Transit House

44 Park Street, Dunedin

  • Transit House. Original image submitted at time of registration.
    Copyright: NZHPT Field Record Form Collection. Taken By: L Galer.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 367 Date Entered 13th December 1990


City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 62 Pts 61 63 64 Blk XIX Town of Dunedin


Robert Gillies (1835-86) purchased the land on which Transit House stands in 1864 and is believed to have lived in a house located elsewhere on the large site. Construction of Transit House began about 1882 and according to Dunedin City District Council records, was not completed until 1884.

Gillies came to Dunedin in 1861 and joined Charles H. Street in partnership as land and real estate agents. The partnership became the Perpetual Trustees Estate and Agency Co. in 1884 and Gillies was Chairman until his death. He was Chairman of the original Otago Daily Times and Witness Company and was a member of Parliament for Bruce (1884-85).

In addition Gillies had an interest in amateur astronomy and had an observatory with revolving dome built in the roof at Transit House. Apparently the house was named following the transit of Venus in 1882. That same year Gillies' son Harold Delf (1882-1960) was born in the house and it is probable that the family lived in part of the building before it was completed. Harold entered the medical profession and specialised in ear, nose and throat surgery. He went on to become a world pioneer in the field of plastic surgery and was knighted for his services to medicine.

In 1914 Harman Reeves (c.1872-1948) entered into a purchase agreement with Gillies' estate. [Although the agreement was not legally concluded until around 1930, the Reeves family were living in the property by early 1914. Reeves, son of Dunedin mayor Charles Reeves, one time chair of the Dunedin Stock Exchange and American consul was a significant figure in the Dunedin business community. The family owned the property until 1945.]

Transit House was then owned by the Dominican Sisters from 1945 to 1982 and run as a Catholic hall of residence for female university and training college students. Since 1982 Transit House has once again been used as a family home.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Transit House has historical significance as the birthplace of Sir Harold Delf Gillies, a worldwide pioneer in the field of plastic surgery, and was in the ownership of the Gillies family from the time of its construction until 1930


Transit House was designed by John Burnside who is believed to be one of the first New Zealand born and trained architects. Although compromised by the large penthouse addition it is one of Dunedin's finest Victorian villas and noteworthy for its fine detailing both inside and out.


Transit House is largely hidden by mature trees and has minimal townscape impact.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Burnside, John Arthur

Burnside (1856-1920) was born in Dunedin and is believed to be one of the first professional architects who were born and trained in New Zealand.

He was articled to the architectural firm of Mason and Wales, remaining with them for two or three years. During this time he won important prizes for designs which he exhibited at international exhibitions.

In 1880 he established his own practice at Dunedin. His buildings include Transit House (1880s), Philips Hotel (now Gresham Hotel, 1882) and the Otago Early Settlers' Museum (1908).

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


This Victorian villa is three-storeyed, large and stately. The north facade is symmetrical with a gable at either end bridged by a verandah and balcony. Beneath each gable is a two-storeyed angled bay with double hung sash windows at both levels. At ground floor level there are leaded fanlights and at first floor each bay has a small parapet echoing the form of the gable above. The verandah and balcony have fluted iron posts and ornate iron lacework between.

Originally there was a revolving dome on the roof but the third storey has been enlarged and the dome is used only as a light source. The substantial third storey penthouse is not in sympathy with the remainder of the house.

Gables, bay windows, double-hung sashes and quoins are also used on the other facades. The east facade has one gable similar to those described above and has a smaller square bay which is also gabled. The entrance is located between.

The interior is elaborately detailed with deeply embossed ceilings and heavily pedimented doors leading to the main rooms on either side of the hall. The hall itself has a Minton-tiled floor and Ionic columns supported an arch at the bottom of the balustraded staircase. Similarly, Corinthian columns support an arch which frames a bay window in the drawing room.


Transit House was used as a Catholic boarding house from 1945-82, and several alterations were made to make the house suitable, including:

c.1948 - Revolving dome removed from roof. Area under roof enlarged to incorporate twelve bedrooms and a bathroom at either end of the passage.

Dates not known -The Dominican Sister's crest and the name 'Dominican Hall' were inscribed over the front door.

- Fireplace removed from drawing room.

During this time the drawing room was used as a chapel. Since 1982 the house has been converted back to a family home.

Notable Features

Ornate iron lacework to verandah and balcony.

Interior ornamentation including deeply embossed ceilings, pedimented doors and pillared arches.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1884 -

1948 -
Revolving dome removed from roof. Area under roof enlarged to incorporate twelve bedrooms and a bathroom at either end of the passage.

Dates not known: The Dominican Sister's crest and the name "Dominican Hall" were inscribed over the front door. Fireplace removed from drawing room. During this time the drawing room was used as a chapel.

1982 -
Since 1982 the house has been converted back to a family home.

Construction Details

Bluestone with Oamaru stone quoins and slate roof.

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1905

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 4 Otago and Southland, Cyclopedia Company, Christchurch, 1905

pp 280-281

Dunedin City Council

Dunedin City Council, Building Records

Evening Star

Evening Star

28 June 1948

Knight, 1988

Hardwicke Knight and Niel Wales, Buildings of Dunedin: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to New Zealand's Victorian City, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1988

pp 85-87

McLintock, 1966

An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1966

New Zealand Freelance

New Zealand Freelance

28 March 1945

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Otago Regional Committee, File on Transit House

Otago Daily Times

Otago Daily Times

14 Feb 1914, p.11.

Otago Daily Times

Otago Daily Times

28 January 1958

Scholefield, 1940

G. H. Scholefield, A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1940

Reeves, Harman

In Years that are Gone

John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1947

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.