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Sound: the 1907 fire at Parliament Buildings

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Audio file

Hear a description of the disastrous fire in the early hours of 11 December 1907 in the old, tinder-dry buildings.

Transcript

Shortly after two o'clock on the morning of the 11th of December the nightwatchman's attention was attracted by a crackling noise coming from the interpreter's room about halfway between the chamber of the House of Representatives and the Legislative Council. He had passed only a few minutes earlier without noticing anything amiss. He promptly raised the alarm.

The buildings were old, and following two months of very dry weather, the timbers were exceptionally dry. In less than an hour, the fire broke through the outside walls. The fire brigade fought strenuously, but the odds were heavily against them. The flames lit up most of Wellington, and very soon spectators gathered from all directions.

It was apparent that the main building could not be saved, and everyone then concentrated on salvaging what they could, and the lawn in front of the building began to look like a fair. There were books, papers, portraits, chairs and desks, hurriedly snatched and brought to safety. Few, if any of the records of Parliament itself were destroyed, but a considerable quantity of documents belonging to the Native Department perished.

Government House, at the southern end of the main building, was threatened, but the brigade saved it by hosing the walls. This building was afterwards used as Parliament House and is still in use pending completion of the permanent building. At the northern end of the block was the new General Assembly Library, a brick structure, protected by iron doors and shutters. When it seemed that this too might become involved, frantic efforts were made to remove the books and records, and through a private property in Hill Street, an endless stream of people began carrying them to safety, but the library was saved.

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Old parliament buildings on fire

This shows the fire at Parliament Buildings on 11 December, 1907, a crowd in the foreground and hoses running from the gate to the main entrance steps. Sydney Street West (today filled in and part of the parliamentary precinct) is visible on the left.

Credit

Sound:

Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero.Today in NZ history, 11 December 1907. Reference no: D2468

Image:

Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: 1/2-022885; F
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

How to cite this page

Sound: the 1907 fire at Parliament Buildings, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/sound/the-1907-fire-at-parliament, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated