Inverlochy House

3 Inverlochy Place, Te Aro, Wellington

  • Inverlochy House, Wellington. CC Licence 3.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Ballofstring - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ballofstring . Date: 4/07/2014.
  • Inverlochy House, Wellington. ¬©Photographer Alex Efimoff /
    Date: 22/02/2017.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1398 Date Entered 26th May 2006


Extent of List Entry

Extent of registration includes the House its fixtures and fittings, the out-building, fountains and stone entrance stairway, and the land comprised in Certificate of Title WN598/276.

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Lots 2 & 3 DP 16277 (CT WN598/276), Wellington Land District


Inverlochy House is located at 3 Inverlochy Place, off Abel Smith Street, in the Wellington suburb of Te Aro. Surrounded by residential houses, apartment blocks and a hotel, it is nestled away in pleasant garden surrounds, which contains two listed heritage trees. It was the residence of the historically significant nineteenth-century businessman and local and national politician, Thomas Kennedy Macdonald.

Macdonald was well known to his contemporaries as "Kennedy Mac". A leading colonial businessman with a land agency and auction business, Macdonald achieved tremendous commercial success, and suffered some large financial losses. He was also a prominent local and national political leader and served as a Wellington City Councillor for the Te Aro Ward, a Member of the House of Representatives for Wellington City, and later a Member of the Legislative Council. Progressive in his politics, and a political ally of Richard Seddon and the Liberals, Macdonald preached protectionism, and advocated the manufacturing and industrial development of the colony. As chief government land valuer he played an important role in the land questions of the 1890s. On his death Prime Minister William Massey claimed that, in Wellington, "his name was as familiar as a household word".

Inverlochy House was first occupied by Macdonald between 1878 and 1879. Originally a 14 room mansion, it was built in the Italianate style and constructed primarily of timber. Due to Macdonald's business and political success, the surrounding estate grew considerably. At one time the whole of the city block comprised the Inverlochy estate. Inverlochy Place was known as "The Avenue" and served as the driveway for the House. When the estate was auctioned in 1893, due to Macdonald's bankruptcy, notice was given that the house, "with every modern convenience", and surrounding property encompassed garden and shrubs, two conservatories, a vinery, a watered fernery, stables and "also a fowl house, summer house, wash house and offices". An on-site tennis court however was not included. By this time the Terrace in Wellington had become one of the most exclusive streets in the country, and many of the colony's business and political elites had residences in the area.

Over time the land, the building, and its wider area have been modified. At the turn of the twentieth century the house was turned into two luxury apartments. In the early 1920s it was further subdivided into nine self-contained flats. Over this same period the estate has been increasingly encroached by various developments. While the house lost some of its grandeur and began to suffer serious wear and tear due to absentee landlordism, the property remained in high esteem amongst the community. This was strikingly illustrated in 1979/1980. Frank Renouf purchased the land on which Inverlochy is located, and began discussions to sell to Williams Development Holdings Ltd. Williams planned to demolish the house and replace it with a seven storey, ninety room motel and restaurant. This occurred at a time when the face of downtown Wellington was being changed by a large-scale rebuilding and earthquake-strengthening project, and the Terrace area became a site for offices, rather than the homes, of captains of industry. A successful campaign was undertaken in opposition to the development, and highlights the social significance of Inverlochy house.

Williams built the hotel next door and gifted Inverlochy House to the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, who finally took possession in the mid-1980s. Major renovations and repairs were undertaken. It currently houses the Williams School of Art at Inverlochy, an appropriate usage considering the house's original owner, Macdonald, was not only a businessman and politician, but also a cultural patron, and a Council Member of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. Though over time its area has been considerably reduced, the house and its surrounding grounds retains a high level of authenticity and aesthetic significance with a number of original fittings and fixtures, including a magnificent kauri staircase, original tiled floor, restored coloured windows and exterior monuments. It is also architecturally and historically significant, as it is one of the few remaining examples of the type of housing afforded by the late nineteenth century colonial upper class, in an area which once housed many of New Zealand's social, political and commercial elite.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Historical value

