1 Mersey Street And Melbourne Road, Island Bay, Wellington

  • Hurston, Island Bay, Wellington.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Miranda Williamson. Date: 10/01/2021.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9954 Date Entered 20th May 2021 Date of Effect 10th June 2021


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 4 DP 10199 (RT:WN442/284), Wellington Land District, and the building known as Hurston thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Lot 4 DP 10199 (RT:WN442/284), Wellington Land District.

Location description

NZTM Easting: 1748596.59

NZTM Northing: 5422175.65


Hurston, located near the corner of Mersey Street and Melbourne Road in Wellington’s southern suburb of Island Bay, has architectural value because it is a well preserved representative example of a timber two storey Victorian villa (constructed circa 1887). It was designed by William Charles Chatfield, a regionally important architect and founding president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects. Since 1953 the house has had spiritual significance as the home of the Missionary Sisters of Peter Claver, with the former living room converted to a chapel.

Hurston has historic value as a representation of the burgeoning development of suburban New Zealand in the late 1800s. Between 1876 and 1879 Wellington’s population doubled in size, at which point the majority of Island Bay was subdivided into 665 sections and sold at public auction. The allotments varied in size from one quarter to five acres and the area was described by the vendors as part of ‘one of the most beautiful and healthy suburbs of Wellington’. Like most of Island Bay, the land which was purchased and built on by Chatfield in 1887 was part of this significant subdivision.

Hurston’s corner location, scale and style means it is prominent in its neighbourhood.,. The house originally comprised of a parlour and living room on the ground floor, with a dining room, kitchen, laundry and servants’ quarters to the rear, and four bedrooms and a nursery on the upper level. The house was not just a family home for the Chatfields, but also an advertisement for owner William Chatfield’s versatility and accomplishment as an architect. The workmanship and various elements of the design reflect his skill and to some extent catalogue some of the options for villa designs available and popular at this time. These features included finials, tall double hung windows, verandah, gable ends and bracketed eaves.

The Missionary Sisters of Peter Claver bought Hurston in 1953 and oversaw some alterations to the property. In 1982 they added a committee room and garage as extensions on to the rear of the building. In 1997 the plumbing in the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms was modernised. The rest of the house is remarkably intact.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Hurston has historic value as a representation of the development of suburban New Zealand in the late 1800s. In particular, it is part of the story of the early development of one of Wellington’s major suburbs, Island Bay. The land on which Hurston sits was part of a particularly significant Wellington subdivision in 1879, notable for its sheer scale, as 665 sections in Island Bay were put up for auction. This was illustrative of urban expansion around New Zealand in this period as large land parcels were ‘carved up’ in anticipation of population growth and burgeoning new suburbs. Hurston also has historical significance as the long-standing residence of the Catholic order the Missionary Sisters of Peter Claver in New Zealand.

Architectural Significance or Value

Hurston has architectural significance because it is a representative example of the work of regionally significant architect William Charles Chatfield (1851-1930). He designed the two storey Victorian villa as both a home for his own young family and an advertisement for his architectural expertise. The careful workmanship and various elements of the design are evidence of his architectural skills. The building retains a high level of authentic fabric from the time of its construction and minor alterations and additions do not undermine this quality. It is representative of villas constructed around New Zealand before the peak of their popularity between 1895 and 1910 when the villa became an important and common architectural style in New Zealand. They introduced new standards in comfort, convenience, ventilation and hygiene.

Spiritual Significance or Value

Hurston has spiritual significance as the New Zealand base of the Missionary Sisters of Peter Claver. Their chapel is integrally associated with Catholic worship, an undertaking central to this community. The sisters regard the space with reverence, veneration and respect. The sisters, visiting priests and their other visitors can sit in a pew and enjoy the peaceful, quiet and reflective space to celebrate mass, pray the daily office, reaffirm their shared faith and spend time in personal devotion.

