Home of Compassion Creche (Former)

18 Buckle Street, Mt Cook, Wellington

  • Home of Compassion Creche (Former), Wellington.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: B Rouse. Date: 18/04/2015.
  • Home of Compassion Crèche (Former), Wellington. The Creche was relocated a short distance up Buckle St to make way forthe Arras Tunnel and the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park which opened 29 September 2014 .
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: B Rouse. Date: 18/04/2015.
  • Home of Compassion Creche (Former), Wellington. Creche in original location on Buckle St. Image included in Field Record Form Collection.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand . Taken By: B Fill. Date: 1/02/1984.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3599 Date Entered 28th June 1984 Date of Effect 28th June 1984


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Sec 263 TN of Wellington and the land described as Pt Lot 1 DP 4469 (New Zealand Gazette, 1974, p.1975), Wellington Land District, and the building known as Home of Compassion Creche (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 263 Town of Wellington; Pt Lot 1 DP 4469 (NZ Gazette, 1974, p.1975), Wellington Land District

Location description

The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) is situated opposite the Basin Reserve on Buckle Street at the point where this road branches northwest up to Mount Cook and north east down to Cambridge Terrace, where parking is available. Test


The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) was constructed in 1914 and is one of New Zealand’s first dedicated child daycare buildings. This distinctive brick building at the northern tip of Wellington’s Basin Reserve was designed by prominent architect John Sydney Swan (1874-1936) so that the Sisters of Compassion could continue the pioneering crèche service begun by Mother Suzanne Aubert (1835-1926).

After arriving in Auckland in 1860 as part of Bishop Pompallier’s last New Zealand Catholic mission, Aubert spent the next 40 years teaching and nursing in the North Island as well as founding the Sisters of Compassion and their institutions. At the urging of the Wellington Catholic community Aubert and her Sisters moved to Buckle Street in 1899 to begin their charitable works among the urban poor. Initial institutions here included a soup kitchen and ‘incurables’ home, as well as the founding of a crèche in 1903. This was a pioneering service catering for children of mothers forced to find employment to support their families. Earlier examples of daycare services in New Zealand had failed because they were seen as contrary to inherited British notions of the sanctity of motherhood and the role of women. It was not until the mid-late twentieth century that the state starting funding full-day child care services and the idea of working mothers became generally accepted. When the original crèche buildings were deemed structurally unsound the Sisters organised for the construction of a replacement in the absence of their leader Aubert because she was in Europe attaining Papal recognition for her congregation. The Home of Compassion Crèche opened in 1914 and housed the Sisters’ successful daycare service for nearly 60 years.

The design of the Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) clearly illustrates the ecclesiastical-based management of the daycare service, and the domestic nature of the activity undertaken by the Sisters of Compassion. Constructed using reinforced concrete and brick, the Crèche is a solid structure with a distinctive crenelated entrance porch. The building’s potentially imposing appearance is softened through the use of Gothic tracery and the residential scale and features of the building.

The Buckle Street institutions of the Sisters of Compassion, like the Crèche, were vital contributors to the social welfare of many disadvantaged Wellingtonians in a time when state social welfare was non-existent. The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) has outstanding significance because it is one of the few remaining Sisters of Compassion buildings which were directly associated with the influential and important founder of the order, Mother Aubert. The crèche she established in 1903 was a novelty in New Zealand, and this pioneering institution continued in the Home of Compassion Crèche for 60 years, becoming a template and standard for other institutions when crèche services became more prevalent. This building is also special because it is a rare remnant of the intensive Catholic and ecclesiastical presence that was a feature of the Basin Reserve from the late nineteenth century. The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) also has significance as one of the first, and the earliest remaining, purpose-built crèches in New Zealand.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Under the leadership of Mother Suzanne Aubert, one of the most well-known women of late nineteenth and early twentieth century New Zealand, the Sisters of Compassion provided a range of social services to Wellington’s urban poor from the turn of the twentieth century and through this, arguably, became this country’s highest profile religious congregation of the period.

Therefore, the Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) has historical significance as one of the few Sister of Compassion buildings which were under Aubert’s management. It also enabled the Sisters of Compassion to continue their pioneering Buckle Street crèche, which was established by Aubert in 1903, until 1973. The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) has significance as New Zealand’s the first crèche in the French tradition, which meant that it was created with the specific purpose of helping low income mothers to enter the workforce. Therefore, the Crèche is a legacy of Aubert’s influential work and is important in the history of New Zealand childcare.

With Aubert in Rome securing Papal approval for her congregation during its construction and first few years of operation, the Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) dates from a pivotal time in the development of the Sisters of Compassion. The Crèche became a confident expression that the order would live on after its originator’s death, and upon this foundation the Sisters of Compassion have become New Zealand’s oldest remaining indigenous Catholic order.

Architectural Significance or Value

The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) is a distinctive building which makes an architectural statement within its streetscape. Dedicated crèche buildings are a rare architectural form and the Crèche is the earliest remaining example in New Zealand. This building also has architectural significance because its ecclesiastical and domestic function were successfully combined and expressed by prominent Wellington architect John Sydney Swan. The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) is also remarkable for its quality of construction and the authenticity it has retained.

