Historical Significance or Value
Cargill’s Castle has historical significance. It is a significant element in the period of Dunedin development which saw the elite expressing their position through their estates. Cargill’s Castle was a prominent example of ‘gentlemen's residence’, a style and scale of building which looked back to British precedents of landed gentry with substantial houses and grounds. Its subsequent history of use also represents the change of use of such mansions once on sold by their original owners, a fate of decay and decline reflective of Dunedin’s fortunes.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Cargill’s Castle has outstanding aesthetic significance. The structure is the epitome of a romantic ruin - spectacular cliff top location, crumbling grandeur, set amidst the remains of its garden. Cargill’s Castle is a landmark in Dunedin.
Archaeological Significance or Value
Cargill’s Castle has special archaeological significance. As a standing ruin set in the remains of its nineteenth century grounds it has potential to provide further information through archaeological methods, to reveal information about the estate and its operation, as well as about the technologies of construction.
Architectural Significance or Value
Cargill’s Castle has architectural significance as an early example of a grand residence built in Italianate style which became popular in the 1870s. As an example of an early concrete residence designed by prominent Dunedin architect Francis Petre who was well known for his use of concrete and as an ecclesiastical designer for the Catholic Church it has special significance.
Technological Significance or Value
Cargill’s Castle has an important association as one of a group of technologically innovative concrete buildings dating from the nineteenth century. In addition Cargill’s Castle has potential to reveal more about the technology of concrete construction which is evident because of its decayed state, which provides an opportunity to investigate the construction methods.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Cargill’s Castle reflects the development of the new class of moneyed settlers who established themselves in the nineteenth century. In Dunedin this reflects the prosperity resulting from the gold rushes. Cargill’s Castle was a residence which expressed the status and standing of people like Edward Cargill in both its grandeur and imposing location.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
Cargill’s Castle has an association with two individuals of importance to New Zealand’s history. Edward Cargill was one of the leading businessmen and politicians in Dunedin in the later nineteenth century, and Cargill’s Castle was a symbol of his status in the community. The Cliff’s was one of the early works of prominent Dunedin architect Francis Petre (and Edward Cargill’s son in law). Petre was particularly known for his use of concrete and is considered a pioneer in the field. The Cliff’s was constructed around the same period as other highly-regarded works by Petre, such as St Dominic’s Priory and Woodside.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
Cargill’s Castle is a standing ruin located in the remnant of its original garden. Its early concrete construction methods and materials have potential to reveal further information about the early use of concrete through building archaeology.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The building is held in high esteem by the people of Dunedin. This is evidenced by the founding of the Cargill’s Castle Charitable Trust to try and save the building when demolition was threatened in the 1990s. The Trust was successful in purchasing the property and in its advocacy of the preservation of the site.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
Cargill’s Castle Trust has long term plans to open the site to the public. The Conservation Plan identifies the place as having significant potential in relation to interpretation and public access.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
Cargill’s Castle has outstanding significance as an early surviving concrete structure. Its ruined state means that the construction technologies and materials are able to be seen and investigated. It also has significance as an early example of Italianate design on a grand scale, this style becoming popular in New Zealand in the 1870s, the period during which Cargill’s Castle was built. Reflecting Petre’s interest in the material, Cargill’s Castle was constructed from concrete and is a relatively early example of residential concrete construction in New Zealand.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
As a pioneering concrete building from the 1870s, Cargill’s Castle can be considered a rare historic place. The oldest extant concrete building of known date is a two storey house (1862) erected at Invermay, Mosgiel for John Gow (Record no. 2350, Category I historic place). Donald McLean's homestead Strathconan near Fairlie (Record No. 1970, Category II historic place) was commenced in 1871 but was not completed until 1877. The House ‘Clifton’ in Auckland, designed by Josiah Firth, was constructed between 1871 and 1873 (Record no. 2623, Category I historic place). A two-unit concrete cottage at Kaikoura surviving as part of the Elms Farm Complex (Record No. 7693, Category II historic place) dates from 1875, the year the gatehouse Corwar Lodge (not registered) was built near Barrhill in mid-Canterbury. Goldies Brae in Wadestown (Record no. 216, Category I historic place) was erected in 1876. Other large structures such as Logan Bank and Sunnyside have been demolished.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and
cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Cargill’s Castle was part of a larger estate held by Edward Cargill which included plantations, gardens, and outbuildings and it is therefore part of a historical landscape. Its landmark site makes it an outstanding historical element in the cityscape of St Clair and adjoining suburbs.
Summary of Significance or Values
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.
