Dunedin Synagogue (Former)

29 Moray Place; Tennyson Street, Dunedin

  • Dunedin Synagogue (Former). 2010.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Paul McCredie.
  • Original 1864 Bricks. 2010.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Paul McCredie.
  • Interior. September 2011.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Jonathan Howard.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9606 Date Entered 19th April 2012


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Sec 29 Blk XIV Town of Dunedin, Pt Lot 1, Lots 2-3 DP 5201 (CT OT2D/474), Otago Land District and the building known as the Dunedin Synagogue (Former) and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 29 Blk XIV Town of Dunedin, Pt Lot 1, Lots 2-3 DP 5201 (CT OT2D/474), Otago Land DistrictDistrict


Behind a high bluestone wall above the streets of Moray Place is New Zealand’s oldest synagogue, the former Dunedin Synagogue, dating from 1864.

The Dunedin Jewish Congregation was established in July 1862. In 1863 they purchased a triangular, steep site on Moray Place and appointed architect William Clayton, who would later become Government Architect, to design a synagogue. It was Clayton’s first major project. Completed in 1864, the exterior of the rectangular building was plain, relieved only by round headed windows on the south east and north west elevations. In contrast, the interior was richly and colourfully ornamented, with rows of pews for gentlemen members and a Ladies Gallery for women and children. In 1872 another significant Dunedin architect, David Ross, was employed to enhance access to the Synagogue, but the approach remained steep. This coupled with concern that the building was too small for the growing Dunedin Jewish community, encouraged the congregation to look for a new site. In 1875 they purchased land almost opposite the existing structure and in 1881 sold the Synagogue to the Dunedin Masonic Hall Company.

The Dunedin Masonic Hall Company employed Ross to modify and extend the structure. A cantilevered wooden gallery was added to the south east elevation and a new porch extended the footprint of the building towards Moray Place. The interior of the former Synagogue required relatively minor changes due to the compatibility between the spaces required for both Jewish traditions and Masonic rites.

In 1932 architect Eric Miller oversaw the addition of a two story wing to the southeast elevation which housed a new staircase and refectory. A small northwest wing supplied a new entrance porch and cloak room facilities. The exterior was rendered in cement plaster and new meeting rooms were designed on the top floor.

The former Synagogue remained in Masonic ownership until 1992 when new owners Peter Duncan and Victoria Timpany purchased the building as their family home and as the site of their art dealer gallery. They named their new enterprise, aptly, the Temple Gallery.

The aesthetic of the former Synagogue is a contradiction. Stark and sheer on the exterior, the interior is warm and richly detailed. The building is of special architectural interest and represents a rare amalgamation of the skills of three of Dunedin’s most noted architects.

The former Synagogue not only embodies spiritual but cultural connections, particularly for minority groups. It began its journey as the spiritual and communal home of the local Jewish community. It announced that the Jews were not only present, but thriving in the fledgling Presbyterian settlement. Until 1992 it remained a ‘temple’; a gathering place for a minority community, similarly veiled in traditions and mysterious rites. It is only through the efforts of the current owners that the entire community has been welcomed to the building.

The former Synagogue is of special historical significance. It reflects the life of the Jewish community and the practice of freemasonry. It is the oldest surviving synagogue in New Zealand and one of only two Victorian examples still extant in the country. It is also the southernmost former synagogue in the world. The enigmatic structure represents the early efforts of immigrants to transplant their religions and traditional practices into colonial New Zealand and is a rare, virtually unmodified glimpse into the spiritual arts and traditions of both Jews and Masons.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The former Synagogue is of outstanding historical significance. It reflects the life of the Jewish community and the practice of freemasonry. The structure incorporates the oldest surviving synagogue building in New Zealand and one of only two Victorian ones still extant. It was also the southernmost Synagogue in the world. It was Dunedin’s only synagogue from 1864 to 1881 when the Dunedin Jewish community was the most numerous in New Zealand.

For 111 years, from 1881 to 1992, the structure was the principal meeting place of the Freemasons in Dunedin. It was the meeting place of several Dunedin Lodges and affiliated bodies as tenants. It speaks to the enigmatic practices of the Freemasons and is a rare physical link between the beliefs of Judaism and Masons.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

The former Synagogue has an aesthetic significance. The building has a stark, sheer appearance. It is not particularly ornamental or detailed, yet the appearance is imposing and grand. From the entrance gate, a garden, complete with winding paths and steps is visible. Climbing the steep slope, the building emerges rising like a citadel atop a high mountain. Once through the double doors,of the entrance, the ambulatory, with an almost underground feel, leads through to the light and warmth of the windows and wooden staircase beyond. Solid concrete walls and narrow, high windows reinforce the castle like qualities of the structure. The former synagogue itself is like entering the throne room, complete with impressive and detailed ornamentation. Aesthetically, the effect is remarkable.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

The former Synagogue has archaeological value. Not only has the site been continually occupied since the early 1860s but the surrounding grounds to the northwest of the Synagogue contain archaeological remains such as old bottles and the results of smelting work.

