Cargill's Monument

Princess Street, Rattray Street and High Street, DUNEDIN


Quick links:

Cargill’s Monument, completed in 1864, is a Gothic Revival masterpiece standing at what was once the centre of the Dunedin business district in the late 1800s in the area that was originally known as Custom House Square, now known as the Exchange, at the intersection of Princes and Rattray Streets. The monument, of architectural, aesthetic and historic significance, was built in memory of Captain William Cargill (1784-1860) who, along with the Reverend Thomas Burns (1796?-1871), was the leader of the Otago settlement. It is situated close to the landing site of the waka Arai Te Uru and the location where Cargill had arrived with the first settlers of the Free Church settlement on the John Wickliffe on 23 March 1848. The monument was designed by Mr Charles Swyer, the Provincial Engineer from 1862-1864 and was described as possibly being inspired by the Scott Memorial in Edinburgh. This is the only monument that can be attributed to Swyer and is unlike any other monument in the province. The construction made use of two main materials, bluestone from the town-belt quarry near London Street and Tasmanian freestone (sandstone). Originally situated in the middle of the road in the Octagon, the monument was removed to its present site in 1872 to create a clear thoroughfare through the Octagon towards the north end of Dunedin. The monument provided a place of refreshment with its built in fountains, and the four lamps surrounding it provided a much needed source of street lighting (see Figure 5). As a piece of ornate monumental sculpture it was at complete odds with its surroundings in late 19th century Dunedin. The ornate sandstone spire bedecked with grotesques and ornamented pinnacles was a stark contrast to muddy streets and impermanent wooden structures that formed the settlement, and consequently the monument was criticized in the press as a ‘flimsy, light trifling structure … an insult to the memory of Cargill …’ Cargill’s political opponent J.G.S. Grant was particularly scathing of the design suggesting it would be better on Cargill’s grave, and compared the gargoyles embellishing it as representations of Cargill’s children. The monument became a popular meeting place as sources of water often are. It was the founding site of the Salvation Army in 1883 which is commemorated on the monument, and they continued to meet, minister and perform here for decades. Latterly the monument was associated with inebriates, its basins being used as a public convenience. Perhaps to mitigate this misuse of the Cargill Monument, one of Dunedin’s first two underground ‘comfort stations’ (public lavatories) was built beneath the monument in 1910 and remained until 1962. The underground toilets were considered as a troublesome space for homosexual ‘bog cruising’ and because of complaints made 'as to the conduct of a number of young fellows, the entrance was chained and locked at night; a practice known as ‘chubbing’ by gay men. Traffic realignment in the 1990s saw a piece of Lower High Street filled and the traffic island upon which the monument stood, absorbed into the piazza outside John Wickliffe House. Over time the condition of the monument deteriorated and by the 1990s pieces were falling off due to corrosion and damage, both accidental and deliberate by vandalism. Conservation reports were conducted in 1992 and 2010, with significant seismic strengthening and repair work being undertaken in the 2010s by Marcus Wainwright. Although Tasmania sandstone was not available for the repairs, a good match was made with other Australian sourced stone. The structural strengthening work that was conducted on the monument was considered unique in the country due to the complexity of the partial deconstruction, restoration and strengthening required.

Cargill's Monument, Dunedin by night. Image courtesy of | Derek Smith - travelling-light | 04/07/2004 | Derek Smith
Cargill's Monument, Dunedin. CC BY-2.0 Image courtesy of | Benchill | 27/09/2009 | Benchill - Wikimedia Commons
Cargill's Monument, Dunedin. Gargoyle detail. CC BY-2.0 Image courtesy of | Tony Hisgett | 21/11/2016 | Tony Hisgett - Wikimedia Commons
Cargill's Monument, Dunedin. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa photography collection. Reg. No O.034099 | Burton Brothers Photography Studio | No Known Copyright Restrictions



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

11th November 1987

Date of Effect

11th November 1987

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Res No 6 Town of Dunedin, Otago Land District and the structure known as Cargill’s Monument thereon.

Legal description

Res No 6 Town of Dunedin, Otago Land District

Stay up to date with Heritage this month