Government Centre Historic Area

Molesworth Street, Bowen Street, Lambton Quay, Stout Street, Ballance Street, Maginnity Street And Featherston Street, Wellington

  • Government Centre Historic Area, Wellington. Parliament House CC Licence 4.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Michal Klajban - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Michal Klajban. Date: 1/01/2015.
  • Government Centre Historic Area, Wellington. Parliamentary Library CC Licence 3.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Ulrich Lange - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ulrich Lange, Bochum, Germany. Date: 20/03/2010.
  • Government Centre Historic Area, Wellington. Turnbull House.
    Copyright: Paul Le Roy. Taken By: Paul Le Roy - Minicooperd. Date: 10/01/2016.
  • Government Centre Historic Area, Wellington. Left - Public Trust Building (Former) and Right - State Insurance Building (Former). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: ©Photographer Alex Efimoff . Taken By: Alex Effimoff. Date: 11/11/2011.
  • Government Centre Historic Area, Wellington. The Beehive with the Cenotaph in the foreground .
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 12/12/2017.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Area Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7035 Date Entered 27th October 1994 Date of Effect 27th October 1994


Extent of List Entry

This historic area consists of an area of land that contains a group of inter-related historic places. The identified historic places that contribute to the values in this historic area are: Parliamentary Library, Parliament House, Executive Wing (The Beehive), Cenotaph, Turnbull House, Government Buildings (Former), Old High Court Building, Court of Appeal Building (Former) (Façade only), Public Trust Office Building (Former), New Public Trust Office, State Insurance Office Building (Former), Departmental Building, Wellesley Club (Former), Dominion Farmers Institute Building (Former), Missions to Seamen Building (Former). The area of land that encompasses these historic places includes part of the land described as Sec 1 SO 38114 (RT 10240); the land described as Pt Reserve 3 TN of Wellington (NZ Gazette 1989, p. 4481; RT WN567/267), Sec 1281 TN of Wellington (NZ Gazette 1989, p. 4480; RT WN9D/443), Pt Sec 491 TN of Wellington (PROC 1862, 1863, 2129; NZ Gazette 1989, p.5763), Lot 3 DP 2991 (NZ Gazette 1992, pp. 3822-3823; RT WN237/291), Lot 3 DP 10325 (NZ Gazette 1992, pp. 3822-3823; RT WN436/191), Lot 1 AP 2948 (NZ Gazette 1992, pp. 3822-3823); part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 68935 (RT WN37A/166); the land described as Sec 1 SO 37161 (NZ Gazette 1993 p. 3015), Lot 1 DP 403086 (RT 410107), Lots 4-5 BLK VI Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN300/232), Pt Sec 6 BLK VI Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN155/26), Lot 1 DP 6634 (RT WN41D/189), Secs 1-3 BLK VI Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN41D/189), Lot 1 DP 50796 (RT WN22C/110), Lot 2 DP 50796 (RT 668466), Lot 1 DP 85058 (RT WN53A/209), Lot 1 DP 478684 (RT 665634), Sec 2 BLK V Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN319/192), Lot 1, 2 and 4 DP 3373 (RT WN397/291), Lot 1-2 Sec 3 Blk IV Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN443/270), Lot 1 DP 79269 (RT SRS WN45D/541), Secs 9-10 BLK III Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN33D/989), Lot 1 DP 9002 (RT WN33D/989); and part of the land described as Legal Road. The above described land is all in the Wellington Land District. (Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage List/ Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 12 November 2015).

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Sec 1 SO 38114 (RT 10240), Pt Reserve 3 TN of Wellington (NZ Gazette 1989, p. 4481; RT WN567/267), Sec 1281 TN of Wellington (NZ Gazette 1989, p. 4480; RT WN9D/443), Pt Sec 491 TN of Wellington (PROC 1862, 1863, 2129; NZ Gazette 1989, p.5763), Lot 3 DP 2991 (NZ Gazette 1992, pp. 3822-3823; RT WN237/291), Lot 3 DP 10325 (NZ Gazette 1992, pp. 3822-3823; RT WN436/191), Lot 1 AP 2948 (NZ Gazette 1992, pp. 3822-3823), Lot 1 DP 68935 (RT WN37A/166), Sec 1 SO 37161 (NZ Gazette 1993 p. 3015), Lot 1 DP 403086 (RT 410107), Lots 4-5 BLK VI Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN300/232), Pt Sec 6 BLK VI Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN155/26), Lot 1 DP 6634 (RT WN41D/189), Secs 1-3 BLK VI Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN41D/189), Lot 1 DP 50796 (RT WN22C/110), Lot 2 DP 50796 (RT 668466), Lot 1 DP 85058 (RT WN53A/209), Lot 1 DP 478684 (RT 665634), Sec 2 BLK V Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN319/192), Lot 1, 2 and 4 DP 3373 (RT WN397/291), Lot 1-2 Sec 3 Blk IV Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN443/270), Lot 1 DP 79269 (RT SRS WN45D/541), Secs 9-10 BLK III Thorndon Reclamation (RT WN33D/989), Lot 1 DP 9002 (RT WN33D/989), Legal Road, Wellington Land District.

