McLean's Mansion

387 Manchester Street, Christchurch

  • McLean's Mansion. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Schwede66 - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Schwede66 - Wikimedia Commons. Date: 20/05/2011.
  • McLean's Mansion. Building detail. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 21/07/2013.
  • McLean's Mansion. 'Holly Lea'. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image. Ref no. 1/2-106730.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 300 Date Entered 7th April 1983


City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Sec 1209 Chch City SO 16202


McLean's Mansion, first known as Holly Lea, was built for Allan McLean (1822-1907). McLean had arrived in New Zealand from the goldfields of Australia and took up a number of large sheep stations in partnership with his brothers John and Robertson. Robertson soon left the partnership and in 1880 John and Allan dissolved their agreement, with Allan taking Waikakahi station, and John Lagmhor and Waitaki. The history of Holly Lea is closely associated with government policy on these and other large estates.

Since the 1870s there had been calls for closer settlement of the land and for the government to 'bust up the big estates'. In 1882, 32 percent of runs that consisted of 10,000 acres or more was held by less than one percent of the owners and large holdings were particularly common in Canterbury. In 1891 the Liberal party came into power on the back of a campaign to put more people on the land, using compulsory purchase of land from the large estates when necessary. Most of the more than two million acres made available for closer settlement occurred through the voluntary sale of land by the large runholders. McLean was initially a reluctant vendor and was only persuaded to sell Waikakahi after some pressure from the then Minister of Lands, John McKenzie. In the event, Waikakahi became the first property sold to the Crown under the Public Lands Act.

Holly Lea, the house McLean built from the proceeds of the sale of Waikakahi, was built from kauri and was the largest timber house in Christchurch, containing 53 rooms. The house was designed by Robert William England, whose firm, the England Brothers, became noted locally for their domestic work. The design for the house was derived from Sir Joseph Paxton's Jacobean-style Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire. The Jacobean style often featured an eclectic mixture of Flemish, French and Italianate ornamentation, evident in the diversity of styles used in the design of Holly Lea. The notable features of the house include the two, three-storeyed towers on either side of the front entrance, and the central hall, which is lit by a massive glass skylight and has an arcaded gallery running around it.

In his will McLean established a trust that was to provide a 'home for women of education and refinement in reduced or straitened circumstances'. The McLean Institute provided such homes for a number of years in various houses around the city, and eventually in McLean's Mansion itself, after McLean's former housekeeper left Christchurch.

In 1955 the Trust decided to sell Holly Lea, due to both the financial difficulties of the Institute and to a shift in ideas about appropriate accommodation for the elderly. Smaller and warmer rooms, rather than the spacious grand rooms of Holly Lea were now deemed to be more appropriate. The beneficiaries living at Holly Lea at this time were moved into accommodation at 'Quamby', the Institute's second home in Fendalton, which is still, as of 2002, being run by the McLean Institute as a home. It is now known as 'Holly Lea'.

The Trust sold the house to the government for use as a hostel for dental nurse trainees. A lack of staff was a major problem for the New Zealand School Dental Service during the early 1950s. The service embarked on a recruitment drive and in 1955 opened a third training school in Christchurch. The trainees were housed in Holly Lea until 1977; the house subsequently stood empty for ten years while the government tried to find a long-term use for the building. In 1987 it was bought by the Christchurch Academy, a vocational training organisation.

Holly Lea, now known as McLean's Mansion, is significant as one of the largest timber houses in New Zealand and is a well known and publicly appreciated part of Christchurch's architectural history. Its Jacobean features, built in local materials, are particularly interesting. Historically, its link to the break-up of the great estates is interesting, as is the house's link to the McLean Institute, which demonstrates the past importance played by private philanthropists in the provision of the community's welfare needs. The house also played a role in the history of the New Zealand School Dental Service.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

England, Robert William & Edward Herbert

Robert William England (1863-1908) was born at Lyttelton, the son of a timber merchant. Educated in Christchurch, he chose to go to England for his architectural training and began practicing as an architect in Christchurch around the age of twenty-three. In 1906 he took his younger brother Edward (1875 - c.1953) into practice with him.

Among the notable residential designs the England Brothers were responsible for are McLean's Mansion, (1899 - 1902), and the third stage of Riccarton House (1900). Robert was more concerned with the final effect achieved than stylistic fidelity and drew on a variety of styles including the English Arts and Crafts movement. Some of their more well-known public works include the former D.I.C building in Cashel Street (1908), the A.J White building on the corner of Tuam and High Streets (c.1904-1910) and the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills building in Manchester Street (now demolished). They were also involved in designing a number of churches around Christchurch, including Knox Church in Bealey Avenue and St Albans Methodist Church.

The firm continued after Robert's death in 1908 until 1941, although it is generally considered Edward was a more conservative architect than his brother and the firm's most notable commissions occurred before Robert's death.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1899 - 1900

1899 -

Completion Date

9th December 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Acland, 1975

L.G.D. Acland, The Early Canterbury Runs, 4th ed., Christchurch, 1975

pp.36, 137, 204-206.

Architectural Heritage of Christchurch

Architectural Heritage of Christchurch

3: McLeans Mansion, Christchurch, 1983.

Marshall, 1968

S.F. Marshall, History of the McLean Institute, Christchurch, 1968

McLean, 1906

Allan McLean, Will and codicil of Mr Allan McLean, Christchurch, [1906]

Saunders, 1964

John Llewellyn Saunders, The New Zealand School Dental Service: Its Initiation and Development 1920-1960, Wellington, 1964


Shaw, 1997 (2003)

Peter Shaw, A History of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 1997


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.