Social Significance or Value

The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) is highly significant as a marker of a major social change that began in the early twentieth century, which saw an increasing movement of women into the workplace and the resulting necessity for the creation of child daycare centres. The nearly 60 year use of the Home of Compassion Crèche for this purpose spanned a period of change in societal attitudes towards, and definitions of, motherhood and pioneered the way for the acceptance of the need for working women to have access to childcare which had emerged by the time it closed in 1973.

The opening of the Home of Compassion Crèche coincided with the beginning of World War One and at this and other times of social crisis the Crèche, and other tireless works of the Sisters of Compassion, provided crucial and invaluable social welfare services at a time when the state did not, or in areas which legislation neglected.

Spiritual Significance or Value

Under Aubert’s vision, the work of the Sisters of Compassion abided by key overriding principles of Christianity and the example of people like St Joseph. As such, their various charitable institutions, including the Home of Compassion Crèche, were important sites where they toiled to fulfil their spiritual duty by aiding the less fortunate, no matter what that individual’s particular creed or race.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

As a descendant of the early missionary works of Mother Suzanne Aubert, the Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) represents the ongoing importance and influence of Catholicism and other Christian denominations in the development of New Zealand from the mid nineteenth century, and in this case their vital contributions to, not only people’s spiritual, but physical well-being.

The success and longevity of the service provided at the Home of Compassion Crèche is representative of, and coincided with, the gradual change in attitudes in regard to the role of mothers within New Zealand society which started in the late nineteenth century and continued through much of the twentieth century. The Sisters of Compassion were at the forefront of providing crèche services, responding to the need they saw rather than adhering to the social conventions that stipulated that a mother’s role was strictly within the home. The Crèche remained a model example of a daycare centre even when such services became more widely accepted.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) has a direct association with Mother Suzanne Aubert. Aubert was the founder of the Sisters of Compassion, and through their efforts tending to the underprivileged in New Zealand, Aubert had immense standing in this country’s Catholic community. This is reflected in recent moves to honour Aubert through efforts which will see her become New Zealand’s first person to be canonised.

Therefore, the Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) has high importance as one of the only remaining buildings which Aubert worked in. This building is an important physical remnant and tribute to Aubert who, through her life’s work trying to alleviate the misery of those society had little room for, is considered among New Zealand’s most influential women of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Through Aubert, and the Sisters of Compassion and their work, the Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) has direct links to important people who supported their initiatives, such as Archbishop Redwood and key politicians like Sir Joseph Ward. As the first place in Wellington to incorporate the Plunket system into its activities, the Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) is also associated with the beginnings of the widespread societal integration of Truby King’s ideas about childcare in New Zealand and internationally.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

Evidence suggests that with its 1914 construction date the Home of Compassion Crèche is the earliest remaining purpose-built crèche in New Zealand.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.

The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) has outstanding significance as the last bastion of the strong Catholic presence on the northern section of one of Wellington’s iconic areas, the Basin Reserve. Its construction and early years were intrinsic to the continuance of the Sisters of Compassion after the death of their prominent leader Mother Aubert, and at the Crèche the Sisters were able to carry on Aubert’s pioneering crèche institution which was the first successful example in New Zealand. The building of the Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) also indicated the start of a gradual change in societal dictates regarding the responsibilities of mothers and their roles in society, and as such laid the groundwork for the development of other institutions through the example set within its walls over a 60 year period. In particular, the Home of Compassion Crèche is exceptional because it is the oldest remaining purpose-built crèche building in New Zealand and one of the few remaining examples of the early institutions of the Sisters of Compassion - the oldest surviving indigenous New Zealand Catholic order which continues to make important social and spiritual welfare contributions in Wellington, New Zealand, and internationally.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Swan, John Sydney

Swan (1874-1936) practised architecture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He formed part of the last group of architects to follow the traditional Gothic and Classical styles. He was articled to Frederick de Jersey Clere, working with Clere on many major designs such as the Wellington Rowing Club building (then known as the Naval Artillery Boat Shed, 1894) as well as smaller provincial buildings such as the Church of the Good Shepherd, Tinui. The firm was known as Clere, Fitzgerald and Richmond and was one of the most prominent architectural practices in Wellington. From 1901 to 1906 Swan was in partnership with Clere, practising on his own account from 1907. The first major design produced by Swan in this new practice was the Karori Crematorium (1907) which served to establish his architectural identity separate from Clere.

During his long and varied career Swan produced a large and wide range of work, including a number of banks for the National Bank such as the head office building in Wellington (1907), educational buildings for the Wellington Technical College with William Gray Young (1922), and a number of major buildings for the Catholic Church including St Gerard's Church, Mt Victoria (1910), Sacred Heart Convent (later Erskine College), Island Bay (1909), and Wanganui Convent (1912). He was an architect of imagination as evidenced by the design of his own house 'The Moorings', Glenbervie Terrace (1905).

