Garrison Hall and Orderly Building (Former)

8 Dowling Street And 7-9 Burlington Street, Dunedin

  • Garrison Hall and Orderly Building.
    Copyright: Natural History New Zealand Limited. Date: 1/10/2001.
  • Garrison Hall and Orderly Building. Building detail.
    Copyright: Natural History New Zealand Limited. Date: 1/10/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3176 Date Entered 25th November 1982


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lots 2-3 DP 6275 (CT OTB1/357), Otago Land District and the buildings associated with the Garrison Hall and Orderly Building (Former) thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Lots 2-3 DP 6275 (CT OTB1/357), Otago Land District

Location description

The buildings run between Dowling and Burlington Streets.


Dunedin’s Garrison Hall (1879) and adjoining Orderly Building (1897), designed by architectural practice Mason and Wales, to provide space for the volunteer militias to drill and organise their forces, stand as testaments to the key role of such forces in nineteenth and early twentieth century New Zealand. In later years both buildings have a significant history as the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation’s radio and television studio. They have special architectural significance as the most substantial surviving buildings associated with the operation of the volunteer militia in nineteenth century New Zealand.

The Dunedin and Invercargill Militia Battalions were established in February 1860, at their first meeting in Dunedin’s police barracks. The first officially recognised volunteer unit was the Otago Rifle Volunteers, gazetted as a company in 1862. The volunteers were very much part of the developing suburbs and rural communities – ubiquitous even – ‘[n]o civic function, official visit, fete, wedding, funeral or community picnic was complete without Volunteers adding colour to the occasion.’ Their early drill halls, located in Upper Dowling Street (now Tennyson Street) and the Octagon, were inadequate for their purpose, and in 1879 were replaced by the grand Garrison Hall designed by Nathaniel Wales, who as well as being an architect, was a captain of the militia.

Garrison Hall was built by Port Chalmers building firm Bauchop and Co. The imposing design, harking back to Scottish and English antecedents with its turrets and castellation, reflected Dunedin’s status as New Zealand’s commercial capital, and was intended to be the best such facility in the country. The building provided drill and administrative space – with the provision of open floor space a significant engineering challenge. Garrison Hall was used as a community meeting place and a stage for important events.

The 1897 Orderly Building, also designed by Mason and Wales, provided extra drill space and offices so that Garrison Hall could be let to provide income for the militia.

The South African War (1899-1901) changed New Zealand’s military landscape, revealing the inadequacies of the volunteers and resulting in the reorganisation of the military into a professional force. World War One shattered the earlier conceptions of war, the scale and changes in technology meant that such drill halls were obsolete, at least as drilling space. In 1912 Garrison Hall was taken over by the Government under the Defence Amendment Act which stated that all drill halls should be the property of the Crown, marking the start of a long period of Government ownership and the reservation of the property for buildings of the general government. From 1917-1937 Garrison Hall served as Dunedin’s chief post office.

In 1962 the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) took over the building. Although intended to be temporary home, the facilities were used by NZBC and its successor Television New Zealand (TVNZ) for over 35 years. Since TVNZ vacated the building, it has remained a television studio with pioneering company Natural History New Zealand based there and other companies subsequently. In 2017, Garrison Hall and the Orderly Building continue to provide studio and office accommodation.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Garrison Hall and the Orderly Building (Former) have historical significance, demonstrating the important role played by part-time volunteer militia in the nineteenth century. Volunteers were an integral part of the country’s defence, and their importance is demonstrated by the scale of the buildings constructed for their use in Dunedin and its central location.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

Garrison Hall and the Orderly Building (Former) have aesthetic significance. Intended to evoke a sense of authority, Garrison Hall represents the wealth and prosperity of nineteenth century Dunedin and the loyalty and status of the volunteer militias who were based there. Located on Dowling Street, a street recognised for its architectural and streetscape value, the buildings are key contributors to those values.

Architectural Significance or Value

Garrison Hall and the Orderly Building (Former) have special architectural significance as the most substantial surviving buildings associated with the operation of the volunteer militia in nineteenth century New Zealand. Designed by Mason and Wales, one of New Zealand’s most significant architectural practices, the Garrison Hall is built in Scottish Baronial style, reflecting the English antecedents of the building type, whilst the Orderly Building is designed in the Queen Anne Revival-style, marking a distinct change in the aesthetics employed by Mason and Wales.

Technological Significance or Value

Garrison Hall has technological significance for its development of engineering technology to allow for large open spaces for militias to drill. Drill halls developed as the engineering technologies developed – the truss systems being key to the possible size for such facilities. It fits into the international story of such buildings.

Social Significance or Value

Garrison Hall was an important centre of Dunedin’s cultural and social life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The hall provided a venue for industrial fairs, concerts, fetes, sports events, and balls. In its later incarnation as a television studio, it was the home for many well-loved television shows such as Play School, It’s in the Bag, and Spot On, among others.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

Garrison Hall and the Orderly Building (Former) represent the important history of volunteer militias in New Zealand. Military volunteerism had its origins in mid-nineteenth century Britain - Nathaniel Wales’ selection of Scottish Baronial style reflects this earlier history. Local forces had their own headquarters where they met and drilled. Military volunteers were part of a regional system that comprised New Zealand’s armed forces. The 1858 Militia Act formally established the Volunteer Corps and local militia were active throughout the colony with each militia acting under its own regulations. Volunteering was popular – between 1897 and 1907 it was estimated that some 43,000 men had ‘passed through the ranks.’

