Transit House (Former)

44 Park Street, DUNEDIN

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Named to commemorate the viewing of the Transit of Venus in 1882, Transit House is a stately bluestone stone building at 44 Park Street in Dunedin. Midway up Park Street its view spreads southeast towards Dunedin Harbour. The building is of particular historical significance due to its connection to the Gillies family. Robert Gillies (1836-1886) was a notable figure in the early Dunedin business scene and a gentleman of scientific endeavour. His youngest son Harold Gillies (1882-1960) was a pioneering plastic surgeon whose work led to the development of sex reassignment surgeries. The house was notably the long-term home of Harman Reeves (1871-1948), Chair of the Dunedin stock exchange. It has architectural value as one of Dunedin’s finest Victorian villas, with fine detailing on the interior and exterior. Robert Gillies built up a portfolio of land buying sections on Park Street over a number of years. In 1863 he purchased Sections 63 and 64, Block 19 in Park Street. He then purchased Sections 61 and 62, in February 1879. In 1883 Sections 63 and 64 were worth £100 ($16,810) and were referred to as ‘old house’. Gillies employed his nephew, John Arthur Burnside (1856-1920), New Zealand’s first born and locally trained architect, to design Transit House as the Gillies’ family home. Burnside advertised for tenders for the ‘erection of a residence (stone) in Park Street for Gillies’ in early 1882. The Gillies probably moved into the ‘new house’ in late 1882–1883 as in October 1882 the ‘old house’ was advertised to rent. The family were resident by August 1883 as Mrs Gillies was advertising for a ‘cook and laundress’ for Transit House. By 1884-5, valuation records show the ‘new house’ as complete and worth £300 ($55,657). Reflecting Gillies’ wealth and standing in the community, Transit House was grand and imposing in both its interior and exterior, positioned within a beautiful garden setting which includes a significant Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The exterior of Transit House was constructed of bluestone coursework and dark grey andesite possibly from Leith Valley. This was softened by Ōamaru stone quoining and eight large bay windows to flood the interior with light. Architectural commentator Hardwicke Knight notes ‘its most attractive elevation shows two gables bridged by a verandah and balcony.’ The interior was elegant throughout with white marble fireplaces, an imposing entrance hall and hanging concrete staircase. The rooms were spacious and included embossed plaster ceilings, minton tiles in the hall and ornate door handles. Knight notes Burnside’s use of ‘prefabricated capitals’ on ‘formless columns’ and remarks on the ‘splendid’ arches. A possible Burnside innovation were the heating grilles featured in every main room fed by a furnace in the basement. There is also reported to have been a children’s wing, gardener’s cottage and a coach house. The latter was an attractive brick building at 40 Park Street, with ‘round-topped windows, fretted barge boards, and finials’. Perhaps the most unusual feature of Burnside’s design was an astronomical observatory, installed in the roof which included a revolving glass dome. Following Gillies’ early death at aged 50, his family moved to Auckland. They continued to own Transit House but rented it out for a period of time. From 1914 the house was occupied and later owned by Harman Reeves (1871-1948), until 1945. Transit House was then purchased by the Dominican Order, was renamed Dominican Hall, and underwent significant renovation to become a hall of residence. In the 1960s the garage became the home of the Otago Vintage Car Club. The house was sold by the Order in 1982 and once again became a beloved family home. The current owner has restored much of the house and renamed it Rothesay after Gillies’ birthplace in Scotland.

Transit House (Former), Dunedin. c.1988 Image included in Field Record Form Collection | L Galer | Heritage New Zealand



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 2


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

12th December 1990

Date of Effect

12th December 1990

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 61 and Sec 62 Blk XIX Town of Dunedin (RT OT10B/537), Otago Land District

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