Born: Scotland, 1836/1837
Died: Wellington, New Zealand, 8 July 1894
When T.B. Cameron arrived in Dunedin in 1878 he was already an experienced architect in his forties. He worked here for over ten years, but as Hardwicke Knight and Niel Wales tell us in Buildings of Dunedin (1988), ‘apart from the Caversham Presbyterian Church in the 1880s, little is known about him’. A few other things surface from time to time: Cameron submitted the winning entry in the design competition for the Dunedin Town Hall (though R.A. Lawson’s design was ultimately used), and earlier worked in Auckland and Victoria. His role as designer of the Queen’s Arms Hotel (now Empire Tavern) in Dunedin came to notice during the New Zealand Historic Places Trust’s registration of that building in 2012.
What follows is something of a ‘greatest hits’ summary that pulls together a little of Cameron’s story and begins the exploration of his career that is overdue. Although my focus is his Dunedin work, his Auckland career probably produced a greater number of substantial buildings and I would be very interested to hear from anyone with local knowledge or further information about the Auckland and Australian projects listed at the end of this post. Unfortunately, biographical information is elusive. If his sketchy death registration is correct, then Thomas Cameron was born in Scotland in 1836 or 1837. His parents’ names are not recorded on the document, and another blank space suggests that he never married. His middle name, Bedford, is likely a clue to his ancestry, even if he added it when he was a young man to distinguish himself from the many other Thomas Camerons running about the place.
Like some of Dunedin’s other nineteenth-century architects, Cameron migrated from Britain to Victoria, where he worked for a few years before moving on to New Zealand. The earliest documentary reference I found about him was in the Ballarat Star of 13 September 1858, when ‘T.B. Cameron & Co.’ of 1 Bridge Street, called for tenders for additions and alterations to Dr James Stewart’s cottage. I don’t know who the ‘& Co’ were (if anyone), but this tag soon disappeared from Cameron’s notices. If his death record is correct then he would have been in his early twenties at this time, but this is a little difficult to reconcile with a later claim that he had ‘Long practical experience in the Home Country’. In November 1858 he ran the following advertisement:
T.B. CAMERON, Architect &c, 2 Bridge street, Main Road, opposite Humphrey’s Stationery Depot, is prepared to supply plans, specifications, &c, for cottages, shops, warehouses, &c, on the shortest notice, and to guarantee that no building when finished according to the plans will exceed the contract price.
An early project was a hotel with concert rooms in Lydiard Street, built for D. Jones in 1859. Over the next four years Cameron designed many buildings in Ballarat, and also at Creswick, sixteen kilometres to the north. These included the Ballarat Synagogue, which survives today and for which Cameron’s name is still known. Cameron designed the Star newspaper offices, Welsh chapel, Presbyterian church at Creswick, numerous two-storey commercial buildings, and private residences for John Coghill, Theophilus Williams, and others. For a year, from 1861 to 1862, Cameron served as Creswick’s Town Engineer.
In 1864 Cameron moved to Auckland, where he worked for the next thirteen years. He won the design competition for St James Presbyterian Church in Wellington Street, a large Gothic Revival timber building that stood until 1963. He also designed Presbyterian churches at Devonport and Wanganui, the latter being both constructed and destroyed (by fire) in 1868. Cameron was responsible for the design of the Star Hotel in Albert Street, built in 1865, and in 1877 he designed its redevelopment, although only the first stage was completed. Typical features of Cameron’s street elevations were round-headed windows which were relatively wide in proportion to their height. Cameron was briefly in partnership with the architect Arthur W. Burrows from 1865 to 1866.
