384 Highgate, Roslyn, Dunedin
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
27th July 1988
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes the land described as Lots 1-2 DP 4979 (CT OT359/12), Otago Land District, and the house known as Melrose, thereon.
Lots 1-2 DP 4979 (CT OT359/12), Otago Land District
Melrose, a grand residence probably designed by Dunedin architect John McGregor for lawyer Arthur Nation around 1876, was Nation’s downfall, and has been the pride of later owners. Melrose stands as a reminder of the quality of gentlemen’s residences in the 1870s (and their cost!) and has historical aesthetic and architectural significance.
This house was most likely built for Dunedin solicitor Arthur Tulloch Nation. Architect John McGregor advertised for tenders for the erection of a ‘Brick Cottage’ for Nation in the suburb of Melrose in October 1876. Melrose was a private subdivision in what is now known as the suburb of Roslyn.
Nation appears to have built more than a cottage – when his three-quarter acre property was offered for sale in 1879 it was described as ‘ a substantially-built and well-finished brick house’ containing on the ground floor a drawing room, a dining room of the same dimensions, and a large breakfast room, kitchen, scullery, wash-house and lavatory etc. On the first floor were two large bedrooms, one smaller bedroom, as well as a bathroom, dressing room and servants’ bedrooms. The house was ‘faithfully built, and fitted with electric bells and every other convenience.’ The property was ‘delightfully situated, commanding a magnificent view of the ocean and the bay.’ The property had garden, orchard and shrubbery.
Arthur Nation (c.1852-1927), a young lawyer and partner in a prominent legal firm with James Macassey and Charles Kettle, may have spent too much money on his house. According to Michael Cullen’s history of the Otago District Law Society, Nation had the ignominious fortune to be the first lawyer disbarred by the society. Nation, a founding member of the society and one of those responsible for drafting its rules, crippled by debt, misappropriated client funds. Despite appeals from his mother (a friend of the Macassey family) and his well-known father-in-law Henry Hanson Turton, Nation’s legal career was over. He sold the chattels to the house and then, forced by the mortgage holder Archibald Hill Jack, to put the house on the market. When it did not sell, Jack leased the property to Edward Mears and other tenants. It is around this time that the house begins to be referred to as ‘Melrose.’
The property was advertised for sale again in 1893 – ‘a substantially-built two-storey brick and cement residence’ with 10 rooms and modern conveniences. In 1893, the property was finally sold to Dunedin dentist Benjamin Throp.
Benjamin Throp (1845-1933) was a well-known Dunedin dentist. Born in Yorkshire, he moved to New Zealand in the wake of the gold rushes. He was practising by the late 1860s. Throp pioneered the use of nitrous oxide for pain relief. He was appointed on the first Dental Board of Examiners for the University of New Zealand in the 1880s. Throp owned the property till his death.
Stuart Falconer bought Melrose after Throp’s death, subdividing the land and converting the substantial home into three flats. Lois Galer, writing about Melrose when later occupants the Griffins, owned the property, records that the house was notable for its original features including hand-painted ceilings, timber joinery and stained glass. Later occupants returned the house to its original layout. In 2016, the house remains a private home.
Historical Significance or Value
It is not known for certain who built this house: the family of the dental surgeon Benjamin Throp, who lived in it in the 1890s, are certain that he did not. Certainly he had no mortgage on the house. The section was part of a 12.5 acre block stretching from Highgate to the Town Belt on the north side of Merlin Street and owned by Charles Robertson in 1871. He subdivided and by October 1876 after a sequence of speculative owners, the land which later became the area occupied by Melrose was owned by Arthur Tuloh Nation, solicitor. He raised a mortgage on it in February 1877 from R Teschemaker and another in August 1878 from Archibald Hill Jack. In 1878 Nation was living in Roslyn as an apparently successful young lawyer, in practice with Macassey and Kettle since 1874. In rapid succession in September 1879, Andrew Lees, painter, and Kenyon and Hoskings, Solicitors, placed a caveat on the title and the Bank of New Zealand took up a third mortgage on the property. On the day that the latter mortgage was issued, six affidavits were sent to the Otago District Law Society. Two of the affidavits were from Andrew Lees, presumably for painting costs, and from Arlidge who may have been a brickmaker of Roslyn. Nation was struck off the roles of the Law Society at the end of 1879 for misuse of clients' funds, the first Dunedin lawyer to be so disciplined by the newly formed Law Society. In June 1880 the District Land Registrar made an order of foreclosure on the mortgages. Hill Jack and Teschmaker were left holding the property and leased it for three years from 1885 to Edward Meares. Hill Jack sold to Thorp in 1893. This sequence of events strongly suggests that Nation had the house built, but overstretched his finances. Hill Jack, who owned a large property on the other side of Highgate, may have completed the house.
Certainly Benjamin Thorp and his family lived in the present house until 1938 when E C Stewart Falconer bought and subdivided off the garden, brining the garden down from three quarters of an acre to three eighths of an acre. When he sold in 1952 another section was cut off, bringing the garden down to its present size of a quarter acre.
This is one of the grander two storied villas of Dunedin with an undamaged façade, which displays both Gothic and Classical elements.
Though the house turns its back to Highgate it is an important visual element of the townscape seen from the streets below. Even from Highgate its rear view, the big painted window and large copper beech are an important part of the streetscape along with Hill Jack Hospital and Bishopscourt on the other side of the road.
Architectural Description (Style):
A large two storied house built to imitate stone work, with quoined corners and cornices, pillars and arches over the main door and some windows in classical renaissance style. Other decorative elements such as the balustrades above the front door and over a side bay are more reminiscent of carpenter gothic and the gables are closer to the gothic pitch than classical. The 'Stickwork' under the three front gables is reminiscent of an American style of decoration which was popular about 1900.
The house was converted into three flats about 1940 and the large garden was subdivided and sold for sections by Mr Stewart Falconer. Mr Falconer also removed marble fireplaces and replaced them with tiles from the United Kingdom. The present owner has restored the house to its original floor plan as shown by building plans held by the City. Doorways have been unblocked and ceilings which had been lowered have been restored. The exterior is virtually unmodified.
The size and grandeur of the house, the painted windows by Fraser, its possible historic association with the first major disciplinary action by the Otago Law Society.
Plastered triple brick walls and slate roof, and a richly decorated interior. There are several painted glass windows in the house done by R H Fraser some time between 1893 and 1896. The panels at the front door show a peaceful lake scene, flowers, leaves and bowls of fruit. A second series in the hall has river views with distorted faces in the corner panels. The largest one in the stairwell is visible from Highgate and features sinister demon figures with fangs. The house also has ornate plaster ceilings and scalloped pelmets decorated with gold leaf. Some mahogany panelling from Arthur Barnetts was acquired to line the hall and breakfast room but has recently been mostly removed. On the north wall of the house there is a plaster shield carrying two diagonal lines with three stars above and two below.
15th November 2016
Report Written By
L. Galer, Houses and Homes, Allied Press, Dunedin, 1981
J Phillips & C Maclean, In Light of the Past, 1983
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.
A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Area Office of Heritage New Zealand.