Campbell and Burke

Campbell and Burke were a Wellington-based contracting company active in the early twentieth centuries. They were the builders of the Bank of New Zealand’s Te Aro Branch in Wellington (1912-13, List No. 1338) and the King George V Hospital rotunda in Rotorua (1915-16), which was later relocated to Ōtaki Children’s Health Camp (Former) in 1931.

Source: Review Report for List No. 4098, Otaki Children's Health Camp (Former), Category 1 Historic Place, Karen Astwood, 31 October 2019.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Richard Seddon described the elevated site that is Mount Cook as ‘the noblest site in Wellington.’ Therefore, it is not surprising that before the European settlement of Wellington, Mount Cook, or Pukeahu, had been the location of a pa. The pa had been used periodically but had been abandoned by the time Europeans settled the area, so was reserved for military purposes by the New Zealand Company in 1840 and a barracks was built. The military and penal use of Mount Cook developed in the mid to late nineteenth century and remaining structures like the General Headquarters Building (Former), Mount Cook Police Station (Former), and the Tasman Street Wall reflect this, as well as the tendency towards building in brick, a material which was in high production around Mount Cook.

Initially, the eastern side of Mount Cook descended into a lagoon which was later drained to become the famous Basin Reserve recreation ground. As part of the inner city suburb of Te Aro, in the late nineteenth century the Mount Cook/Basin Reserve area was characterised by workers’ cottages. The street names around the Basin Reserve reference the early European occupation of the area and include Buckle and Ellice Streets, which are named after New Zealand Company directors.

Marie Henriette Suzanne Aubert and the Catholic mission

When the history of Catholicism in New Zealand officially began in January 1838 with the arrival of this country’s first bishop of any denomination, Jean-Baptiste Francoise Pompallier (1801-1871), there was a burgeoning population of the faithful for this first mission to minister to. The early Catholic population primarily consisted of French whalers in coastal settlements and also English and Irish immigrants, many of whom came to New Zealand from Australia.

Whereas an Anglican mission was sent to New Zealand in 1814 and a Methodist equivalent in 1822, the French Catholic missionary party only set sail for the Pacific on Christmas Eve 1836. The voyagers included four priests and three brothers who visited several islands, such as Tahiti, before they arrived at their Oceanic mission base, New Zealand. Eventually six Pompallier-led missionary groups came to New Zealand. Marie Henriette Suzanne Aubert (1835-1926) was included in the last of these and arrived in Auckland in December 1860, along with eight Italian Franciscans and a French contingent amongst who were a niece and a nephew of the Bishop who, like Aubert, were from Lyon.

Aubert was from a well-to-do family and many have cited an accident, which left the two year old Aubert blinded and crippled, as a key reason for her adult work amongst marginalised people and her empathy for them. Because of her family’s high social status educational opportunities were open to Aubert, but her early schooling was stinted by her physical impediments. However, her body gradually healed which allowed her to begin to feed her voracious appetite for knowledge. By the time she began her missionary life in New Zealand at the age of 25 Aubert was said to have been among France’s most educated women. It was while at school at age 11 that Aubert met Pompallier while he was promoting an Oceanic mission, and he also paid a personal visit to her mother.

Aubert’s accident also had another impact in that it motivated her family to move to a house in Lyon which happened to be opposite a property used by the newly-formed Society of Mary. This early exposure to the Marists’ spiritual influence was formative and Aubert continued to have a close connection to the order for the rest of her life, with several of her ventures in New Zealand established in association with, or in close proximity to, Marist ones. It was also in Lyon that Aubert was exposed to a variety of women’s missionary organisations, as well as numerous medical facilities and hospices, that were run by female religious groups like the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of St Charles, and the Sisters of St Joseph.

After arriving in Auckland Aubert, then called Sister Joseph, spent the first decade teaching Maori girls at the Nazareth Institution. Aubert spent the 1870s in Hawke’s Bay, mostly nursing, before her work took her to Jerusalem (Hihuharama) on the banks of the Whanganui River in 1883. Here Aubert worked alongside the Marist mission, helping to establish schools and institutions to care for foundlings (abandoned or orphaned, often ex-nuptial, children) and ‘incurable’ adults (destitute and chronically or mentally ill, and disabled people). To help fund these activities she produced a range of herbal medicines which were available throughout New Zealand and Australia. It was also while at Jerusalem that Aubert founded her own congregation. Initially, Aubert intended that her new congregation would be closely associated with the Society of Mary. However, the two had slightly different focuses and in 1892 Bishop Francis Redwood (1839-1935) re-christened Aubert’s order the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion, who became more commonly known as the Sisters of Compassion.

Wellington work

Catholics in Wellington had long been urging Aubert and her Sisters to come to Wellington and work among the urban poor, which they did in 1899. Aubert is said to have had the unstinting support of Bishop Redwood upon her move from Whanganui to start her charitable works in central Wellington. It was here that the foundations for the continuance of the Sisters of Compassion were firmly set, the importance of Aubert was cemented, and her legacy secured.