Inverlochy House was the formerly palatial home of the influential and important colonial businessman and politician Thomas Kennedy Macdonald. Macdonald was an important member of the Liberal political and commercial elite in the late nineteenth century. He was also a patron of the arts and culture, being a member of the Council of the New Zealand Academy of Arts and, appropriately, urged the preservation of historic sites. Macdonald was one of the most widely known men in Wellington at the time, and his residence surely hosted many other members of the colonial elite. Inverlochy House has survived for almost 130 years and, though the estate has lost large sections of its former land, it retains its grandeur and serves as a reminder of the way the colonial upper class lived at the turn of the twentieth century. The current usage of Inverlochy House fits well with the character of its original owner. Thomas Kennedy Macdonald was an important member of the Liberal political and commercial elite in the late nineteenth century. He was also a patron of the arts and culture, being a member of the Council of the New Zealand Academy of Arts and, appropriately, urged the preservation of historic sites.

Architectural significance

Inverlochy House is one of the few remaining examples of the type of housing afforded by the late nineteenth century New Zealand upper class, in an area which was once home to many of Wellington's political, social and commercial elite. While the large former Macdonald estate has been gradually encroached, Inverlochy House retains a number of original fittings in good condition with high levels of authenticity and following extensive renovations undertaken in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These include exterior fountains, and interior glass windows, fireplaces and kauri staircase.

Social significance

The social significance of Inverlochy house is illustrated by the community feeling that was aroused when it faced demolition in 1980. A successful campaign was waged, bringing together a wide cross section of Wellington's society.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

Inverlochy House is an example of the type of housing afforded by a successful late nineteenth century politician and businessman, and is one of the few remaining examples of this sort of residence in an area that was once characterised by this type of building.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

Inverlochy House was the home of Thomas Kennedy Macdonald, a leading colonial businessman and politician. Widely known throughout New Zealand for his commercial endeavours, he was also an active local and national politician, and could count amongst his close friends such luminaries as Richard Seddon and Joseph Ward. Under Macdonald's ownership the house would surely have hosted many members of colonial New Zealand's commercial and business elite.

(e)The community association with, or public esteem for, the place: Inverlochy House was threatened with demolition in 1980. A successful campaign was fought to oppose this, and the esteem of the house was shown by the wide cross section of the Wellington community who supported its retention. This is particularly illustrated by the 2000 person petition that was presented to the City Council by people in favour of its retention.

(g)The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place: Inverlochy House fell into a state of disrepair in the mid 1970s. However following extensive renovations in the late 1980s and 1990s it has regained much of its former grandeur. It is an example of the Italianate Architectural style that was influential at the time it was built, and retains a high number of original fittings and fixtures.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

On 17 October 1865, a Crown grant for sections 111, 109 and 113 in the town of Wellington was issued to Maori Chief Te Ropiha Moturoa. In 1866 Edward Pearce, a successful merchant and local politician purchased section 111. Pearce used it as a paddock and between 1869 and 1870 he built a stable on it. The Te Aro Rating Book indicates that a house to the value of £15 was built on the section between 1871 and 1872. The land was subdivided in the 1870s and sold off. On 5 December 1876 Thomas Kennedy Macdonald (1847-1914) purchased part of section 111. He acquired the remainder from clerk Samuel Costall on 22 August 1877. In the Te Aro Rating Book, the entry for 1878 to 1879 indicated that a house valued at £120 had been constructed Macdonald's land.

