86-92 Queen Street, Auckland
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
19th April 1990
Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)
Pt Allot 1 Sec 4 DP 22413
Blackett's Building is one of the earliest surviving structures in Queen Street, the main commercial thoroughfare of colonial Auckland. Erected in a prime corner location close to the wharf in 1878-1879, the building housed the head office of the South British Insurance Company Limited. The firm had been founded by a group of wealthy Auckland businessmen in 1872 to provide fire and marine insurance. In a town built of timber and supplied largely by sea, this was a profitable enterprise that expanded rapidly to become a worldwide venture.
The nature and prosperity of the business was reflected in the building, which was built of fireproof brick and decorated with unusually ornate plasterwork for the period. A statue of Britannia surmounting its facade emphasised the name and imperial nature of the enterprise. The three-storey building harked back to similar structures erected in mid nineteenth-century Britain and was raised by a floor in the early 1900s as the business expanded. The addition was built in a similar Italianate style to the original construction, reflecting continuity in the function and tenancy of the office. The company vacated the premises for a much larger headquarters building in 1929 (see 'South British Insurance Building'), when the statue of Britannia was removed. The building was subsequently leased to a variety of tenants, and is currently used as offices and shops.
The building is significant for its associations with the New Zealand insurance industry and the development of one of its most prosperous companies. It demonstrates the global nature of commerce in the colonial period and Auckland's growing status as a financial centre. The original structure is a fine example of an early insurance office in New Zealand, and one of the best remnants of 1870s commercial architecture in Auckland. It is one of the few remaining examples in the city centre of the work of Richard Keals, founder of the oldest firm of architects in Auckland. The building makes a significant contribution to the urban streetscape, and is of particular value for its close associations with nearby financial and commercial structures, including the later South British Insurance Company Building in Shortland Street. It illustrates the commercial character of lower Queen Street in the late nineteenth century, and the smaller scale of nineteenth-century insurance buildings compared to their office-block successors.
Historical Significance or Value
Blackett's Building was erected as the head office for the South British Insurance Company formed by prominent Auckland businessmen, including Captain Daldy and William Morrin. It soon became a major fire and marine insurance company with offices and agencies throughout the British Empire.
Fires were a hazard amongst the predominantly wooden buildings of early Auckland. Buildings would display a plate bearing the name of their insurance company so that the fire brigades from the rival insurance companies knew which fire to fight.
Forming an insurance company was a risky venture to undertake as insurance companies were, by law, not permitted to be limited liability companies. The South British Insurance began issuing fire insurance policies only and the company lent money for mortgages as an investment. High risk areas such as the gold mining towns were not covered.
New Zealand was dependent on shipping links, both within territorial waters and internationally. By 1874 the company had offices in London and were underwriting such shipping lines as the Union Steamship Company.
The site, known as Sommervilles Corner after a previous grocer's shop, was in the heart of the early commercial area. The land was owned by J C Blackett, the son of an English baronet who established a scholarship trust as a memorial to his deceased wife, Maria Blackett. The trustees of Saint John's College leased the land to the South British Insurance Company in 1878 for a 60 year term to provide revenue for the scholarship. The design was selected by competition and the new head offices were completed by October 1879. The company had expanded rapidly since its inception in 1872 and the leased premises at 29 Queen Street had proved inadequate.
By the late 1920s, however, Blackett's Building, despite the additions, had become inadequate for the growing company and an additional building was commissioned further along Shortland Street. The freehold title to the land was finally acquired in 1969.
The South British Company has been associated with Auckland's development for over 100 years and is now part of the NZI group.
Blackett's Building is one of the finest examples in Auckland of commercial architecture from the second half of last century. It is also one of very few buildings of this period left in Auckland and the only remaining example of Richard Keal's work in the central city.
There are now less than nine buildings in Queen Street that are over one hundred years old. Blackett's Building is one of them. The design was chosen from the work of four architects who had been asked to submit designs and clearly reflects Victorian concepts about commercial building.
In the Victorian era Italianate styles were widely used to create a sense of grandeur and security by evoking associations with the merchant princes of Venice.
The ornamentation of Blackett's Building also provides an example of the use of plant motifs which were widely used in the second half of the nineteenth century. This style is important not only because it reflects trends in commercial architecture in Europe but because it is especially ornate for its date of construction in Auckland.
Timber had only recently been phased out as the primary building material, and the few stone and brick buildings there were in Queen Street were generally of a much simpler nature. Blackett's Building was built as the Head Office of the South British Insurance Company and was one of Auckland's first highly ornamented buildings. The construction of such a permanent and ornate building reflected a growing feeling of optimism in the future of New Zealand.
The use of decorative plasterwork is significant evidence of a craft which has all but been lost. It was a highly skilled craft whose practitioners would have been trained in the British Isles. The architects did not draw the decoration fully but left this to the craftsmen who were familiar with all the motifs and made the gelatine moulds. Little evidence remains of this craft in Auckland and the craftsmen themselves have tended to remain anonymous. The work could not be produced to the same standard today.