Architectural Significance or Value:

The former Synagogue has special architectural significance. The building was praised by contemporaries for its design as a Synagogue and for its later incarnation as a Masonic Hall. The interior ornamentation of the temple is richly detailed and dramatic. The effect is awe-inspiring. The exterior, by comparison, lacks ornamentation and yet its hill top setting and enigmatic façade, are no less dramatic. Architectural historians have commented favourably onboth the interior and exterior.

The building stands as a tribute to the talents of three of Dunedin’s most significant architects. William Henry Clayton entered into partnership with William Mason, one of the country’s foremost architects. It was Clayton’s first major building project and, as such, is a significant building in demonstrating his development as an architect. Clayton later became the New Zealand government’s Colonial Architect. David Ross was another of Dunedin’s most important architects and designed a number of the city’s major buildings. Eric Miller, of the architectural firm Miller & White, became one of Dunedin’s most noted twentieth century architects and designed some of the city’s most impressive twentieth century buildings.

Cultural Significance or Value:

The former Synagogue has embraced a number of cultural associations during its long life. Not just a spiritual gathering place for Dunedin Jews, it also communicated a cultural statement to the wider community. It announced that the Jewish community was not only present, but thriving in the fledgling Presbyterian settlement. It also provided a gathering place for Jewish community events such as festivals, weddings, bah mitzvahs and funerals.

The cultural significance of the building continues to present day with the promotion, exhibition and sale of art in New Zealand. The former Synagogue is now a leading dealer art gallery, appropriately called the Temple Gallery. The refectory is the main exhibition space and is also used for openings and launches.

Spiritual Significance or Value:

The former Synagogue stands as a memorial to colonial Jewish piety and religious zeal. Even though strict adherence to orthodox Jewish practices may have waned in the colonial environment, the Synagogue remained an important symbol of a faith with which they are more or less in accord. It was an enduring spiritual and communal symbol.

Although not a religion per se, freemasonry practiced a number of spiritual and mystical rites. They believed in the Great Architect, a God-symbol; in good vs evil; and much of their creed was rooted in the Old Testament. Indeed they referred to the former Synagogue as the Temple. To the Masons, this structure also had spiritual significance.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The former Synagogue is representative of the history of minority groups in New Zealand. From as early as 1864, the building marked the presence of a small, pioneering group of Jewish immigrants. It served both their spiritual needs and their community traditions. It spoke of a Jewish presence in a predominantly Scottish Presbyterian settlement.

From 1881 it housed another minority group - Freemasons. Like the Jews, this community was held together by shared traditions and rites, with spiritual undertones.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The former Synagogue represents the fledgling efforts of immigrants to transplant their religions and traditional practices into colonial New Zealand. It also symbolised the new traditions which New Zealand Jews created in response to their environment. From the Dunedin Jewish Congregation came some of Dunedin’s most prominent business men including Maurice Joel and Abraham Solomon; and later Bendix Hallenstein and the Theomin family. Even the noted politician Sir Julius Vogel was a founding member of the Congregation.

Architects of note, both locally and nationally, employed their skills on the former Synagogue. It stands as a largely unmodified representation of their combined skills.

The Synagogue also represents the development of freemasonry in New Zealand. For over 100 years it served as a meeting place where Masons practiced their traditional rites, initiated new members, and planned philanthropic assistance to the community.

It now serves as an art gallery which exhibits the works of noted artists. Among these, perhaps none is more significant than Ralph Hotere. While no longer serving as a spiritual space, it remains strongly associated with New Zealand’s culture.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

The building is a rare insight into the design of a Jewish Temple and a Freemasons temple. While some modifications have taken place, the basic architectural design of the original Synagogue remains. Much of the ornamentation may relate to its later use as a masonic temple but indications of its earlier use are discernible. It is a rare and special glimpse into the spiritual arts and traditions of both Jews and Masons.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

The former Synagogue stands not only as a symbol of both the past and as a sanctuary for our artistic present. Transformed into a remarkable gallery space, it provides access to the works of many noted artists. It also provides a special space for community events such as book launches.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

The design of the former Synagogue is rare. In its virtually unmodified state the visitor can see an original Masonic temple, and underneath the Masonic ornamentation, a 1860s Jewish Synagogue. The remainder of the building shows the layout of a large and virtually unmodified Masonic meeting place.

(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement:

The structure dates to an early period of New Zealand settlement. The Synagogue was built in 1864. Although it has been added on to, the building’s original historical features are still clearly legible.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:

The former Synagogue is a rare and special historic place. It is one of just two synagogues remaining in New Zealand that date from the nineteenth century. The interior is both interesting and extremely rare in that Masonic ritual was not unlike Jewish practices; so much of the gilded and painted decoration needed only minor alterations. In its long history there have been changes and additions but the Synagogue remains a rare testament to a past long gone.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The historical and cultural landscape of Moray Place is significant to Dunedin, particularly this quarter between Princes Street and Stuart Street. It is a precinct of early former churches, particularly minority denominations, including the Moray Place Congregational Church and the Trinity Methodist Church. Each of these has found a new use, one as apartments and the other as the Fortune Theatre. Unfortunately it is the 1881 ‘new’ Synagogue which is now missing from the landscape. The streetscape features numerous historic buildings, finding new uses as retail shops. The former Synagogue sits among them and yet holds itself separate, on its high hilltop above the streets below.