Macdonald, better known as "Kennedy Mac" to his contemporaries, was born in 1847 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, to Scottish parents. The family returned to Scotland with the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1848. He was educated in Dundee, Scotland, and then at Hare's Private Academy in Adelaide. On 15 November 1870 he married Frances Rossiter in Melbourne and a year later he emigrated to Wellington, carrying with him a letter of introduction from Sir Donald McLean, former Chief Land Purchase Commissioner and Native Minister. Originally he worked as a clerk at the Mount Cook barracks, then for the Jacob Joseph Company. He began his own accountancy business in 1873, which expanded into land and goods auctioneering and land agency. He eventually took on a partner, Alexander Wilson, in 1891. According to a contemporary newspaper report, his company, Thomas Kennedy Macdonald and Co. Ltd., had a "practical monopoly" on accounting business in the capital in its early days, and later "held a leading position in the colony, [with] the great majority of the great estate sales [of the 1890s] coming under [his] auction hammer". The company's office was located on prime Lambton Quay land. He was also involved in a number of other business ventures. In 1873 he was the secretary of the New Zealand Titanic Steel and Iron Company; founded the Equitable Building and Investment Company in 1877; was a chairman and board member of the Gear Meat Preserving and Freezing Company from 1882; participated in the New Zealand Industrial Exhibition in 1885; was member of the first conference of the Industrial Protection Societies of New Zealand in 1888; from 1886-1896 he was Chairman of the Wellington Woollen Company; was a member of the Wellington Harbour Board, and its Chairman from 1906-1907; in 1905 he was appointed to the board of directors of the New Zealand Times Company; and he was one of the first advocates of the utility of steam trams as a form of public transport, founding the Wellington Tramways Company.

While Macdonald was clearly an important commercial figure, he also played a leading role in local and national civic affairs. Noted for his eloquence and tremendous public speaking skills, Macdonald used these qualities to good effect in various political campaigns. Macdonald was progressive in his politics, and a political ally of Richard Seddon and the Liberals. He preached protectionism, and advocated the manufacturing and industrial development of the colony, and played a major role in the land settlement which occurred under the Liberal administration. He represented the Te Aro Ward on the Wellington City Council in 1877-78, and was also City Auditor for a time. He stood as a candidate for the Wellington Mayoralty in 1889 and won election to the House of Representatives for Wellington City in 1890, where he sat on a number of important Royal Commissions, including the investigation into the Public Trust Office in 1891. He became chief Government Valuer for Lands from 1895 to 1901 after the Government Advances to Settlers Act was passed in 1894. Later he was often selected as an assessor in disputes before the Land Compensation Court. In 1903 he was appointed to the Legislative Council, a position he held until 1911. At the time a huge banquet was held for him, attended by many of the colony's political, commercial and social elite, and he was described as having, "eulogisms [sic] showered upon him by the press of the colony".

Macdonald also played a role in the arts and cultural sphere. He was a Council Member of The New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, a member of the Wellington Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, and superintendent of sports for the Caledonian Society.

The end of his life however was troubled by poor personal health and increasing legal problems- as Fair Play pointed out in 1893, Macdonald was "a man who... made bitter enemies and strong friends". He was bankrupted in 1891 and forced to resign his seat in parliament. In 1911 he was found guilty of misappropriating trust funds. He avoided serving a jail term due to his poor health, a result that shocked editorial writers in the city. Late in 1913 he was admitted to Porirua Mental Hospital where he died of "Chronic Brain Disease" on 17 October 1914. Widely remembered as genial and good natured, and an extremely influential, widely known and important member of late nineteenth century colonial society, he was buried in Sydney Street Cemetery. Eventually five Wellington Streets were named after him or members of his family.

It is unclear when the house, known as "Inverlochie" (later Inverlochy) was constructed but Macdonald and his family occupied it from 1878. Around this period, Wellington city underwent a major economic boom. This was caused by an upsurge in migration led population growth, while export driven economic development also occurred. It was a time when "the face of the town was also changed" in appearance, with more "handsome buildings" being constructed. The business and wharf districts were enlarged by reclamations, and factories moved to fringes of the Wellington urban area. At the time Macdonald lived at Inverlochy House, the Parliament end of The Terrace was known as Wellington Terrace, and the South End was Woolcombe Street. From the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century, when many of the stately old homes were knocked down and replaced with corporate offices, it was "more home than office for [Wellington's] captains of industry". Notables such as Sir Robert Stout and Alexander Turnbull resided there, along with other politicians, merchant, businessmen and retired military officers, while the Governor General's house was located in the Parliament Grounds at the time.

