Once one of the grandest homes in Mt Victoria, 105 Brougham Street is now a some-what tattered old lady in faded harlequin colours, with just hints of her former handsome visage discernable in her superb ‘bone’ structure.
This house was designed by Thomas Turnbull and Son for Catherine Gray in 1910 and built on part of the last great subdivision in Mt Victoria. The land had been bought by William Gray about 1870. He and his wife arrived from Aberdeen on the “Simlah” in 1852 and settled first in New Plymouth. He became Postmaster in New Plymouth, Chief Clerk at Nelson, Secretary at Dunedin and Auckland and Inspector of Post-offices then Secretary of the General Post Office. He travelled a lot with his work in the last two posts, both within New Zealand and overseas. In 1871, for instance, he went to America with Vogel (who was
Postmaster General at the time) to complete arrangements for a
San Francisco mail contract. He went to America again in 1873 but was “weak and infirm” when he left. He knew it was a risk to travel in his state of health but felt that duty obliged him to. He died overseas in 1874. Catherine was left a widow with at least five boys. In 1893, she sold five town acres –320, 321, 326, 327 and 328 – which only had two houses on them at the time. Catherine and two of her sons, David and Alexander, also owned Town Acres 325 and 329. By the time this house was built, Alex had already built 111 Brougham Street next door – but more of Alex and this house another time.
After the house was built, Catherine Gray lived here until she died at home in 1919 aged 95, having survived her husband by 45 years.
From 1920 to 1944/45, James Paul of the firm Townsend & Paul lived in the house.
Architecturally, the house is very important and is listed on Wellington City Council’s heritage inventory (although its entry has been removed from the Council’s website). By the time it was designed, Thomas Turnbull’s son had joined him in practice so plans were submitted under the name Thomas Turnbull and Son. Turnbull senior was one of the most important architects in Wellington for much of the Victorian period. He designed the three great timber churches: St John’s (1885), St Peter’s (1879) and Wesley (1880), all in gothic style. His commercial buildings include the National Mutual Life Association building (1883), which is one of Wellington’s oldest masonry buildings, in classical style and considered one of his finest commercial designs. The outstanding gothic masonry architecture of the General Assembly Library in 1899 is also his. The ‘old’ Bank of New Zealand (1901) is also considered his design, though it was prepared under the name of Thomas Turnbull and Son. Another commercial building closer to Mt Victoria is the former Wellington Gas Company premises on Courtenay Place, now occupied by the National Bank.
Turnbull came to New Zealand in 1871 and went into practice on his own in 1872. Wellington was still largely a town of two-storey wooden buildings as a consequence of the earthquakes of 1848 and 1855. Turnbull, however, advocated strongly in papers and lectures, as well as by example, for structurally sound methods of building in masonry to resist earthquakes. As his churches show, though, he still built in wood outside the central city – partly because it was cheaper and because many clients still felt more comfortable with wooden buildings. After an extraordinarily successful career – he achieved international recognition for his work in 1883 and 1884 and became the first president of the Wellington Association of Architects – he experienced major disappointment in the 1890’s when his design for the Government Insurance Buildings was rejected and changes were made to his plans for the General Assembly Library.
Another house along Brougham Street, number 91, was also designed by Thomas Turnbull in 1898.