Government House, Wellington

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Government House
Government House, Wellington, 2011.jpg
Government House, from the front lawn, in 2011.
General information
Architectural style Edwardian
Town or city Wellington
Country New Zealand
Coordinates 41°18′22″S 174°46′52″E / 41.306114°S 174.781083°E / -41.306114; 174.781083
Construction started 1908
Completed 1910
Technical details
Floor area 4,200 square metres (45,000 sq ft)
Design and construction
Architect Claude Paton in the office of John Campbell, Government Architect

Government House in Newtown, Wellington, New Zealand is the principal residence of the Governor-General of New Zealand.

General information[edit]

Located at 1 Rugby Street at the southern end of the Basin Reserve, Government House counts amongst its neighbours a hospital (Wellington Hospital) and a high school (Wellington College). Built in 1910 in a neo-tudor style the building is meant to evoke the aura of an Edwardian English Country House. As well as suitable reception rooms and offices, a ballroom, and a conservatory, there are eight guest suites, and a self-contained apartment for the Governor-General and his/her spouse and family. A service wing contains kitchens, service rooms and a wing of offices, all of which are tended to by about 30 staff.

The grounds, which have been endorsed as a "garden of National Significance" covers some 12ha and includes a police guardhouse at the main gate. Other outdoor facilities include a tennis court, and pavilion, swimming pool, bomb-shelter, squash court, and four external cottages. There is also a Visitor Centre, which was opened by HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall to mark the Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen of New Zealand, in November 2011.[1] Tours of Government House Wellington are available to members of the public and community and school groups.[2]

The main Rugby Street entrance has a guard house and a large flag-pole, from which the Flag of New Zealand flies. When the Governor-General is in the residence his flag flies from the flagpole on the top of Government House.[3]

The upkeep of the house is the responsibility of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. As such, supply and maintenance for the Governor-General's office falls within Prime Minister's department.

History of the earlier Government Houses[edit]

The Newtown Government House is the third Government House in Wellington. As Auckland was the Capital from 1840 until 1865 the provision of an Offical Residence for the Governor was intinally not a priority, it was only during the period of the fourth Governor, George Grey that an Offical Property was provided.

The first Wellington Government House was Colonel William Wakefield's villa, located where the Beehive now stands. Wakefield was the Agent for the New Zealand Company and had built the house in 1840 but had died in 1848. ( The residence was then used as a hospital for a short period in 1848 after a severe earthquake. Wakefield's house was a relatively plain Regency styled building with verandahs, (Auckland Libraries, 4-1028) it stood on a hill overlooking the harbour. There is a record of the first Government House Ball being held in it, on 10 February 1849 during George Grey's first period as Governor. (

Grey was succeeded by Robert Wynyard, then Thomas Gore Brown (and then Wynyard again. It is possible that neither of these men visited Wellington during their terms and thus the offical status of the Wakefield Villa is uncertain. Grey became Governor for a second time in 1861 and he certainly used Wakefield House as his Offical Wellington Residence.

In 1865 the capital was transferred from Auckland to Wellington. The need to provide accomodation for the various branches of Government resulted in a flurry of construction and prompted the replacement of the rather plain Government House with a more appropriate building. In 1868 this was embarked upon. As the new Parliament Buildings were directly adjacent it was unsurprising that it was mooted that the new Government House should be in a similar gothic style (Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: PA1-q-158-42). As it happened an Italianate style was chosen, probably because it was the cheaper option. (Auckland Libraries, 4-927)

Despite being built of wood the second Government house was an imposing structure distinguished by a tower; it was one of several mid-century houses influenced by Queen Victoria's Osbourne House. Designed by William Henry Clayton (1823-1877) and completed around 1871 the second Government House commanded expansive views over the city and harbour and provided a picturesque contrast with the adjacent Gothic styled Parliament Building complex. Its first occupant was Sir George Ferguson Bowen in 1873.

All the succeeding Governors resided in the new Clayton building, from The Rt Hon. Sir James Fergusson Bowen to Lord Plunkett from 1904. The social climate of the late 19th century required the Viceroy to spend part of the year in other parts of the country - predominately Auckland, although for a while a third Government House was maintained in Christchurch. This pattern doubtless lent longevity to the fabric and decoration of each of the Offical Residences but relatively little furniture and other items were provided by the Government - each successive Governor had to provide his household with furniture, linen, china etc from his own pocket (today the pattern is quite different - with each new imcumbent only being required to provide personal items). During it's 34 year career as Government House the Clayton building was redecorated and added to but it entered the 20th century largely unaltered.

Following the fire in the wooden Parliament Buildings in 1907 the then Governor General Lord Plunket offered the use of Government House to house both houses of Parliament until a replacement building could be built. In the interim the Plunketts decamped to Palmerston North between 1908 and 1910 where they resided in a house now called Caccia-Birch. Plunkett had been lobbying for a larger and more up to date residence to be provided by the Government, hopefully more distant from Parliament and with more private grounds. The Parliament Building fire nudged the Government into commissioning the existing Government House to be built.

From 1907 to 1918 the ballroom of the Clayton building was used as the Debating Chamber for the House of Representatives. After the MPs moved into the new Parliament House in 1918, old Government House continued to used by parliamentary services, including Bellamy's Restaurant. The conservatory became, variously, a messengers' room, post office and tea room, while the ballroom became the social hall, which was used for official functions. The impressive arched doorways remained, as did some of the fine furniture, but little was spent on maintaining the place.

The wooden mansion was allowed to deteriorate badly over the years, becoming vermin ridden and for a time alcoholics and tramps slept in an old cellar beneath it. The Members' bar, nicknamed the Dog Box, was dark, dingy and cramped. In some spaces, flowerpots and rubbish bins caught the leaks from the roof. Conditions drove some staff away, while others worried it might collapse during an earthquake; the distinctive tower was removed in 1944. The last part of this structure was demolished in the late 1960s and its site is now occupied by the Beehive.

The Newtown Government House[edit]

The current Newtown residence was designed by Claude Paton in the office of John Campbell, Government Architect and constructed between 1908 and 1910. It is designed in an Arts & Crafts style in the manner of a half-timbered Tudor mansion. As it was intended to evoke a large English Country House the rooms were designed in a range of styles from Elizabethan and Tudor to Georgian and Regency. Throughout the house are examples of what was considered good taste at the time; marble fireplaces, parquet floors, oak panelling, Mahogany doors, leadlight windows, bronze electric light fixtures and fine neo-georgian plasterwork ceilings. Various portraits of successive Governors and other significant people are displayed along with a collection of New Zealand art, some of which has been donated by previous Governors. The house covers 4200 m2.

The house's grounds are much more private than the previous residence totalling 12 ha. On one side the gardens border Alexandra Park and the Mt Victoria Town Belt giving the impression of even greater expansiveness. The scale of the ground has allowed a range of different landscapes to be developed; rockeries, flower gardens, lawn areas, and a splendid collection of mature trees. All this contributes to it now being considered a garden of National significance, although interestingly there are few ornaments or sculptures to be seen. The extensive grounds contain tennis and squash courts, a bomb shelter, four cottages and a visitor centre.

Lord Plunket was certainly not keen on the site, muttering that it was “some way from the principal government offices in a less fashionable part of town.” The house is located quite far from Parliament Buildings, fully on the other side of the city centre. Given the construction timetable, it was probably clear to Plunket that he would never get to live in the new House. Its first occupant was Baron Islington. Lord and Lady Islington were the first of 21 Governors or Governors-General to live in the House. Islington’s successor, the Earl of Liverpool, who served from 1912 to 1920, became the first Governor-General when new Letters Patent were issued in 1917.

There is no record of a foundation stone ever being laid or a plaque to mark its opening ever being unveiled. Why that should be so is not clear, although the death of King Edward VII in May 1910 may put paid to any plans for a grand opening. With the Royal Court being in full official mourning, gala events at Government House were ruled out.

Refurbishment and centenary[edit]

The House closed in October 2008 for a major $44 million conservation and rebuilding project and was reopened in March 2011.[4] During the refurbishment the Governor General lived at Vogel House in Lower Hutt while in Wellington.[5]

As part of the refurbishment, new carpets were provided for the public reception rooms. These are large artworks in their own right. The Carpets and rugs were designed by several New Zealand artists; Gavin Chilcott, Andrew McLeod, Tim Main and John Bevan Ford. The weaving was done by the Carpet Manufacterer Dilana, in association with Athfield Architects. The design of the Drawing Room carpet by Gavin Chilcott is derived from the Silver Fern. Of particular interest is the spectacular kowhaiwhai pattern, composed into a huge single composition 4m x 2m without a repeat, was designed by Andrew McLeod and inspired by Theo Schoon's drawings of Maori designs. This pattern was produced in three different colour-ways and appears in several of the Reception Rooms.

In 2010, the House celebrated its 100th anniversary.[6]

Landscape showing the setting of Government House (Edwardian building right middle). The National War Memorial (New Zealand) (Carillon lower left), New Zealand Dominion Museum building (copper-roofed building lower middle and lower right), and Baring Head Lighthouse (on ridge upper left in far distance).

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ McLean, Gavin (October 2006), The Governors, New Zealand Governors and Governors-General, Otago University Press, p. 281 
  4. ^ Michelle Duff (28 March 2011). "Government Houses $44m facelift". Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  5. ^ "Conservation Project Rationale". Governor-General of New Zealand. Retrieved 1 April 2010. 
  6. ^ "Government House Centenary". Government House. 2 October 2010. 

External links[edit]