The Hermitage (Former)

521 George Street, Dunedin

  • The Hermitage (Former).
    Copyright: Graham Johnston. Taken By: Graham Johnston.
  • The Hermitage (Former) balcony with ironwork.
    Copyright: Graham Johnston. Taken By: Graham Johnston. Date: 17/03/2007.
  • The Hermitage (Former) interior detailing.
    Copyright: Graham Johnston. Taken By: Graham Johnston. Date: 17/03/2007.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 370 Date Entered 26th November 1981


Extent of List Entry

The extent includes the land described as Sec 64 and Pt Sec 65 Blk XXV Town of Dunedin (CT OT128/232, DI S1731), Otago Land District and the house, its fittings and fixtures (including the decorative iron-work) and the entrance gates and stone wall.

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 64 and Pt Sec 65 Blk XXV Town of Dunedin (CT OT128/232, DI S1731), Otago Land District


Dunedin is richly endowed with ornate Victorian architecture, one of the finest examples of which is at 521 George Street. This two-storey home was named ‘The Hermitage’ by its original owner, Robert Wilson (1832-1899).

Irish-born Wilson immigrated to Victoria and established a carrying business, including transporting goods to Otago. By 1862 he had set up business as a general merchant with a warehouse in Stafford Street. Business prospered and for a time Wilson was reputed to be the wealthiest man in Otago. He was involved in initiating New Zealand’s first refrigeration company; he also helped found the Colonial Bank of NZ and National Insurance Co. Wilson is best known, however, for establishing Dunedin Distillery Co. in 1869. Robert Wilson and Co., as the company became, was carried on by his sons, grandson and great-grandson. In 1963 they merged with rival merchant company Neill & Co., to form Wilson Neill Wine and Spirits.

In 1881 tenders were advertised for the erection of a brick residence for Robert Wilson in George Street. The architect was Joseph L. Shaw. Little is known about Shaw, yet his work demonstrates considerable abilities. Messrs Anderson and Godso were the successful tenderers.

The Hermitage was symmetrically fronted and rose above George Street behind cast iron gates and a bluestone wall topped with Victorian cast-iron lacework. The exterior was built of triple brick and plaster on a bluestone foundation. The interior contained 11 rooms excluding bathrooms, pantries etcetera. The ground floor contained dining, drawing, breakfast, and sitting rooms and included the kitchen. These rooms featured marble fire surrounds, delicately moulded plaster ceilings, and mock-grained four-panel doors. A handsomely balustraded staircase led from the entrance hall to six bedrooms and a servants’ room. A servant’s staircase was built in the rear. A wash stand under the grand staircase enabled visitors to wash their hands after travelling over dusty roads in open carriages.

In 1920 the Hermitage was bought by the Hart family who owned it for the next 50 years. The house was upgraded, particularly in the service areas but original features remained intact. Ben Hart planted many rare species and imported daffodil bulbs from the UK. As a condition of the sale in 1970, as a gentleman’s agreement, it was agreed that the grounds be maintained ‘in the manner to which they were accustomed’.

Professor G.T. Baylis, the new owner, converted the house into four flats but maintained many of the original features. None of the principal rooms were modified and all the original fireplaces remained. The entrance hall formed the division between two downstairs flats. The two staircases, including the servant’s rear stairway, provided separate access to the two upstairs flats.

In recent years the house has seen a change in ownership but it remains a rental property.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Shaw, JL

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Anderson and Godso

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

1970 -
House divided into 4 flats

Original Construction
1881 -

Completion Date

3rd May 2012

Report Written By

Susan Irvine

Information Sources

Galer, 1981

L. Galer, Houses and Homes, Allied Press, Dunedin, 1981

Galer, 1995

L. Galer, Houses of Dunedin: An illustrated collection of the city's historic homes, Hyndman Publishing, Dunedin, 1995

Thomson, 1998

Jane Thomson, (ed)., Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago Southland Biography, Dunedin: Longacre Press/Dunedin City Council, 1998.

‘Robert Wilson’ entry

Other Information

A fully referenced Upgrade Report is available from the Otago/Southland Area office of NZHPT.

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.