Thistle Inn

3 Mulgrave Street And Kate Sheppard Place, Thorndon, Wellington

  • Thistle Inn.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Anika Klee. Date: 10/02/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1439 Date Entered 27th July 1988


City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 515 Town of Wellington (CT WN50A/503), Wellington Land District

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Thistle Inn occupies part of town section 515 which by virtue of ballot 21 of the 1st August 1839 became the property of one Dudley Sinclair of Richmond Esq. On the 20th September 1841 the landlord was transferred by Sinclair to John Carne Bidwill, then of Sydney, but subsequently a well known explorer and naturalist in New Zealand.

From the beginning, the Thistle filled an important social function as one of the first centres of social life. As a working man's club it had a tradition of hospitality and nautical atmosphere. Its site on shoreline linking the two main flats of Te Aro and Thorndon, and on a slight eminence at the foot of Mulgrave Street, meant that until the harbour reclamation in 1876, it was only a few yards from the sea. It was popular with sailors, the nautical atmosphere was provided by the marked tilt of the floor of the main bar, against which sailors could brace themselves as though on a deck sharply lifting in Cook Strait.

On Tuesday, July 10th, 1866, the Thistle was burnt to the ground. Presumably with insurance money, sometime between the middle of July 1866 and December 1866, a new building was erected.

This is the wooden two storey Thistle which with some additions and alterations stands today.

By far and away the most historically significant feature of this building is that it is therefore the oldest hotel on its original site in New Zealand, its licence dates back to the foundation of Wellington and it has been a licensed site for longer than any other hotel in this country.

It is also the last remaining building dating from the first thirty years of Wellington's history still standing on its original site and used for the purpose for which it was originally designed. It is also the oldest building on Lambton Quay and it is almost the last remaining link with the 'beach'.

There is no other comparable building in Wellington which occupies its original site and in its near original form. It should be noted that the important feature is that it is the original site. If the building were moved then it would simply be another old wooden hotel, of which there are still examples in the country although the number is diminishing fast.


Although the Thistle is not of great architectural merit, architectural impact is created by the contrast with the modern buildings, most obviously the Vogel building, providing a graphic illustration of past and present.


In recent years the Inn has gained specific landmark significance relative to the destruction of similar hotels, the growth of modern buildings and the gradual elimination of other such symbols of Wellington history.


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The overall shape, massive and angular, is based on the 'monumental' style of building, imported from England in a tradition of classical design. Used typically for Public buildings, this style relates to the Thistle's specific function as a public meeting place.


The windows have been changed over the years, the northern wall originally had five windows and by 1950 it had six. The long western wing has been added and the original roof has been cut away. In addition the northern face shows two different types of weatherboard as well as galvanised iron. There were also the alterations in 1963 and previously referred to. In 1969 further minor alterations mainly to the kitchen area were carried out by Mr Craig as architect and in 1970 a flagon store and canopy were added.

Notable Features

Most similar old Wellington hotels have been or are about to be demolished, and the Thistle stands as one of the few remaining links with Wellington's earliest past.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1865 -
This replaced an earlier building which had been constructed prior to the 10th October 1840 when it opened to the public.

Construction Details

The building is constructed in wood with (now) an iron roof and is two storeyed. In 1962 and 1963 renovations were carried out under the supervision of Wellington architect James Craig. At this time the floor in the public bar was replaced, steel girders were used to ramify the building and new linings and partitions were installed. The building is typical of its period, it is a plain building without any pretentions to particular style and its exterior shows where various door and windows have been replaced from time to time. The upstairs sash windows have plain but interesting features matched by the horizontal lines at first floor level and at roof level. It is really the epitome of the old urban New Zealand timber pub.

Information Sources

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Vertical File, Wellington C/1/5 &

Wellington Regional Committee Report, 1987

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.