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

Garrison Hall and the Orderly Building are associated with pre-eminent Dunedin architectural practice Mason and Wales. The buildings have a special association with Nathaniel Wales who was both architect and captain of a Dunedin volunteer militia.

The buildings also have special significance with the volunteer forces, being the headquarters from which the Dunedin troops for the South African War were administered, and as a place where soldiers were medically examined and attested. It was also a venue for community gatherings relating to these conflicts.

(g) The technical accomplishment, value, or design of the place

As well as being a fine example of Scottish Baronial architecture, Garrison Hall’s technical accomplishment is evident in the engineering of its Howe truss system that allowed the creation of a large open drill space. When it was opened, Garrison Hall was among the largest such public spaces in New Zealand. Its span of 18.8 metres was kept free of supporting columns and the gallery was supported from brackets and from rods attached to the roof structure which was made up of wrought steel and timber composite trusses.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

The Garrison Hall and the Orderly Building combine to form the most significant main centre site in New Zealand that illustrates the role and significance of New Zealand’s volunteer forces. The demolition of the King Edward Barracks (1905) in Christchurch during the 1990s leaves the Dunedin building a rare example of a major nineteenth century volunteer forces structure left intact in an urban setting.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area

Garrison Hall and the Orderly Building (Former) are key elements within an area recognised for its historic character. Dunedin City Council’s Second Generation District Plan (2GP) includes Dowling Street within the ‘Dowling Street Commercial Heritage Precinct’ which is made up of Moray Place south of Stuart Street and adjoining areas of Dowling Street and Burlington Street. The precinct is dominated by grand heritage buildings constructed of solid, permanent materials such as stone, brick and masonry, dating from the late 1800s to 1920s. It adjoins the Princes Street - Exchange Commercial Heritage Precinct and The Octagon Commercial Heritage Precinct.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mason & Wales Architects Ltd

Mason and Wales Architects Ltd is the oldest architectural practice in New Zealand, having been founded by William Mason (1810-1897) in 1862 Dunedin. Mason was born in England, studied under Peter Nicholson and worked under Thomas Telford and Edward Blore. In 1838 he immigrated to New South Wales, and came to New Zealand in 1840. Having spent 22 years in Auckland he went to Dunedin at the time of the gold discoveries and was elected the first mayor of Dunedin in 1865. He was active in politics as well as in architecture.

Mason was in partnership firstly with David Ross (1827-1908) and William Henry Clayton (1823-1877) and he took in N.Y.A. Wales (1832-1903) when Clayton left the firm to become Colonial Architect in Wellington. Wales had worked as a clerk of works and was very competent in all aspects of construction.

The firm was responsible for many of Dunedin's early important buildings such as the Post Office (later known as the Exchange Building), Princes Street (1864-68), the Exhibition Building (later the Dunedin Hospital), Great King Street (1864), St Matthew's Church, Stafford Street (1873), and the Wains Hotel, Princes Street (1878).

Mason and Wales designed the Abbotsford Farm Steading (1871) at Outram, Otago (NZHPT Reg. No. 7579). This farm steading was designed for James Shand, a prominent land owner, politician and businessman in the area. Mason and Wales designed another farm steading for Shand at his property Berkeley in 1881 (demolished 1981). In 1881, Mason and Wales also designed a plain concrete Chicory Kiln (NZHPT Reg. No. 3359, Cat II) at Inch Clutha, South Otago for Gregg and Coy.

Mason and Wales continues today. N.Y.A. Wales (b.1927) is a fourth generation director of the firm.

WALES, Nathaniel Young Armstrong (1832-1903)

Wales was born in Northumberland, England, and educated at Jedburgh, Scotland. He immigrated to Australia in 1854 and found employment as a carpenter working on the buildings for the first exhibition held in Melbourne.

He arrived in Dunedin about 1863, and was a clerk of works for William Mason on the old Bank of New Zealand Building (1862-64), the Post Office Building (1864-68) and the Port Chalmers Graving Dock (1868-72).

Wales entered partnership with William Mason in 1871. The firm of Mason and Wales was responsible for many fine buildings in Dunedin including Bishopscourt (1873), St Matthew's Church (1873), Government Life Insurance Building (1897) and Wains Hotel (1878).

Wales had military and political interests and was a Member of Parliament for some years. He occupied a seat on the Dunedin Harbour Board and was a Dunedin City Councillor. In 1895 he was elected Mayor of Dunedin. In 1900 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Bauchop & Co.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Munro, George

George Munro was a Dunedin stonemason, ‘with some 25 years’ experience in 1875'.

Source: Review Report for Garrison Hall and Orderly Building (Former), DUNEDIN, List No. 3176, 17 Nov 2017, Heather Bauchop

Crawford and Wilson

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early History

Historically, Kai Tahu had a tauraka waka (canoe landing place) at the head of the Ōtākou Harbour. The slope of the foreshore and the tidal flats where the Toitū Stream entered the sea was bisected by a hill (called Bell Hill by colonists). Swampy land provided a rich habitat for birds, eels and plant life.