Inverlochy House would certainly have hosted and entertained many of these people, and there are newspaper reports of the house hosting weddings for members of the Wellington social elite. After travelling through iron entrance gates and then the tree lined "The Avenue", guests were then "treated in summer to a walk through the conservatories, past the fountains, into the fernery and up to the summer house on a slope at the back which commanded a wide view of the city." There was also a tennis court for more energetic entertainment. As historical interior photos illustrate, the house was a trove of ornaments, sculpture, paintings and antiques, reflecting Macdonald's financial success and status.

However, while Macdonald amassed large financial gains, he also incurred some considerable losses and in 1891 he was declared bankrupt. The house, which had been transferred to his wife Frances Rossiter Macdonald in 1884, was sold at auction in 1893. It was described in the newspaper as having "with every modern convenience", and surrounding property encompassed garden and shrubs, two conservatories, a vinery, a watered fernery, stables and "also a fowl house, summer house, wash house and offices".

Over time the site passed through many owners and the land, the building, and its wider area were extensively modified. One of the owners was James McLellan, who lived in the house from the late 1890s to 1920. McLellan was the manager of the important iron manufacturing company, Lysaght Company Limited. He was a Council Member of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce in 1890, and President in 1894. In 1919 he was Vice President of the Association of New Zealand Chambers of Commerce. He was also on the Wellington Harbour Board in 1904.

At the turn of the twentieth century the house was turned into two luxury apartments. In the mid 1920s it was further subdivided into nine self-contained flats, and became known as the "Inverlochy Flats". Over this same period the estate was encroached on by various developments. The house lost some of its grandeur and began to suffer serious wear and tear due to absentee landlordism. The city council was force to issue a clean up notice in 1979 as rubbish and other material at the site had accumulated and was "likely to harbour rats and other vermin". In the 1970s it was occupied mostly by young students and workers who enjoyed a communal spirit living in the old house, sharing maintenance duties and one telephone!

The days of communal living at Inverlochy House would come to an end in 1979/1980. In 1979 Rodney Dearing and Graham Whiteman transferred their remaining share of the ownership to their co-owner Ronald Allan, who, on the same day, transferred the ownership to his father-in-law, the property developer Frank Renouf, of F. H. Renouf Enterprises Ltd. Renouf, who was one of the major property developers in New Zealand from the late 1970s until the sharemarket crash and economic downturn of the late 1980s, promptly put Inverlochy House on the market, and entered into negotiations in 1979 to sell the property to Williams Development Holdings. In 1980 Renouf, preparing to sell the building, refused to make the upgrades that the Wellington City Council required in order to re-license Inverlochy House as an apartment block. The writing was now on the wall for the remaining tenants, especially as Renouf was now arguing for the necessity of selling the property, which was claimed to be running at a loss of $20,000 a year.

In 1980 Williams announced their intention to purchase the Inverlochy House site, demolish the historic building and construct in its place a six storey, seventy-unit motel. The purchase was predicated on the proposed motel gaining town planning consent, and since the area in which Inverlochy House was sited was zoned in the 1972 District Scheme 'Residential C', allowing high rise, high density building, the process seemed a formality.

However, residents of Inverlochy and the wider community along with other interested parties (including the Historic Places Trust) fought an eventually successful campaign in opposition to the plans. Tenants were served with eviction notices in March 1980 and there were garden parties and market days organised to protest the sale and raise funds. An Inverlochy Preservation Trust was formed in May 1980, and collected donations with the aim of trying to buy the property, while the Terrace End Residents Association was formed and produced a newsletter, the Terrace End News from July to November. Tenants appealed to the District Court, serving injunctions on Williams and the City Council, which failed, while sympathetic City Councillors also tried to have the zoning reconsidered. By November the last tenants had moved out. Despite a last ditch petition, containing 2000 signatures, it seemed that the demolition was going ahead, and that Inverlochy House faced its last days.

