White Swan Hotel (Former)

136, 140-144, 144B Dee Street, Invercargill

  • White Swan Hotel (Former). Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Lucy Melford Worldwide. Taken By: Lucy Melford. Date: 12/10/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2444 Date Entered 24th November 1983


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lots 1-2 DP 8785(CT SL4A/1354) and Lots 3, 6 DP 2931 (CT SL140/70), Southland Land District, and the buildings associated with White Swan Hotel (Former), thereon.

City/District Council

Invercargill City


Southland Region

Legal description

Lots 1-2 DP 8785(CT SL4A/1354) and Lots 3, 6 DP 2931 (CT SL140/70), Southland Land District


The White Swan Hotel (Former), designed by prominent Invercargill architect F.W. Burwell for hotelier Richard Blackham in 1880, served as a hotel until 1906 when ‘No License’ made Invercargill dry. With its Victorian round-headed windows and interesting architectural detailing (including a swan atop its central pediment) the building has a strong presence on Dee Street. The White Swan Hotel has architectural, historical and aesthetic significance.

English-born Richard Blackham came to New Zealand in the mid-1870s. He moved to Invercargill to take up the management of the Caledonian Hotel. Blackham became the hotel keeper at the harp of Erin hotel in Dee Street in the 1870s. On his license application, counsel pointed out that there were objections that Blackham was single and ‘that his character was unknown to the police.’ Blackham’s counsel thought ‘the second objection highly complimentary to Blackham.’ In the later 1870s, Blackham held the license for the Red Lion Hotel. The state of the premises was such that in 1879 the Licensing Committee refused Blackham’s application and warned ‘that some improvements would require to be effected before the annual licensing day in June next.’ In June 1880 the chair of the Licensing Committee warned Blackham that the renewal of his license was in jeopardy, and that he would be best to rebuild. In August 1880, architect Frederick Burwell invited tenders for ‘the erection of Hotel (concrete and brick) in Dee Street for Mr R. Blackham.’

Scottish-born Burwell, related to Dunedin architect David Ross through his mother, brought ‘a new level of cosmopolitanism to the Invercargill streetscape.’ Design historian Michael Findlay writes the Burwell filled Invercargill’s wide streets ‘with highly disciplined rows of two- and three-storey shops, banks and financial buildings’ using the ‘architectural language of international commerce of this period. His typical details included ‘round-headed windows at the upper level under projecting cornices and richly detailed balustrades.’

The hotel was one of a number of buildings gracing Dee and Tay streets, giving the town a grand appearance. The Southland Times reported that in the course of the ‘last two years there have been completed or are now in hand in Dee and Tay streets and others abutting on them, permanent brick buildings for public and business purposes to the extent of 1400 feet [427 metres] of frontage. The majority of these buildings are of such a character, architecturally, as would do credit to any city, and must be eye-openers to strangers who have looked upon us as a benighted people on the borders of the Ultima Thule [beyond the boundaries of the known world] of civilization in the Southern hemisphere.’

Blackham’s hotel was unfinished In September 1880 when he applied for a general license. His application was refused as the ‘house was not nearly completed.’ A second application in December 1880 was also refused on the same grounds. Blackham’s general license was granted on 7 March 1881.

When the White Swan Hotel’s license was terminated as a result of the vote for reduction in Invercargill in 1903, Blackham recalled that the license originally belonged to one of J.A. Hanan’s buildings, run as the Harp of Erin, changed to the Red Lion when Blackham took over. When the license was refused Blackham bought the land on Dee Street (for £1050) and spent £2000 erecting the White Swan. Blackham was philosophical saying that he would ‘put crepe on the Swan after the 30th of the month.’ He also pointed out that the stabling, which on average provided accommodation for 16 horses and drays every Saturday, was still available. The final day of the license was commemorated by a gathering attended by Blackham’s friends, ‘[c]oursing men, pigeon and poultry fanciers, and those interested in sport’ who had for many years ‘made the White Swan their resort and they now came from far and near to be present at the gathering.’

Blackham was given a reprieve when a nearby license holder from the Crescent Hotel wanted to cancel their license and Blackham was able to apply for a license for the White Swan, which was granted subject to improvements to the building. In 1906, no License was carried and the White Swan became a boarding house. Invercargill remained dry until 1944. By 1906, Mrs Elizabeth Blackham was running the White Swan as an ‘up-to-date boarding house. Farmers and others know of old the liberal bill-of-fare Mrs Blackham has been in the habit of supplying, and will find the charges very reasonable. Permanent boarders will find all the comforts of a well-appointed home.’ Richard Blackham died in October 1912.

The White Swan was run as a private hotel until around 1920, after which it seems to have housed other businesses including estate agents, hairdressers, a motor garage, outfitters and the like, and became known as Blackham’s Building. In 2017, the former White Swan Hotel continues to house small retail premises.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Burwell, F. W.

F.W. Burwell (1846-1915) is noted for designing many buildings in Invercargill, transforming the centre of the town between 1874 and the mid-1880s. Born in Scotland, Burwell served his articles with the architect John Matthews and immigrated to New Zealand in the late 1860s. By 1873, he had established his practice in Queenstown. He moved to Invercargill the following year. Once established there, he began designing elegant two and three-storey buildings in the Renaissance style. He designed almost all the buildings in Dee Street, including the hospital. 'The Crescent' was another notable Invercargill streetscape created by Burwell. In recognition of his work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880. The depression in the 1880s saw his commissions decline and he moved to Australia in 1887 where he practised in Melbourne, Perth and then Fremantle. He was particularly successful in the last, as Western Australia was in the middle of a building boom, and a number of his commercial buildings in central Fremantle are now classified by the Australian Heritage Commission. Burwell returned to Melbourne in 1910, and died there five years later. (Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, 'Burwell, Frederick William (1846-1915)' in Jane Thomson (ed.), Southern People: a dictionary of Otago Southland biography, Dunedin, 1998, p. 74.)

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1880 - 1881

Completion Date

19th September 2017

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Findlay, 2006

Michael Findlay, ‘The Built Environment’, in Paul Sorrell (ed), Murihiku: The Southland Story, Southland to 2006 Book Project Committee, Invercargill, 2006

Other Information

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Office of Heritage New Zealand.