Upon moving to Wellington the Sisters settled in Buckle Street, initially renting a house, but eventually accumulating a group of five cottages on sections between St Patrick’s College and Cambridge Terrace. It was in this first house that the Sisters lived, and from 1901 also operated St Anthony’s soup kitchen, serving food through a kitchen hatch to men waiting on their porch. Aubert was not content to manage the work of the Sisters - she led by example toiling alongside them at the Buckle Street properties, and walking Wellington’s streets gathering charitable contributions.

Aubert had tremendous respect for the selfless work ethic that St Joseph displayed in protecting and providing as best he could for his poor family consisting of Mary and Jesus. To Aubert his life was a paragon which she hoped the Sisters of Compassion could emulate on a larger scale. Therefore, she dedicated her Home for Incurables, established in 1900, and later the associated crèche, to St Joseph. The naming of these Buckle Street institutions may also have reflected their proximity to the large octagonal St Joseph’s Church, the second church built in Wellington’s Te Aro Catholic parish, at the crest of the hill at the corner of Tory and Buckle Streets. In conjunction with St Patrick’s College and the Sisters of Compassion buildings, this gave the northern corner of the Basin Reserve a distinctly Catholic stamp. Opposite, on Mount Victoria’s Paterson Street was the residence of the Archbishop and other top clergy. This group of buildings reflects the Catholic portion of the general ecclesiastical and educational characteristic of the area around the Basin Reserve by the beginning of the twentieth century, which also included St Mark’s Church and School, as well as Wellington College and Wellington East Girls’ College.

St Joseph’s Home for Incurables looked after people who may otherwise have fallen through the cracks – the decrepit, disabled or chronically ill. At the time there was no social welfare system so people unable to work or look after themselves had no choice but to rely on charitable institutions, like those run by the Sisters of Compassion, if they had no family who could support them. In this regard the feats of Aubert and her Sisters are impressive because they received no government assistance, funding their endeavours solely through donations, begging, and events like their annual concert at the Town Hall. The high profile of Aubert no doubt helped in this regard and ‘it was not unusual for the famous old Sister of Compassion to be halted by passers-by and given money, sometimes substantial sums.’

In 1907 the Sisters further expanded their services, and property, with the building of Our Lady’s Home of Compassion in Island Bay, which enabled them to accept foundlings. The incurable children previously at Buckle Street were also transferred there along with children from Jerusalem. The immense regard in which the work of the Sisters of Compassion was held is indicated by the calibre of guests at the opening, including Archbishop Redwood, the Hon. James Carroll, and Wellington’s Mayor. Speaking at the opening the Acting-Premier, the Hon. W. Hall-Jones, paid tribute to Mother Aubert saying that her name was honoured throughout New Zealand. A few years later in 1910 the Sisters of Compassion expanded their work further by purchasing a building in Auckland to house foundlings, which they called St Vincent’s Home of Compassion.

In 1903 Aubert established another pioneering institution, a crèche, in two of the cottages next to the Home for Incurables, which she was able to purchase by getting a bank overdraft. This crèche was ‘the first New Zealand crèche to be successfully established on a long-term basis.’ The crèche was open between 7am and 6pm and initially only accepted children under the age of three. By 1907 the crèche was able to accommodate up to 35 infants and young children under five years old in the building, and it was described as a ‘much-appreciated department’ of the wider services provided by the Sisters.

A crèche was a novel idea in New Zealand at the time. This was demonstrated by the fact that when Aubert opened hers the Evening Post, and other newspapers that covered the story, felt it necessary to define what the service was:

‘A crèche, it may be explained, is an institution in which mothers who are compelled to earn their living may leave their children during the day, and where they will receive proper care and attention from responsible people until their mothers call for them after working hours in the evening.’

There were a few earlier attempts in New Zealand to set up crèches, like that which Rachel Reynolds (1838-1928) and other Dunedin ladies started in 1879. However, these ultimately failed mainly because institutions which appeared to support extra-marital sex, or enabled women to apparently neglect their foremost duty as a mother, were generally disapproved of. Temporary crèches at occasions such as large exhibitions were becoming increasingly common though by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Conversely, kindergartens were socially acceptable because they had an educational focus and did not offer full-day care. After the failure of the Dunedin crèche Reynolds was involved in the Dunedin Free Kindergarten Association which was a successful venture, and although Auckland’s Jubilee Kindergarten and Crèche was established in 1887 the service was predominantly run as a dedicated kindergarten. The ideal of motherhood was supported and exhorted by successive governments until well after World War Two through legislation which focused on a husband’s responsibility as the breadwinner, which of course did not help women from broken marriages or unmarried mothers.

Ideas about the sanctity of motherhood and the practical implications of this for a family were imported to Australia and New Zealand from England. Therefore, it is perhaps because of her French background that Aubert saw a crèche as a logical addition to the other welfare institutions at Buckle Street. When Aubert was growing up there was an increasing social acceptance of the need for some mothers to seek work. As such, the first crèche was established in Paris in 1844 and the state starting funding crèches from 1869. In comparison, the New Zealand government did not support crèches in the same manner until almost a century later.

