Monthly Archives: February 2013

Lost Dunedin #3: Oriental Hotel

Built: 1863
Address: 152 Princes Street
Architect: [?] William Henry Clayton (1823-1877)
Builder: Not identified
Demolished 1887

Photo: D.L. Mundy, [1864]. Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum.

The Oriental Hotel was the most exuberant building of gold rush Dunedin. Dominating its neighbours, it magnificently thumbed its nose at any stodginess or dourness that might, fairly or unfairly, have been associated with the established settler society. The eccentric four-storeyed timber structure was built for John Sibbald in 1863, with construction reported as nearly complete by December that year. The following month Harriet Cooper was given a license to run the hotel.

The design of the Oriental was so eclectic that it has been variously described as Gothic, Continental, Renaissance, Old English, American and, yes, Oriental. It even had ironwork with shamrock motifs. The Otago Daily Times struggled to describe the building in 1864, but referred to it is as ‘very pretty’ and an example of what might be termed  ‘Continental Gothic’, a departure from the ordinary Gothic style.  The great variety of detail included barley twist columns, grotesque heads, a representation of Bacchus, balcony stick work, Tudoresque chimneys, oriel windows, gablets, an elaborate and unusual cornice, and a platform with iron railings on the top of the building. No Asian influence was mentioned in the report and I haven’t found any evidence explaining whether or not the hotel name was chosen before or after the building was designed. Stacpoole and Beaven (1972) noted that the oriel windows with connecting balconies, along with the cornice, were ‘as far East as Gothic could go’.

A contextual view. Note the Dowling Street steps where the land was excavated in the 1880s allowing the extension of the street. Photo: 1865. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: PAColl-3824-04.

A contextual view. Note the Dowling Street steps where the land was excavated in the 1880s allowing the extension of the street. Photo: 1865. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: PAColl-3824-04.

The question of who designed the building has long been one of the puzzles of Dunedin’s architectural history. Some sources name Edward Rumsey as the architect, an attribution that seems to have originated with Stacpoole and Beaven (1972), based on stylistic grounds. Rumsey probably arrived in Dunedin aboard the Aldinga in June 1862, although he did not start advertising in local newspapers until August 1864. It is possible that he was the designer.

I have a new theory, which is that W.H. Clayton designed the building. Clayton worked in Dunedin from May 1863, and of all the architects working in Dunedin at the time he is the only one I know of whose style appears at all consistent with the Oriental. Clayton later became Colonial Architect and he designed many public buildings throughout the country, including the Old Government Buildings in Wellington. There are particularly striking similarities between the Oriental and his unrealised concept drawing for Government House in Wellington (c.1869). After searching newspapers online, on microfilm, and in print, I found only one piece of documentary evidence to support this: in August 1863 Clayton called for tenders for ‘Lowering an Hotel to the permanent level’. It was at this time that the section of Princes Street known as the Cutting, in which the Oriental was built, was lowered to the line of the rest of the street. Was the Oriental the hotel referred to in the tender notice?

W.H. Clayton’s unrealised design for Government House, Wellington. Image: c.1869, Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: PA1-q-158-42.

The Oriental was one of Dunedin’s larger hotels. It had a bar and a restaurant, and was the venue of lodge meetings, coroner’s inquests, the organisation of walking races, and its fair share of disorderly behaviour. It was a mostly respectable establishment, however, and its accommodation included ‘private rooms for families’. In 1883, an English artist who had toured New Zealand described the hotel as ‘rather of an American type, and, I must say, the most elegant building of the kind I have seen since leaving San Francisco’.

The first licensee, Harriet Cooper, went broke within a few months. While she was there she lost a cockatoo that must have lent even more colour to the establishment. Below is a full list of the licensees checked and revised from the lists of Willett (1937) and Tod (1984):

1864. Harriet Cooper
1864-1865. Horace Bastings
1866-1868. Edgar Bastings
1868-1871. John McCubbin
1871-1872. James Mackay
1872-1876. John Scott
1876. Henry Nankervis
1876. Joseph Braithwaite
1876-1878. William Gawne
1878. Angelo Davis
1878-1880. Reuben Isaacs
1880-1881. Francis O’Kane
1881. Maurice Tondut
1881-1883. Donald Macrae
1883. Henry Newey
1883-1886. George Stanbrook
1886-1887. Joseph Wilson
1887-1888. John Donaldson

Advertisement from the New Zealand Tablet, 4 August 1876 p.17. National Library of New Zealand.

Advertisement from the Otago Witness, 18 September 1880 p.4. National Library of New Zealand.

In its early years Princes Street was plagued by fires, which sometimes swept through entire city blocks. Deaths and great loss of property were experienced, and it’s unsurprising that wooden buildings came to be seen as a liability, and that more fireproof brick construction was promoted on safety grounds. Earthquakes were not experienced, and so they were not factored in. The Oriental nearly burned down on no fewer than four occasions (1865, 1880, 1883, and 1885) and at the time of its demolition in 1887 it was described as a ‘standing menace’. The land was very valuable, and in 1874 the freehold had been purchased by Joseph Braithwaite (the well-known bookseller and later mayor) for the princely sum of £1,850.

After much blasting and excavation, Dowling Street was extended and the Excelsior Hotel was built on the site of the old hotel (taking its license). That building still stands today, but its story will have to wait for another post.

Newspaper references:

Otago Daily Times, 20 August 1863 p.3 (Clayton tender notice – reducing hotel to permanent level); 18 December 1863 p.3 (description), 10 February 1864 p.7 (lost cockatoo), 30 May 1864 p.3 (Cooper insolvent ), 1 June 1864 p.3 (Sibbald), 12 May 1874 p.2 (sale of freehold), 15 May 1880 p.2 (fire), 23 March 1883 p.4 (impression of architecture on visitor), 28 November 1883 p.2 (fire), 2 June 1884 p.1 (Stanbrook advertisement), 10 June 1885 p.2 (fire), 9 March 1887 p.2 (demolition), also various Licensing Committee reports; The Mercury (Hobart), 11 February 1865 p.3 (fire – walls blistered); Otago Witness, 18 September 1880 p.4 (O’Kane advertisement).