Blackett's Building defines the corner of two of Auckland's major streets in a bold and decorative manner. It has stood on this site for one hundred and nine years and provides this city with some sense of permanence.
Edward Bartley was born in Jersey in 1839, and educated in the Channel Islands where he learned techniques of the building trade from his father, an architect and builder.
Bartley immigrated to New Zealand with his elder brother Robert, also an architect, while still in his teens. They eventually settled in Devonport, Auckland. Initially Edward was in the building trade but later he practised solely as an architect. He was at one time vice-president of the Auckland Institute of Architects and was also Diocesan Architect for the Church of England.
Amongst Bartley's most notable works were his ecclesiastical buildings including St John's Church, Ponsonby (1881), St David's Church, Symonds Street (1880), Holy Trinity Church, Devonport, and the Synagogue (1884). He was also responsible for the Opera House (1884) and Auckland Savings Bank, Queen Street (1884).
Richard Keals (1817?-1885) arrived in New Zealand in 1858 and initially worked on the Thames goldfields. One of Auckland's earliest trained architects, he is known to have been practising in the colonial township by 1863, having first operated as a builder. Keals had previously served as a clerk of works in England, carrying out his articles as an architect in London.
Keals designed a variety of building types in New Zealand, encompassing domestic, commercial and public structures. His early works in Auckland included the Waitemata and Thames Hotels in Queen Street, erected in 1866 and 1868 respectively. His New Zealand Insurance Company Building in Queen Street (1870) was one of the grandest commercial buildings in late-Victorian Auckland. Surviving buildings designed by Keals include Blackett's Buildings, previously known as the South British Insurance Building, erected in 1878-79 on the corner of Shortland and Queen Streets (Register no. 4483, Category 1 historic place). He was joined in practice by his two sons by 1885, the year of his death. In 1902, R. Keals and Sons claimed to be the oldest firm of architects in Auckland.
Source: Registration Report for Logan Park (Register No. 9643), May 2014
Richard Keals and Son
Edward Bartley - fourth storey added 1912
ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (STYLE):
Originally three storey, this mid Victorian Italianate style building has six bays facing Queen Street and four bays facing Shortland Street with a splayed corner between. At ground level each bay was separated by vermiculated blocks and wreaths. Above the corner entrance was a balcony supported by consoles.
Beneath each segment headed window on the first floor are panels with an interlacing circle motif. The semicircular headed windows of the second floor have a capital, arch and keystone detail, with panels with festoons beneath them.
The pilasters separating each bay had Ionic capitals at second floor level and this supported an arabesque frieze.
Above the frieze over the corner was a semicircular pediment and plinth topped by a statue of 'Britannia'. The facade was capped by urns on pedestals above each bay division.
Another storey, designed by Edward Bartley, was added in 1912. The pilasters defining each bay were extended and pseudo three-centred arched windows added. The curved pediment and statue of Britannia were returned to the corner.
Triangular pediments were added to both the Shortland and Queen Street facades and the name of the building was inscribed on the frieze. The urns and arabesques were removed and not incorporated in the new design.
The ground floor became one office and the first floor was remodelled. A lift and heating (gas for the top floors and electricity for the lower floors) was installed. More remodelling was carried out in 1916.
The shop fronts have been modified to suit changing tenants and the statue of Britannia was taken down when the company merged with NZI.
Registration covers the building, its fixtures and finishes. It includes recent modifications. The structure lies close to the mid nineteenth-century shoreline, and is on the site of an 1840s commercial building and, reputedly, a tent where Governor Hobson met local citizens to establish the first church in Auckland.
The way the building circumscribes the corner and its intricate architectural ornamentation are special features of the design.
1878 - 1879
Addition of fourth floor and internal remodelling of lower two floors
Statue of Britannia removed
Reputed site of meeting between Governor Hobson and local citizens
Brick with cast plaster decorative detailing.
15th August 2001
Report Written By
Jane Couch and Noni Boyd, 'Blackett's Building, 86-92 Queen Street', NZHPT Buildings Classification Committee Report, Wellington, 1988 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
New Zealand Building Progress
New Zealand Building Progress
Kate Schoonees, 'QVH: A Submission for Registration of the Queen, Victoria and High Street Historic Area', Auckland, 1998 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)
John Stacpoole, Colonial Architecture in New Zealand, Wellington, 1976
C. W. Vennell, Risks and Rewards, A Policy of Enterprise 1872-1972: A Centennial History of the South British Insurance Company Limited, Auckland, 1972
School of Architecture Library
School of Architecture Library, Auckland
Anthony King (ed.), Buildings and Society: Essays on the Social Development of the Built Environment, London, 1980
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.