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Provincial Hotel


Provincial Hotel, Dunedin (1859)

Staging post for the ‘New Iniquity’

‘Go on in the old fashion/And ne’er improve the town/And still on all new comers/Keep up a fearful down.’ So sang the most popular balladeer of Dunedin’s bustling, booming gold-rush heyday, ‘The Inimitable’ Charles Thatcher. He was, of course, lampooning the self-appointed old guard, the Scots Presbyterian ‘Old Identity’ that feared being swamped by the thousands of hard-working, hard-drinking miners - the 'New Iniquity' - who flooded into the province.

As a glance around Dunedin’s numerous historic pubs shows, it was no contest. Twenty-first-century Dunedinites point proudly to, among others, the former Wain’s Hotel, with its exuberant gargoyles, the Grand Hotel section of the Southern Cross, the Albert Arms (now sadly, the Bog Irish Bar) and the Captain Cook, beloved of generations of students, where the last pints were poured in mid-2013. But the most interesting of all lurks at the foot of Stafford Street, in the tatty southern end of the central business district. Here, unregistered, unlisted but reeking as much of history as beer and stale tobacco, is the Provincial, for four unforgettable years the commercial base of Shadrach Jones.

The Provincial is Dunedin’s oldest watering hole still on (part of) its original site. It opened in 1859 as Sibbald’s Hotel and became the Provincial a year later under new owners. In 1861 they sold their hotel to the extraordinary Shadrach Jones. Sometimes called New Zealand’s first real theatrical entrepreneur, Jones had dropped medicine for minerals. Restless and mercurial, with a ‘chequerboard waistcoat, fat cigar, lavish jewellery and bulldog at heel,’ he added the Princess Theatre to the hotel. Jones added another theatre to the Commercial Hotel, ran a horse bazaar and saleyards and had his pudgy fingers in all sorts of commercial pies until he was forced to retrench in 1864 after losing money bringing an English cricket team over from Australia.

Through it all the Provincial prospered. ‘When Jones took over the Provincial … business merely hummed. Jones soon had it throbbing’, James McNeish wrote. He turned it into the depot and booking office for the Cobb & Co. coaches running between Dunedin and Gabriel’s Gully. It was rough, boisterous and for Jones highly profitable. Clubs, societies and sporting bodies met here and on one memorable night two groups gathered, one to form a fire brigade, the other a jockey club.

The Provincial was never the same after Jones and no longer stretches to the intersection of Stafford, Princes and Manse streets. But there is life in it still. In the 1960s its laundry and tank rooms became ‘the Cellars Bar’, where old bricks adorned with the names of previous patrons decorated the arches; it is still a venue for live music. In 1976, the gaudily painted pub became a tavern. It still offers you the opportunity to raise a glass, though these days the patrons are more likely to be backpackers than wannabe gold miners.

Further information

This site is item number 25 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.



  • James McNeish, Tavern in the town, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1984
  • Frank Tod, Pubs galore, Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1984

Text: Gavin McLean, 2013

Image: Gavin McLean, 2001

How to cite this page

Provincial Hotel, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated