Prime Minister's Residence

248-260A Tinakori Road, Thorndon, WELLINGTON

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Purchased by the Crown in 1865 the Prime Minister's Residence, also known as Premier House, provides a rare insight into the public and private lives of New Zealand's political leaders. When the capital was moved to Wellington from Auckland in 1865, the Crown purchased sections 630 and 631 from Richard Collins for £2900 as a residence for the Premier, the site being close to the new Government buildings. Collins had added substantially to a small timber cottage built on the site in 1843 by businessman Nathaniel Levin. In 1867 Premier Sir E. Stafford moved in, the first of many New Zealand leaders who would occupy the building. Premier Sir Julius Vogel and his wife Mary took up residence in 1872. They found the modest Collins' house too small for their lavish functions and engaged an architect to extend the building. Mary Vogel's father, W.H. Clayton, Colonial Architect, is credited with the extensive alterations, costing £2885, that were completed in 1873. Only the southern wing of the original house was retained. In its place was a two storied, late Victorian Italianate style timber home with eight bedrooms, enlarged servant's quarters, a conservatory and a ballroom. Clad in shiplap weatherboards, the building was adorned with decorative elements such as Chicago and bay windows. The less visible rear of the building, where utilitarian areas such as the kitchen and scullery were located, was relatively plain. In 1884 New Zealand's first lift was installed to transport the gout ridden Sir Julius Vogel from the dining room to his bedroom above. During the Vogel's residence the house was known for its opulent parties and acquired the nickname 'The 'Casino'. In 1874 the Crown acquired section 632 once owned by James Hill. Sections 630, 631 and 632 are the last three original town acre sections in Wellington. The 1874 purchase brought the grounds surrounding Premier House to just under 121 square metres, a dramatic contrast to the small, heavily built-up sections that characterised the rest of Thorndon. The grounds were landscaped soon after this acquisition. A site plan of 1890 shows a kitchen garden, shrubberies, flower-beds and fruit trees. The small house on section 632, which had been rented by both Sir George Grey and Edward Gibbon Wakefield, was retained on its site until 1935 when it was replaced with a new ministerial residence by the Labour Government. Until 1935, 260 Tinakori Road accommodated many of New Zealand's premiers, prime ministers and senior ministers. When the first Labour Government rose to power at the end of the Great Depression in 1935, the house gained added political significance. To highlight the difference between Labour and the old governmental regime, newly elected Michael Joseph Savage declared that the house was too ostentatious for members of the Labour Government and moved to a house in Harbour View Road. There were rumours that the house at 260 Tinakori Road would be demolished and the property subdivided. Instead the house was converted into a trainee dental clinic in 1937. Designed to cope with the overflow of trainee dental nurses that resulted from the new Government's expanded health care programme, the house was to serve as temporary accommodation until a new school could be completed. Capable of seating 50 children, the building functioned as a clinic until 1976. 260 Tinakori Road was nicknamed 'The Murder House' by generations of children practised on by the apprentice nurses. After the closure of the clinic, the house was again threatened with demolition. Ironically, a Labour minister, Michael Basset, was instrumental in persuading the authorities to comply with the Thorndon Historical Society's request to have the house reinstated as a ministerial residence. It was restored in 1990 to mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Many of the trees planted in the 1870s had been retained, and enough of the original framework of the garden had survived to enable city council gardeners to restore it to its former glory. The grounds are now considered one of the best examples of a Victorian garden. Now the Wellington residence of the Prime Minister, the house and grounds are maintained as a piece of living heritage. The house at 260 Tinakori Road has many claims to national significance. Between 1867 and 1935, 260 Tinakori Road accommodated many of New Zealand's premiers, prime ministers and senior ministers. These residents were instrumental in the development of the social, economic and political development of New Zealand during its transition from colony to Dominion. As a residence and the site of many important social events, the house gives a valuable insight into the past and present, private and public lives of New Zealand's leaders. The cultural value of the house has been maintained through restoration to its former function. The building also has national historical worth for the insight it gives into the principles of New Zealand's first Labour Government, demonstrated by their decision to vacate the building and to redevelop it as a dental clinic. Internal features such as the lift and ballroom floor give the house's technological value. The grounds at 260 Tinakori Road consist of the last three remaining original town acre sections in Wellington and are therefore a unique link with an important part of the city's history. The grounds have added significance as a living example of a Victorian landscaped garden. The dramatic contrast of the expansive grounds with the narrow sections that characterise the rest of the Thorndon area give the grounds considerable streetscape value. This highly significant building, twice threatened by demolition, is a valuable example of living heritage.

Prime Minister's Residence, Wellington. Open Day. Image courtesy of Creative Commons License – CC BY-SA 4.0 | Ballofstring - Wikimedia Commons | 26/07/2015 | Ballofstring
Prime Minister's Residence, Wellington. Open Day. Image courtesy of Creative Commons License – CC BY-SA 4.0 | Ballostring - Wikimedia Commons | 26/07/2015 | Ballostring
Prime Minister's Residence, Wellington. c.1880, taken by an unidentified photographer Ref: 1/2-118890-F. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image. | Alexander Turnbull Library



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

3rd March 1988

Date of Effect

3rd March 1988

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Sec 1 SO 36604 (NZ Gazette 1987 p.3871), Wellington Land District, including the gardens, and the buildings known as Prime Minister’s Residence thereon, including Premier House, the 1935 Ministerial residence Premier Cottage and its shed, the Gardener’s Shed, and The Schoolhouse.

Legal description

Sec 1 SO 36604 (NZ Gazette 1987 p.3871), Wellington Land District

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