In 1847 the Free Church of Scotland immigrants arrived in Dunedin. Between February and May 1846, New Zealand Company surveyor Charles Kettle and his assistants laid out the settlement. The layout was based on the Edinburgh city plan. The numbers of settlers grew only slowly, from 890 in 1857 to 2,262 by 1859. This trickle became a flood with the discovery of gold at Gabriel's Gully in 1861. By 1865, 10,000 people lived in Dunedin. Gold brought commerce and wealth. The city was the major port of entry for the goldfields and it prospered beyond all imagining.'

Wealth translated itself into the city’s buildings: the Customs House, the Stock Exchange, and the former Provincial Buildings graced Princes Street. The Telegraph Office (1874), Wain's Hotel (1878) and the University of Otago (1878) were built in the 1870s. The Grand Hotel and Otago Boy's High School followed in the 1880s. Businesses grew fat on the city’s wealth: Hallenstein Brothers, The Union Steam Ship Company, James Speight and Co., D.I.C. Drapers, and Kempthorne, Prosser and Co. prospered. Their headquarters graced the city's streets, while the grand residences of their owners lined the hills.

Most of the ‘boom-time development of the 1860s, 70s and 80s’ occurred in a nucleus around lower Rattray and Jetty Streets, the main point of arrival to the town. Among the organisations keen to show their status were Dunedin’s volunteer regiments.

Volunteer Regiments

Military volunteerism had its origins in mid-nineteenth century Britain where there was a revival of volunteer forces because of the threat posed by Napoleon III’s Second Empire. In New Zealand, volunteer corps was established in the 1840s in response to settler fear of conflict with Māori, and the corps saw ‘extensive service’ in the wars in Taranaki, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. Local forces had their own headquarters where they met and drilled. These drill sheds have different meanings in landscapes of conflict compared with places like Dunedin where their presence is more benign.

Military volunteers were part of a regional system that comprised New Zealand’s armed forces. The 1858 Militia Act formally established the Volunteer Corps. Local militia were active throughout the colony with each militia acting under its own regulations. As both time and money were required for a man to be a corps member, it tended to be the ‘better-off artisans, clerks, business and professional men who provided the bulk of the force.’ For a long time, volunteers outnumbered professional soldiers.

The Colonial Defence Act 1862 provided for the formation of a Regular Force in New Zealand. The 1865 Volunteer Act oversaw the organisation of the various regional corps under a common set of rules. It was not until the 1880s with the fear of Russian invasion, that threat was perceived to be outside the country. Volunteering was popular – between 1897 and 1907 it was estimated that some 43,000 men had ‘passed through the ranks.’

Locally organised and funded volunteers remained the mainstay of the armed forces until the Defence Act 1909 allowed the formation of a Territorial Army. The South African War had demonstrated the weaknesses of volunteer forces.

Dunedin Volunteers

The Dunedin and Invercargill Militia Battalions were established in February 1860, at their first meeting in Dunedin’s police barracks. The first officially recognised volunteer unit was the Otago Rifle Volunteers, gazetted as a company in 1862. The volunteers were very much part of the developing suburbs and rural communities – ubiquitous even – ‘[n]o civic function, official visit, fete, wedding, funeral or community picnic was complete without Volunteers adding colour to the occasion.’

In March 1863 the Dunedin Volunteers were seeking permanent headquarters – architect W J Jackson submitted plans and specifications for a ‘Volunteer Drill Shed’ to the Provincial Superintendent. The weatherboard shed had a semi-circular corrugated iron roof, the whole was held together with tie rods. The entrance porch was wide enough ‘to allow of the men marching out four deep.’ The building also included an armoury of fifteen by nine feet.’

The Superintendent suggested two suitable sites for the drill shed – the ‘Recreation Ground’ and the ‘Education Reserve’, in Dowling-street near the High School. He was ready to have a shed erected on ‘which-ever site was preferred by the volunteers.’ The Otago Daily Times reported that the land to be appropriated was part of the Education Reserve on Church Hill.

In 1870, Captain and Adjutant John James Atkinson reported that ‘all the country corps, except the Waikouaiti, are provided with substantial drill sheds, sufficiently large for the requirements of the Companies.’ Atkinson also noted that Dunedin ‘is greatly in want of a head quarters building, the one in use had ‘long been unequal to the requirements of the Companies.’ Not only that, but the existing building was required by the High School, so that ‘in a short time the City Companies will be without a drill shed, and the Government without an armoury or offices. The shed used by the Artillery is very unsafe for the guns and stores. The rain pours in at every seam of the building. The weight of the guns has caused the flooring and piles to give way.’

A deputation of volunteer officers waited upon the Deputy Superintendent in August 1870, proposing that the company lease the ‘reserve at the back of the market in the Octagon’ for the drill shed. Major Bathgate said that the building ‘would not only serve for Volunteer purposes, but would be exceedingly convenient for public meetings.’ The Artillery (‘with their usual pluck’) built a drill shed in the Octagon, from which they ‘might be ejected, as the Provincial Government were likely to require it for other purposes.’ The ‘Volunteer Drill Shed’ (described as ‘new’ in December 1872) was used for exhibitions and community events.

The facilities were still inadequate – leading to the downturn in the number of volunteers. One disgruntled volunteer wrote that he ‘happened to be one of the unfortunates who turned out’ for drill ‘to be marched backwards and forwards through mud-holes, ankle deep, where one was at risk at any moment of loseing [sic] his boots.’

The Octagon Drill Shed seems to have been removed from its Octagon site as in March 1875, Major William Gordon tendered for the ‘Removal and Re-erection of Volunteer Drill Shed.’

Building Garrison Hall

In October 1876 ‘The Dunedin Drill-shed Reserve Act’ was passed. The Act enabled an earlier resolution setting apart land for a ‘drill shed, armoury, and gun shed’. The Act allowed for the appointment of commissioners to administer the land. It allowed for the ‘erection thereon, at a total cost of not less than two thousand pounds, of a drill-shed and other buildings connected with Volunteer purposes.’ The Act also enabled the commissioners to lease the land or buildings, and that any rents could be used to maintain the drill shed and associated buildings. In the event that the Otago Volunteers were disbanded the land would revert to the Crown.

The commissioners included prominent individuals – William Stavely, Major of the New Zealand Volunteers, commanding the Otago District; Nathaniel Young Armstrong Wales, Captain of the Number One Company, City Guards, Dunedin Rifle Volunteers (and a prominent architect); and Archibald Hill Jack, Captain of the Dunedin Artillery Volunteers. The trustees (including architects Mason and Wales) visited the Dowling Street site in January 1877, resolving to proceed with the ‘erection of the new shed, which it is proposed to make a large and handsome one, and which, according to the Act, must cost £2000 at least.’

The Evening Star reported on the design of the ‘New Headquarters Drill-Shed’. The hall was to accommodate 3,000 people. Including the basement – which was to provide accommodation for the storekeeper, gunnery, and a large gun room – the building was three storeys. The building was to be lit from the roof. The proposed style was ‘Scotch baronial’ and included an oriel window ‘surmounted by the Royal Arms’ over the main entrance.

Mason, Wales and Stevenson invited tenders for the erection of the ‘Volunteer Drill Hall’ on 5 March 1878, and applied to the council for permission to erect the building in April 1878.

Excavation of the site was underway by May 1878. The building was intended to be ‘the finest in the colony’: blue-stone with Oamaru stone facings and of ‘a most substantial character and some architectural pretensions.’ A keeper’s dwelling house and stable were to be built to Macandrew (now Burlington) Street. The entrance was flanked by square turrets, with corresponding turrets at the corner of the building, and the whole surmounted by a ‘parapet with embrasures’ – giving the building ‘quite a martial appearance’ and from an architectural point of view ‘compare favourably’ with other public buildings in the city.

In May 1878 a tender of £6,821 won the contract for Port Chalmers firm Messrs Bauchop and Co. A contemporary account provides detail about the building, which was to contain a large hall with clear floor space of 98 feet in length and 62 feet wide (29.9 by 18.9 metres). There was a stage of the same width, and 18 feet deep (5.5 metres). From floor to ceiling was 36 feet (11 metres), and the side walls were 20 feet high (6.1 metres). Round three sides of the building was a gallery, supported on brackets and from the roof, so as not to interfere with the floor space.

In the front were militia offices, and behind them, staircases leading to the gallery, and to a supper-room and cloak-rooms. The supper-room was 50 feet in width and 20 feet wide (15.2 by 6.1 metres). The basement was to be used as an armoury, a gun-shed and for stores. It was 11 feet high (3.4 metres). At the side of the Hall facing Macandrew Street (now Burlington Street) were a stable and a dwelling house. The mayor laid the foundation stone in May 1878.

A Hocken Collections’ pamphlet notes that ‘[a]s the likelihood of war between Britain and Russia fluctuated, so did the importance and enthusiasm of our Volunteer Forces and harbour defences.’ The Russian Scare was significant because it marked a turning point where ‘external threats clearly become a predominant factor in the defence thinking of both the public and the politicians of New Zealand’, and where New Zealand’s fate become ‘inextricably linked’ with that of the Empire.

The structural engineering of the hall was of technical interest. The Otago Witness reported that ‘the first pair of principal rafters made for the new Drill shed was put to a severe but satisfactory test. The span is 62 feet (18.9 metres), with a rise of 29 feet (18.8 metres), and the gallery on three sides of the building will be suspended from these rafters, which are of kauri, sheathed, strapped, and tied with iron. The timber is 12 x 4 inches; iron straps, 4 x ¼ inch; tie rods, 3 ¼ inch x 2 inch, double; struts of T iron, 3 ½ x 3 ½ x ½ inch; suspension rods, varying from 7/8 to 1 ¼ inch. The strain put upon the rafters was twenty tons, pig iron being used.’