Summary of Significance or Values:

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, c, e, g, i, j, and k.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.

The former Dunedin Synagogue is of special historical significance. It reflects the life of the Jewish community and the practice of freemasonry. It is now the oldest surviving synagogue in New Zealand and one of only two Victorian ones still extant in the country. It is also the southernmost former synagogue in the world. It is architecturally significant as the first major building project of William Henry Clayton, who was later appointed as New Zealand’s first Colonial Architect. The enigmatic structure represents the early efforts of immigrants to transplant their religions and traditional practices into colonial New Zealand and is a rare, virtually unmodified glimpse into the spiritual arts and traditions of both Jews and Masons.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Clayton, William Henry

Born in Tasmania, Clayton (1823-1877) travelled to Europe with his family in 1842. He studied architecture in Brussells and was then articled to Sir John Rennie, engineer to the Admiralty, in London. He returned to Tasmania in 1848 and worked in private practice until he was appointed Government Surveyor in 1852.

He resumed private practice in 1855 and was involved with surveying in the Launceston area. In 1857 he was elected an alderman on the Launceston Municipal Council. By the time Clayton immigrated to Dunedin in 1863 he had been responsible for the design of many buildings including churches, banks, a mechanics' institute, a theatre, steam and water mills, breweries, bridges, mansions and villas, in addition to being a land surveyor and road engineer.

In 1864 he entered partnership with William Mason. Mason and Clayton were responsible for some important buildings in Dunedin including All Saints Church (1865) and The Exchange (former Post Office) (1865) as well as the Colonial Museum, Wellington (1865). These were two of the most prominent architects of their day in New Zealand.

In 1869 Clayton became the first and only Colonial Architect and was responsible for the design of Post and Telegraph offices, courthouses, customhouses, Government department offices and ministerial residences. His acknowledged masterpiece is Government Buildings, Wellington (1876) a stone-simulated wooden building and the largest timber framed building in the Southern Hemisphere.

Clayton was a prolific and highly accomplished architect both within the Public Service and in private practice, in New Zealand and Australia.

See https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2c20/clayton-william-henry

Ross, David

David Ross (1827-1908) was one of a significant number of architects who came to New Zealand from Australia in the early 1860s prompted by the news of the Otago gold rushes. Born in Scotland, Ross worked in Victoria in the late 1850s before settling in Dunedin in c.1862, whereupon he entered into a brief partnership with William Mason (1810-97). After establishing his own practice, Ross designed the Congregational Church (1863-64), Dunedin's oldest ecclesiastical building, Fernhill house (1867) which is now home to the Dunedin Club, and the central wing of the Otago Museum (1876-77).

In the mid-1860s Ross worked briefly in Hokitika (1866) before returning to Dunedin and in 1870 he applied for a patent for the frames and apparatus required for the construction of works in concrete. This application lapsed but it is nevertheless significant as it places Ross at the forefront of the development of mass concrete construction in this country. In addition to his professional responsibilities David Ross was also a member of the first Dunedin City Council (1865-66) and in 1876 he became the first president of the joint Institute of Engineers and Architects in Otago. Ross may have returned to Australia in the early 1890s and it would appear that he spent the rest of his life living in the United States and Japan.

Miller, Eric S C

Eric Miller was educated at Otago Boys High School and served an apprenticeship with Salmond and Vane. After serving in the engineers in France in World War I, he trained in London on a scholarship, along with James White whom he had known as a child when living in Dunedin. After London he went to stay with an aunt in San Francisco where he helped with rebuilding that city after its great earthquake. Returning to Dunedin about 1925-25, he was associated with the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition at Logan Park where he worked with Edmund Anscombe, a distant relative. He and Jim White formed a partnership in 1927 and took over Anscombe's office when the latter moved to Wellington. Miller and then White followed Anscombe as the University architect. They designed the Willi Fels wing of the Otago Museum (1929), the Otakou Maori church and hall (1941) and the Hercus block of the Medical School (1948), all of which tend to be associated with Miller's name, rather than White's. Miller also won a competition for the Oamaru war memorial (1926). Miller was a skilled mountaineer and one of the foundation members of the Otago Alpine Club. In 1939 he published his diary of life in the trenches in 1917, illustrated with numerous pen and ink sketches made during active service. He was a Fellow of both the New Zeeland and Royal British Institute of Architects.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative


The Maori history of this area relates particularly to coastal Otago (Te Tai o Araiteuru) and the tradition of the waka Arai Te Uru. Muaupoko (Otago Peninsula) in particular, provided a sheltered place for settlement. A settlement in what is now central Dunedin is believed to have been occupied as late as 1785 but was unoccupied in the 1820s when the area was described by Thomas Shepherd. Although ancient trails (ara tawhito), seasonal settlements (nohoaka) and canoe mooring sites (tauraka waka) were evident at the commencement of Dunedin, most soon vanished or were incorporated into colonial roads.