Unbeknownst to the wider public the City Council and Williams had been in confidential discussions about the future of Inverlochy House. In its original application, Williams suggested that they would be willing to gift the building to the Council, who could then have it relocated. This suggestion seems to have been discarded as being too expensive. The resulting public outcry made Williams and the Council reconsider their options though, and as early as August, the Director of Architecture for Williams was mooting a different plan. They were willing to build the motel on adjacent land, and not demolish Inverlochy House, on the condition that they could have dispensation for car parking which would have been in excess of the limits allowed in the District Scheme. This was confirmed by the Mayor on 24 November, and the next day Williams held a press conference announcing it was going to gift Inverlochy House to a trust. While clean up work began almost immediately, the paper work and various legal processes took a number of years to finalise but the property was transferred to the Inverlochy Trust. In 1987, the Inverlochy Art School was officially opened in the building by Mayor Jim Belich. With the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts taking possession, renovations were undertaken (see above), and Inverlochy House was slowly restored to its former grandeur.

Major changes and modifications continued in the early 1990s. In 1993 the Wellington City Council decided the print studio at the City Gallery no longer met their requirements, and was made available to interested parties. Although the Academy of Fine Arts was not originally keen on the acquisition, they eventually agreed to install it at Inverlochy House. Twenty thousand dollars was spent on designing and refurbishing the new upstairs space. Equipment from Wellington Polytechnic and the College of Education was also installed, and the print studio was officially opened in 1994.

More significantly, there was also a change in the ownership and management of the Art School at Inverlochy. Tensions began to develop between the Academy of Fine Arts and the management of the Art School. By 1993 the Academy had spent over $150,000 on renovations, and there were increasing concerns over the School's financial position. The Academy Council agreed to allow the Inverlochy management to operate autonomously for one year, and also made available an interest free loan of $20,000. However, the precarious financial situation did not change, and the Academy Council unilaterally decided to close down the Art school in October 1994. In response the Inverlochy management decided to form an incorporated society and run the art school separately from the Academy. Sir Arthur Williams agreed to be the school's patron, and in December 1994 Williams School of Art at Inverlochy was registered. It continues to oversee the operation of Inverlochy house to the present day, holding art courses over a wide range of disciplines for both adults and children and has also hosted Artists in Residence and The Stout Trust Winter Lecture Series.

Inverlochy House retains aesthetic, architectural and historical significance as there are a number of authentic original fittings and fixtures. It is one of the few remaining examples of the type of colonial upper class housing that characterised the Terrace area at the turn of the twentieth century. It also has a more recent social significance, illustrated by the successful campaign to stop its demolition in 1980. Finally, its current usage fits well with the character of its original owner. "Kennedy Mac" was an important, if today forgotten, member of the Liberal political and commercial elite. However, he was also a patron of the arts and culture, being a member of the Council of the New Zealand Academy of Arts. He also, appropriately, urged the preservation of historic sites.

Physical Description

Inverlochy House is a two storied, timber building. It is Italianate in style, which is characterised by the building's rectangular shape and recessed entryway.

Approached via Inverlochy Place, formerly "The Avenue", the visitor is met with sweeping concrete steps. On both sides of this are fountains, which are no longer in use. The verandah in the recessed entryway features an elaborately decorated timber balustrade and two tall Tuscan columns (originally there were seven columns). The original verandah has been converted into what is now the Art School office. The timber double front doors lead into the foyer that has a kauri arch and coloured glass window in front of the house. The main hallway retains its original patterned tile floor in good condition. The hall leads to the magnificent original kauri staircase, which goes up to the first floor. The hallway is panelled with kauri, and the doors leading to the different rooms have elaborate architraves.