Location description

The Historic Area covers the following addresses:

1 Molesworth Street; 1-23, 25-27 Bowen Street; 35-77, 85, 99, 103, 111, 113, 115, 117-125, 131-135, 137-143 Lambton Quay; 7, 9-11, 15,21, 22 Stout Street; 43-47, 49-59 Ballance Street; 1, 3, 5, 2-8, Maginnity Street; 110, 118, Featherston Street, WELLINGTON


The Government Centre Historic Area, at the northern end of the Wellington CBD, is of outstanding historical, social, architectural and cultural significance as the heart of New Zealand’s central government activities since 1865. Centred on the Parliamentary Precinct and extending along Lambton Quay and down Stout Street to Featherston Street, proceedings in these places have directly shaped the social history and development of the nation. The high architectural and aesthetic values of many of the historic area’s buildings complement the gravitas of the Parliamentary Precinct, and the development of the area reflects the political history of New Zealand.

When Europeans first came to the harbour known to tangata whenua as Te Whanganui-a-Tara, the future site of Parliament was a clay hillside and swampy ground between two streams, neighboured by the Māori settlements of Pipitea Pā and Kumutoto Kainga. From the beginning of organised British colonisation in 1840, Colonel Wakefield, leader of the New Zealand Company, earmarked the hillside for government purposes. When Auckland was made the country’s capital instead, the Wellington site accommodated the Governor’s House, and in 1857-1858, purpose-built Provincial Chambers were constructed there too. This building was designed to have two large chambers suitable for accommodating Parliament, should it ever be persuaded to relocate.

In 1865 Wellington’s wish was granted, and the capital was moved there because of its location in the centre of the country. The former Provincial Council buildings were enlarged, but major development of the area was needed to accommodate the administration of the three branches of government: the legislature (Parliament), the executive (ministers of the Crown and their government departments), and the judiciary (the court system); as well as related quasi-governmental functions.

The ornate Parliamentary Library (completed 1899) is now the oldest building within Parliament Grounds, and is considered one of the country’s architectural treasures for its Gothic design and high quality workmanship. Next to it is the Edwardian neo-classical Parliament House (completed 1922), designed after a fire in 1907 ravaged the existing building. Only half of John Campbell and Claude Paton’s grand, imposing design was ever built, and there was much debate in the ensuing decades about whether the original design should be completed or a modern addition built. The result was the construction of the Executive Wing, better known as the Beehive (built 1969-1981), now one of New Zealand’s most iconic modernist buildings.

Parliament Grounds is itself a nationally significant public space of political protest and celebration. Since the 1860s the landscaped lawns in front of the three parliamentary buildings have been a fundamental place for the public to interact with the political system, and demonstrate the principles that are important to our society. Many petitions have been presented on the steps of Parliament House, and it is regularly the destination of protest marches about a wide range of issues. Important demonstrations include those about voting rights – the campaign for women’s suffrage presented there resulted in New Zealand being the first place in the world where women could vote in general elections; a nuclear-free New Zealand; homosexual law reform; anti-apartheid; workers’ rights and for peace.

It is a culturally and socially important place for Māori, and notable protests against land grievances have been brought to Parliament, including the 5000-strong hikoi (march) led by Dame Whina Cooper in 1975, and the 2004 and 2011 protests around access to and ownership of the foreshore. The grounds are an integral element – the marae atea – of the functioning of the Parliamentary Precinct as a marae of the people of New Zealand. Crowds also gather there for civic celebrations, to honour dignitaries, and receive important news.

Beyond the Parliamentary Precinct many of the historic area’s buildings were built on reclaimed land. The earliest example is the 1876 former Government Buildings, which housed the Wellington-based public service as well as the Parliamentary executive (including Cabinet). It is one of the great wooden buildings of the world. Across Whitmore Street, the magnificent Old High Court (formerly known as the Supreme Court) was Wellington’s first masonry public building, built 1879-1881. Following its conservation in 2007-2009 it is now an integral part of the new Supreme Court complex, and the relationship between the two buildings is communicated through complementary design features.