The Dunedin Jewish congregation:

Before 1861 and the discovery of gold in Otago, only five members of the Jewish faith ventured to settle amongst Dunedin’s overwhelmingly Presbyterian Scottish community. Wolf Harris, George Casper, Hyam E. Nathan, Joseph Fogel and Adolph Bing formed the basis of the congregation. Nathan held services in his home in High Street.

Numbers escalated rapidly with the arrival of gold-seeking immigrants. Many new Jewish immigrants applied their efforts to supplying the wants and needs of the miners. The community continued to increase and on 15 January 1862 a public meeting was advertised to consider establishing a Jewish congregation and the purchase of a site for a synagogue.

The meeting attracted 14 gentlemen and on 26 January the Dunedin Jewish Congregation was born; the southernmost Jewish congregation in the world.

The first meeting place was a small house on George Street but as the number of Jewish residents in Dunedin continued to increase, it soon proved inadequate. In June 1863 the Congregation met to discuss the ‘immediate necessity of erecting a suitable place of worship’. A site was decided upon and a subscription list drew £400 that night. The preferred site was on the corner of Moray Place and View Street but delays meant the site was bought by the Congregational Church. Instead, the Jewish Congregation purchased an adjacent site on Moray Place, Part Section 29 Block XIV. It was a triangular, sharply sloping site. The Synagogue would be placed at the top and rear of the section, overlooking the emerging city.

The Dunedin Synagogue:

On 2 December 1863, the Congregation invited designs for the erection of a synagogue. By January 1864 W.H. Clayton, architect, had been appointed.

William Clayton (1823-1877) was born in Tasmania. In 1840 he travelled to Europe and studied architecture. Returning to Tasmania he was appointed Government Surveyor in 1852 but the economic depression saw him move to Dunedin in 1863. His first jobs were minor and the commission to build the Synagogue was his first major project. Interestingly, Clayton’s wife was Jewish, and in 1867 his daughter Mary married a prominent member of the Dunedin Jewish Congregation who was also their neighbour: future New Zealand Premier Sir Julius Vogel (1835-1899). Designing important Dunedin buildings such as the Provincial Chambers and All Saint’s Church, he went on to become New Zealand’s first and only Colonial Architect. He is best known for his masterpiece, the Wellington Government Buildings (1876) a stone-simulated wooden building and the largest timber framed building in the Southern Hemisphere.

The successful building tender came from Somner and Gunn for £1400. By 23 July 1864 the exterior of the new Synagogue was almost complete and tenders were called for its fittings. The total cost was £1850 and the Congregation remained in debt for some years.

Like Clayton’s other contemporary designs, the Synagogue was built in brick, 18 inches thick, English bond with alternate courses of headers and stretchers, with a cavity and an inner lining wall. The foundations facing Moray Place were high because of the steep slope. Built of bluestone, probably Leith Valley trachy-andesite, there were two round-arched windows on the southeast elevation. There may have been windows also in the opposing wall, but photographic evidence only presents the southeast view. An entrance door to the basement was on the northwest elevation. The basement measured 30 by 20 feet (9 by 6 metres). The space was used as the Vestry and school room.

The Synagogue was about 24 metres long by 9.5 metres wide. There were five tall round headed windows on the southeast and northwest elevations. They appear to have been glazed, double-sash windows, four panes to each sash, and the upper sashes round headed. In an 1865 photograph the window panes have been obscured blocking the view of the interior from casual observers. Local architectural historian, Hardwicke Knight, commented that the ‘brickwork is outstanding’; although in time ‘the beauty of the brickwork was lost by cement rendering’.

The rectangular brick exterior included a narrow wooden porch on the elevation facing Moray Place. The wooden entrance porch was inset into the northeast elevation and topped with a small pediment. An 1865 photograph shows the porch had two narrow windows, one above the other. Simple steps with a railing led from the ground to the porch’s wooden entrance door. The Congregation intended to erect a more imposing façade at a later date. Photographic evidence indicates the rear of the building was also unadorned except for a small triangular pediment sent into the wall.

