over the other up the steep hill sides, upon page 136which the residences of the inhabitants are mainly built, the neat and cleanly painted cottages, surrounded with the tastefully cultivated gardens, or with their flower-plots in front; and the bright and many varied hues of green foliage that covers the Town Belt; while away in the distance to the north and to the south, lie the cemeteries, each a "God's acre, with its narrow "green mounds and pale stone records; and further away still "rise the bleak mountain tops, about whose irresponsive peaks "amorous white clouds continually creep and cling and nestle in "misty adoration.