As the building neared completion, architect Nathaniel Wales trialled his structural engineering by marching the City Guards and Cadets around the galleries of the hall ‘to test its bearing capacities.’ Wales, the Otago Witness reported, ‘in the confidence of his own professional skill risked the necks of his beloved volunteerism,’ and was ‘thoroughly satisfied’ even though the galleries ‘stood on the extreme end of the cantilever.’

The Drill-shed Commissioners formally took possession of the ‘Garrison Hall’ on 25 April 1879. The building was opened by Governor General Hercules Robinson. Work continued on the facilities after opening – Mason and Wales invited tenders for excavating, pitching and gravelling the Gun-room floor at Garrison Hall.

Garrison Hall emphasised solidity and strength with its castellated battlements and corner towers with slit windows. Above the main entrance was the royal crest – a lion and unicorn supporting coat of arms of the United Kingdom, with the motto ‘Dieu et mon droit’ (God and my right, the motto of the British monarch). Design historian Michael Findlay writes that ‘this heraldic group gave equal prominence to the Royal Lion of England and the Unicorn of Scotland that have appeared together on the British coat of arms since the reign of James I and the unification of the two kingdoms in 1603. The Otago Volunteer militia was made up of both Scots and English officers and servicemen and the symbolism of the coat of arms was intended to reinforce unity between the two cultural groups.’ Findlay writes the carving was likely undertaken by George Munro who worked on other Mason and Wales buildings including Dunedin’s Wain’s Hotel (1883). Munro exhibited examples of his work in Kakanui stone alongside drawings and models by Mason and Wales at the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition in 1879. This sculptural group is one of the most striking pieces of nineteenth century architectural embellishment in New Zealand.’

One of the events celebrated at Garrison’s Hall was the pedestrianism display of the man who would become New Zealand’s first world champion – Dunedin’s race walker Joe Scott, who walked 170 kilometres in 24 hours around the Garrison Hall to win the national championship. This was a hugely popular international sport, but one that is now largely forgotten.

The Orderly Building

By the closing years of the nineteenth century, the Garrison Hall needed more space. Mason and Wales once again provided their design skills. In November 1895 they invited tenders for the ‘ERECTION of ORDERLY ROOMS and a GUN SHED’ as additions to the existing building. In May 1896 they tendered for further works excavating, asphalting and fencing at Garrison Hall.

The contract for erecting the orderly rooms was let to Crawford and Watson in July 1897. The building was to be two storey - on the lower floor was a drill room (76 feet by 40 feet/23.2 by 12.2 metres), with asphalt floor, 15 foot high (4.6 metres). Provision was also made for a gun shed (40 foot by 20 foot 6 inches/12.2 by 6.5 metres), in the basement, with a store room adjoining for use by the artillery corps. On the upper floor there were six orderly rooms with sound proofing (felt in the walls and ‘breeze concrete’ in the floors). There were two entrances to the building from Garrison Hall, as well as front and back entrances. The Orderly Rooms were to be built of brick with Oamaru stone facings, ‘rusticated pilasters, and stone entablature.’ The building would allow the Garrison Hall to be let without depriving the forces of a meeting and drill space.

The Orderly Building is a simply-detailed Queen Anne Revival-style building with dentil blocks above the arched windows and tuck pointed brickwork. The building marks the distinct change in the aesthetics employed by Mason and Wales that by the turn of the nineteenth century turned towards large areas of unadorned brickwork relieved by simple mouldings. Its manner, although utilitarian, can be compared with the nearby Imperial Building (1906) also by Mason and Wales (Category 2, List No. 4147).

By the close of the nineteenth century Colonel A.P. Penton, gazetted as Commander of the New Zealand Forces in 1896, was questioning the value of drilling in halls, finding many volunteers ‘sadly deficient in their knowledge of practical soldiering.’ The turning point in New Zealand’s defence arrangements was the first overseas deployment when troops were sent to the South African War in 1899. The war was greeted with enthusiasm and seen to of great benefit to the volunteers ‘giving its members active service experience and enhancing its esprit de corps.’ The almost tragic naivety of the time is well-illustrated by the many community fund raising efforts, where each school was encouraged to subscribe money to provide a horse and equipment for a volunteer, and where companies donated dubbin, camp equipment and clothes brushes. The feeling of menace and threat in the years following the South African War made an effective defence force a significant priority, and ultimately lead to a reorganisation of the military.

Garrison Hall was used by the British Biograph Company in 1900 to present early moving pictures of the war in South Africa. The British Mutoscope and Biograph Company was an early maker of documentary films, commencing operations in 1897. The company produced large format reels that projected with great clarity. Garrison Hall was also the Dunedin venue for the competing Edison Kinematograph Company’s ‘Boer War-OGraph’ which staged shows there in the same year.

Until 1919, Garrison Hall was used as a community meeting place and a stage for important events – industrial exhibitions, horticultural fairs, concerts, sporting occasions and political meetings. It was here that Richard John Seddon welcomed the troops home from the South African War, and Garrison Hall was ‘one of the many drill halls across the country where men were attested and medically examined during the First World War.’

The professionalization of the defence force changed the buildings associated with it – drill halls became larger and more utilitarian. Kensington Drill Hall near the Oval in Dunedin illustrates this change. World War One further changed the nature and scale of warfare, making volunteerism redundant and professional soldiering a career.

