New Zealand Insurance Company Building (Former)

49-51 Queens Gardens And 3-5 Crawford Street, Dunedin

  • New Zealand Insurance Company Building (Former).
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Benchill. Date: 2/10/2009.
  • New Zealand Insurance Company Building (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Derek Smith.
  • New Zealand Insurance Company Building (Former). Image courtesy of .
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ (Phil Braithwaite). Taken By: PhilBee NZ (Phil Braithwaite). Date: 6/04/2012.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4375 Date Entered 26th November 1987


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Sec 27, Pt Sec 28 Blk LV DP 679 (CTs OT37657 and OT55980), Otago Land District, and the building known as the New Zealand Insurance Company Building (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 27, Pt Sec 28 Blk LV DP 679 (CTs OT37657 and OT55980), Otago Land District

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The New Zealand Insurance Company was formed in Auckland in 1859 after a particularly bad fire swept through the town in 1858.It was the first underwriting company to be formed in the colony and its instigator was an Auckland solicitor, Thomas Russell. The directors were a group of Auckland businessmen concerned about their property. Branches were opened in Napier, New Plymouth, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin in 1861 - and in London. (Overseas expansion was rapid). Within five years the firm had outstripped the New Zealand branches of British companies operating in the colony. In 1885 it took out a 21 year lease on a section of the massive reclamation belonging to the Otago Harbour Board which stretched along the commercial frontage of the city from Queens Gardens to the Oval. On this important corner section NZI built its prestigious offices for the thriving goldfields city of Dunedin. It is a relatively large building for its period, being three stories high rather than the more usual two stories, and is a major building by Mason's partner, Nathanial Wales. The building has been recently renovated by Nigel L Brook, its new owner, and its office space brought up-market. Mr Brook was given an NZHPT award of merit by the Otago Regional Committee at its AGM 1987.


The classical effect is obtained by repetition of fairly simple classical pilasters of three different designs linked by cornices at each level.


An important façade within the Queens Gardens Conservation Area, forming an important grouping with Airport House and the Gresham Hotel block further along Rattray Street.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Wales, Nathaniel Young Armstrong

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.

Nathaniel Wales worked for William Mason as a clerk of works during the 1860s on the old Bank of New Zealand building and on the Post Office building which became the Stock Exchange. He also had the thankless task of being clerk of works to the Port Chalmers Dry dock. Wales began work on his own as an architect untrained, and asked Mason to come back from retirement to enable him to join his firm which became Mason and Wales in 1871 at a time when Wales was building the first part of the Iona Union church at Port Chalmers. Mason retied for good in 1874 and Wales became the senior partner in the firm. Wales designed the Campbell Park Homestead in 1876 and received the commission for the stables about 1878, along with some cottages for the farm labourers. One of his notable buildings is his own big house at 38 Belgrave Crescent (1870), built of stone quarried from the site.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The style is classical renaissance.


The exterior is little modified except for the removal of the balustraded parapets and the removal of the NZI emblem of two kiwis under a tree fern from above the main door. (The emblem, which is a massive casting, is in the reception area of the new NZI Dunedin office, Manse Street). A new name, Queens Gardens Court, has been painted on the building.

Notable Features

Its classical façade.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1886 -

Construction Details

The walls of the building are plastered brick with Oamaru stone for the decorative work. The roof is still covered with slates. The new building, when opened in 1886, had a handsome classical façade with ornate pilasters around doors and windows beneath heavy cornices. The parapet along the roof line originally had four triangular pediments with balustraded panels between them. The wider pillars have been moulded in alternate bolstered and reticulated blocks. The interior is not entirely modernised and the ornate plaster ceilings are still present. The main staircase retains a massive marble newel post and wooden wall panelling.

Information Sources

Galer, 1982

L. Galer, Bricks and Mortar, Allied Press Ltd, Dunedin, 1982.

New Zealand Insurance Company, 1959

New Zealand Insurance Company, Bold Century: 1859-1959, Auckland, 1959

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.