Parliamentary Library escapes fire

11 December 1907

Parliament Buildings on fire, 11 December 1907
Parliament Buildings on fire, 11 December 1907 (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-022885-F)

A great library bonfire was narrowly avoided in 1907, when fire swept through Parliament Buildings in Wellington. At 2 a.m., Parliament’s nightwatchman thought he heard rain on the roof, but when he went to check found that a substantial blaze had broken out. He sounded the alarm, threw open the gate for the fire brigade and tackled the fire with a hose.

The fire, probably started by faulty electrical wiring in the ceiling of the interpreters’ room, spread rapidly through the old wooden parts of the buildings and then into the 1880s masonry additions. By 5 a.m. it had destroyed Bellamy’s restaurant and firefighters were battling desperately to save the library.

Staff and volunteers moved more than 15,000 volumes from the building’s ground floor in case the flames broke through. The morning light revealed the scale of the devastation. The old wooden buildings were completely destroyed, but the brick walls and metal fire door had saved New Zealand’s de facto national library, and the 80,000 volumes and many other treasures inside.