Government House (Former)

Waterloo Quadrant, Auckland

  • Government House (Former), Auckland. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 2/08/2014.
  • Government House (Former), Auckland. CCL 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Wayne Feiden. Taken By: Wayne Feiden. Date: 16/07/2011.
  • Government House (Former), Auckland. 1880s. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Ref: PAColl-8794.
    Copyright: No Known Copyright Restrictions. Taken By: Unknown.
  • Government House (Former), Auckland. Drawing room, Ranfurly family photographs, c.1900. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Ref no.PA1-f-194-27.
    Copyright: No Known Copyright Restrictions. Taken By: Unknown.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 105 Date Entered 24th November 1983 Date of Effect 24th November 1983


City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Pt Allots 1 & 2 Sec 6 City of Auckland


Government House was the largest residence in the country when built for the Governor of New Zealand in 1855-1856. Located in landscaped grounds opposite the site of the General Assembly Building in Auckland, the neoclassical structure replaced an earlier house erected for the first colonial governor, William Hobson (1792-1842), which had burnt down in 1848. The building was constructed shortly after the 1852 Constitution Act established a measure of self-government in New Zealand, creating a three-tiered system of administration that included the Governor, a General Assembly and six Provincial Councils. Initially lived in by Governor Thomas Gore Browne (1807-1887), the stately and impressive timber residence reflected the stature of its occupants who, as the Queen's representatives, remained the most powerful officials in the colony. Unlike its prefabricated predecessor which had been shipped to New Zealand from Britain, it was largely constructed of local materials, including a large kauri facade fashioned to look like stone. The internal arrangement of its two storeys was similar to large country houses in nineteenth-century Britain, with reception and service rooms downstairs, and numerous bedrooms and dressing rooms above. The building was designed by William Mason, who had been the first Superintendent of Public Works in New Zealand, and went on to set up the first formal architectural practice in the country.

An integral part of early colonial government, Government House was retained as a viceregal residence after the capital and its administration moved to Wellington in 1865. The governor continued to use the building as an occasional retreat and to receive visiting dignitaries, bolstering Auckland's role as a major economic and social centre. Later additions that reflect this function include a ballroom constructed for the first British royal visit to New Zealand, made by Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh in 1869. Chambers for an aide-de-camp and larger servants' quarters expanded the building in the early 1900s, indicating the increasing size and importance of the governor's entourage. Apart from its brief use as the 'Government House Club for the Fighting Forces and Merchant Navy' in the Second World War, the house remained a viceregal residence until 1969, when it was formally taken over by the University of Auckland. It has since provided a senior common room for university staff, and a place for temporary accommodation and lectures.

The former Government House is of national and international significance as the first 'Great House' to have been built in New Zealand and the most substantial government building to survive from early British rule. It is linked to events and figures of national importance, and is valuable for its associations with colonial administration. It is particularly significant for its connections with the establishment of a new constitutional structure in 1852. It is one of the few remaining structures in Auckland that provides a physical link with the town's formal role as colonial capital. The layout and appearance of the building reveal important information about the functioning of a stately residence, and social roles in nineteenth- and twentieth-century New Zealand, including that of governor and servants. Its fabric demonstrates early colonial construction techniques on an unusually large scale, and the predominant use of timber as a regional craft tradition. The building is held in high public esteem, having been the subject of several petitions to prevent its demolition, and is part of an important historic landscape that includes its gardens as well as nearby structures such as the Albert Barracks Wall and St Andrew's Church. It is an important example of the work of William Mason, who was the first architect in the colony to have served articles in the European tradition.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mason, William

William Mason was born at Suffolk, England, in 1810. He attended a private school in Ipswich and was then articled to his father. He moved to London to study architecture under Thomas Telford and Peter Nicholson and was later employed by Edward Blore, special architect to William IV and to Queen Victoria. In 1838 he moved to New South Wales with wife Sarah and young son, working with colonial architect Mortimer Lewis. Mason was offered the position of superintendent of public works under Felton Mathew by William Hobson, Governor of New Zealand. Mason arrived at the Bay of Islands on 17 March 1840. He was a member of the founding party which arrived at the site of Auckland on 16 September 1840. In July 1841 Mason resigned his position and entered a three-year partnership with Thomas Paton and became involved in farming and local politics as well as architecture.

Mason had been in New Zealand for 20 years when he first set up as an architect in the gold mining boom town of Dunedin in 1862, employed to design the southern offices for the recently formed Bank of New Zealand in Dunedin. He set up practice with David Ross, and later with W. H. Clayton. In this period, he designed the Colonial Bank, the 1864 exhibition building which became part of the Dunedin Hospital, the combined post office and courthouse, and Edinburgh House. Mason was elected the first mayor of Dunedin and served two terms. Mason had retired briefly in the late 1860s but returned to work entering into partnership with N. Y. A. Wales in 1871. During this time he designed Bishopscourt and the extension to All Saints Church. In 1876 Mason and his second wife retired to live at Queenstown. After building at Paradise and farming for a few years, a period of ill health drove him back to Dunedin where he died at the Grand Hotel on 22 June 1897.

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Registration covers the building, its fixtures and fittings. It also includes recent modifications. The building is located on the site of an earlier Government House, and on or close to the site of a Maori pa - Te Reuroa - and other Maori activity.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1855 - 1856
Construction of Government House

1862 -
Conservatory added on northwest front

1868 - 1869
Ballroom added and general refurbishment of house

1890 -
Portico added on northeast front

1898 - 1899
Interior renovated

1904 -
Rooms added for aide-de-camp

1910 - 1913
Servants' quarters enlarged

1916 -
Repairs after major fire

1949 -
Renovation of building for royal visit

1977 - 1990
Conservation programme, with alterations to portico and other elements

Completion Date

19th September 2001

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Wood, 1975

G.A. Wood, The Governor and his Northern House, Auckland, 1975

Oldham, 1998

Denys Oldham, 'Old Government House 1975-1998, Princes Street, Auckland: a report prepared for the Facilities Manager, University of Auckland', Auckland, 1998 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Oliver, 1981

William H. Oliver, The Oxford History of New Zealand, Wellington, 1981


Stacpoole, 1971

John Stacpoole, William Mason: The First New Zealand Architect, Auckland, 1971

pp.56-67, 128-129 & 132.

Other Information

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.