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

The story of Hurston and the land on which it sits at Island Bay reflects a wider story of the suburban development of New Zealand at the end of the 19th century. Due to growing populations there was a shift from inner city to suburban living and Hurston is a good early example of this. It predates the big shift as tramlines were laid and reflects the importance of public transport to the spread of suburban living in New Zealand.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history Hurston is closely associated with an important architect, William Charles Chatfield, who designed the building for his family home and lived in it between circa 1887 and his death in 1930. Chatfield served as president of the Wellington Association of Architects in 1894 and he was founding president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1905. In this capacity he helped get the NZIA Act through parliament in 1913, a significant piece of legislature which saw New Zealand architects gain recognition as a professional body.

(g) The technical accomplishment, value, or design of the place

Hurston includes features which have significant technical values as Chatfield designed the villa as a way to demonstrate to prospective clients his mastery of its design and the wide variety of possible architectural flourishes they could consider for their own villa design. The features on Hurston’s west-facing front facade include the grand front steps, tall double hung windows, finials and reversed finials, decorative veranda, coloured glass panes and a complex roof design. The interior features include the built-in cabinetry, carved staircase and flattened arches. These features give the building technical value as an example of the range of design features common for a late 19th or early 20th century New Zealand villa.

Summary of Significance or Values

Hurston has architectural, historical and spiritual significance. It is a good representative example of a suburban two storey Victorian-era villa, designed by an architect of regional note William Charles Chatfield. Its front elevation, complete with an ornate veranda and finials, was designed to showcase Chatfield’s expertise and accomplishment as an architect. Hurston is also illustrative of suburban development in New Zealand at the end of the 19th century. Since 1953 Hurston has had spiritual significance as the New Zealand base of the Catholic order of the Missionary Sisters of Peter Claver.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Chatfield, William Charles

Chatfield (1851/52-1930) was born in Sussex and educated in Brixton, Surrey. He came to New Zealand at the age of sixteen in 1867 and was immediately engaged in architectural work. He joined the Public Service in 1872 as Chief Draughtsman and Assistant Paymaster and Engineer in the Engineer's Department of the Wellington Province. He held these positions until 1876 when provincial government was abolished. During this time he worked on the Thorndon reclamation and designed many bridges.

He went into private practice in 1876 and designed several large office and warehouse buildings such as Kings Chambers, corner Willis and Willeston Streets (1902), the Wellington Opera House (1886) and the Colonial Mutual Insurance Building, corner Customhouse Quay and Willeston Street (1897). Stewart Dawson's Building (1900)

Chatfield's buildings were characterised by their enormous strength resulting from the use of heavy masonry reinforced with railway irons for foundations, cornices and columns.

Chatfield contributed to the foundation and development of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and was elected first president for the 1905-6 term. He was re-elected for the following term, 1906-7, and again in 1914-15.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The area widely known today as Island Bay is Wellington’s southernmost suburb. It is named after its island, Tapu Te Ranga, which was an important pā site for local iwi. The Māori name for the wider area is Paekawakawa. Ngāti Māmoe, Ngāi Tara, Ngāti Ira and Rangitāne have been associated with the area and present day tangata whenua include Te Ᾱtiawa and Ngāti Toa. Today there are archaeological remains of what is believed to have been many hundreds of years of settlement along the South Coast, including both on Tapu Te Ranga and the wider Paekawakawa area. Sites located here include terraces and shell middens, indicating that people were living in the area and utilising the rich coastal resources.

The organised European settlement of Wellington began with the arrival of Tory in 1839, and the Aurora the following year. By the late 19th century colonial settlement in Wellington was well underway and the city was growing at pace. Housing was originally concentrated from Thorndon to Te Aro. Between 1876 and 1879 Wellington’s population doubled in size andthere was a flurry of subdivision as land was bought and sold around the city. The land at Island Bay had thus far been an inconvenient distance from the city, but on 25 March 1879 it was subdivided by into 665 sections and sold at public auction by Messrs Bethune & Co. The allotments varied in size from one quarter to five acres and t he area was described by the vendors as ‘one of the most beautiful and healthy suburbs of Wellington’ with the added advantage of being ‘not subject to City rates’. The land which was later purchased by William Chatfield was part of this original subdivision.