The ground floor studio spaces retain similar dimensions to its original layout and have high ceilings, large open spaces and wooden floors. Some of the rooms retain significant original features - the front studio was Macdonald's sitting room and maintains the original marble fireplace, the current common room was the library, the large main studio/ lecture hall was the dining room and has an original kauri fireplace. The second floor has private flats and studios at the front, and a print studio and caretaker's room (Macdonald's billiards room) at rear as well as the reconverted, open balcony, which features two Tuscan columns (originally there were 6). It maintains similar characteristics to the ground floor, with kauri panelling, and high ceilings. Unfortunately the private spaces could not be accessed during my site visit. The Abel Smith Street side exterior of the house has an original out-building, which was also a flat, and had been previously servants quarters.

Originally a fourteen-room mansion, multiple modifications have been made over the years, and in this regard Inverlochy House is an example of New Zealand's "architecture of accretion", with some additions, such as the front office, not being aesthetically pleasing. Macdonald himself had two wings built on, turning it into a T shape. Macdonald's business success meant that his estate around the house expanded to encompass a garden and shrubs, two conservatories, a tennis court, a vinery, a watered fernery, stables, a fowl house, summer house, wash house and offices.

However, major changes came after he no long occupied the property. At the turn of the twentieth century Inverlochy House was subdivided into two luxury flats. The original, palatial, Macdonald estate was slowly whittled down over years, a process accelerated with the property falling into the ownership of absentee landlords and the accompanying subdivision of the building into nine leased flats. Each flat was self-accommodated, containing individual bathrooms and kitchens. There was also an extension, what is now the office, built along the ground floor balcony/ verandah, while the top balcony was also encroached upon and covered. Unfortunately exact plans and records detailing when these changes occurred could not be located, and it is doubtful if they exist.

With the Academy of Fine Arts taking possession of the building in the 1980s some long needed renovations and repairs were made. Repiling with precast concrete was undertaken, as was relevelling of some parts of the structure. Decaying timber was also replaced in the floor framing. Cabling in the house was rewired and repaired. New spouting was installed, as was a new storm water system, and general work was done on doors and windows. Interior changes were also made. These included the removal of internal walls and false ceilings that had been constructed when the site was subdivided into self-contained apartments. The original dining room was opened up to become a large lecture hall and workshop space, as was the original kitchen to create a sculpture studio. The kauri floor was also restored. A photographic dark and print studio room was installed upstairs, as was a pottery kiln. To be compliant with fire regulations, fire proofing also occurred. This necessitated the installation of emergency exits, smoke detectors, alarms, and emergency lighting along with both smoke stop and fire resistant doors.

Notable Features

Interior features include the tiled floor in the hallway, multiple coloured glass windows, the kauri staircase, and a pair of fireplaces, one kauri and one white marble. Exterior features include the two fountains and stone stairway. There are also two listed heritage trees outside the entrance, a Norfolk Island Pine, and a London Plane.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1878 - 1879

1878 - 1893
Estate gradually extended to cover most of city block; two additional wings added to western elevation, turning building into a T shape.

1890 - 1900
Divided into two luxury flats

Subdivided into 9 flats, each with own bedroom, kitchen and toilet

1920 - 1985
Chimneys removed, verandah filled with office space; top balcony covered

1985 -
House repiled and relevelled

Various repairs and renovations done under aegis New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts & Williams School of Art at Inverlochy (from 1994)

1987 - 1989
Coloured and patterned windows repaired; re-wiring done

1992 - 1993
Kauri floor restored

Construction Details

Inverlochy House was constructed primarily of timber and plaster in 1878. The original timber piles were replaced with pre-cast concrete piles in 1985. It has timber framing; the exterior is clad in rusticated weatherboards, and roofed in corrugated iron; the interior hallways and rooms are panelled in kauri, which was also used for some of the floors and the main stairway.

Completion Date

12th December 2005

Report Written By

James Taylor

Information Sources

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

M. Alington, 'Macdonald, Thomas Kennedy 1847-1914', updated 7 July 2005,

Tang Su Chew, 1998

Tang Su Chew, 'Inverlochy House Cultural Heritage Assessment', ARCH 281 Assignment, 1998

Copy held by NZHPT

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office.

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.