Foundation stone for Victoria University’s first building laid

27 August 1904

Hunter Building, 1908
Hunter Building, 1908 (Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-8458)

Victoria College (now Victoria University of Wellington) was founded in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria’s 60th jubilee. In contrast to the strong physical presence the university has today, the college had no permanent accommodation in its first decade. The founding professors and early students had to make do with rented rooms at the Girls’ High School in Pipitea St and the Technical School in Victoria St.

The eventual siting of the college in Kelburn was the result of an offer from wealthy Wairarapa sheep farmer Charles Pharazyn. In February 1901 Pharazyn offered to donate £1000 (equivalent to nearly $200,000 today) if the college was built on the 6-acre (2.4-ha) Kelburne Park Reserve. He claimed that his offer was an expression of his attachment to Wellington rather than stemming from his large financial interest in the Kelburne Karori Tramway Company. The company’s cable car began running the following year and has transported many thousands of Victoria’s students to and from lectures.

The governor, Lord Plunket, laid the foundation stone for the building in the presence ‘of a large number of ladies and gentlemen interested in the cause of higher education’. He also opened the building on its completion in 1906. It was named the Hunter Building in 1959 in memory of Sir Thomas Hunter, the first principal of the college. The building was restored and strengthened in 1992–3 and remains in use. The university is now spread over three campuses around the city.