Around this time a number of immigrants from Italy, Greece and the Shetland Islands were settling in the area and earning a living fishing in Cook Strait. Island Bay was still an isolated area administered by the Hutt County Council. In 1888 Wellington was rezoned and as part of this reorganisation the southern section became the Borough of Melrose. This new Borough was comprised of Kilbirnie, Island Bay and Ohiro. In 1903 the Borough became absorbed into the expanding suburbs of Wellington City. At this point much of the land was farmland and market gardens. The sandy beach was a popular destination for day trippers and a racecourse was a key drawcard to the area, opening in 1882. Part of the impetus for development in Island Bay was not just Wellington’s growing population, but rumours of improved access. In the early days public transport was limited to one horse-drawn coach making one trip to the city per day, but by 1877 there was talk of extending a tramway from the city centre to Island Bay – it became a reality in 1905.

William Charles Chatfield (1851-1930)

British-born architect William Charles Chatfield (1851-1930) purchased the section in 1887 and designed Hurston as a commodious two storey villa for his young family.16 There is little information about his early years in New Zealand, but it is believed that he ran a Wellington-based architectural practice from 1867-1872. He was then employed by the Wellington Provincial Government as a draftsman until 1876, when he returned to private practice. He specialised in designing commercial buildings around Wellington (and some further afield), including various ‘large office blocks, shops, banks and warehouses’.19 Between 1875 and 1927 he designed around 270 buildings.20 Two of his best-known surviving buildings are the Star Boating Club (List No. 1431) and the façade of Stewart Dawson’s Corner (List No. 1871). He was president of the Wellington Association of Architects in 1894 and founding president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1905. He was instrumental in getting the NZIA Act through parliament in 1913, a key piece of legislation which recognised New Zealand architects as a professional group. Chatfield married 21 year old Mary Hoggard in 1874. Together they had three children, Leonard, Ethel and Florence.

The house was built on a section set back from the road and originally encircled by trees at the corner of Mersey Street (named after the British river) and Melbourne Road (sometimes then called Adelaide Road). Photographs of Hurston show it was one of the early two storey villas in Island Bay, larger than those built subsequently around it. The house itself was in many senses a show home; the ornate design of the front elevation was a reflection of the variety of villa designs in New Zealand at this time and Chatfield’s attempt to showcase his mastery of their varied design. It is believed that Hurston was completed and the family was in residence by early 1889. Chatfield designed and built the villa before the height of their popularity between 1895 and 1910. They were usually single storey detached buildings constructed in native timbers and in urban settings were often built in groups to a similar design, closely spaced and located on narrow sites. Typical characteristics include front verandas, high ceilings, sash windows, wide hallways and a lean-to extension at the rear for kitchen, scullery and laundry. They heralded higher new standards in ‘ventilation, convenience and hygiene’. There were many variations on the villa in New Zealand, some being constructed using pattern books and others designed by architects. Even for those timber houses built between the 1860s and 1910 which did not share an identical plan, the designs were similar as, for timber villas, ‘the recipe remained basically the same’.

Villas were also a statement of social standing and their interior demonstrated the ‘affluence and good taste’ of the family. The most important rooms, the parlour and living room, were more ornate and located at the front of the house. These rooms were separated from those at the rear by an archway and curtain in the hall which demarcated the separation between the front rooms used for entertaining, and from those occupied by servants toiling in the kitchen and scullery at the rear. Decorations in the front rooms and hallway provided ‘textures, surfaces and layers’ which often included dadoes, friezes, cornices, embossed papiermâché, wallpaper and pressed steel or plaster ceilings. Fireplaces were built back-to-back, sharing a double chimney flue. Fashion demanded dark timber furniture and heavy, dark curtains for the front rooms, with daintier fabrics for the bedrooms. For advice and inspiration books such as Charles Eastlake’s Hints on Household Taste could be consulted - its international popularity ensured it ran to 10 editions.34 Hurston embodies many of these trends and fashions for the domestic Victorian villa.