Later Years

Like many of these facilities throughout the world, twentieth century ‘changes in warfare and weaponry made many of the earlier drill halls redundant and subject to demolition or change to a new use.’ Drill halls are an important part of our social and military history. Historic Scotland notes that drill halls ‘tell us much about the development of warfare and the history of defending our country. They also, unusually for a nationwide building programme, were not standardised and were often designed by local architects in a variety of styles and they also have a part to play in the history of our communities.’

Ownership of New Zealand’s drill halls was passed to the Government under the Defence Amendment Act in 1912. From 1916 Garrison Hall and the adjacent Orderlies Building became the Chief Post Office for Dunedin, replacing the post office housed in the Otago Provincial Council building which was demolished in 1919. This temporary arrangement lasted until the opening of the new Dunedin Chief Post Office on Princes Street in 1937.

Various government departments and voluntary organisations used the buildings during the Second World War until the National Broadcasting Service took over the space in 1947 and the hall was modified to house radio studios for the 4YA station, part of the national network. The radio studios were converted to television for DNTV2 in 1964 with the rear section of the Orderlies Building extensively redeveloped as a modern television studio. In 1975 DNTV2 was combined with WNTV1 into Television One. The two main production facilities for New Zealand public television were Garrison Hall and the newly opened Avalon Television Centre in Lower Hutt (1975). Although Avalon was modern, larger and purpose built, production from the Dunedin studio often exceeded that of Avalon. The studio was used to record the popular television series It’s in the Bag (1973–9) and Beauty and the Beast (1976-85). These shows were hosted by well-known radio broadcaster Selwyn Toogood and dominated television at a time when the government operated a two channel network. The studio continued to be used by Natural History New Zealand until 2010 and is now (2017) occupied by Animation Research, Taylormade Media, The Video Factory, Kahawai Productions and Rural TV. The current owners have worked to strengthen and redevelop the buildings while maintaining the heritage values.

Physical Description

Current Description


Garrison Hall is within an area recognised for its historic character. Dunedin City Council’s Second Generation District Plan (2GP) includes Dowling Street within the ‘Dowling Street Commercial Heritage Precinct’ which is made up of Moray Place south of Stuart Street and adjoining areas of Dowling Street and Burlington Street. It adjoins the Princes Street - Exchange Commercial Heritage Precinct and The Octagon Commercial Heritage Precinct.

The 2GP describes the precinct as ‘dominated by large, monumental, high quality heritage buildings, demonstrating architectural styles popular from the late 1800s through to the 1920s. The buildings reflect the area's early history as a commercial hub for the city. Although the retail and office role of the area has declined over time, many of the buildings are being repurposed and attracting new uses to the area, including a growing amount of residential activity. There is an emerging arts hub in the area with many of the city's galleries located in and around Moray Place and Dowling Street.’

The buildings in the precinct ‘tend to be constructed of solid, permanent materials like stone, brick and masonry, with a strong emphasis on architectural detail and expression.’ The plan describes Burlington Street as ‘reinforced by buildings like Burns Hall, Garrison Hall, and the Commerce building. These features combine to create a sense of enclosure which is important to retain, and could be further reinstated with construction on the vacant site at the foot of Bell Hill.’

Garrison Hall

Garrison Hall is designed in the nineteenth-century Scottish Baronial style and built from Leith Valley basalt. The hall has a central crenelated bay window flanked by two side wings. A stepped gable and paired square towers are set above the parapet. Side towers were set further back in line with the main body of the hall but these have been obscured by shortening, additions and later linking structures. The parapets at front and rear were lowered and simplified, possibly in the 1960s when such modifications were common for safety reasons. The central feature over the door is a carving in Oamaru stone depicting the United Kingdom’s Royal coat of arms, as previously described under section 2.1.

Miles Glendinning’s A History of Scottish Architecture, records that ‘nineteenth century Scottish Baronial architecture was a national style used in Scotland, Ireland and England as well as in the British colonies of Canada and New Zealand where large numbers of Scots migrated. Its transfer to New Zealand reflected the tastes of Scottish settlers as well as the search for an architectural language that reflected the diversity of cultures within the United Kingdom and the British Empire. The Victorian interest in early Scottish architecture had strong literary roots through Sir Walter Scott whose house Abbotsford (1812–24) was a symbol of the Scottish cultural revival. Scottish Baronial ‘was considered to be an appropriate style for a military building due to the clearly understood martial symbolism of crenelated battlements, turrets and lancet windows. ‘

Findlay notes that Otago has a number of significant private houses in this style including Larnach Castle (R A Lawson 1871, List No. 2190, Category 1), Woodside/Castlamore (F. W. Petre 1873, List No. 2184, Category 1) and Campbell Park at Otekaieke (Mason and Wales 1879, List no. 4378, Category 1). The style was also employed for educational buildings including Otago University (see for example, University of Otago Clock Tower Building, List No. 2225, Category 1) where Maxwell Bury’s original design referenced Glasgow University. The nineteenth century revival of Scottish Baronial architecture was not distributed evenly throughout the British Empire but appeared where highly specific national references were deemed necessary in a building. It was not a common style for public buildings in New Zealand, even in Otago where the proportion of Scottish settlers was higher than in other regions. The key features of Scottish Baronial architecture are the presence of small turrets of bartizans, crenelated battlements and stepped gables. Lancet windows may be set into towers and gables. Fortified entrances with heraldic beasts were also common to the style. Most government and civic buildings in Otago were designed in a neutral Renaissance or Baroque manner with few overt references to Scottish cultural identity. Interestingly, the Salvation Army Fortress also on Dowling Street (Category 2, List No. 2215) is built in a similar but simplified style.