Located on a spectacular, windswept cliff top site overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Dunedin City, Cargill’s Castle, known locally as Cargill’s Castle, was the residence of one of Dunedin’s most prominent citizens Edward Cargill. The imposing structure was designed by the well-known and important architect Francis Petre. Dating from 1876, Cargill’s Castle is a relatively early, large-scale concrete residence, and as a ruin, has potential to provide special insight into that developing technology for which Petre was widely recognised as ‘Lord Concrete’.
The land on which Cargill’s Castle now stands was known as Whakaherekau. Maori had long passed through the area which linked the Peninsula to the south Taieri Coast, and there are occupation sites dating from the Moa hunting period in modern St Clair. The ara or path ran along the sand hills and along the headland, past where Cargill’s Castle would later be built, before descending through Green Island to the Taieri coast.
The land was first granted to prominent Dunedin settlers and businessmen William Valpy and John Sidey and was acquired by Edward Bowes Cargill (1823-1903) in 1875 Edward Cargill was the eighth child of Captain William Cargill (1784-1860), a founding father of Dunedin and one of the city’s leading merchants and politicians. Cargill was born in Edinburgh and came to New Zealand in 1858. With Johnny Jones, with whom he went into partnership, Cargill became one of the leading businessmen in Dunedin, going into business with his brother John as a general merchant with interests in shipping and insurance companies. He had many successful business initiatives and contributed to philanthropic and voluntary associations. He also had a successful political career at the national, provincial and local levels and was elected Mayor of Dunedin during the city's 50th Jubilee year in 1898. His importance is demonstrated by Brooking's statement that he was probably Dunedin's most prominent businessman after William Larnach. At the time of his death in August 1903, the Otago Daily Times described him as an ‘old colonist, who has played a by no means small part in the history of Otago, and consequently this colony.’ In the 1870s, when Cargill was Member of Parliament for Bruce, a member of the University Council and an elder of the Presbyterian Church, he decided to have a grand mansion appropriate to his station constructed.
Cargill commissioned architect Francis William Petre to design the mansion that he would name ‘The Cliffs’. Although Cargill was a strict Presbyterian, his daughter Margaret later married Petre, who was a confirmed Catholic. New Zealand-born Petre (1847-1918), was the first New Zealand born architect to gain wide recognition on a national scale. Petre was trained in England, and had been articled to Joseph Samuda, a firm of naval architects, shipbuilders and engineers, later shifting to architectural firm Daniel Cubitt Nichols, before returning to New Zealand in 1872. He established his own architectural practice in 1875 and was a foundation member and second president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects. Petre won renown for his early use of concrete in both residential and religious buildings. Later known as ‘Lord Concrete', Petre’s well-known works in concrete include Woodside (1876) and St Dominic’s Priory (1877) both of Dunedin; the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (1904-05) in Christchurch is considered to be the outstanding achievement of his career.
Work on Cargill’s mansion commenced in November 1874, when Petre advertised for tenders for the ‘cutting and forming of a road’ on Cargill’s property. In June of the following year, Petre again advertised for tenders for the ‘laying of masonry foundations of a dwelling-house’ for Cargill. By April 1876 the construction of the house was underway, with the Otago Witness reporting that in a storm the south and west sides of the house blew down. The walls were reportedly 40 ft long by 28 ft (12 by 8.5m) high, having been erected without the support of the interior walls or joists.
Completed in 1877, Cargill’s grand mansion cost around £14,000 to build. It featured twenty-one rooms and the interior was lavishly decorated and furnished as Cargill wanted the house to fit with its beautiful surroundings overlooking the spectacular south coast – with views over St Clair, St Kilda and right up the Otago Harbour. The Cliffs, as Cargill’s new opulent residence was named, was reported as one of the most scenically sited in all of New Zealand. In March 1882 the Otago Witness reported that the location ‘on the apex of the bluff terminating the Green Island plateau, and facing the Ocean Beach and Forbury’ was one ‘which for situation and picturesque scenery is not equalled by any residence in the colony.’ This is a spectacular place: ‘When a southern gale arises the billow come rolling in, and strike with relentless impetuosity against the cliffs beneath the mansion, involving the most terrific [sic] diapason in their roar; the sound of the angry waters entering into an adjacent cave contributing to the loud sounding turmoil.’ The paper went on to describe a building which ‘rivals mansions of great pretensions in the Home country’ and that ‘everything that could contribute to adornment and taste has been concentrated within its precincts’ – rare plants, an art collection, musical instruments, furnishings and the like.
