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Princes Street Merchants’ Houses


Princes Street Houses Princes Street Houses Princes Street Houses

Princes Street Merchants’ Houses (1877-78)

A survival story

Like elites elsewhere, the rich made for the ridges. From there they could look down - literally and metaphorically - on the messy business district while enjoying fresh air, sunshine and views of their ships heading for their warehouses. When the cash-strapped City Improvement Commission decided to subdivide much of the eastern side of the Albert Barracks Reserve, this part of town drew merchants like flies. Handy to their city businesses, it was also near the Northern Club, Government House and their other places of worship. A requirement to build just one dwelling on each leasehold allotment and for each townhouse to be worth at least £700 completed the social engineering. Property owners included chemist James Sharland, newspaper publishers Henry Brett and W. Scott Wilson, butcher William Hellaby, merchant Arthur Nathan and brewers Thomas Whitson and Moss Davis.

The houses should have come down when the 99-year leases expired, but five survived. Nola Easdale has documented their history up to 1900 – but do not get too carried away by romantic visions of the lifestyles of the colonial elite. They cleared out in the decades after the electric trams and steam ferries opened up greener suburban pastures. In fact, these houses were becoming boarding houses even before Queen Victoria breathed her last, number 23-5 making that transformation as early as 1891 and number 21 two years later. For most of their existence these so-called merchants’ houses sheltered the sort of people originally meant to have been kept out of this part of town, or the unsung institutions that have saved them from destruction. Fittingly, for many years ‘Hamurana’, number 29, housed the Auckland Civic Trust.

Further information

This site is item number 53 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.

On the ground

The houses host a number of busy organisations, but there is basic signage.



  • Nola Easdale, Five gentlemen’s residences, Princes Street, Auckland, Auckland City Council, Auckland, 1980

Text: Gavin McLean, 2013

Main image: Bently Smith

Other images: possumgirl2 (Flickr) and Bently Smith

Historic image:

Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: 1/2-029170-F
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of their images.

How to cite this page

Princes Street Merchants’ Houses, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated