Port Chalmers Municipal Building

1 Grey Street, Port Chalmers

  • Port Chalmers Municipal Building. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 24/12/2012.
  • Port Chalmers Municipal Building. Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 18/08/2009.
  • Port Chalmers Municipal Building. Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 18/08/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4373 Date Entered 26th November 1987


City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 408 Port Chalmers Town (CT OT367/195), Otago Land District

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The building was designed as a combined government and local body office. It housed originally the Customs, Police, Fire Brigade offices, the Court House, Town Hall and Borough Council Chamber and offices. With so many departments involved there was a protracted period of negotiation over the design of the rooms before work could begin. The Customs Department, for instance, objected to the proposal to house its offices in a room which had only one small window opening into a passage way. After it was opened, a banquet for 112 people was held for which the menu appears in the Borough letter books. The building now houses the Borough Council Chamber and offices, the Town Hall and Public Library.

The building carries three plaques. One at the back of the building commemorates the founding of the New Zealand Seaman's Union. The two at the front commemorate the signing of the deed to purchase the Otago Block from the Maoris on July 31st 1844 and the landing of the pioneer settlers from the ship John Wickliffe in March 1848. In the 1840s the site of the two plaques would have been on the foreshore which is now some 100 metres away.


An example of the work done by the Public Works architects in the 1880s at a time when the office had no well-known architect in charge.


The Architect's Branch had been under William Clayton as Colonial Architect until 1877, and he was succeeded by Pierre Burrows. After a review of the Branch, Burrows services were dispensed with in 1884 but plans for the Municipal Chambers were not started until 1885 (Borough Letter book). Burrows was succeeded by a draftsman named Charles Edward Beatson who would have administered the architectural services during the period 1885 to 1887when the plans for the Municipal Chambers were being made and revised (National Archives 1983).


The Municipal Chambers form a focus for the cross roads in the heart of Port Chalmers where its main street runs up from the wharves. On the other corners are the bluestone Post Office, the classically styled Bank of New Zealand and the two-storied stone Chicks Hotel. Around the corner and beside the Municipal Chambers is the big two storied and double bayed Port Chalmers Hotel of the same style and period.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


A relatively simple example of Classical Revival Renaissance.


The removal of the parapets is the main modification to the exterior, though a grand doorway into the Town Hall has been filled in and louvre windows (?for toilets) placed in the top of the arch. The interior has been relined and modernised, but the old window frames remain. Fireplaces and chimneys have been removed but at least one spiral staircase with turned bannisters remains.

Notable Features

The association of the building with early offices of both government departments and the Borough and its landmark qualities.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1889 -

Construction Details

A triangular building on a sloping site is two storied in front running away to one storey and a basement at the back, built of treble brick plastered over, on a basement of Port Chalmers breccia with a slate roof over the Town Hall section, sheet lead on the flat places and corrugated iron at the front over the Borough offices. The ornamental parapets over the front corner were removed in the 1940s but the swags and shell decorations remain. The windows are arched with lateral pillars and ornamental frieze along the lower window line. There is a large stone arch over the wide windows into the basement at pavement level. The interior of the offices were lined with tongue and groove panels to shoulder height, still visible in the passages.

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

Early letterbook, Borough Council Office

Government Architect & Builder Catalogue

The Government Architect and Builder in the 19th Century: catalogue of an exhibition Dec 1983-April 1984.

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.