23 Princes Street, AUCKLAND


Quick links:

Ellesmere is a surviving example of an elite urban residence erected in colonial Auckland, and is one of a significant group of adjoining houses linked with the creation of a well-to-do neighbourhood in the 1870s and early 1880s. Located on the Symonds Street ridge, the two-storey timber residence was constructed in 1881 on top of remains associated with the Albert Barracks. The Barracks had formed the largest military installation in colonial New Zealand, capable of housing approximately 1000 soldiers in the 1840s and 1850s. Possibly itself erected on the site of an earlier Maori settlement known as Horotiu, the fortification was decommissioned following the final withdrawal of British troops in 1870, after which much of the land was subdivided for private lease. The choicest allotments lay on the western side of Princes Street, next to the planned location of Albert Park. The redevelopment was consciously planned as an elite neighbourhood, being located next to places of high social status such as the Colonial Governor's Auckland residence (Old Government House), the Supreme Court (now the High Court) and one of the main cultural venues in the city (Old Choral Hall). Conditions were placed on the construction of all new residences, requiring that they should be at least two storeys and cost a minimum of £700. Lots 5 and 6 were purchased in 1877 by Henry Brett (1843-1927), a self-made businessman and the mayor of Auckland at the time. A pioneer in publishing, he owned the Evening (later Auckland) Star and is considered to have been the first person to introduce photo-engraving to New Zealand. Brett is likely to have purchased the land as an investment and it was not until 1881 that he had a large timber house constructed on the site. Although a grand single residence in external appearance, it housed two semi-detached households, one accessed from the front of the building and the other from the north side. The building was designed in an ornate, Italianate style that was often used for mercantile premises and residences in Auckland during the late Victorian period. Modelled on the designs of Italian Renaissance buildings erected from the proceeds of commercial wealth, Italianate architecture reflected the town's emerging role as a major Pacific entrepot and the prominent social position of merchants in the settlement during the economic boom of the 1870s and early 1880s. The two-storey timber residence incorporated a full-height projecting central bay with a single-storey entrance portico. Extensive external decoration was used, particularly on the main facade to Princes Street. The building interior was separated into two tenancies by a brick partition. The southern tenancy incorporated a long hallway from the front door, from which several rooms on the south side of the building were accessed. A staircase in the hall led to an upper floor with further rooms. The northern tenancy had a shorter hall from the north wall with flanking rooms, and services towards its western end. It also had rooms in an upper storey. An ornate double balcony on the north wall may have been an original feature. Early tenants included Moss Levy, a merchant, in the southern dwelling and Robert Dobson, insurance manager, in the northern portion. The residences may have initially suited single men of means. With the advent of a prolonged economic depression from the mid 1880s, the northern dwelling was turned into boarding house known as Ellesmere. The southern portion was occupied by Henry Brett's daughter, Mrs L. Grainger, and her family until the 1920s. Pre-1900 extensions to the rear of the building served each tenancy approximately equally. Later, more substantial additions were made to the northern dwelling alone. In 1929, the northern residence was converted into flats while by the 1950s the remainder was employed as a doctor's surgery, symptomatic of the growth of medical practice in the neighbourhood through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Following heritage protection in the 1970s, the building was leased to the Auckland University Club. It is currently (2007) used as a language school. During both phases of occupation, some internal partitions have been removed, creating a single unit and significantly modifying the northern tenancy. Ellesmere has aesthetic significance for its street and park setting, its striking external appearance and ornate detailing. It is considered to have archaeological value, incorporating evidence for remains connected with the Albert Barracks, and other deposits linked to residential urban occupation. The main building is architecturally significant as a well-preserved example of an elite urban duplex dwelling in Auckland and as an example of an Italianate timber residence of semi-detached type. Ellesmere is of historical value for demonstrating the transformation of a major urban area into an exclusive residential neighbourhood for Auckland's commercial and professional elite in the late nineteenth century, and for reflecting the wealth and lifestyle of such groups and their prominent position in Auckland society. It is a significant part of an outstandingly important cultural and historical landscape on the Symonds Street ridge that retains numerous archaeological sites, historic buildings and other places linked to its role as the epicentre of early British colonial power in New Zealand, and as a subsequent residential neighbourhood of note.

Ellesmere, Auckland | Martin Jones | 09/04/2007 | Heritage New Zealand
Ellesmere, Auckland. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com | PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite | 02/08/2014 | Phil Braithwaite



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 2


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

2nd February 2008

Date of Effect

2nd February 2008

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 3 DP 129618 (RT NA76A/218), North Auckland Land District and the building and structures thereon, and their fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information). The registration encompasses all archaeological material within the extent described above.

Legal description

Lot 3 DP 129618 (RT NA76A/218), North Auckland Land District

Location Description

On the western side of Princes Street, to the south of its junction with Bowen Avenue

Stay up to date with Heritage this month