When it was opened, Garrison Hall was among the largest such public spaces in New Zealand. Its span of 18.8 metres (62 feet) and length of 29.8 metres (98 feet) was kept free of supporting columns and the gallery was supported from brackets and from rods attached to the roof structure which was made up of wrought steel and timber composite trusses. Engineer Lou Robinson writes that the roofing system is a Howe truss which was popular with parallel chords in railway bridges. ‘The chords and compression diagonals were usually timber, and the vertical tension members were metal. Garrison Hall’s trusses are gabled, but are essentially otherwise the same. There is a vertical rod at the apex, and three vertical rods between the apex and the eave, so the technical name is a “Triple Howe” truss.’

Robinson continues: the ‘bottom chord is composed of two metal flats, remarkably long, possibly forged into one length. It is cambered. The diagonals are in compression. They are made from tee sections rather than the more common double angles back to back. Sliding of the compression diagonals along the bottom chord is prevented by a forged block on top of the chord. The vertical rods pass through the diagonals and between the doubled chord, are threaded and fitted with nuts bearing through a shoe onto the underside of the chord.’ The metal is probably wrought iron. This could be produced directly from ore, but was usually produced from pig iron or cast iron using a finery forge or puddling furnace. The Eiffel Tower was constructed 1887-1889 using wrought iron produced by the latter ‘puddling’ process.

Mid-nineteenth century processes for smelting steel enabled larger spans to be crossed by lighter and stronger truss forms and Garrison Hall is an early New Zealand structure of its type, comprised of flat and angled sections with pinned and bolted connections. The open space of 560 square metres (6,076 square feet) excluding the stage was unmatched in the city until the opening of the Agricultural Hall (1897) in Crawford Street where the main hall measured 80 X 113 feet square (7.4 x 10.4 square metres).

Orderly Building

The Orderly Building is a simply-detailed in Queen Anne revival style. It has dentil blocks above the arched windows and tuck pointed brick work. The building marks the distinct change in the aesthetics employed by Mason & Wales that by the turn of the nineteenth century turned towards large areas of unadorned brickwork relieved by simple mouldings. The articulation between the Orderly Building and Garrison Hall is carefully handled with changes in levels and internal access handled as a sophisticated whole. Together they form a coherent pair, in keeping with the eclectic attitudes of architects in the later nineteenth century.

The Orderly Building’s front façade to Dowling Street is two-stories. A narrow entrance door exists in the section that connects to Garrison Hall, while a larger vehicle opening is on the right of the façade. Both the ground and first floors have large flat-arch multi-pane windows, separated by rusticated pilasters. The recessed window bay on the first floor has limestone consoles applied to provide decorative detail. The pilasters at this level have Corinthian capitals. There is a contrasting limestone string course between the ground and first floors, and at pediment level. The window sills are also limestone. The foundations are bluestone.

The rear elevation to Burlington Street has two components: a single-gabled section built parallel to the street edge, and set back, the rear of the main section. Both sections are two stories, with single windows articulating the façade. The rear of the building is utilitarian and forms an interesting contrast in both materials and mass, to the adjacent Garrison Hall and Commerce Buildings.


The rear of the ground floor is largely an open space (it was previously the drill hall). At the front of the building is a set of stairs providing access to Garrison Hall. The open space provides carparking and through access to the basement of Garrison Hall. Much of the space is still being developed.

Much of the upper floor reflects the changing use of the building. When the NZBC took over the premises, they altered the existing offices and demolished some of the existing facilities (such as the men’s toilets at the rear). Reconfiguring included the creation of audition rooms and changing the layout of the offices. The upper floor is still being developed.

Comparative Analysis

Drill Halls as a Nineteenth Century Building Type

Drill Halls or Drill Sheds – as these militia buildings became known – were utilitarian structures. Their purpose was to ‘provide two basic militia requirements, a place in which to drill and secure dry armouries.’ In New Zealand, these buildings had English antecedents. Historic England records that from the middle of the nineteenth century Drill Halls were ‘a common sight in every town and city. They were usually purpose-built meeting places where volunteer forces met to practice military drill. They also served as administrative centres and armouries for the units, and acted as important social centres for their members. The architectural finish of many Drill Halls reflects local pride in these forces’ – and those that survive retain architectural and commemorative significance.

