One of New Zealand’s finest historic buildings, Dunedin Railway Station is also one of the best examples of railroad architecture in the southern hemisphere. Although not large by international standards, the station’s delightful proportions lend it an air of grandeur. It was designed in the Flemish Renaissance style by New Zealand Railways architect George Troup, whose detailing on the outside of the building earned him the nickname “Gingerbread George.”
BEGINNING OF DUNEDIN’S RAILWAY
In the early 1860s, gold was discovered in Dunedin and miners poured into the region. The money gold brought in ensured that, for a time, Dunedin was the commercial capital of New Zealand and railroads were built to transport the growing population. The first rail journey, with the new “Josephine” trains, was from Dunedin to Port Chalmers on September 10, 1872. In 1875, a second station was built in Dunedin to ease the busy first one; a third followed in 1879. The number of passengers continued to grow, so Dunedin Railway Station was commissioned.
AN ARCHITECTURAL CHALLENGE
The construction of Dunedin Railway Station was a great feat of engineering. Built on the foundations of the old harbor, iron-bark piles had to be driven deep into the reclaimed land to prevent flooding. George Troup used a number of railroad staff, whom he had trained in the art of stonemasonry, to help build the station. Machinery, including cranes, was loaned by New Zealand Railways for use during the building work to reduce costs. It is believed that New Zealand’s first electrically driven concrete mixer was used in the station’s construction. Costing £120,500, the station was seven times larger than its predecessor, Dunedin’s third station, built in the late 1800s.
THE DESIGN OF DUNEDIN STATION
George Troup (1863-1941) arrived in New Zealand in 1884, after emigrating from Scotland following an apprenticeship in architectural design. He quickly secured a job with New Zealand Railways in Dunedin, where he was employed to design bridges and stations. He was soon promoted to head of the architectural branch, and while working in this new role he designed Dunedin Railway Station. No expense was spared to create this magnificent building. The roof is adorned with red Marseille tiles, while the exterior stonework features lavish, ornate detailing— referred to as “Gingerbread style.” Inside, the mosaic floor is covered with decorative tiles, some of which feature images of railroad engines, wheels, signals, and wagons.
Beige Oamaru limestone detailing provides a striking contrast to the darker Central Otago bluestone on the walls and the finely polished Aberdeen granite of the columns.
Projecting from the sloping gable roof, these are typical Flemish architectural features.
This provides a visual counterbalance to the main clock tower.
Two imposing stained-glass windows on the mezzanine balcony depict two approaching steam engines with lights blazing, facing each other across the ticket hall.
This is covered with clay Marseille tiles from France.
Cherubs and foliage adorn this frieze from the Royal Doulton factory in England, which encircles the ticket hall below the wrought-iron bordered balcony.
These are ornately decorated with white tiles and a crest featuring the old New Zealand Railways logo.
New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame
This features imaginative displays recounting the exploits and achievements of famous New Zealanders.
These finely carved creatures, one on each corner of the clock tower, guard the cupola behind them.
Situated behind the station, the half-a mile (1-km) long platform is still a departure and arrival point for travelers.
Complete with wrought-iron balustrades and mosaic-tiled steps, a staircase sweeps up from the ticket hall to the balcony above.
More than 725,000 Royal Doulton porcelain squares form images of steam engines, rolling stock, and the New Zealand Railways logo.
By 1956, the original floor had subsided dramatically. Exact replica mosaics had to be laid on a new concrete foundation in order to alleviate the problem.
1906: Dunedin Station is officially opened by New Zealand’s prime minister.
1956: The station’s clock tower is restored.
1994: The station is sol d to Dunedin City Council for a nominal sum.
1996-98: The exterior stonework is cleaned and space is created for a garden.