The success and longevity of the Sisters of Compassion Wellington crèche in New Zealand’s generally disapproving social atmosphere could be attributed to the fact that it was only one of the services offered by the Sisters. Therefore, while people may not have felt comfortable donating directly to the crèche, their generosity nonetheless reached it and maintained it. It would still be several decades after the construction of the Home of Compassion Crèche building in 1914 before the idea of daycare services would become widely accepted in New Zealand society.

Home of Compassion Crèche

Perhaps the first example in New Zealand of a dedicated crèche was that named after Lady Carroll Heni Materoa (1852/1856?-1930) opened in Gisborne in mid 1913. This was run by the Cook County Womens’ Guild and replaced a temporary building they had used since 1909. The main focus of the Heni Materoa Crèche seems to mostly have been long term housing of poor children, with a tiny proportion of their service given over to crèche work in the sense established by Aubert in 1903. For a fee the Heni Materoa Crèche also offered childminding services on occasions when mothers may have needed to attend a wedding or go shopping. Unlike the Heni Materoa Crèche, the purpose-built Home of Compassion Crèche was a dedicated crèche in the French tradition and continued the pioneering work that Aubert and the Sisters had begun in 1903 in buildings which formerly occupied its site. The new building was necessary because the existing crèche buildings had been condemned.

When the Crèche was being planned Aubert was actually in Rome. At almost 80 years of age, and over 50 years after she left Europe, Aubert returned in 1913 with the goal of obtaining papal recognition for her congregation, which would give it independence from the often frustrating and stifling control of the local diocese. This was an important time for the Sisters because they essentially had to run the order by themselves for a period of six years. This was a steep learning curve but one which was ultimately in the interest of the congregation of approximately 50 women, because it enabled future managers to step out from Aubert’s impressive shadow and develop their skills. In this regard organising the construction of the Crèche was a challenge, but one which stood the Sisters in good stead for future building projects. Therefore, in combination with the independence they secured as a result of Aubert’s Europe trip, the Sisters of Compassion also developed a succession framework which ensured the unhindered continuance of the order when Aubert died only a few years later. The period when the Home of Compassion Crèche was built was a crucial time for the order and today the Sisters of Compassion ‘remain the only surviving religious congregation founded in New Zealand.’

The Sisters had always relied on the generosity of others to fund their activities and building projects. The planning of the Crèche was contemporary with the founding of the Macarthy Trust. This was established after Thomas George Macarthy’s (1833-1912) death and has subsequently contributed significant sums to educational and charitable organisations in Wellington. The initial grants round consisted of over £5000, however, the Sisters did not apply because Macarthy had already bequeathed Aubert £1000 which the Sisters would receive upon her return from Europe. However, because the Crèche was constructed before Aubert’s return the building was paid for with the Sisters’ existing funds and through donations. Finally, a £200 grant from the Trust in 1915 paid the balance of the cost for the £1200 building.

Tenders were called by the Crèche’s architect, John Sydney Swan (1874-1936), in April 1914 and Campbell and Burke was the successful construction company. Swan began his architectural career articled to Frederick de Jersey Clere and later the two went into partnership. In 1907 Swan established his own practice and went on to become one of Wellington’s most important architects of the early twentieth century, and one who completed a large number of projects for the Catholic Church. Swan designed St Gerard’s Church on Mt Victoria (1908-10), and buildings at Erskine College, as well as other commercial, ecclesiastical, educational, and domestic buildings, and additions to Victoria University’s Hunter Building. Campbell and Burke were also Wellington-based and seem to have been active between 1900 and the 1920s. Swan and Campbell and Burke worked together on several occasions around the period when the Crèche was built, including the Sacred Heart Convent in Wanganui (1911). In Wellington together they completed Plimmer’s Emporium (1916), and also Our Lady’s Home of Compassion, which meant that the Sisters were familiar with work produced from Swan and Campbell and Burke collaborations.

The opening ceremony for the Home of Compassion Crèche was on 27 September 1914. It was a reasonably low key affair given that people’s focus was on the newly declared war in Europe. However, invitations were sent to a few key dignitaries, such as the Archbishop Redwood, Sir Joseph and Lady Ward, and Dr and Lady Stout. Unfortunately the Premier was unable to attend but sent his apologies. The facilities in this building, whose workmanship was universally praised at its opening, included a front porch where the children could leave their coats before entering the building proper, and several dormitories for the children to nap in, a large dayroom for activities, and separate girls and boys toilets. A high fence separated the Crèche’s small yard from the driveway and playing fields of St Patrick’s College. Swan had also designed the building in a manner that would enable a second storey to be added if required.

When the new Crèche building opened the service continued in the same vein as it had since 1903. The Sisters received infants and young children daily, year round, except during the month of January. There was no fee charged at the Crèche, but small contributions towards milk costs were appreciated. The need of each case was examined before acceptance because of the limited number of children the Crèche could cater for, and priority was given to children from single parent families where the mother had no option but to work to support her children. Aubert had close links to Truby King’s Plunket movement and therefore it follows that in 1916 the Crèche was the first institution in Wellington to adopt the standardised mode of childcare of the Plunket system.