In 1877, at the other end of the colony, a competition was held for the design of the Dunedin Town Hall, and Cameron entered an imposing classical design with corner tower under the pseudonym ‘In Haste’. In July the Town Hall Committee awarded him first place ahead of prominent local architect R.A. Lawson and seven other entrants. The committee reported that Cameron ‘conformed more nearly to the conditions of the competition than any of the other competitors; and with the exception of the arrangement of the offices for the departments, the design generally possesses considerable merit’. Lawson was appointed supervising architect in September, but as the project had to be scaled back to meet its reduced budget of £7,000, he was asked to make major alterations. The committee had admired Lawson’s front elevations, and agreed that he could adapt his own design rather than Cameron’s. The project was politically controversial, as it was argued that the Town Hall was a luxury the city could do without. Lawson’s finished building included the municipal offices and clock tower, but it would be over 50 years before a public auditorium was added.
Despite the disappointment, or perhaps in part because of it, Cameron decided to move to Dunedin in 1878. There was vigorous building activity in the city and the Town Hall competition would have brought his name to the attention of prospective clients. One of his first commissions was William Gregg’s store and coffee processing building in lower Rattray (now Fryatt) Street. In 1879 he designed two hotels (the Queen’s Arms and the Robert Burns) as well as at least two double-storey houses. Business did not go according to plan, however, as in 1879 Cameron was declared bankrupt with debts of over £600.
The early 1880s were Cameron’s most productive years in Dunedin. His designs included a three-storey terrace for Mrs Muir in Moray Place, as well as her two-storey house in View Street, and another three-storey terrace nearby for Robert Murray. There were two investment properties for Albert Dornwell, and other commercial work included shops for Denis Heenan and the Woodhaugh Hotel. One of Cameron’s grandest masonry houses was Appin, built for Angus Cameron of the Union Steam Ship Company, and he almost certainly designed Septimus Myers’ large wooden villa ‘Ivanhoe’ in North East Valley, and a similarly proportioned residence for John McCormick in Queen Street. Recurring features of Cameron’s designs from this period include prominent (usually flat) window hoods, and slender curved pilasters that sometime look a little out of proportion to the rest of the building. A few buildings featured square pilasters with circular decorations at the centre of the shafts. The Queens Arms and Robert Burns hotels were given slightly ungainly parapet decoration, but other commercial buildings were elegantly proportioned. Peter Entwisle cites Gladstone Terrace as evidence that Cameron was an erudite and accomplished designer.
The Caversham Presbyterian Church is the only church building in Dunedin I have been able to attribute to Cameron. This prominent local landmark includes Romanesque features, and was described as Norman in a newspaper report that was likely informed by the architect. These features include a broad low-pitched roof and round-headed windows. The overall impression, however, is of a free (eclectic) style, and the building also draws from Gothic influences and colonial Victorian design, while its steeple is reminiscent of the Neo-Classical designs of Sir Christopher Wren. Knight and Wales found the building charming, though with something of a wedding-cake appearance. Its unique and imaginative design give it special significance among Dunedin’s suburban church buildings. When the foundation stone was laid on 21 October 1882 the minister (Rev. Fraser) said: ‘This is supposed to be an age of culture, and an aesthetic age…Public buildings are the common property of all, and more so are the homes of the people. If this is so, what an influence for good must handsome buildings and beautiful surroundings have upon the minds of the people’.
If newspapers are an accurate indication, Cameron’s activity declined dramatically from 1885, and he was again bankrupted in 1886. This came with a general slump in building activity during the Long Depression, which led other architects (including R.A. Lawson) to leave Dunedin. Cameron’s later commissions here included a ‘large hall’ in Moray Place in 1888 (possibly the Palace Roller Skating Rink), and an as yet unidentified ten-room villa in 1889. In 1891 he was the successful competitor for the design of the Kaitangata Borough Council chambers, but this project appears not to have been realised.
Around 1893 Cameron moved to Wellington, and the following year he placed second in the competition to design the memorial to the late New Zealand Premier John Ballance. He kept a low public profile and one of the few things I found about him from this period was that he was a member of the Terrace Congregational Church. After suffering from pneumonia for a week, Thomas Cameron passed away at Wellington Hospital on 8 July 1894, aged 57. Apparently leaving no family, and with no identifiable photograph of him known, his buildings must speak of his life.
