Lost Dunedin #1: Eden Bank House

Address: 9 Regent Road
Built:
1863-1881
Architect:
Additions by David Ross (1874) and Louis Boldini (1881)
Builders:
Not known
Demolished circa 1966

We’re lucky to have so many historic buildings in Dunedin but a lot have been lost to demolition, including this one. I’m as interested in the lost buildings as much as the surviving ones, and although they’re gone they can be appreciated on some levels through photographs and other records.

The original building at the corner of Regent Road and Queen Street was one of a few rental houses built for Robert Murray, who lived nearby.  When new in 1863 it was described as a large, elegant, and substantial stone and brick residence. Known as Eden Bank House, it was the home of a Polish prince (!), Konstantine Drucki-Lubecki, who had left his country after taking part in the failed revolution of 1831. Lubecki’s English wife Laura (known as Madame Lubecki) ran a ladies’ school for boarders and day pupils at Eden Bank from 1863 to 1864. The name chosen for the house might have been a straightforward biblical reference, but it might also have been taken from the ship Eden, which took the Lubeckis from Europe to Australia in 1838. ‘Bank’ presumably referred to the steep incline at the front of the property.

The Lubeckis’ residency was brief and the house next appears to have been rented by Miss I.M. Cary who also ran it as a ladies’ school, using the name Ellerslie House, from 1864 to 1865.

Maurice Joel, one of Dunedin’s most successful brewers and a prominent member of the Jewish community, purchased the house in 1867. It became known as Eden Bank again, and remained the Joel family home for nearly four decades.  In 1874 Joel commissioned David Ross to design major brick additions, including verandahs. In the previous eleven years Ross had also designed a shop, various brewery buildings, and a hotel (the Captain Cook) for Joel. Further additions in 1881 were designed by the Italian-born architect Louis Boldini, who also the designer of the magnificent synagogue that opened in Moray Place the same year. Joel was President of the Jewish Congregation at the time.

Maurice Joel

With its alterations and additions Eden Bank was an imposing house in the Italian renaissance style, drawing from Venetian models. In Ross’s 1874 design it is likely that a single a verandah ran the entire length of the frontage. The striking central bay and pediment with elaborate ornamentation appear to be Boldini’s work. The loggia was particularly unusual for Dunedin, although this feature was seen more often in Melbourne.

The Joel children were artistically gifted. Grace Joel is celebrated as one of New Zealand’s best early painters and she painted and taught at her studio in Eden Bank in the 1890s. Her sisters, Blanche and Lily, both became professional music teachers and were accomplished piano and voice performers respectively.

Joel leased Eden Bank to the government in 1905, when it became St Helens Maternity Hospital. The government later purchased the property. It was the second of seven hospitals in Prime Minister Richard Seddon’s maternity hospital scheme, which aimed to provide modern maternity services at low cost to women of the ‘citizen class’.  The hospitals were named after St Helens in Lancashire, the birthplace of Seddon. Dr Emily Siedeberg-Mckinnon, New Zealand’s first woman medical graduate, was superintendent for 33 years. Alice Holford, who supervised most deliveries and oversaw training of midwives, medical students, and nurses, was matron for 24 years. The hospital was a great success but eventually more modern facilities were needed and it closed in 1938 following the completion of the new Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Cumberland Street. By that time 5,500 babies had been born at St Helens (some in a cottage adjoining  the house) and 200 midwives had been trained there.

The house in 1905, seen from the corner of Queen Street, showing the extent of David Ross’s additions (on the right)

St Helens Hospital then became St Helens Hostel, a hall of residence for Home Science students at the University of Otago. It closed following the completion of the new Studholme Hall buildings in 1961. It was used for little more than storage until 1962, when the government put it on the market. It had not been drastically altered over the years, although Ross’s verandahs had been replaced with balconies (one on the north side was glazed in). At the time of the sale the building was described as being in excellent condition, with only minor renovations required to restore it to its condition of the 1870s. Unfortunately it was not saved. I found entries for St Helens Lodge in the Dunedin telephone directory up to 1966, and it was presumably around this date that it was demolished. The large block of flats now on the site dates from the late 1970s.

Historic images: View of the front of the house c.1905, Hocken Collections S12-549c (University of Otago Medical Library: Historical Collection). View from Queen Street corner, Hocken Collections S12-614a (Otago Witness, 2 August 1905 p.44). Advertisement from Otago Daily Times, 6 July 1863 p.3 (National Library of New Zealand http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz). Portrait of Maurice Joel from Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol. iv, Otago and Southland Provincial Districts (Christchurch: Cyclopedia Company, 1905), p.291.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 7 March 1863 p.3 (joinery work), 12 June 1863 p.3 (‘to let’ notice),  6 July 1863 p.3 (Madame Lubecki’s advertisement), 12 March 1864 p.2 (Madame Lubecki’s advertisement), 25 May 1864 p.1 (Miss Cary’s advertisement), 10 December 1866 p.3 (sale of property), 16 October 1874 p.3 (call for tenders by Ross), 2 February 1897 p.1 (Grace Joel’s advertisement), 24 January 1938 p.4 (St Helens Hospital closing ceremony); 22 May 1962 p.5 (sale by government); Evening Star, 7 January 1881 p.1 (call for tenders by Boldini), 28 February 1881 p.1 (further tender notice); Otago Witness, 2 August 1905 p.33 (purchase by government).

Other references: Siedeberg-McKinnon, Emily, ‘My own history of nursing in Otago and the work at St Helens up to its closing day’ (typescript, Hocken Collections MS-1621/027).

5 thoughts on “Lost Dunedin #1: Eden Bank House

  1. Anne

    I grew up on Regent Road in the 1960s. By then the old St Helen’s was one of the first ports of call for the Dunedin police looking for escapees or ‘persons of interest’. They seemed to be up there a lot.

    Reply
  2. David Murray Post author

    Post updated 22 April 2013 to incorporate attribution of 1881 additions to Boldini (I found a tender notice that appeared in the Evening Star but not the ODT).

    Reply
  3. Gloria Harris

    As a child, I spent a lot of time playing in the building, I remember the ‘dumb waiter’ and there seemed to be boxes of papers etc stored there, I remember gathering walnuts from the tree (which is still there). We lived in an old house in Cosy Dell Rd featured in Shona McFarlane’s ‘Portrait of a City’, since pulled down, on the corner of Kyle St and Cosy Dell Rd.

    Reply
    1. David Murray Post author

      Thanks for sharing those memories Gloria – it’s nice to know the tree is still there. I’d still like to find out exactly which year it was demolished.

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