Fresh-air and play were recognised by the Sisters as an important aspect of the childhood experience. However, in the early period of the crèche operation the property’s playground was important to the Sisters primarily because it enabled them to almost double the number of children they could cater for, if the weather was fine. Later, the crèche’s long narrow section meant that by mid twentieth century standards the play area at the Home of Compassion Crèche’s was limited in terms of available grass space. However, the Sisters had an arrangement with St Patrick’s College, situated behind the crèche property, which enabled the children to use their grounds as a supplementary playground. The children also had access, by way of a set of steps, to the asphalt area at the back of the St Joseph’s Home next door, which was separated from the Crèche by a concrete retaining wall.

Continuing Aubert’s good work

On 1 October 1926, it was announced that one of New Zealand’s greatest women had passed away. Aubert died at the age of 91 at Our Lady’s Home of Compassion, and five days later her funeral was held amidst a huge outpouring of collective grief. Aubert’s funeral, which was attended by clergy of many denominations as well as top politicians, was described as ‘the greatest funeral New Zealand had ever accorded a woman.’ The route of the mile-long funeral cortege was crowded with people, not only from the Catholic community but the general populous, who all wanted to demonstrate their respect.

Upon reflecting on the achievements and legacy of Aubert, historian Michael King stated: ‘Mother Aubert’s vision and example – her insistence on seeing Christ in every person who needed help, her refusal while doing so to distinguish between Catholic and non-Catholic, Maori and Pakeha – were among the most pervasive and enduring forces to emerge from the Catholic Church in New Zealand.’ In 1990 the Sisters of Compassion began the process of seeking official Vatican recognition of the saintliness that people attributed to Aubert in life through beatification and canonisation, which are rigorous and lengthy processes. However, this is now well underway and if progressed successfully Aubert will become the first person associated with the Catholic Church in New Zealand to become a saint.

Of course, as planned the work of the Sisters of Compassion continued after Aubert’s passing, drawing inspiration from her life and example. From the 1920s the Sisters of Compassion began transferring their work with adults to Island Bay, as well as to the new Silverstream Home of Compassion in 1933. The Buckle Street Home for Incurables, which had helped hundreds of people from Wellington, and as far afield as Auckland and Dunedin, then became St Joseph’s Relief Depot. The Sisters of Compassion also set up other institutions around New Zealand and overseas.

As part of a small group of crèche services in New Zealand, the Home of Compassion Crèche was an important institution especially at times of economic crisis when more women were forced to seek work or supplement their family’s existing income, such as during World War One, the Great Depression, and World War Two. The daycare provided by the Crèche would have been a godsend for those lucky enough to secure a place, because kindergartens only offered care for part of the day. Until World War Two only charitable services like that at Buckle Street catered to this need, with the only full-day kindergartens in Wellington being established in 1942.

In the years after the Home of Compassion Crèche was built a few other charitable crèches were opened in Wellington. One of these was the Citizens Day Nursery, established in 1916. Upon investigation one inquisitive mother whose child attended the Nursery found that it was ‘dark and dingy,’ and she immediately transferred her child to the Home of Compassion Crèche. She was impressed with the Crèche and felt her child was much happier there. The Education Department had a similar favourable view of the Crèche during the 1960s, saying that the children were ‘a particularly happy group who respond cheerfully to kindly, gentle, but firm management,’ and that the Crèche was ‘without doubt the best run day nursery in Wellington.’

However, a combination of the crèche service outgrowing the 1914 building and planned State Highway One developments around the Basin Reserve prompted the Sisters of Compassion to move their facilities into a new three storey building close by on Sussex Street in 1973. Much of the land now incorporated into Karo Drive, as well as a passage of land that immediately adjoins the highway on the northeast side of Buckle, Ellice and Paterson Streets leading around the Basin Reserve and up to the Mount Victoria Tunnel, was taken for Better Utilisation or Motorway purposes by the Crown around this period in the early to mid 1970s.

As well as the crèche, the new Sussex Street facility also incorporated the St Joseph’s Relief Centre and the building which had been the Home for Incurables was then demolished. At the new building the Sisters were able to accommodate up to 50 children as opposed to the 30 they could manage at Buckle Street. The crèche has continued to function but is now the Aubert Childcare Centre located in Island Bay. Given the proximity of the vacated Crèche to St Patrick’s College, the building was then used as a library and supplementary classroom area for the school. However, this came to an end when the college moved to Evans Bay in 1979. After the former college buildings were demolished the Crèche was untenanted for period until it was eventually leased by its owners, Transit, to be used as an art studio. In recent years it has been used as a residence and office.

Physical Description

Of the places constructed by the Sisters of Compassion constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century only St Joseph’s Church at Jerusalem and the Home of Compassion Crèche remain. Clifton in Auckland was bought by the Sisters and became the St Vincent’s Home of Compassion but was only used by them briefly. The first buildings occupied by the Sisters of Compassion in Wellington have all been demolished, as has the original Our Lady’s Home of Compassion buildings in Island Bay. While the Home of Compassion and services, such as their crèche, still operate out of buildings in Island Bay, the Home of Compassion Crèche on Buckle Street is the only remnant of the time when the Sisters were establishing their important long-term base in Wellington and is the only building that Mother Aubert actually worked in which remains in that city.

The Home of Compassion Crèche (Former) is located on a sloping site on the north side of Buckle Street, in a locale which has changed considerably and regularly since it was built. It is sited close to the multi-laned road that skirts the north east corner of the Basin Reserve. The surrounding sites to the west, north and east have been cleared of large structures however further away is the two-to-four storey built-up area of this part of the central city. The steps and gardens leading to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Carillion, to the west, are within view.

In the immediate vicinity southwest of the Crèche, in space that was previously occupied by single or two-storey late nineteenth and early twentieth century residential buildings, are multi-storey apartment buildings. Only a few of these now remain facing the Basin Reserve, however Tasman Street has retained many examples. The historical landscape around the Basin Reserve and Mount Cook was characterised by workers’ dwellings, and military and penal structures, such as the Mount Cook Police Station (Former) constructed in 1893, contemporary with the Tasman Street Wall, and the later Carillon.

The other historical characteristic of the area was the strong Catholic presence around the Basin Reserve, as well as that of other denominations. A Christian presence is still maintained at the Basin Reserve through the late twentieth century St Joseph’s Church on the eastern corner opposite St Mark’s (Anglican) Foundation Centre, which is in front of Wellington College. The Crèche is now the earliest remaining example of an ecclesiastical building at the Basin Reserve, although in the wider area between the Basin and Mount Victoria tunnel, a late nineteenth century large residence of Catholic clergy, including the Archbishop, remains at 7 Paterson Street.

The Crèche is the size of a standard bungalow – a basic rectangular single-storey form, with extensions in the form of entrance porches and windows. It has a low corrugated-iron hipped roof and a masonry chimney, with a gable extending the roof higher in the centre of the building. The building is situated at the front of its original long narrow section and occupies almost half of that land parcel. The west side of the Crèche’s section is defined by a concrete retaining wall, which is thought to be contemporary with the building. This wall separated and maintained the different levels of the adjoining sections owned by the Sisters of Compassion; the upper level was formerly the site of the Home for Incurables. The area to the rear of the Crèche, now used as a parking area, was the children’s play area. The recreational facilities at the Crèche also encompassed an adjoining area behind the Home for Incurables, and the former St Patrick’s College grounds were also accessed. Subsequently the Crèche property has been expanded to include other land parcels on the eastern side of the original section.

Generally, the Crèche is constructed of a timber framed roof, supported by external walls of double skin Flemish bond brickwork and internal timber framed walls. Foundations, framed openings, bond beams, quoins, crenellations and all other embellishments to the brick exterior are formed with reinforced concrete.

With the presentation to the street of the Main Entrance, and its accompanying symmetry of forms and decorations, the Crèche is elegantly designed with many references to west-European building forms. Its sight would be grand were it visible rather than enclosed by trees.

The Main Entrance is an impressive adjunct to the main form and is formed beneath a secondary steeply-pitched hip on the south side of the building. It presents a large timber window to the street while the single door is located in the east side wall. This part of the building contains the most enriched features of the Crèche – the Norman-style crenulated parapet; the gently-arched, finely-detailed windows on three sides; and the elegant brick walls quoined with reinforced concrete and supported by a concrete foundation. Around the corners and over the windows is a continuous label circling the porch. Below the main window, centrally placed, is the foundation stone. In the niche between the central crenels on three sides of the porch are simple crosses. On the west side of the porch is a further large timber window of two double hung windows, with two toplights, with similarly triple-foiled heads recalling the Gothic tradition. The effect of the whole is one of gentile and domestic-scale formality.

More domestic in nature still are the northern extensions of the basic form of the building - the three sided brick and concrete bay window, in its original structural form although timber window repairs have been carried out; and an enclosed back entrance on the north elevation. The original post-and-brackets of the lean-to timber verandah have been enclosed with glazing and a door to form a room. Windows fill top panels and large panes fill the between-post void, but the balustrading panelling can still be seen beneath. Inside the brick exterior wall of the Crèche is clearly seen, as well as the moulded door and window architraves and surrounding quoins which are present in their equivalents else where in the main body of the building.

Spaced around the Crèche’s exterior walls and servicing rooms, as required, are formally spaced simple timber windows with double-hung sashes and toplights in deep reveals, and reinforced concrete lintels, jambs and sills.

The interior of the Crèche is remarkable for its generally authentic layout. The interior is marked by a wide central Hall, from the Main Entrance through to the northern door with rooms either side. The Hall is separated from the Main Entrance by a partition of full height glazed door and windows. The toplights follow the triple-curved pattern with the long fine mullions, accentuating the four metre ceiling height with its Gothic-inspired motifs. On the interior, the Main Entrance is a tall elaborate vestibule: decorative windows, pressed metal ceiling, blue and white mosaic tiled floor and a formed dado rail.

From the Hall, rimu doors lead directly into rooms. Generally, throughout the Crèche, walls are plastered timber framing; flooring is matai; ceilings are generally plasterboards (some being repaired). Joinery is rimu and predominantly authentic. Ceilings are consistently high. Little hardware or fittings remain.

To the east side of the Hall are two rooms: the northern large room with the bay window, of around 50 square metres, is the original the Play Room. Two windows face south and the fireplace remains in place with a new surround. An elaborate ceiling rose has been recently installed. Shutters have been applied to the windows.

To the east, at the south end, in what was the children’s Sleeping Room, is a bedroom of around 20 square metres: simple brick fireplace backing onto the Play Room fireplace; high pressed metal ceiling and decorative scotia; windows to the east and south.

Across the hall at the north end is the kitchen (Room 1 on the original plan) which has been opened out with the hall to form a larger room. It has a pressed metal ceiling, windows and door north and west and examples of original hardware. There is rudimentary kitchen joinery.

Adjacent are the match-lined laundry, toilet and bathroom with their individual windows. These are the rooms that would have once been the sole sanitary rooms in the Crèche. They are (together) small, with what were modest linings and were originally (in same order) the bathroom, the toilet and the pantry-kitchen. Apart from linings, little remains of the hardware and fittings of these rooms.

The former Nursery (Room 2 on the original plans) is currently a bedroom and is located on the south west corner of the Crèche - a smaller room of 10 square metres and similar in style and materials to the Sleeping Room across the Hall.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1914 -

Construction Details

Brick, concrete, corrugated iron, glass, stone, timber.

Completion Date

1st December 2010

Report Written By

K. Astwood, A. Dangerfield

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

‘Education – Pre-School Services – Child Care Centre – St Joseph’s Crèche, 22 Sussex Street, Wellington, 1962-1990,’ ABEP 7749 W4262 1531 25/9 (CC4) pt1

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Tennant, M., 'Aubert, Mary Joseph 1835-1926,' updated 22 June 2007

May, 1997

H May, 'The Discovery of Early Childhood', Auckland, 1997

Munro, 1997

Jessie Munro, The Story of Suzanne Aubert, Auckland, 1997

Neely, 2003

D Neely and J Romanos, The Basin: An Illustrated History of the Basin Reserve, Canterbury University Press: Christchurch, 2003.

King, 1997

Michael King, God's Farthest Outpost - A History of Catholics in New Zealand. Penguin Books, Auckland, 1997.

Humphris, 2009

Humphris, A. and G. Mew, Ring Around the City: Wellington’s new suburbs, 1900-1930, Steele Roberts, Wellington, 2009

Nolan, 2000

Nolan, M., Breadwinning: New Zealand women and the state, Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, 2000

Other Information

A fully referenced review report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office

This place is not part of a reserve. It was taken under the Public Works Act 1928 for better utilisation in the City of Wellington. (NZ Gazette 1974, p.1975.)

Analysis of Material Available on the Place

A variety of sources were accessed as part of the research that informed this report. These ranged from primary sources (council and government files, historic newspaper articles, photographs, land information) to secondary sources such as: general sources on Wellington history and Catholicism in New Zealand, writings about the life of Mother Aubert and the Sisters of Compassion, as well as research on the development of childcare services in New Zealand.

Analysis of Material Accessed

The material assessed has been useful in determining a general picture of the importance of the building and placing it within the broader history of the work of Mother Aubert, the Sisters of Compassion, and childcare within New Zealand, as well as placing it within its general local social and historical context.

As an influential person and important female figure, there are many biographical works on Mother Aubert that have been seminal in the creation of this report. However, because of their biographical focus most of these works simply canvas the work undertaken by the Sisters at institutions like the Home of Compassion Crèche, although Munro’s book contained more information than most of its counterparts.

Other important secondary sources were the studies on women’s employment history in New Zealand and early childcare services produced by May and Nolan. These are detailed academic works which each mention the Home of Compassion Crèche and establish the Sisters of Compassion crèche as important within the history of childcare within New Zealand.

However, these texts did not provide specific information as to whether the Home of Compassion Crèche was the first purpose-built structure of its kind in New Zealand. For this primary research was undertaken using broad historic newspaper searches, the result of which was that the Heni Materoa Crèche in Gisborne, constructed in 1913, was the only building found that pre-dated its 1914 counterpart in Wellington. NZHPT colleagues in the Lower North Island region were not aware of this building’s existence and GoogleEarth Streetveiw searches have not shown any building fitting its description. The NZHPT registration report on the Campbell Free Kindergarten (Former) was useful to determine that although that building (built 1910) is a purpose-built childcare facility that pre-dates the Home of Compassion Crèche, its services differed from that of the Crèche in philosophy and intent as part of Friedrich Froebel’s international kindergarten movement, and that while it could be considered New Zealand’s oldest remaining kindergarten building, the Home of Compassion Crèche is likely to be the country’s oldest remaining purpose-built structure of its own kind.

The summary of the Home of Compassion Crèche’s history which was produced by the Sisters of Compassion from their archival material was also helpful in terms of determining how the crèche was operated and the new building funded, and in combination with the Education Department records from Archives New Zealand, this has been very useful in establishing a picture of the valuable and high quality service that was provided at the building for 60 years.

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.