- 1858. Additions and alterations to cottage for Dr James Stewart, Ballarat
- 1859. Hotel building in Lydiard Street, Ballarat
- 1859. Welsh Chapel, Ballarat.
- 1859-1860. Warehouse for A.H. King, Ballarat
- 1860. Offices for Star newspaper, Sturt Street, Ballarat
- 1860. Warehouse for John Webster, Creswick
- 1860. Shop and residence for Wittkowski Bros, Ballarat
- 1860. Sexton’s lodge, Creswick New Cemetery
- 1860. Two shops for Mr Martin, Albert Street, Creswick
- 1860. Two brick shops for Mader Bros, Creswick
- 1860. Chapel at Slaughterman’s Hill for Bible Christian Association
- 1860. Two-storey brick premises for Thomas Anthony, Creswick
- 1860. Brick shop and warehouse for Mr McLeod, Creswick
- 1860. Two-storey brick premises for Mr Hassell, Creswick
- 1860-1861. Brick villa for John Coghill, near Ascot
- 1861. Stone and brick premises for Raphael Bros, Ballarat
- 1861. Two-storey stone and brick premises for Godfrey & Abrahams, Ballarat
- 1861. Synagogue, Ballarat*
- 1861. Presbyterian Church (later St Andrew’s Uniting Church), Creswick*
- 1861. Stone and brick shops for Rees & Benjamin, Sturt and Lydiard streets, Ballarat
- 1861. Stone villa for Theophilus Williams
- 1861. Six-roomed cottage for Dr Daniels, Creswick
- 1861. Brick premises for Mr Dawson, Bridge Street, Ballarat
- 1862. Premises for Hepburn & Leonard, Lydiard Street, Ballarat
- 1862. Stone and brick premises for William Young, Soldiers Hill
- 1863. Four two-storey shops for Mr Martin, Main Road, Ballarat
- 1863. Presbyterian manse, Smeaton
- 1864. Two-storey residence for J. Phillips, Onehunga
- 1864. Music Hall for George Dalrymple, Wellesley Street, Auckland
- 1864-1865. St James Presbyterian Church, Wellington Street, Auckland
- 1865. Two-storey shops and residences, Wellesley Street, Auckland
- 1865. Eight two-storey shops and residences, Grey and Pitt streets, Auckland
- 1865. Four two-storey shops and residences, Drake Street, Auckland
- 1865. Three storey stone and brick warehouse, Albert Street, Auckland
- 1865. William Rattray’s building (two storeys), Shortland Street, Auckland
- 1865. Eight two-storey buildings (shops and residences), Grey and Pitt streets, Auckland
- 1865. Union Hotel (two-storey brick premises), Queen Street, Auckland
- 1865, 1877. Star Hotel, Albert Street, Auckland
- 1865-1866. Store for Dingwall, Albert Street, Auckland
- 1866. Hotel building, O’Neill’s Point, North Shore.
- 1867. St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Devonport
- 1867-1868. Presbyterian Church, Wanganui
- 1870. Royal Mail Hotel, Victoria and Elliott streets, Auckland
- 1873-1874. Premises for George Quick & Co., Elliott Street, Auckland
- 1874. Shops for Greenway, High and Durham streets, Auckland
- 1875. Block of brick buildings for Joseph Craig, Fort Street, Auckland*
- 1876. Two-storey residence for C. Greenaway, Hobson Street, Auckland
- 1876. Brick buildings/Post Office Hotel? in Shortland Street, Auckland (site QCE Hotel)
- 1876. Warehouse for T. Hartley, Durham Street, Auckland
- 1878. W. Gregg & Co. store, Rattray Street, Dunedin*
- 1879. Robert Burns Hotel, George Street, Dunedin*
- 1879. Residence for Mr Copland, Peel Street, Lawrence
- 1879. Two-storey residence in Scotland Street, Dunedin
- 1879. Two-storey stone and brick residence, Queen Street, Dunedin
- 1879. Queens Arms Hotel (later Empire Hotel), Princes Street, Dunedin*
- 1880. Stone and brick shop for Denis Heenan, George Street, Dunedin.