The newspaper commented on the interior of the building on its completion:

‘The interior fittings of the building are exceedingly chaste. The Ark of the Covenant has a very imposing effect as you enter the Synagogue; it is composed of four Corinthian columns in white and gold. Between each pillar are panels with gold mouldings; the whole surmounted with a most elaborate carved arch, tinted with gold. In the centre are placed tablets on which are inscribed the Ten Commandments. The covering in front of the ark is composed of crimson silk velvet, with a very splendid border, elegantly embroidered with gold in the centre, bearing the 'shield of David'...The approach to the ark is by circular steps, imitating white and black marble, the centre covered with a costly carpet. The reading desk or pulpit is placed in the centre, and is one of the most elaborate pieces of workmanship we have seen in the province. Like the Ark, it is painted in pure white, with gold mouldings, and surrounded by sixteen pillars in sienna marble. The ladies’ gallery is particularly chaste, and supported by eight massive pillars, corresponding with the pulpit; beneath the dwarf balustrades, which are placed at the top, are mouldings very elaborately carved and tinted with gold...the arrangements reflect the highest credit on both architects and builders...’

The walls were plastered and the ceiling timber stained and varnished. The principal rafters were dressed and chamfered with cut pendants under the queen posts. The seats were ranged on one side of the synagogue with simply designed scroll ends. The seat backs and elbows were padded and covered in crimson plush. The wood work was painted white to correspond with the other fittings. Ventilation was provided for by iron gratings inserted in the exterior walls which were linked to interior ventilators in the floor and in the ceiling.

The area surrounding the Synagogue was grassed, with paths in front and behind. A wooden fence surrounded the land, with a gate at the rear and a path leading presumably to the road behind. There was also a narrow outhouse at the rear, southwest elevation.

The Dunedin Synagogue was consecrated on Sunday 25 September 1864. A large number of the Jewish congregation gathered as well as ‘several of the most influential gentlemen of this city representing Christian denominations.’ The building was, and is, the southernmost Synagogue in the world. It is now, also, the oldest surviving synagogue in New Zealand and is one of only two Victorian ones still extant. A replacement synagogue, built in Dunedin in 1881, has since been lost. Auckland’s Synagogue, constructed in 1884-1885, is now the second oldest surviving synagogue. Wellington’s wooden synagogue was built in 1879 and in use for 60 years before being demolished. Christchurch’s synagogue was built in 1881 and deconsecrated in 1987 and later demolished. New Zealand’s three other synagogues, established at Nelson, Hokitika, and Timaru, are also no longer in existence.


In 1872 David Ross, architect, was engaged to erect stone steps and walls to improve the steep access from Moray Place. Ross advertised for tenders ‘for Stone, Wood, and Earthwork of approaches to Synagogue’ in February. Knight describes the resulting street entrance wall and gate as ‘particularly fine, solidly built of large blocks of Port Chalmers breccia.’ Art historian Peter Entwisle believes this new landscaping was ‘intended to provide a dignified setting for the structure, above a park-like approach, despite the very steep ascent and narrow street frontage. In what is otherwise a built-up townscape the result is dramatic and provides a sharp contrast to the surrounding Moray Place street frontages.’

The improvements were made at a cost of £300 but ‘still the inconvenience of the high elevation from the street was felt, more particularly by the ladies, and although it was frequently advocated to complete the front, it was put off from time to time in the hopes of disposing of the land and buildings at a fair price.‘

In the same way the Congregation made alterations to manage a challenging site, they also altered traditional Jewish practices to survive in an unconventional colonial environment. Changes were made to the inclusion of women in services, the abandonment of kosher meat and lessons in Jewish practices. A Jewish commentator, Lazarus Goldman, notes the ‘apathy of the Dunedin Jews towards their religious exercises did not indicate that they abjured their religion or Jewishness. They had no inhibitions concerning the fact that they were Jews. Formal religion and its symbols had to be supported. Although they did not attend the services regularly on Sabbaths, absence on the High Holydays would almost have been considered a betrayal.’ Increasingly New Zealand Jews did not emphasise their adherence to their faith through public worship and adherence to orthodox Jewish practices. Yet the Synagogue represented a tradition with which they were more or less in accord.

When the Synagogue became too small then for the crowds who attended on the High Festivals, the Congregation had reason to look to a larger and more imposing edifice.

1881 and the Dunedin Masonic Hall Company:

In December 1875 the Dunedin Jewish congregation purchased a new site on Moray Place, almost opposite the existing Synagogue. It was not until 1888, however, that the sale of the Synagogue appeared imminent when sale negotiations began with the Dunedin Masonic Hall Company. On 9 May 1880 the Committee accepted an offer of £1850 and a possession date of 5 January 1881. A delay in the construction of the new Synagogue led the Committee to ask for continued use of the building for three weeks after the possession date. The Committee minutes of 6 March 1881 noted that ‘The President reported that the removal from the old building to the new one had taken place on Feb 7th and that divine service was held for the first time in the temporary school...’ The new Synagogue opened on 4 November 1881 (and has since been demolished). The old Synagogue had served the largest community of Jews in New Zealand for over 15 years.

David Ross was appointed to adapt and extend the structure for Masonic purposes. Ross was one of Dunedin’s most important architects. He was also a Mason.

Soon after the transfer of ownership, on 11 February 1881, Ross advertised for tenders for works on the new Masonic hall. Messrs Anderson and Godso submitted the successful tender. Work was completed by August, costing between £1200 and £1300.