Other highly significant buildings include the former Public Trust Office Building (1908), an outstanding example of Edwardian Baroque architecture; and facing it across Stout Street, two of the city’s earliest examples of modern movement architecture: the State Insurance Building (1942) with its striking corrugated corner façade, and the Departmental Building. The State Insurance Building is now home to Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Maori Development. The Departmental Building was built in 1940 and housed the New Zealand Defence Force for over 65 years; currently the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment continues the history of government tenancy. It became well-recognised during the 1980s when it starred in the television series Gliding On. The Dominion Farmers Building on Featherston Street was also occupied by the public service in previous years, including the Reserve Bank and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Backing on to the Departmental Building is the Wellesley Club (built 1927). This prestigious gentlemen’s club provided a place for its members – many of whom worked in politics, the judiciary or government administration – to relax and socialise in the old English tradition. Turnbull House on Bowen Street was purchased by the government in 1920 to open noted book collector Alexander Turnbull’s exceptional library to the public; it was the home of this internationally renowned research library for its first 55 years. The Missions to Seamen Building (built in 1904 in a Romanesque-Classical style) is also an important architectural contributor to the distinct heritage character of the Government Centre Historic Area, and the Cenotaph has provided a central place for civic commemorations of New Zealand’s fallen since 1932.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value


The area has historical significance as the site of the Government centre. Parliament grounds has been important since the 1840's as the seat, initially of Provincial Government and, after 1865, of central Government. The land below this was reclaimed, mainly in the 1870's. Historically, it has been the site of many buildings serving Government or quasi-Government functions.

This area is important as the site of the Government centre, initially for Wellington Province and later for New Zealand. It has a great deal of aesthetic appeal with a number of low rise buildings covering a variety of ages and architectural styles, and with the attractive, open green spaces of Parliament Grounds.


The area is mainly comprised of public buildings, several of them being of considerable historical and architectural importance. These buildings cover a wide range of architectural styles, including the Classical style Government Buildings, the Gothic General Assembly Library, the neo-Georgian styled Wellesley Club and the modern pre-World War Two buildings such as State Insurance, and even recent buildings such as the 'Beehive' and the new Public Trust.


Parliament grounds, sited on its slight rise above the reclaimed land is a large open space of lawns, trees and shrubs. As one of the biggest areas of greenery in central Wellington, the grounds have important recreational value for central city workers, as well as being a visually attractive focal point in the Government centre. The area has a high concentration of low rise buildings. This gives it important townscape qualities, especially within the context of the central city area, which has become dominated by modern, high rise structures. These low rise buildings give the area a sunny and spacious atmosphere. Many of the area's buildings have landmark qualities because of their visual prominence. These include the Public Trust, the Dominion Farmers Institute, the Beehive and the Cenotaph.


There have been a succession of buildings in this area over the years, all serving a government purpose. Colonel Wakefield's house (which served as the first Government House), the Provincial Council Chambers and the first wooden Parliament House were demolished and replaced around the turn of the century and their sites may well provide evidence for archaeological study regarding construction methods and occupation. Building sites on reclaimed land also have archaeological significance.


In many ways, the development of the area has reflected the events in the political history of New Zealand, with new buildings being erected after important political developments such as the institution of the system of Provincial Government , or the shifting of the capital to Wellington.


This area has been viewed by New Zealand as the centre of New Zealand government since the 1860's.


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The area comprises the land and the structures and objects from Parliament Grounds and lower Bowen Street through to sections fronting Ballance Street and Whitmore Streets, and part of Lambton Quay, Wellington City


General Assembly Library - Parliament Grounds (Category I)

This Victorian Gothic building of brick and plaster construction was completed in 1899. The final plans for the 2 storey structure were drawn up by the Public Works Department (NB: the original design by architect Thomas Turnbull was for a 3 storey building). The central feature of the building is the entrance portal rendered in a semi-ecclesiastical style.

Parliament Buildings - Parliament Grounds (Category I)

The wooden Parliament Buildings were burnt down in 1907 and were replaced in 1911 with a building designed by Government architect John Campbell and his assistant Claude E. Paton. It is a fine example of Edwardian Classicism and is distinguished by strong horizontal lines offset by the row of heavy unornamental columns which are arranged across the main facade and entrance.

Beehive - Parliament Grounds

This modern structure was officially opened (though not complete) in 1977. It is 14 storeys high and has a distinctive round shape.

Cenotaph - corner Bowen St and Lambton Quay (Category I)

The Wellington Cenotaph is also a well-known landmark. Located on a prominent corner, its height makes it widely visible. It is built of white marble and was designed by Grierson, Aimer and Draffin. It was dedicated in 1932 to those who had fallen in the First World War. The two bronze lions at its base were added in 1950 and it was rededicated to commemorate the dead of the Second World War.