- 1880. Four villa residences for Lewis Lyons, Ravensbourne, Dunedin
- 1880-1881. Two-storey premises, malthouse etc., Keast & McCarthy Dunedin Brewery
- 1880-1881. Terrace for Amelia Muir, Moray Place, Dunedin*
- 1880-1881. Terrace for Robert Murray, Moray Place, Dunedin
- 1881. Residence for John McCormick, Queen Street North, Dunedin*
- 1881-1882. Two-storey residence (Appin) for Angus Cameron, Leith Street, Dunedin
- 1881-1882. Woodhaugh Hotel for J.R. James, Dunedin*
- 1882. Kincaid & McQueen offices, Great King Street, Dunedin
- 1882. Two-storey brick premises, Duke Street, Dunedin
- 1882. Presbyterian Church, Caversham, Dunedin*
- 1882. Two-storey tenements Frederick and Leith streets for Albert Dornwell
- 1882. Villa residence for Captain Graham, Musselburgh, Dunedin
- 1882. Villa residence for Mr Kilmartin, Opoho, Dunedin
- 1882. Villa residence for Mr Keast, Maori Hill, Dunedin
- 1883. Two-storey residence for Amelia Muir, View Street, Dunedin*
- 1883. Main Road, South Dunedin, Mr Campbell.
- 1884. Two-storey brick tenements, George Street, Dunedin
- 1884. Nine-room residence, St Clair, Dunedin
- 1885. Brick shops (two stories) for Albert Dornwell, George Street, Dunedin*
- 1885. Brick shops (two stories), George Street and Moray Place, Dunedin
- c.1885. Ivanhoe (Myers residence), North Road, North East Valley, Dunedin
- 1886. Reinstatement of villa residence for Walter Guthrie, Manor Place, Dunedin
- 1888. Large hall, Moray Place, Dunedin
- 1888. Brick residence, Walker Street, Dunedin
*indicates buildings still standing
Newspapers consulted through Trove, Paper Past, and microfilm, were the Star (Ballarat), Daily Southern Cross (Auckland), New Zealand Herald (Auckland), Otago Daily Times (Dunedin), Otago Witness (Dunedin), Evening Star (Dunedin), Tuapeka Times (Lawrence), and Evening Post (Wellington). There are too many individual references to list here, but feel free to request specific information.
Baré, Robert, City of Dunedin Block Plans (Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, )
Jones, F. Oliver, Structural Plans of the City of Dunedin NZ, ‘Ignis et Aqua’ series, 
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
‘Caversham Presbyterian Church, 61 Thorn Street, Dunedin’. New Zealand Historic Place Trust registration record (1996) retrieved 14 February 2014 from http://www.historic.org.nz/TheRegister/RegisterSearch/RegisterResults.aspx?RID=7319
Bauchop, Heather. ‘Empire Hotel, 396 Princes Street, Dunedin’. New Zealand Historic Place Trust registration record (2012) retrieved 14 February 2014 from http://www.historic.org.nz/TheRegister/RegisterSearch/RegisterResults.aspx?RID=9548#
Entwisle, Peter. Draft report B133 (312-314 George Street), Dunedin City Council Heritage Schedule Review, 2013.
Entwisle, Peter. Draft report B404 (Moray Terrace), Dunedin City Council Heritage Schedule Review, 2012.
Knight, Hardwicke and Niel Wales. Buildings of Victorian Dunedin: An Illustrated Guide to New Zealand’s Victorian City (Dunedin: McIndoe, 1988).
Trotter, Oive. Dunedin’s Crowning Glory: The Town Clock Tower (Dunedin: the author, 1994)