Chatfield was a keen amateur photographer and another part of his legacy is a substantial collection of photographic plates which allow us insight into domestic life in New Zealand in the Victorian era. The collection primarily records his travel around New Zealand and portraits of his family, but also includes images of games of croquet on Hurston’s lawn and plates of the house’s interior including the family’s extensive and treasured collection of miniature paintings hung in pride of place in the parlour, living room and bedrooms (see Figures. 4 and 5). A skilled cabinet-maker, Chatfield built much of the furniture and cabinetry seen in the photographic plates which is still in situ.

After Mary Hoggard’s death in 1896 Chatfield married Mary Hobhouse Tuckey at Wellington’s St Paul’s Cathedral in December that same year. They had one more child, Robert GreathamChatfield, born in 1900. Mary Hobhouse Chatfield became a well-known figure in Wellington in her own right and left her husband to pursue her own career in 1913. She became Lady Editor of the Evening Post between 1915 and 1939 and was awarded an MBE on the George V honours list in 1935. William Chatfield did not marry again.

In 1930 William Charles Chatfield died and was buried at Karori Cemetery. He had appointed son-in-law Charles Torlesse and friend Charles Treadwell as the executors of his will. Lawyers Treadwell & Sons, acting for the Chatfield Estate subdivided the property into seven sections. The house remained on Lot 4, and the other lots were still vacant, all but one ‘boggy and low-lying’ section were identified by the lawyers in correspondence at the time as ‘good building sites’. Chatfield left his photographic equipment to his son William FrankChatfield.

In 1935 Hurston was sold to the Ford family. Melville Ford was a motor mechanic and his wife’s name was Agnes – she passed away in 1943, and Melville followed in 1953, at which point the property was sold to the Missionary Sisters of St Peter Claver.

Peter Claver was a Jesuit missionary. During the 17th century he devoted his life to working amongst African slaves in the New World. He toiled tirelessly to care for their physical and spiritual needs, striving to promote not just their more humane treatment, but campaigning to end slavery entirely. When Mary Theresa Ledóchowska founded a religious order in 1894, she placed her enterprise under his patronage. Since then the Missionary Sisters of St Peter Claver have worked to support and help the work of Catholic mission stations around the world through prayer, sacrifice, practical help, administrative support and financial aid.

The Missionary Sisters first arrived in New Zealand in September 1950 from Australia. They were initially installed at St Mary’s Mission House at 20 Oriental Terrace in Wellington where Archbishop McKeefry celebrated their first mass in the chapel.43 In December 1952 they moved to another property in Island Bay, before taking over Hurston in April 1953. The commodious house accommodates around five Sisters at any one time. In their community they strive to maintain a balance between prayer and their practical work supporting the missions. They still distribute their founding international missive The Echo and raise money through various endeavours in the community, including an annual garage sale. endeavours in the community, including an annual garage sale.

Physical Description

Current Description

Hurston is a two storey villa located roughly in the middle of Wellington’s southern seaside suburb of Island Bay. It is set back from the road, located near the corner of the gently sloping Mersey Street and Melbourne Road. The house, its gardens and grass lawn are enclosed by a concrete block wall on its northern side and timber fence on the other three, separating it from the suburban housing which surrounds it. Close by is St Francis de Sales School, just west of the house, also on Mersey Street, and nearby is St Francis de Sales Catholic Church on Clyde Street, which caters to the needs of Island Bay’s Catholic community. Hurston was built earlier than the other houses in close proximity and today, unlike those around it which face onto the street, the house’s front elevation faces west towards Clyde Street.

Hurston is built on a much grander scale and with more ornamentation than the other buildings which now surround it. The house was not just a family home for the Chatfield family, but also an advertisement for William Charles Chatfield’s versatility and accomplishment as an architect. The two storey house is constructed in material readily available at the time. The walls, bearers, roof framing, cladding and joinery are all timber and the exterior is clad in rusticated weatherboards. The roof is galvanised corrugated steel and roof. The original piles were tōtara.