While Ross made some alteration to the existing interior, the most significant change was extending the building horizontally and vertically. A top floor was added with an extension cantilevered from the southeast elevation. The building was also extended towards Moray Place occupying the footprint of the existing wooden portico and including an internal staircase. The foundations were possibly bluestone, with brick for the walls. Timber was used for the cantilevered external gallery. The new topmost space had windows facing the street. Knight comments that the ‘result was a larger, more functional but still externally austere structure’. The first floor, including the extension, held an anteroom, a robing room, and a chamber 30 by 20 feet (9 by 6 metres), which was to be used as a library. Beyond this was the lodge room, the former Synagogue. The newly created second floor held an ante chamber and chapter meeting room. Ross’ interior modifications were described by during the consecration ceremony on 31 August 1881:

The Company entrusted to Bro P. D. Ross, District Grand Superintendent of Works, E.C. the task of rendering the edifice suitable for Masonic purposes, and in this Bro. P.M. Ross has succeeded to perfection, giving the craft a most perfect and complete Masonic temple. The hall proper is a superb apartment... Its appointments are extremely chaste and of very superior materials. The eastern part, or dais, is splendidly fitted, all the emblems of the craft being displayed in painted glass, the work of Bro Leves. The dais is covered with crimson carpet, and the seats are of massive rosewood and haircloth. Round the sides of the lodge are raised seats, properly upholstered and capable of seating 300 persons... The point of special attractions within the lodge room is that termed in Masonic parlance 'the East', which is an alcove decorated and painted in a most artistic style by Messrs Leves and Scott.

The Masons repainted the ark adding their own emblem; the All-Seeing Eye. A later owner’s research indicates that the eye had either been painted or repainted by noted artist Petrus Van der Velden (1827-1913).

1932 Alterations:

In 1932 Dunedin Masonic Hall Company hired Eric Miller (1896-1948) of the architectural firm Miller & White, to expand and remodel the building. Interestingly, research by a later owner indicates the refit was designed ‘by an itinerant Italian who had been in Dunedin at the time and was also responsible for Pattilo Studio.’

The builders were Woody & McCormack. For a cost of £3,611 they removed the cantilevered gallery on the southeast elevation and replaced it with a new wing. They also rebuilt the street frontage. The result was largely the structure as it appears today.

The new exterior was brick on concrete foundations, then rendered in cement plaster and capped with ceramic tiles. The front elevation is dominated by a plasterwork relief, representing the royal arch of the Temple of Solomon. The square and compass in the centre of the Arch is the most identifiable symbol of freemasonry. The exterior windows were also redesigned, removing the embellishments beneath the round headed arch and adding the square and compass.

To the north of the front façade a small narrow wing was added which incorporated an entrance porch and a men’s toilet block behind. To the south a two story wing was added. It accommodated a supper room and utility services. The exterior plans show a subtle stepped exterior, with the new porch stepped slightly to the front of the existing structure, which in turn is stepped slightly to the front of the new southeast wing.

On the interior, the new porch entered into a long corridor. To the right of the corridor was a combined Committee and Cloak room. The corridor led to a few stairs and a landing, which gave access to the smaller Candidates’ and Ladies Cloak room.

The sweeping wooden staircase, housed within the new extension, led up to the first floor. Off the landing to the right was the Anteroom and Temple. Straight ahead was the new refectory, with a kitchen behind.

With the addition of the southeast wing, the five windows of the original Synagogue on this side were enclosed. The architect introduced plasterwork in their place featuring Masonic emblems. The windows on the adjacent wall, bar one, were also filled in. Ventilator panels were set into the tops of the window openings. The gallery may also have been enlarged during the renovations and an organ was added to the space. A black and white centrepiece in the floor of the temple, ‘emblematic of human life, checkered with good and evil’ was also added.

The staircase continued to the second floor and a small landing, to the left of which was a small store room. Behind the landing was a narrow Candidates’ Room. To the right was a large Chapter Room which had formerly included the stairs.

On Wednesday 2 November 1932 the building was officially opened. For the next sixty years, the structure was the central meeting place for Dunedin Masons. General repairs and maintenance were ongoing.


Peter Duncan and Victoria Timpany bought the building in October 1992. A refit began almost at once. Peter Duncan, artist and architect, had overseen numerous architectural restorations in Europe. Victoria explained that Peter’s ‘vision was to give the building a contemporary function without radically changing its character’. Cheaper than a house, the Duncans aimed to utilise the space as both a home and accommodation for their dealer gallery. Their venture was aptly named the Temple Gallery.

Peter Duncan took on much of the work, with the aid of Stuart Robertson who made all the joinery for the building’s restoration. The Duncans removed the hardboard which had covered the walls and removed linoleum from floors, revealing the original wooden flooring. The Masons had not destroyed original features but simply covered them up to ‘modernise’ the space.

The first priority was to turn the top floor, including the old Chapter Room, into a self-contained apartment to rent out and generate income. Refurbishment of the refectory for use as a gallery space was completed in 1998, although proper kitchen and bathroom facilities remained unfinished.