Other references:

Knight, Hardwicke and Niel Wales. Buildings of Victorian Dunedin: An Illustrated Guide to New Zealand’s Victorian City  (Dunedin: McIndoe, 1988).
Stacpoole, John and Peter Beaven. New Zealand Art; Architecture 1820-1970 (Wellington: Reed, [1972]).
Tod, Frank: Pub’s Galore (Dunedin: Historical Publications, 1984).
Willett, R.W. Hotels of Dunedin; Historical Record  (Dunedin, 1937).

Photo (detail): D.L. Mundy, [1864]. Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum.

Gleeson’s Terrace

Built: 1903-1904
Address: 618-626 Great King Street
Architect: Percy William Laing (1859-1915)
Builders: Peter Campbell and/or Henry Charles Foster

This terrace is one of the most unusual and distinctive in Dunedin. Its balconies with bullnose verandahs and lashings of decorative cast iron fretwork would look quite at home in Melbourne but are almost exotic here. Terraces featured significantly in Dunedin’s early housing and more than twenty rows still stand from their heyday period of 1876-1912, not including terrace-like pairs of semi-detached houses. There were once many more. The simplest ones were working-class tenements but the fancier ones were marketed to white collar workers and professionals. They were a good investment option for early landlords, particularly before electric tram services opened up the suburbs, and with land in the industrialised central city at a premium.

I’ve titled this post ‘Gleeson’s Terrace’ because these houses were built for William Gleeson, but as far as I know this was not a name used historically. Gleeson (1841-1917) was the proprietor of the Rainbow Hotel in George Street and in 1902 he also owned the Annandale Arms, a two-storeyed wooden hotel which stood on the site of the terrace. The Annandale Arms was refused a license in June that year and the old building was soon torn down. In October tenders were called for the erection of the terrace. In addition to the three two-storeyed ‘villas’ at the front of the property, a row of four single-storey dwellings was built at the rear. These survive but cannot be seen from the street and are only accessible via a private right-of-way (so I haven’t included photographs of them).

After the terrace was built the next-door neighbour on the southern side sued Gleeson, as the building encroached onto her land and it was claimed that water swept from its roof onto hers. She was awarded some damages and it was ordered that decorative features at the top of the building that projected over her property be removed.

The builders were Peter Campbell and/or Henry Foster. The architect was Percy Laing, whose signature can be seen on the deposited plans on file at the Dunedin City Council. Laing was a Dunedin boy who went to Otago Boys’ High School and was trained by that pre-eminent Dunedin architect, R.A. Lawson. He afterwards went to Melbourne where he was employed by N. Billing & Son. After returning to Dunedin he worked with Robert Forrest before establishing his own practice in 1903, the year this terrace was built. Laing died in a climbing accident near Ben Lomond saddle in 1915, at the age of 56. His other designs include Ramsay Lodge at 60 Stafford Street and the Kensington Hotel (later remodelled in art deco style).

This terrace is a little old-fashioned looking for 1903 and could easily be mistaken for an earlier building, although the front walls and fire walls perhaps give it away as later. It is derived from a style popular in Australia in the 1880s and the architect’s time working in Melbourne largely explains the connection, although it would be interesting to know what his client’s instructions were. The deposited plans differ from the finished building in that they show a balustraded parapet with finials. They also show a cornice that was probably built and later removed.  The plans don’t show the iron lacework as it appears. This was produced very nearby at Barningham & Co.’s Victoria Foundry in George Street (opposite Knox Church), and possibly chosen straight from their catalogue. The company’s name can be seen at the base of the verandah posts. Barningham’s were well-known for manufacturing the ‘Zealandia’ brand of coal ranges and their 1903 advertisements referred to ‘verandah castings of all kinds’.

The first resident of the southernmost house (then number 308) was Frances Grant, who taught singing and piano. The other two houses were occupied by painter/decorators. Two of the three houses were soon converted to flats (upstairs and downstairs), and for this reason new front doors were installed. Few tenants stayed long and occupants included a butcher, a draper, engineers, a brewer, a grocer, a police sergeant, a railway guard, and a barman. Special mention should be made of the Lindsay family. Robert and Sara Lindsay’s family moved into the southernmost house around 1928. Robert was a blacksmith. Annie Lindsay remained there until her death at the age of 97 in 2007, when the house was still in very original condition, retaining its kauri fireplace surrounds with tile insets. The houses now appear to be used as student accommodation, being handy to the university.

Otago Daily Times, 4 February 1907 p.6. The street numbers were changed in 1910 and 308 corresponds with the present 618.

The terrace looked pretty rough in 2009 but by 2010 a lot of love, money, and expertise had obviously gone into renovations and restoration. The balcony no longer slumps and mismatching timber railings put in over the years have been removed and replaced with replicas of the original ironwork. The result is impressive.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 2 June 1903 p.4 (license refused to Annandale Arms), 27 October 1903 p.6 (call for tenders), 4 December 1903 p.7 (Gleeson fined re drainage), 5 August 1905 p.3 (legal dispute re land), 4 February 1907 p.6 (advertisement for Frances Grant); 6 April 1915 p.3 (death of Percy Laing), 28 April 2007 (advertisement in property supplement); New Zealand Tablet, 1 October 1903 p.32 (Barningham advertisement).

Other references: Dunedin City Council deposited plans, Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory, Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory.