Queenstown Library and Reading Room (Former)

44 Stanley Street And Ballarat Street, Queenstown

  • Queenstown Library and Reading Room (Former), Queenstown.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 14/10/2019.
  • Queenstown Library and Reading Room (Former), Queenstown.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 14/10/2019.
  • Queenstown Library and Reading Room (Former), Queenstown.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 14/10/2019.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 362 Date Entered 26th November 1981 Date of Effect 26th November 1981


City/District Council

Queenstown-Lakes District


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 7 Blk XXXI Town of Queenstown (RT OT72/294), Otago Land District


The stone courthouse and library that stand at the entrance to the commercial centre of Queenstown, sheltered under large Wellingtonian pines, are a distinctive and much valued landmark of Queenstown. Both buildings were designed by Invercargill architect F.W. Burwell (1846-1915). It seems likely that Burwell designed the two buildings to be built simultaneously. However, the courthouse was built first, begun in 1875 and finished in 1876, followed by the library, completed in 1877. The two buildings run at right angles to each other and share a wall, presumably to save costs. Both were built from the local schist, with corrugated iron roofs, but have different histories of use over the years.

The first representatives of law and order in the Queenstown area were the wardens of the goldfields, appointed for their knowledge of the Mining Act. By April of 1863 the two wardens appointed to Arrowtown and Queenstown were asking that public offices and quarters be erected for their use. At that time they were working out of two tents which functioned as the gold receiver's office, sleeping quarters and courthouse. These tents were becoming dilapidated and because of the severe winters, both wardens strongly suggested a tender for the construction of the buildings be accepted 'at once'. Fortunately tenders were called for a wooden courthouse in July 1863. By 1874 it was decided to replace this with a substantial stone courthouse and athenaeum, and tenders were called for its construction in June 1875. The courthouse building was erected between November 1875 and September 1876. It varies from the standard nineteenth century pattern of such buildings in New Zealand and Australia, with its courtroom situated at the southern end of the building and the offices between it and the library to the north, rather than having the courtroom in the centre, surrounded by offices on two or three sides.

The courthouse continues to serve as the local seat of justice. While the offices have been rearranged over the years, the basic layout of the courthouse remains unchanged.

Calls for a library and athenaeum for Queenstown had begun as early as 1873. It appears that building of the library began later than the courthouse. It was underway by the middle of 1876 and was finished by early 1877. The library formally opened with a concert on 17 March 1877 and was described at the Library Committee's Annual General Meeting in July as a 'handsome and commodious building'. At the time of opening it had two main rooms and a small central store room. These two rooms alternated functions over the years, used as either the reading room or the lending library. The building was threatened with demolition in the 1960s when the Borough Council wished to build a new library combined with new council offices. However, there was a vehement public outcry, both locally and nationally and eventually, after holding a referendum in 1967, which showed the majority of ratepayers wished to retain the old building, the council changed its mind and constructed a new library adjacent to the old. Water was laid on to the old building for the first time in its history, a storeroom was created and access to the new library provided by a doorway cut in the end wall. The old library building is currently occupied by the Citizens' Advice Bureau.

The Courthouse and Library are two of the few structures that survive from Queenstown's early goldmining days. They are fine examples of stone construction using the local schist. Together they create a distinctive entrance into the central business district of Queenstown and are much loved by the locals, as was evidenced in the struggle to save the library building in the 1960s and more recent concerns over a planned development next to the courthouse.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Burwell, F. W.

F.W. Burwell (1846-1915) is noted for designing many buildings in Invercargill, transforming the centre of the town between 1874 and the mid-1880s. Born in Scotland, Burwell served his articles with the architect John Matthews and immigrated to New Zealand in the late 1860s. By 1873, he had established his practice in Queenstown. He moved to Invercargill the following year. Once established there, he began designing elegant two and three-storey buildings in the Renaissance style. He designed almost all the buildings in Dee Street, including the hospital. 'The Crescent' was another notable Invercargill streetscape created by Burwell. In recognition of his work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880. The depression in the 1880s saw his commissions decline and he moved to Australia in 1887 where he practised in Melbourne, Perth and then Fremantle. He was particularly successful in the last, as Western Australia was in the middle of a building boom, and a number of his commercial buildings in central Fremantle are now classified by the Australian Heritage Commission. Burwell returned to Melbourne in 1910, and died there five years later. (Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, 'Burwell, Frederick William (1846-1915)' in Jane Thomson (ed.), Southern People: a dictionary of Otago Southland biography, Dunedin, 1998, p. 74.)

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

Library possibly built by George Richard Bishop, stonemason who had immigrated from Canada in 1868. Also built stone abuttments of the old bridge at Alexandra, old stone convent in Dunedin: Information from his grand-daughter Gladys Carter of Napier, published in Courier special on library pp.14-15.

Notable Features

Two giant redwoods, (Sequoiadendron Giganteum) also known as Wellingtonia were planted outside the courthouse and library around 1876, by Phillip Boult, clerk to the Lake County Council. Boult had read of the American tradition of planting 'trees of justice' outside courthouses to provide shade for those attending court and thought it was a tradition worth emulating.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1875 - 1877

1970 -
New library building erected next to old library building.

Completion Date

3rd June 2003

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Adams, 1970

P Adams, 'Queenstown Library: Research Report for the New Zealand Historic Places Trust', HP 26/1970, 29 April 1970, on file 12007-018

Hillier Nurseries, 1991

The Hillier Manual of Trees & Shrubs, 6th edn, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1991

Miller, 1973

F.W.G Miller, Golden Days of Lake County, 5th edn, Christchurch, 1973

Southland Daily News

Southland Daily News

10 February 1967

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.