Reflecting Petre’s interest in the material, The Cliffs was constructed from concrete and is a relatively early example of residential concrete construction in New Zealand. The oldest extant concrete building of known date is a two storey house (1862) erected at Invermay, Mosgiel for John Gow (Record no. 2350, Category I historic place). Donald McLean's homestead Strathconan near Fairlie (Record No. 1970, Category II historic place) was commenced in 1871 but was not completed until 1877. The earliest surviving substantial concrete farm buildings are those designed in 1870 for James Shand's Abbotsford property near Outram (Record no. 7579, Category I historic place), which include stabling, men's quarters and an implement shed. Important large-scale structures, such as Logan Bank, Auckland (1870-71) and the west wing of the Sunnyside Mental Asylum, Christchurch (1871-4), have been demolished. The House ‘Clifton’ in Auckland, designed by Josiah Firth, was constructed between 1871 and 1873 (Record no. 2623, Category I historic place). A two-unit concrete cottage at Kaikoura surviving as part of the Elms Farm Complex (Record No. 7693, Category II historic place) dates from 1875, the year the gatehouse Corwar Lodge (not registered) was built near Barrhill in mid-Canterbury. Goldies Brae in Wadestown (Record no. 216, Category I historic place) was erected in 1876. Several other residences survive from 1876 and later.
Concrete construction attracted great interest in Otago in the 1870s – for house building it was seen to be strong, durable, cheap, damp resistant, fire and vermin proof and to provide greater facilities and economy in heating and ventilating. Architect David Ross was another Dunedin architect whose commissions included buildings constructed in concrete – including cottages, shops and larger residences. The significance of the concrete construction of The Cliffs was commented on at the time as a ‘material not yet come into general use, though highly adapted for structures requiring solidity and strength’, with Petre bringing ‘all that art and science could bring to bear’ on its construction, creating a building that was as ‘firm and solid as if chiselled out of the granite rock.’ No specifications survive which show the techniques or materials (the concrete mix) used in The Cliffs. The Cliffs has some evidence of reinforcing, iron embedded in the concrete, and wire reinforcement in the loggia roof. The building has two concrete roofs and suspended concrete floors in the hall, sitting room and dining room.
Petre designed The Cliffs in the Italianate style. This style has its roots in English architecture in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, and was popular in Australia and the United States with the new business elite of America and Australasia, making a ‘statement of beauty, wealth and grandeur.’ The earliest example in New Zealand is thought to be a timber house designed by architect Charles Tringham in 1874. This makes The Cliff’s a relatively early example of an Italianate style residence in New Zealand, predating other well known residences such as The Pah in Auckland.
The building soon acquired a nickname, ‘Cargill’s Castle’, which recalls not only the landmark hilltop site but also that the home of such a wealthy man might ‘reasonably be expected to be a ‘castle.’ Cargill’s Castle has similarities to what is known as Ward’s Castle, a reinforced concrete residence built in 1873 in ‘French Renaissance chateau wedged between two machicolated towers.’ Located in Rye, New York it is dominated by a four storey tower at one corner and is the first and oldest extant reinforced concrete building in the United States.
In 1892 a fire swept through much of the building, destroying The Cliff’s beautiful interior. Cargill restored the building, but could not afford to replace the ornate woodwork and furniture. At this time he added a ballroom to the north-east face of the castle. Repairs were completed by 1895, with the Otago Witness reporting on an ‘At Home’ in March of that year, exclaiming about the suitability of the residence for entertaining.
In 1903 Edward Cargill died. The dwelling was sold and passed through the hands of successive owners and was allowed to deteriorate. One of these owners was the builder of the castle Harry Lyders. The advertisement for the property in 1906 describes it as ‘a concrete building containing four large public rooms, six bedrooms, kitchen, sculleries, and servants’ accommodation, with permanent water supply.’ The grounds covered four or five acres laid out with vineries, greenhouses, stabling, coach house, gardener’s cottage and other outbuildings.
In the 1930s Dunedin music teacher John Hutton opened Cargill’s Castle as a restaurant and cabaret. The building was extensively redecorated and its character inside was totally altered. During the war the venue was popular with visiting servicemen and the castle became the centre of Dunedin nightlife. In 1944 Hutton fell ill, but made a sudden recovery which he attributed to divine intervention. He decided the building should be a temple, and for three years the castle served as an evangelical worship centre.
In 1949 the property changed hands, the bands returning to entertain visiting American sailors. By the mid-1950s American ships stopped calling at the Port of Otago and the castle was closed.
In 1965 there was a proposal by English opera singer Leslie Trawbridge to turn the property into an Arts Centre and Opera House but this foundered when he failed to get an Arts Council grant and visiting impresarios turned down his invitations, and the property was sold again.
The new owner was local publican J. Simpson who wanted to open the building as a hotel. He encountered structural problems – the concrete walls were not sound, as the concrete had been made with stones that were too large. The repair bill was too astronomical to contemplate. The Dunedin City Council was reluctant to give planning permission as the site lacked access and there was local opposition. Simpson decided to demolish the building and the windows and interior fittings were removed. He changed his mind. An attempt to sell the building by auction in 1979 failed.
