Dunedin Club

33 Melville Street, Fernhill, Dunedin

  • Dunedin Club. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Licence). Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Ben Hill - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 24/08/2009.
  • Dunedin Club. (CC BY-SA 3.0 Licence). Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Ben Hill - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 24/08/2009.
  • Dunedin Club. Interior (CC BY-SA 3.0 Licence). Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Ben Hill - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 24/08/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2151 Date Entered 14th April 2005


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the land in Certificate of Title OT 379/53 and the building, fixture and fittings thereon.

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Secs 47-50 Blk III Town of Dunedin, Pt Secs 55-58 Blk III Town of Dunedin (CT OT 379/53), Otago Land District


Fernhill owes its name to the original selector of these sections Captain Edmund Hook Wilson Bellairs (d.1896). He was formerly of the Queen's Body guard and arrived in Dunedin on the Tasmania on 26 February 1853, and became a member of the Legislative Council later that year. He did not stay long in Dunedin, selecting pastoral run in Waimahaka, sitting in the Legislative Council, and leaving the country, never to return, in 1854.

Bellairs sold the property for £550 to Sarah, wife of Johnny Jones in January 1854. Jones (1809-1869) a pioneer whaler, sealer, merchant and trader, moved from his Waikouaiti farm in 1854. Shortly after Sarah Jones' death in 1864, the property was passed to son, John Richards Jones. However he conveyed it to his father, and therefore it was to John Jones (his father) that the crown grant was issued to.

Fernhill House was designed by architect David Ross for Johnny Jones, and built at a cost of £7750 during 1867 Jones did not get to enjoy his new residence for long. He died in 1869.

Following Johnny Jones' death in 1869 the house was leased by the Provincial Government as a governors' residence - and occupied by two successive governors of New Zealand - Sir George Bowen and Sir James Fergusson.

In September 1874 Fernhill and the surrounding garden was purchased by a syndicate from the executors of the late John Jones and the property became the Dunedin Club, a gentlemens club, with membership by invitation only. The Club was founded by 1859, as a place for run holders and the like to meet, where they would not have to "rough it in the old room with Tom, Dick and Harry, and have old Gallie, the dirty blacksmith, pop down on the next chair to you and ask what you'll take." It operated out of temporary premises in Hotels for some years until the purchase of Fernhill.

The certificate of title records a transaction between James Mills, William Isaac (a son-in-law of Jones), John Cargill and A.W. Morris (Jones' Trustees) and John Hyde Harris on one part and C.R. Howden of Dunedin, William Fraser of Earnscleugh station, W.A. Tolmie and Henry Howorth of Dunedin on the other part for the sale for £7,950 of 2 acres and 1 rood comprising sections 47, 48, 49.50. 55. 56 57 and 58 and parts of sections 46 and 59, together with all erections and buildings thereon. Harris purchased a wider estate in the area for some £29,000. The frontages to Fernhill Street and Manor Place were subdivided and sold.

Soon after purchase Fernhill was altered to suit its new function as a gentlemens club. Additions included a billiard room, card room, bowls room, lavatory and more bedrooms above. The exterior of the new portion, designed by architect Louis Boldini, was to be finished in Oamaru stone, in keeping with the original house.

The ownership of the land and building at that time was through a Proprietary, in which individual held shares. In April 1885 the Proprietary offered to transfer ownership to the Club. The property owned by the Club was vested in the Trustees and Executors Company Limited as trustees for the Club. The Committee was empowered to issue 200 interest bearing debentures of £25 each. The transfer was registered on 13 February 1886. Membership details at that time show that run holders were still the mainstay of the Club, making up nearly half the membership. Many run holders made the Club their home when they visited Dunedin. By the end of the nineteenth century the membership had changed, with tough times for the run holders, the membership changed to that of the city merchants, doctors and lawyers.

The Dunedin Club has provided commodious surroundings for various dignitaries and society figures. In 1901 Captain Scott of the Antarctic stayed on both occasions before he left on the polar expeditions of 1901 and 1910. During his second visit, it was just before leaving for the tragic adventure to the South Pole. A photograph was presented to the Club by Sir Lindo Fergusson to commemorate Captain Scott's first visit in 1901 In June 1901 the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (afterwards their Majestic King George V and Queen Mary) visited Dunedin. The club was occupied by them with much pomp and ceremony. Their Excellencies Lord and Lady Ranfurly gave several State Dinners at the Dunedin Club in honour of the Royal visitors. Other visitors have included Lord Kitchener in 1910; the Prince of Wales in 1920 and the Duke Gloucester.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Dunedin Club has historical significance. It was built for Johnny Jones, one of the earliest Pakeha settlers in Otago, who established the farm settlement at Matanaka, and later retired to Dunedin where he had this house built. Jones played a prominent part in the business community in Otago. For the majority of its life, however, it has been a Gentleman's Club, an important element in the colonial social milieu, one transplanted from English origins. It is representative of the kind of organisation set up in colonial society, which formed an important network for the upper echelons, particularly in its early stages for runholders, and later for professional men (doctors, lawyers and the like). Its history provides insight into the changing nature of society and its reflection in such institutions.