The original Synagogue was converted into part of the Duncan family’s apartment. Many of the Masonic embellishments remain. Three of the windows on the east wall were reopened during the refit to introduce natural light. The master bedroom is under what was originally the Ladies Gallery. The second room of the apartment is the main living area which was once the temple’s anteroom.

During the course of the twelve year project, work was also carried out to consolidate the foundations. Some of the cement of the upper walls was removed on the northwest wing, exposing the original brickwork. The roof is now corrugated iron and channel iron.

Since 1998 the building has been the premises of prominent dealer gallery, the Temple Gallery. It has been a significant outlet for the works of predominantly Otago locals, including Ralph Hotere, Donna Demente and Anita DeSoto. Dunedin band ‘The Chills’ recorded their last album in the space. One international renowned travel company rates the Gallery and former Synagogue as one of the top fourteen sites to see in the city. The historical and cultural prominence of the former Synagogue is recognised not only locally but internationally. Owner Victoria Timpany encapsulated the significance of the building, when she spoke of her family’s love of its history. ‘Living in this building, in the heart of town, we’re living in a piece of it.’

Physical Description

Construction Professionals:

William Clayton (architect)

Somner and Gunn (builders)

David Ross (architect)

Anderson and Godso (builders)

Eric Miller (architect)


Moray Place street front is crowded with buildings and shop fronts. From the street, a wooden bench in front of a high bluestone wall and a wrought iron gate marks the entrance to the Dunedin Synagogue. Above the entrance is a steep slope with paths and steps winding up through a wild garden to a high façade at the top of the hill, rising above the surrounding buildings. The effect is dramatic. The former Synagogue’s front facade is restrained yet imposing.

The Garden Path:

The steep slope of the garden is crossed by pathways and steps bordered by bluestone walls that were constructed in 1872. The current owner writes that the ‘designer, Ross, took a special delight in massive stone-work which is obvious. There is cast iron railing topping the wall with a motif representing the Sun Cross. The stone-work is robust and boldly textured. A zigzagging ramp has been provided for the short-of-breath by the thoughtful modifications of 1932.’ Both arrive at the little, pillared portico. A garden seat sits against the former Synagogue’s foundations; plant pots are scattered around.

The Exterior:

The dignified cream façade rises steeply from the top of the pathways. The façade is rendered in rusticated cement. The ground level cement render is painted a dusky pink and there are three small square windows set in to the foundations. The centre of the façade is dominated by a plasterwork relief, with inset columns bound together by the Royal Arch, representing the Temple of Solomon. Underneath the arch, in white plaster relief, are the Masonic emblems of the square and compass. Four narrow windows set within the arch are echoed on the surrounding façade. The main façade, southeast wing and entrance portico are capped with terracotta coloured ceramic tiles.

At the extreme north end of the front elevation are a small entrance porch with elaborately panelled wooden doors, inset pillars and a porch light dating from 1932. The website for the Temple Gallery notes that the ‘modesty of this entrance beside the great height of the façade adds to the impression one is entering a slightly mysterious, almost secret place.’

The other elevations are inaccessible from the Moray Place entrance as fences and tall buildings prevent access. The northeast elevation may be reached though doors from the original Synagogue. Some of the cement work has been removed from this elevation and the original 1864 brickwork is displayed. The original bluestone foundations are also visible, as is the rear of the small wing added in 1932. There is only a narrow stretch of ground beside the building but it contains archaeological remains such as old bottles and the results of smelting work.

The southwest elevation is accessed from the rear of the building. The view is a hodgepodge of cement walls, red brick walls and corrugated iron. Behind, a narrow lane provides for parking and access to Tennyson Street.

The Basement:

The basement area is below the original Synagogue. This was originally the school room. The current owner reports that this area has largely been filled in by later works and only a small space remains, about the size of a small laundry or wine cellar.

The Ambulatory:

Returning to the entrance portico, passed the double wooden doors, a sharp left turn goes into a long gallery lit by Star of David windows. Freemasonry also uses the two interlacing triangles as symbols of opposites in nature - good and bad, truth and error, ignorance and wisdom, yin and yang etc. The entrance floor is tiled but the gallery is concrete with rugs laid over for warmth. The first door on the right leads to an office. From this space is access to the small northwest wing which houses original men’s bathroom facilities.

The ambulatory includes a door to the small boiler room and ends at the foot of the staircase. The timber staircase begins with a few stairs which lead to a landing which gives access to the former Ladies Cloakroom with its built in wardrobe, toilet and sink. The staircase is built within the southeast extension wing.

