Parliamentary Library

Parliament Grounds, Molesworth Street, Thorndon, Wellington

  • Parliamentary Library.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Geoff Mew, Wellington Branch Committee of the NZ Historic Places Trust. Date: 29/12/2001.
  • Parliamentary Library on the centenary of NZ becoming a dominion.
    Copyright: Peter Mitchell. Taken By: Peter Mitchell. Date: 26/09/2007.
  • Parliamentary Library. Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Greg O'Beirne - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Greg O'Beirne. Date: 28/12/2006.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Registered List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1
List Number 217 Date Entered 20th July 1989

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Wellington City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Secs 1210 1211 SO 24133 Town of Wellington

Summaryopen/close

The General Assembly Library, now known as the Parliamentary Library, was designed by Thomas Turnbull (1824-1907). Began in 1897, and completed in 1899, it stands on the former site of Wellington's Provincial Government Building. The building was designed to complement the gothic features of the timber Parliament Buildings which it adjoined.

The building was built with brick and plaster facings. Turnbull was a pioneer in designing buildings that could withstand earthquakes and fires. As such he played a leading role in transforming the capital from a city filled with timber buildings (which had long been preferred in the city as a result of the earthquake risk) to one with many substantial masonry buildings. Construction of the library in permanent materials was part of this process. The library was designed to have three stories with a single-storey portico and a prominent wing, which balanced a wing of the Parliament House. Many of its decorative gothic features replicated those of the timber Parliament House. Inside and out the building had fittings of exceptional quality.

Once the building had been built to the second of its three intended floors, parliament ordered that the work be stopped as a cost-cutting measure. Turnbull resigned from the project in protest at this decision; he was concerned that the building would be dwarfed by the neighbouring building. At his request, the building's foundation stone, which had been laid in 1898, was altered so that his name was not visible.

The job of ensuring that the work was completed fell to John Campbell (1857-1942), the Government Architect. He redesigned the parapet, gable and roof of the building, and many of the intended decorative features were removed from the design. It is a testament to Campbell's skill that the design of the building is well resolved. Despite this, the building is still fundamentally Turnbull's. A system of firewalls and doors were built within the building and between the old wooden parliament building and the new building; as a result, the library survived the fire that completely destroyed the timber portions of the parliament building in 1907.

The building did not simply house the library but also offices for Cabinet, committees rooms, parliament's dining room, a bath-house and other offices over the years. As one part of the complex of government buildings, the library building has played an important part in New Zealand history. In 1901 the portico was draped in black cloth as crowds gathered to mark the death of Queen Victoria; in 1907 the governor announced that New Zealand had become a Dominion from its steps. The leader of the opposition had offices in the building for many years until the Beehive was completed in the 1980s, at which time the library expanded to occupy the entire building.

As a result of concerns about earthquake safety, a major refurbishment of the library and Parliament House was undertaken in the 1990s. Many expert craftsmen were employed to replicate some the original features of the building. In 1992, while this work was progressing, the building was significantly damaged by fire, destroying some of the fixtures that the restoration was attempting to preserve. Also during this work, four gables that had been removed in the 1950s for earthquake reasons were re-built and the original rose windows were replicated. When plaster at the bottom of the foundation stone was chipped away during the course of this work, Thomas Turnbull's name was once again revealed. Presumably as a deliberate decision in order to honour his wishes, his name was covered over again. The building continues to house parliament's library.

The architectural quality of Parliamentary Library building, its internal spaces, light and quality of fittings all mean that the building is one of New Zealand's architectural treasures. It has seen many important events of New Zealand's history and, with the neighbouring Parliament House (built in 1912-22), Beehive, and the wooden Government Building (1871) nearby, it forms part of a complex that is an extremely significant part of New Zealand's heritage. The building is a tribute to the skill of both the original architect Thomas Turnbull, and John Campbell, who successfully redesigned the half-completed building

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Campbell, John

John Campbell (1857-1942) served his articles under John Gordon (c1835-1912) in Glasgow. He arrived in Dunedin in 1882 and after a brief period as a draughtsman with Mason and Wales joined the Dunedin branch of the Public Works Department in 1883. His first known work, an unbuilt design for the Dunedin Railway Station, reveals an early interest in Baroque architecture.

In November 1888 Campbell was transferred to Wellington where in 1889 he took up the position of draughtsman in charge of the Public Buildings Division of the Public Works Department.

He remained in charge of the design of government buildings throughout New Zealand until his retirement in 1922, becoming in 1909 the first person to hold the position of Government Architect. Government architecture designed under his aegis evidences a change in style from Queen Anne to Edwardian Baroque. His best-known Queen Anne design is the Dunedin Police Station (1895-8), modelled on Richard Norman Shaw's New Scotland Yard (1887-90). Among his most exuberant Edwardian Baroque buildings is the Public Trust Office, Wellington (1905-09). Although Campbell designed the Dunedin Law Courts (1899-1902) in the Gothic style with a Scottish Baronial inflection, he established Edwardian Baroque as the government style for police stations, courthouses and post offices throughout New Zealand. In 1911 Campbell won the nation-wide architectural competition for the design of Parliament Buildings, Wellington. Although only partially completed, Parliament House is the crowning achievement of Campbell's career.

Turnbull, Thomas

Thomas Turnbull (1824-1907) was born and educated in Scotland and trained under David Bryce, Her Majesty's Architect. He travelled to Melbourne in 1851 and after nine years there moved to San Francisco. He arrived in New Zealand in 1871 and soon established a thriving business. His son William, a distinguished architect in his own right, became a partner in the firm in 1891.

Turnbull was a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was a pioneer in the design of buildings to withstand earthquakes and he was responsible for breaking down prejudice against the use of permanent materials for building construction. He specialised in masonry construction for commercial purposes but was also responsible for some fine houses.

Among his most important buildings were the Willis Street churches of St Peter (1879) and St John (1885), the former National Mutual Building (1883-84), the General Assembly Library (1899) and the former Bank of New Zealand Head Office (1901), all in Wellington.

Additional informationopen/close

Completion Date

13th March 2002

Report Written By

Elizabeth Cox

Cochran, 1989 (2)

Chris Cochran and Rod Cook, Parliamentary Library, Parliament House: Conservation Values, April 1989

Cook, 1988

Rod Cook, Parliament: The Land and Buildings from 1840, Wellington 1988

Parliamentary Service Commission, 1996

Parliamentary Service Commission, To House Parliament: The Construction, Strengthening and Refurbishment of Parliament Buildings, Wellington, New Zealand, Wellington 1996

Porter, 1979

Frances Porter (ed.), Historic Buildings of New Zealand: North Island, Auckland, 1979

pp. 238-247

Progress: News

Progress: News from the Parliament Buildings Strengthening & Refurbishment Project

Issue No. 2, August 1993