Gothic Revival or castellated designs were popular for drill halls built between 1859 and 1880, when the buildings tended to be eclectic in design and style. These designs featured ‘medieval castle-inspired features – normally with stone detailing, conveying a sense of power and solidity.’ The form of English drill halls is very similar to that of Dunedin’s Garrison Hall. Architectural historian Katie Carmichael writes that drill halls had three basic components: an administrative block parallel to the street and the hall immediately behind, and a domestic element either incorporated within the front block, lying in a separate block to the rear of the hall, or to one side of the front block. Administrative blocks tended to be two storeys high and were ‘often the most elaborately designed element of the building as they were clearly visible to the passing public.’ Designs from the 1880-1914 period also featured castellated designs.

Drill hall designs were ‘closely tied to the needs and means of the local community and the image it wished to project.’ While some were modest and blended into the surrounding streetscape, others were ‘designed to draw the eye through the use of materials and styles quite distinct from the local building tradition.’ Carmichael also notes that the arrangement of internal spaces was interesting – many including billiard and reading rooms as well as indoor rifle ranges. She also notes that the manner in which the roof was supported was of potential interest because of the need to provide large uninterrupted spaces. Most hall roofs of the period 1870-1910 were framed using ‘semi-circular trussed ribs.’ The adaptation of buildings is also interesting ‘telling the story of how society, technology and warfare evolved over time.’

Canadian building historian Jackie Adell writes that such utilitarian form meant that ‘drill halls lack the sense of romance attached to other historic military structures and consequently they no longer capture the public imagination.’ But they did exercise the minds of engineers – Adell writes ‘the unencumbered covered space needed for drilling the militia presented the engineers with an interesting challenge.’ The large drill hall was, Adell continues, ‘a 19th century building type whose drill space could only be contemplated because of the rapid advances in the design of engineering trusses in the middle years of the century, and the related introduction of first iron and then steel.’ While in Britain and France cast iron had been used from the late 18th century onwards, in far flung places (like Canada and New Zealand) the material was less common and expensive and all-metal roof trusses did not appear in buildings with rare exceptions (in Canada at least) before the 1880s.

New Zealand Drill Halls

Drill Halls were ubiquitous: every small town had one, and cities had many, with each suburb having their own. There has been no systematic survey of these structures, so it is not possible to say how many survive. What can be established, however, is that Dunedin’s Garrison Hall is the only of the main centre drill halls to survive, intended to reflect the status of Dunedin and its militia.

Main Centre Halls

With a larger volunteer population to serve, main centre drill halls tended to be larger than small town halls– all the main centres had them, though none, save Dunedin survive.


Auckland City Drill Hall was demolished in 1969. Its utilitarian design was more typical of main centre halls.


Wellington’s Volunteer Drill Hall opened on Buckle Street in June 1908. It too had a utilitarian form but with some decorative elements such as castellation. Like Auckland City Drill Hall, the building has been demolished.


Christchurch City’s ‘Contextual History Overview’ records that the city’s first drill hall was erected on Cashell Street, and was replaced in 1905 by the Kind Edward Barracks – a large brick building providing space for drills. The Army retained this ‘base’ in the city for long after the Burnham Camp, south of the city, was established. Even while the Army remained on the site, the Barracks were used for civic and other occasions, including animal shows, ski-gear sales, St John’s Ambulance parades and university graduation ceremonies. The barracks were demolished in the 1990s.

Smaller Centres

Smaller centres provided examples of eclectic and idiosyncratic drill halls – the most interesting featuring prominent castellation and battlements often fronting a modest drill shed, such as those featured below. Particularly striking were those at Onehunga, Paeroa, and Marton. Drill halls are particularly symbolic in areas of settler/Māori conflict where the New Zealand Wars left their mark, such as Taranaki, Wanganui, Waikato, South Auckland and the Bay of Plenty.

The exquisite Marton Drill Hall (c. 1872) noted as the ‘scene of Rangitikei’s early military activities’ was destroyed by fire in 1926. Designed by architect T.S. Lambert, it was particularly symbolic in an area where conflict between settlers and Māori was evident. The building provided a drill shed, library and reading room as well as offices. Other notable examples that included medieval references were those in Paeroa and Hawera; the latter survives in a modified form.

The only other such drill or garrison hall on the Heritage New Zealand List is the Harding Army Hall in Whangarei built in 1890 (List No. 7473, Category 2).

Napier’s Drill Hall (a timber building completed in 1890) is proposed for entry on the List as a Category 2 historic place.

Dunedin’s Garrison Hall is the earliest and most architecturally significant of the main centre halls, and indeed appears to the most significant surviving drill hall in the country.

Construction Dates

Additional building added to site
1897 -
Orderly Building added

Castellation removed from Garrison Hall

Demolished - additional building on site
1963 -
Caretaker’s cottage on Burlington Street demolished

1964 -
Converted for use as television studios (Mason and Wales, architects)

2011 - 2016
Redevelopment by Octa Associates

Original Construction
1878 -

Construction Details

Garrison Hall: Limestone, basalt, slate, timber

Orderly Building: brick, timber, corrugated iron

Completion Date

19th November 2017

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

'Volunteers and the Special Reports Era', from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand URL: (accessed 22 May 2017)

Carmichael, 2015

Katie Carmichael, ‘Drill Halls: Introductions to Heritage Assets’, Historic England, June 2015.

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the Heritage New Zealand 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.