Prime Minister's Residence

260 Tinakori Road, Thorndon, Wellington

  • Prime Minister's Residence. Open Day. Image courtesy of Creative Commons License – CC BY-SA 4.0.
    Copyright: Ballofstring. Taken By: Ballofstring - Wikimedia Commons. Date: 26/07/2015.
  • Prime Minister's Residence. Open Day. Image courtesy of Creative Commons License – CC BY-SA 4.0.
    Copyright: Ballostring. Taken By: Ballostring - Wikimedia Commons. Date: 26/07/2015.
  • Prime Minister's Residence. 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..
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1371 Date Entered 24th March 1988 Date of Effect 24th March 1988


City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region


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.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The land (formerly town acres 630-632) and the Ministerial residence at 260 Tinakori Road, have strong associations with prominent Wellington commercial identities and New Zealand Prime Ministers. There was a house on town acre 603 by 1843, built for Wellington's first Mayor, George Hunter. The southern wing was added c.1862. Subsequent owners were Nathanial Levin (founder of Levin and Co) and Richard Collins (member of the Wellington Town Board). Town acre632 was originally owned by James Henry Saint Hill, Resident Magistrate for the Distract of Wellington.

The present Ministerial residence was built in 1875 following the Crown purchase of the land in 1874. The former house of 1843 was demolished, and the southern wing was retained in the new building.

The first politician to live in the new building was Sir Julius Vogel who is known to have been in residence in 1875.

Wise's Directory gives information on others who lived in the house after that date. (The address was originally 122 Tinakori Road; in 1905 it was changed to 184 and in 1910 to 260 Tinakori Road.

1879 : Hon Dr Daniel Pollen, Colonial Secretary and member

of the Legislative Council

1883 : Hon F Whitaker, Premier

1887 : Hon Sir Julius Vogel

1887-1891 : Sir H A Atkinson

1891-1893 : John Balance

1896-1988 : Sir Walter L Buller, Ornithologist

1899 : S Percy-Smith, Surveyor-General & Ethnologist

1901-1912 : Sir Joseph Ward, Prime Minister

1914-1925 : Hon William F Massey, Prime Minister

1927-1929 : Hon Joseph G Coates, Prime Minister

1928 : Hon George W Forbes, Prime Minister

When the Labour Party came into power in 1935, the new Prime Minister Michael Savage considered the house too ostentatious for him to live in, and its parliamentary association ended. For 70 years the home of Prime Ministers, the building was converted for use as a Children's Dental Clinic, required under the new Government's expanded health care programme. The building had already undergone many alterations however, (Coates had altered it extensively in 1926) which are too complicated to be able to chronicle easily.

Many state occasions of historical importance must have happened in the house and grounds of the Ministerial Residence. One of note was the farewell party given by Miss Eileen Ward, daughter of Sir Joseph Ward, to farewell Katherine Mansfield a few days before she left New Zealand for the last time in 1908.

Mention must also be made of the garden. There is probably no better example of Victorian garden left in Wellington. It was laid out at the time the Ministerial Residence was built and many trees still standing would date from the early 1870s. A site plan of 1890 shows a kitchen garden, many shrubberies, flower beds and fruit trees. The large potting area to the north of the house was originally a tennis lawn.


In terms of the grand and impressive style of the building, the house stands as a very good example of formal public architecture for its period.

In terms of the weatherboard construction of the building, it incorporates the best of New Zealand carpenter tradition techniques and materials.


The building occupies a prominent position in the historic Thorndon precinct defined by the local authority. As such it helps to define and maintain the historic character of the building in the precinct.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Clayton, William Henry

Born in Tasmania, Clayton (1823-1877) travelled to Europe with his family in 1842. He studied architecture in Brussells and was then articled to Sir John Rennie, engineer to the Admiralty, in London. He returned to Tasmania in 1848 and worked in private practice until he was appointed Government Surveyor in 1852.

He resumed private practice in 1855 and was involved with surveying in the Launceston area. In 1857 he was elected an alderman on the Launceston Municipal Council. By the time Clayton immigrated to Dunedin in 1863 he had been responsible for the design of many buildings including churches, banks, a mechanics' institute, a theatre, steam and water mills, breweries, bridges, mansions and villas, in addition to being a land surveyor and road engineer.

In 1864 he entered partnership with William Mason. Mason and Clayton were responsible for some important buildings in Dunedin including All Saints Church (1865) and The Exchange (former Post Office) (1865) as well as the Colonial Museum, Wellington (1865). These were two of the most prominent architects of their day in New Zealand.

In 1869 Clayton became the first and only Colonial Architect and was responsible for the design of Post and Telegraph offices, courthouses, customhouses, Government department offices and ministerial residences. His acknowledged masterpiece is Government Buildings, Wellington (1876) a stone-simulated wooden building and the largest timber framed building in the Southern Hemisphere.

Clayton was a prolific and highly accomplished architect both within the Public Service and in private practice, in New Zealand and Australia.


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The building is styled as a grand colonial home for Prime Ministers of New Zealand. It is an excellent example of a colonial New Zealand style that is generally neo-classical with bracketed cornices, rectangular windows and bays on the ground floor. There is also a neo-gothic influence in the form of the steeply pitched gable end and finials of the earlier southern wing of the building.


The southern wing of the building was built c.1862 as an addition to an earlier c.1843 building that was demolished to make way for the neo-classical addition of 1875. The 1875 addition is substantially the building that is seen today. However it underwent extensive internal alterations in 1926 during the premiership of Joseph Coates, and again in 1935, when building was converted for use as a children's dental clinic.

Notable Features

Ballroom, staircase and coloured glass windows. An unusual piece of engineering technology exists in the form of a cast iron beam built into the timber structure above the ballroom.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1843 -
House built by Nathaniel Levin

1862 - 1865
House extended by Richard Collins

1872 - 1873
House substantially altered according to plans designed by William Henry Clayton

1925 - 1928
Various changes to house made by Gordon Coates

1937 -
House converted into a dental clinic

1990 -
House restored as a Prime Minister's Residence

1999 -

Construction Details

Timber frame clad with weatherboards. Roof covered with corrugated iron.

Completion Date

5th October 2002

Report Written By

Rebecca O'Brien

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

The Government as Architect and Builder in the Nineteenth Century, 1983

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

NZHPT Assessment Report by P Barton 1987

Priestley, 1990

D. Priestley, The Premier's Residence, Wellington 1990

Saunders, 1964

John Llewellyn Saunders, The New Zealand School Dental Service: Its Initiation and Development 1920-1960, Wellington, 1964

Ministry of Works and Development

Ministry of Works and Development

Ministerial Residence, Tinakori Road by C Cochran 1977.

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

K. Grant & I. Bowman, 260 Tinakori Road: Conservation Plan, Wellington, 1990

Other Information

NZHPT Heritage Order (19 April 1988)

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office

Original address: 122 Tinakori Road

Address between 1905-1910: 184 Tinakori Road

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.