In 1985 the building was sold, with plans again to turn the property into a restaurant, which, like earlier efforts foundered because of structural problems and planning issues, and the building continued to crumble. Then owner Dave Collett, demolished the ballroom in 1996 and obtained consent from the Dunedin City Council for the demolition of the whole structure.
The issuing of a demolition order for the castle aroused strong community concern. A public meeting of approximately 80 people was held at the St Clair Surf Club on 13 August 1997. Notice of the meeting had been brief and not well publicised but the attendance was unexpectedly high, reflecting the high level of public concern. After this meeting, the Cargill's Castle Trust was formed and entered into negotiations with Mr Collett in order to retain the castle. After threats of demolition, and in response to public concern about the proposed demolition, the ruins were acquired by Cargill’s Castle Trust in 2001. In 2011 Cargill’s Castle Trust commissioned a conservation plan with the aim of stabilising the ruins and finding an adaptive reuse for them.
Cargill’s Castle is located on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean on the south coast of Dunedin City above the suburb of St Clair. The site has spectacular views over the city. The ruin sits amidst the remnant of Cargill’s former estate, and when built the property was entered by a winding drive that finished in a great circular sweep at the front door.
The three-storey concrete building was designed in Italianate style, with arched windows on a restrained façade, and a gallery with arched openings on the ground floor which acted as a balcony on the first floor level.
There is evidence of some reinforcing in the roof structure and of wire reinforcement in the loggia roof. The house has suspended concrete floors in the hall, sitting room and dining room. The vertical and horizontal construction lines in the hall show that the front wall comprised concrete columns with infill panels between. There is evidence of hoop iron used as reinforcement in the formation of the arched window heads.
A range of different concretes have been used in construction including using crushed brick as an aggregate, crushed rock as an aggregate, and some walls incorporating large stones. The binder is thought to have been an early form of imported Portland cement. Woodside, another concrete Dunedin residence built a year earlier and designed by Petre, used Portland cement as a binder. Cargill’s Castle incorporates early forms of reinforcement, and has the potential to reveal other information about the development of concrete technologies in the nineteenth century, and is a valuable for the information that can provide on concrete construction.
All that remains of the house and adjacent outbuildings is ‘the shell of the principal walls together with some areas of concrete floors and roofs’. Inside there are the ‘remains of some of the timber floor structures and remnants of some of the internal building fabric.’
The shell of one of the outbuildings remains. The structure has lost its roof, windows and doors.
There is a freestanding wall to the west of the house, thought to have been built as a windbreak at a similar time to the original residence. The wall is built of a form of concrete that used crushed brick as an aggregate.
A stone lookout is located towards the cliff edge of the property.
A 1996 engineering report described its condition as one of extreme decay and dilapidation. All roof cladding had been either pulled down or fallen down leaving only the timber structure, exposing the building to the elements. The upper floors only existed as decaying structural skeletons. The cornice and dentils around the top of the north tower were also in an advanced state of decay. The report concluded that the building was structurally unsound, susceptible to wind and seismic forces, but that it was able to be strengthened and made safe.
The 2011 Conservation Plan recommends that the building be conserved as a ruin. The state of ruin is considered to be part of its significance.
Work begins on construction of The Cliffs (locally known as Cargill’s Castle).
Castle gutted by fire.
Castle refurbished: Opens a restaurant, cabaret and tea-rooms inside.
Structurally unsound. Windows removed as the first step towards demolition.
Castle faces demolition. Cargill’s Castle Charitable Trust Incorporated (CCCTI) is set up to try and save the building. Ballroom demolished.
The Environment Court lifts an easement which would have given public access to the site.
The land surrounding the Castle is subdivided from the neighbouring title, allowing CCCTI to purchase the section with the Castle on it.
17th December 2011
Report Written By
Hadley and Robinson, 'Cargill's Castle: A Reinstatement Study', March 1996.
Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)
Land Information New Zealand
Miscellaneous Plan 2: Plan of Sections 33 and 34, Ocean Beach District and Part of Application 13 & Closed Road Block XIII.
Certificates of Title: OT29/77, OT93/104, OT404/68, 404/241
B Murison, The Family of Edward Bowes Cargill, The Captain Cargill Bicentenary Committee, 1984
New Zealand Historic Places
New Zealand Historic Places
David Thomson, ‘Cargill’s Castle: A Dunedin Ruin’ March 1989, 14-15
New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
March 1989, 14-15, Thomson, David, 'Cargill's Castle: A Dunedin Ruin'.
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
16-17 October 2004, Mag 3.
Jackie Gillies and Associates, 2011
Jackie Gillies and Associates, ‘Conservation Plan for Cargill’s Castle, Cliffs Road, St. Clair, Dunedin’ prepared for Cargill’s Castle Trust, August 2011
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office
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.