Historical Significance or Value
Completed in 1878-1879, the building is historically important representing the development of the community in the North Dunedin Area. It has social significance through its long association with the Dunedin North community, first as Post Office and currently as the premises for the Otago Art Society, the oldest art society in New Zealand, which uses it as an exhibition and teaching space. Its social significance is highlighted with a high level of community involvement in ensuring the long lasting protection of the building from destruction.
Architecturally it represents one of the later works of New Zealand's first (and only) Colonial Architect, William H. Clayton (1823-1877), renowned for his construction of public buildings particularly associated with the Vogel's public works schemes. It was completed posthumously.
The Dunedin North Post Office represents the history, not only of the development of the postal service in Otago, but also forms an element in the period of public works construction associated with the Vogel administration of the later nineteenth-century. Historically the former Dunedin North Post Office represents one of the later works of the Colonial Architect William Henry Clayton.
Architecturally it is a competent example of mid-Victorian architecture. Aesthetically it has visual interest in the juxtaposition of bluestone with Oamaru stone.
There is a high community value for the building as was demonstrated in the late 1960s when the building faced possible destruction with the Post Office moving. The Otago Art Society is responsible for saving the building from destruction and raised money to ensure its preservation.
In its design it is a good example of Victorian architecture from the late nineteeth century.
Clayton, William Henry
Born in Tasmania, Clayton (1823-1877) travelled to Europe with his family in 1842. He studied architecture in Brussells and was then articled to Sir John Rennie, engineer to the Admiralty, in London. He returned to Tasmania in 1848 and worked in private practice until he was appointed Government Surveyor in 1852.
He resumed private practice in 1855 and was involved with surveying in the Launceston area. In 1857 he was elected an alderman on the Launceston Municipal Council. By the time Clayton immigrated to Dunedin in 1863 he had been responsible for the design of many buildings including churches, banks, a mechanics' institute, a theatre, steam and water mills, breweries, bridges, mansions and villas, in addition to being a land surveyor and road engineer.
In 1864 he entered partnership with William Mason. Mason and Clayton were responsible for some important buildings in Dunedin including All Saints Church (1865) and The Exchange (former Post Office) (1865) as well as the Colonial Museum, Wellington (1865). These were two of the most prominent architects of their day in New Zealand.
In 1869 Clayton became the first and only Colonial Architect and was responsible for the design of Post and Telegraph offices, courthouses, customhouses, Government department offices and ministerial residences. His acknowledged masterpiece is Government Buildings, Wellington (1876) a stone-simulated wooden building and the largest timber framed building in the Southern Hemisphere.
Clayton was a prolific and highly accomplished architect both within the Public Service and in private practice, in New Zealand and Australia.
The Dunedin North Post Office, completed in 1879, served the community for over ninety years. At the time it was constructed post offices were an important part of the community as a meeting place and as a centre of contact with the outside world. The Dunedin North Post Office operated from 1 July 1879 to 4 August 1970.
The construction of the Dunedin North Post Office followed the economic advancement associated with the gold mining of the 1860s and 1870s. Wealth from the goldfields and rich pasture lands led to many people moving to the area and resulted in a building boom.
The Dunedin North Post Office was designed by William Henry Clayton. Born in Tasmania, Australia, 1823, he moved to Dunedin in April 1863 and worked with another prominent New Zealand architect, William Mason, as partnership Mason and Clayton. In 1869 Clayton became the first and only Colonial Architect for New Zealand appointed by the Colonial Secretary. He went on to design Post and Telegraph Offices, court houses, custom houses, Government department offices and ministerial residences while also continuing his private practice. Buildings of significance that he designed in Dunedin include the All Saint's Church (1865), Edinburgh House (1865), Otago Provincial Government Building (1867, demolished). He also made major contributions to the Exhibition Building in Dunedin (1865) and designed Government Buildings in Wellington, completed in 1876, the largest wooden building in the world. In 28 years, Clayton designed 300 buildings in Tasmania, 84 in Dunedin, and 180 while serving as Colonial Architect using a wide range of materials including brick, stone, timber and concrete. Clayton died in 1877 and was buried in Dunedin.