The Dunedin Club has architectural significance. It was designed by prominent local architect David Ross (1827-1908), as a private gentleman's residence. Its classical styling, and use of Oamaru stone give it a strong presence, and it is a landmark building in its own area. The 1874 additions which converted the private residence to a gentleman's club were designed by Louis Boldini, and matched the quality of Ross's design. Its grounds provide important context into the recreational and social activities associated with the Club, and also as an indicator of the scale of the original estate.

The Dunedin Club has social significance as a meeting place for generations of Otago business men and professionals, as well as providing accommodation and hospitality to many prominent overseas and local guests. These included members of Britain's royal family, Captain Scott of the Antarctic, war heroes/veterans, and colonial pioneers.

(a) The Dunedin Club reflects representative aspects of New Zealand history - it is representative of the fine residences that wealthy colonists had built for their families, as well as representing in its later incarnation as a gentlemen's club, the development of social support institutions drawn from English antecedents. It was founded by prominent citizens, and served the needs of that sector of colonial society, providing a facility for socialising, networking and conducting business dealings in congenial surroundings.

(b) The Dunedin Club has a strong association with people of importance to New Zealand History. Johnny Jones, its first owner, was a pivotal figure in early Otago history. Its use as a gentleman's club, with members drawn from prominent colonists and settlers give it further standing. In addition it has been the gathering place for many people of significance to New Zealand, including royalty and explorers such as Captain Scott of the Antarctic.

(e) The Dunedin Club is a place held in community esteem. It has been associated with the prominent citizens since 1874 and represents a long history of a select community involvement. Membership remains by invitation only, but the facilities are available to non-members, for accommodation, functions and catering.

(g) The design of the Dunedin Club represents the work of David Ross and Louis Boldini, both prominent Dunedin architects. David Ross buildings include the Otago Museum and the Union Steam Ship Company. Louis Boldini's buildings include the Grand Hotel. The grand residence, with Boldini's additions is an important representation of nineteenth century residential architecture at a grand scale.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Boldini, Louis

Louis Boldini was an Italian architect. He arrived in Dunedin about 1880 and stayed in New Zealand for some ten years.

He was responsible for the Synagogue in Moray Place (1882), the Grand Hotel, Princes Street (1883) and the Butterworth Brothers Warehouse, High Street (1883). In 1887 he designed the Australian Mutual Provident Society building which once stood on the corner of Princes and Dowling Streets. Little else is known about his life.

Ross, David

David Ross (1827-1908) was one of a significant number of architects who came to New Zealand from Australia in the early 1860s prompted by the news of the Otago gold rushes. Born in Scotland, Ross worked in Victoria in the late 1850s before settling in Dunedin in c.1862, whereupon he entered into a brief partnership with William Mason (1810-97). After establishing his own practice, Ross designed the Congregational Church (1863-64), Dunedin's oldest ecclesiastical building, Fernhill house (1867) which is now home to the Dunedin Club, and the central wing of the Otago Museum (1876-77).

In the mid-1860s Ross worked briefly in Hokitika (1866) before returning to Dunedin and in 1870 he applied for a patent for the frames and apparatus required for the construction of works in concrete. This application lapsed but it is nevertheless significant as it places Ross at the forefront of the development of mass concrete construction in this country. In addition to his professional responsibilities David Ross was also a member of the first Dunedin City Council (1865-66) and in 1876 he became the first president of the joint Institute of Engineers and Architects in Otago. Ross may have returned to Australia in the early 1890s and it would appear that he spent the rest of his life living in the United States and Japan.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

Fernhill is a substantial two-storey Victorian Gentlemen's residence built in classical style from Oamaru stone, and designed by Dunedin architect David Ross in 1867. David Ross was one of the most important early architects in Dunedin, and Fernhill, along with the original Otago Museum building his best known works.

The house was elaborately detailed with double verandahs (since removed) with cast iron lace and balustrades on the two main elevations. The front entrance was marked by a grand stair with stone balustrading.

When Fernhill was purchased by the Dunedin Club in the 1870s, architect Louis Boldini designed extensions to include further accommodation and facilities for club members.

The interior is still notable for its fine detailing, including plaster cornices and the fire places.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1867 -

1875 -
Boldini's extensions.

1934 -
Club erected Squash courts.

Information Sources

Downie, 1948

S. Downie, Brief History of the Dunedin Club, otherwise known as Fernhill Club, Coull Somerville Wilkie Ltd., Dunedin, [1948?]

Galer, 1981

L. Galer, Houses and Homes, Allied Press, Dunedin, 1981

Knight, 1988

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

Morrell, 1976

WP Morrell, The Dunedin Club 1858-1975 A New Short History, John McIndoe Ltd., Dunedin, 1976

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area 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.