Turnbull House - Bowen St (Category I)

Turnbull House was designed by William Turnbull in 1915-16. The 3 storey building constructed of brick was built in two parts. The western block held Turnbull's book collection and the eastern block contained living quarters. In 1920 the property was bought by the Crown and used as the Alexander Turnbull Library until 1973.

Government Buildings - Lambton Quay (Category I)

The Government Building originally housed offices for New Zealand's entire Public Service. Covering 9380 square metres, it is reputed to be the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere. It was designed in 1876 by W.H. Clayton and was extended twice, the south wing in 1897 and the north in 1907. Although the 4 storey building was constructed in wood, the building was designed to imitate stone so that the planned Classical style could be retained.

High Court Building (Former Supreme Court) - Stout St (Category I)

The former Supreme Court was the first public building in Wellington to be erected in stone. It was designed in 1879 by Government architect P.F.M. Burrows and is neo-Classical in design. The original portion of the building is 'T' shaped in plan. It is two storeys high at its core and surrounded by a single storey section. Extensions are in the same style.

Former Civil Service Club - Ballance/Stout Sts (Category II)

Joshua Charlesworth designed this 3 storey building in the Italian Palazzo style in 1907. The facade of this building is all that remains.

Old Public Trust Building - Lambton Quay (Category I)

After earlier plans had been rejected, plans for the Public Trust were drawn up in 1905 by John Campbell, using a light steel frame. Following the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 the plans were revisited but the steel frame construction was considered to be sufficient for earthquake measures. The co-operation of noted architect Thomas Turnbull is said to have been enlisted in this redesigning work. The building was opened in 1908 and is eclectic in style, combining Renaissance and Baroque forms typical of the Edwardian era. The building is subject to an heritage order issued by the Trust in 1982.

State Insurance Building - Lambton Quay/Ballance St (Category I)

Gummer, Ford & Partners designed this building in 1940. It is 'modern' in style with no embellishments added and reflects the influence of European trends. The facade is distinguished by the unusual 'wave' shaped frontage, with windows placed to fit the projecting curves of the facade.

Departmental Building - Stout St (Category II)

The Departmental Building was designed by J.T. Mair in 1939. Its design lacks ornamentation and has simple Art Deco motifs on the portico over the centrally located main entrance.

Wellesley Club - 2-8 Maginnity St (Category I)

This fine example of Neo-Georgian architecture was designed by Gray Young, Morton & Young in 1925. It is constructed of reinforced concrete and brick.

Dominion Farmers Institute Building - Ballance/Featherston St (Category II)

The Dominion Farmers Building was designed by Christchurch architects Collins and Harman in 1919. Its concrete frame construction was very advanced for the period. Stylistically, it is a rare example of a commercial building showing Gothic forms.

Mission to Seamen Building - 7 Stout St (Category I)

Crichton & MacKay designed this building in 1903 with a mixture of Gothic and Classical elements.

Note - the following historic places have been demolished since the Government Centre Historic Area was first registered by the Trust in 1984:

Bowen House

Former Arbitration Court

Former Justice Dept Headquarters

Former Magistrates Court

De Bretts Hotel

Saywell Building

Former BNZ North End Branch

part of the Former Civil Service Club

Construction Dates

Public NZAA Number









Completion Date

2nd November 2015

Report Written By

Blyss Wagstaff

Information Sources

McKenzie, 1984

James McKenzie, Government Centre Conservation Area, Wellington, New Zealand Historic Places Trust, 1984.

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Schrader, Ben, 'Public buildings - Central-government buildings', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 23-Sep-13, URL:

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Maclean, Chris, 'Wellington region, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12,

Parliamentary Service Commission, 2012

Martin, John E., ‘History of Parliament’s Buildings and Grounds’, Parliamentary Service, Wellington, Mar 2012, URL:, accessed 24 Nov 2014

Te Ara o nga Tupuna Heritage Trail, n.d.

Love, Matene, Te Ara o nga Tupuna Heritage Trail, Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust,, accessed 14 Nov 2014

Other Information

Parliament Buildings received National Award (1997) from NZIA.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. This report includes text from the original Proposal for Registration 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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Central Region Office of Heritage New Zealand

Historic Area Place Name

Court of Appeal Building (Former)
Departmental Building
Dominion Farmers Institute Building (Former)
Executive Wing (the Beehive)
Government Buildings (Former)
Missions to Seamen Building (Former)
New Public Trust Office
Old High Court
Parliament House
Parliamentary Library
Public Trust Office Building (Former)
State Insurance Office Building (Former)
Turnbull House
Wellesley Club (Former)