On the western side of the house, a grand flight of steps, flanked by decorative perforated timber balustrades and trellises, leads to the front door. The verandah is supported by three ornamental posts linked by decorative fretwork above. Central to the verandah is a single double hung window and the entrance door is set in the wall at right angles to it on the left. The entrance door leads to a projecting bay that matches the one further along this elevation with a box bay window. Both flood the interior with natural light. A double hung sash window is set beneath each of the two gables.

The northern, street facing elevation is less decorative than its western entranceway. A cross is fixed to the apex of the northernmost gable. A modest addition and a garage at the rear are visible from Mersey Street. The southern elevation of the building is set against the

boundary of the property and is not accessible to view. The eastern elevation can be glimpsed over the fence from Melbourne Road.

The layout of the interior is typical for a villa of this era. It is constructed in native timber with a front veranda, high ceilings, double hung sash windows, wide hallways and a lean-to extension at the rear for the kitchen, scullery and laundry. The parlour, entrance hall, chapel and office are situated at the front of the house.– These rooms are ornate. They have high ceilings of panelled board and batten, stained glass window panels, a decorative dado embossed pattern showing art nouveau stylistic influences, a floral embossed frieze pattern, decorative carved corbel brackets, original cabinetry and ornate mouldings. The rear rooms are simpler in design and presentation, as originally only the servants of the house would have spent time in this space, preparing food or doing laundry. This area includes the back hall, kitchen (with original built in cabinetry), laundry and refectory, leading through to the laundry, more bathrooms and the garage. These more practical spaces have a lower ceiling and the frieze, dado and ornamental mouldings are absent. The division between these two spaces (one designed to impress visitors and the other for servants) is marked with flattened timber archways embellished with ornate carved timber corbel brackets, each with a central wooden keystone. These feature in the downstairs hall, above the flight of stairs and in the chapel, used to delineate different spaces with grand effect. Another feature of the house is its large fireplaces. There were originally six fireplaces, four upstairs and two downstairs, but none of these are used today. The fireplaces in the parlour and chapel have been replaced at some point with inset electric heaters, although the fire surrounds, hearth tiling and mantelpieces remain.

The original living room has been repurposed as a chapel. It contains pews, an altar, a carving of Christ on the cross and a painting of the order’s foundress, Mary Theresa Ledóchowska.

The original rimu staircase with balustrade is a feature of the central front hall. The balustrade is decoratively turned and decorated at each junction with a turned egg and cup capping each newel post. The staircase has a decorative carved string board with a simple wave pattern. The original treads have been lined with lino and safety nosing.

The second level consists of a bathroom, and several bedrooms. One of these rooms now serves as a community room for the congregation. The high ceilings and archways with timber keystone and decorative corbel brackets also feature upstairs, however the level of ornate decoration demonstrated downstairs is absent.

Although largely intact, the Missionary Sisters of St Peter Claver oversaw some alterations to Hurston. In 1997 the plumbing in the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms was modernised to a plan drawn up by Gerard Hoskins. In 1982 a committee room and garage were added as extensions on to the rear of the building.

ns on to the rear of the

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1887 -

French doors opening off the dining room (now office) were removed and replaced with windows. Finials and some minor exterior decorations were removed or truncated.

Brick chimneys removed.

1982 -
Rear addition for community space

1982 -
Garage addition

Construction Details

Timber – rimu and tōtara

Galvanised corrugated steel and welted zinc roofing

Glass and stained glass

Brick chimneys

Completion Date

15th February 2021

Report Written By

Miranda Williamson

Information Sources

Stewart, 1992 (2002)

Di Stewart, The New Zealand Villa Past and Present, Auckland, 1992 (2002)

Mew and Humphris, 2014

Geoff Mew and Adrian Humphris, Raupo to Deco: Wellington Styles and Architects, 1840-1940, Steele Roberts Aotearoa, Wellington, 2014.

Mew, 2020

Mew, Geoff, Architects at the Apex: The top 50 in New Zealand 1840-1940, Martinborough: Ngaio Press, 2020.

Salmond, 1986

Salmond, Jeremy, Old New Zealand Houses: 1800-1940, Auckland: Reed Publishing, 1986.

Other Information

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Central Regional Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga


Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero identifies only the heritage values ofthe 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.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.