The Dunedin North Post Office, completed after Clayton's death, opened in July 1879. Due to lack of records little is known about the building until the start of the twentieth century. Between 1907 and 1909 the Post Office underwent a series of alterations. The first was carried out by P. A. Lyders who received the contract from the Public Works Department and was completed in 26 May, 1908 for a price of £932. Another Public Works Department contract was given to McKinnon and Hamilton in 1909 for £350 and this work was completed by 21 May 1909. In 1926, the words “Dunedin North Post and Telegraph Office” were painted above the main entrance for the first time. A further £1094 was spent on renovations and extensions carried out by L.F. Woods between 19 August 1937 and 28 February. The work included new doors from the vestibule to the public space inside, several minor non-structural alterations, and an addition.
By the 1960s there was a need for a new Post Office to service the Dunedin North Area, as a result of an increase in volume of business, the spread of the commercial area, the Post Office staff working in cramped conditions. When the Dunedin North Post Office moved across the road to new premises in 1970, the old building was empty for two years before the Otago Art Society's tenancy began.
In 1972 the building was leased to the Otago Arts Society. Shona McFarlane, a past Otago Art Society President is considered to be responsible for saving the building from destruction and worked with Fred O'Neil, the Otago Art Society President at the time of the acquisition, to ensure the building was acquired and protection was guaranteed. The building was altered to suit the needs of the Otago Art Society. Outbuildings that once contained laundry facilities, toilets and storage were demolished. The majority of the inside was renovated to make room for three galleries, lecture studios and a new kitchen. The renovations took 12 weeks to complete, cost $20,000, collected through fundraising. The back wall was extended by several feet to make the room more suited as an art gallery. Bluestone for the addition was acquired from the Kaikorai Primary School which was demolished at the time. Stonemason Bernie Childs carried out the work and received an award from the Visual Arts Committee for the extension.
Prior to moving into the old Dunedin North Post Office, the Otago Art Society had had no permanent home. An award was given to the Otago Art Society on 29 May 1979 by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust for its foresight in adopting the Post Office. The building continues to house the Otago Art Society who is responsible for the upkeep of the building. The building is used for art classes and as an exhibition space.
The Dunedin North Post Office (former), is a two-storey bluestone building situated on a prominent corner site. Its two storeys are separated by a string course. The roof-line is concealed by a parapet, accentuating its mass presence to the street. It has four-light double hung sash windows. It is simply composed, with the most notable detailing the contrasting quoins and window surrounds.
The exterior windows and doors are the originals, with the exception of those in the extension added for the Otago Art Society. The original internal staircase remains, as does the original postmaster's door and two-sided clock. The fireplaces are no longer in use. As was typical of postal facilities from this period, the upstairs provided accommodation for the postmaster and family. The majority of the interior walls have been re-plastered since it housed the Dunedin North Post Office.
The bluestone used for construction was a popular stone used in Dunedin from March 1866 when mining began in Port Chalmers until 1901 when the last building in Dunedin was constructed of bluestone. The stone was valued for it strength, durability and because it was possible to get large chunks of it making it well suited for architectural works. William H. Clayton recognised the value of the stone early and designed the Bank of New South Wales on Princes Street in 1868 with bluestone columns.
1907 - 1909
Alterations to building.
1937 - 1938
Alterations to building.
Constructed of Port Chalmers Bluestone.
13th December 2005
Report Written By
Archives New Zealand (Dun)
Archives New Zealand (Dunedin)
Old Dunedin North File No. 24/27/0, 1949-1974, DAHG/9001/333b
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Anna Crighton, 'William Clayton', in Claudia Orange (ed), Volume Two, Wellington, 1993, pp. 89-90.
L. Galer, Historic Buildings of Otago and Southland, GP Books, New Zealand, 1989
Hardwicke Knight and Niel Wales, Buildings of Dunedin: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to New Zealand's Victorian City, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1988
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
Centenary of North Dunedin Post Office Next Month, 12 June 1974, p.12
Old Post Office May be Used by Art Society, 15 May 1969 p. 11.
R. M. Startup, New Zealand Post Offices: An alphabetical list of every Post Office, Telephone office, or Telegraph Office ever open under the control of the New Zealand Post Office, with dates of opening, closure or name change, along with location and also reference to influence in placenames. Auckland NZ: The Postal History Society of New Zealand Inc, 1977.
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.