The Refectory:

From the top of the staircase at first floor level, the Temple Gallery is straight ahead. This used to be the Masonic refectory, or supper room, added to the main building in 1932. Its floor plan is an irregular rectangle, necessitated by the wedge shape of the site. Lighting is provided by skylights and electric lighting. The walls are plastered and painted cream and hold works of art. At the base of the northwest wall the bluestone foundations of the original Synagogue have been exposed, the better to see the quality of its construction. The main walls are divided by pilasters with decorated capitals. At the rear, southwest elevation of the gallery there is a bar area, where original brick walls have been exposed. Another door in this rear wall leads to a small corridor with an antechamber on the right. Anecdotal stories tell that this room lead directly into the ark area of the Synagogue by means of sliding panels. The small corridor leads to steps and a door exiting to the rear of the building and car park.

Returning to the stairwell landing there are elevated views of the inner city in the clear glass surrounding the Star of David lead lights. On the floor of the landing is a parquet star motif installed during the 1992 retrofit. It is placed outside the door to the owner’s apartment.

The Ante Room:

The Masons’ Ante Room, where Masons assembled before going to perform their rituals, is now the apartment’s dining and work space. The northeast elevation houses the bathroom and an open plan kitchen with elevated views across the city. There are tall, original windows in the northwest wall and a fireplace in the southwest wall between this room and Synagogue. The floor is polished kauri and there is tongue and groove panelling to dado height.

The Sanctuary:

Another door opens to the original Synagogue, later Masonic sanctuary. This space seems spectacularly generous. Although the gallery is directly overhead on entering the space, the true height of the ceiling is quickly apparent. The eye is also drawn to the large windows, the plaster mouldings which cover old windows and the impressively decorated, dark panelled Ark on the far wall.

Synagogue design often makes reference to the ancient Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, as does the design of Masonic Temples. In Jewish practice the Ark was the place where the holy scriptures were kept in a closed recess. This one is dressed in Baroque style, like the one in the 17th century 'Portuguese' synagogue in Amsterdam. It has flanking pillars, referring to Solomon’s Temple, and an arched pediment. It has been repainted with Masonic symbols, including the All Seeing Eye in the tympanum, the space immediately below the arch. It may be that the notable Dutch-born New Zealand artist Petrus Van der Velden (1837-1913) painted or re-painted the eye.

The chamber is naturally lit by three of the original five windows in the synagogue’s northwest wall reopened during the retrofit. Originally the five on the other side were also open but the addition of the refectory extension on that elevation saw the windows filled in. The Masons introduced plasterwork and plaster detailing around the original window frames featuring their emblems of the square and compass.

In the middle of the floor there is an area of patterned black and white mosaic squares. This is a Masonic representation of the ground floor of King Solomon’s Temple, and is emblematic of human life, chequered with good and evil. It has blue glass tiles set in each corner, the lenses of electric lamps, which were part of Masonic ritual.

Along the entrance wall there is a gallery; originally a matroneum for women and children of the Jewish congregation who were not allowed to take part in the formal rites. This gallery may not be original; perhaps replaced by the Masons to accommodate an organ which they had from 1881. It is supported by cast iron Corinthian pillars made by the Dunedin Victoria Foundry. There is a flight of stairs giving access to the gallery.

Having been a place of Jewish worship, and then a Masonic Temple, this imposing and dignified space is now a sunny apartment and stately bed-chamber, the sanctuary of a family’s life. A wood burner has been installed and exterior French doors, but its former uses are evident everywhere. Like the whole complex, but more emphatically, the sanctuary has carried its fascinating past into the present. It is one of a few, surviving, impressive Victorian interiors in New Zealand.

The Second floor:

Returning to the wide wooden staircase, up past tall narrow windows and imposing pieces of art, one reaches the upper landing. To the left on the southeast elevation is a narrow bathroom. The walls are exposed brick. In the rear southwest elevation is a small door built in the wall. It provides access to attic space which provides storage. A window in the rear elevation provides additional lighting to the small landing. Turning to the right, and through a doorway, is a rented apartment. The room is open plan, spacious and light. The large windows provide excellent vistas across the city rooftops. It includes a kitchen built into the northeast and southeast corner. This large space was originally designed as a Masonic chapter room.

The former Synagogue is an example of a rare and impressive structure with a wealth of history which makes it unique in New Zealand.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1864 -
Synagogue constructed

1881 -
Extended and modified into a Masonic temple

1932 -
Structure extended and modified

1993 - 2004
Conversion to residence and gallery space

Construction Details

Brick, concrete, cement plaster, iron, and ceramic tiles

Completion Date

24th February 2012

Report Written By

Susan Irvine

Information Sources

Croot, 1999

Charles Croot, Dunedin Churches Past and Present, Otago Settlers Association, Dunedin, 1999

Knight, 1988

Hardwicke Knight and Niel Wales, Buildings of Dunedin: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to New Zealand's Victorian City, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1988

pp. 97-98

Knight, 1993

Hardwicke Knight, Church Building in Otago, Dunedin, 1993.

Thomson, 1998

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

New Zealand House & Garden

New Zealand House & Garden

Peter Entwisle, Behold the Moon, Dunedin, Port Daniel Press, 2010.Cecilie Geary, ‘Set for Life’, NZ House & Garden, June 2010, pp. 30-38.

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Southern Region 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.