John Paterson

John Paterson was a well-known builder in early Wellington, but of particular interest to us because of his strong association with Mt Victoria.

The pinnacle of Paterson’s building career has to be winning the contract to build Wellington’s Town Hall. On 2 February 1902, the Council let the contract for erection of the Town Hall and Municipal Office Buildings, in accordance with plans and specifications prepared by Joshua Charlesworth, to the firm of Paterson, Martin & Hunter.

John Paterson was born in Aberdeen in 1860 and educated at the local school. He was apprenticed to a Mr Euenon of Turriff, in the north of Aberdeen. After serving his time, he went to London and improved his knowledge of the trade. He then went to New York and worked at his trade for two years, when he returned to his native land. After a short time, he came to New Zealand by the SS Doric, landing in Wellington in 1884. Here, he was employed by Messrs Barry and McDowall for five years and assisted in the erection of such buildings as the National Mutual Life Assurance Society’s office, the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company’s premises, and many others.

In 1890, John Paterson was living in Elizabeth St with his wife Ellen and family. They had four sons , Frank, Walter, Jack and Harold, and one daughter, Dorothy Helen Paterson. Dorothy was born in their home in Elizabeth St in 1890. She later went to Clyde Quay School and was in the same class as “Tiny” Freyberg.

When Paterson set sail for New Zealand he was accompanied by James Barry Martin (b. October 1859), also from Aberdeen. Martin started in the building trade apprenticed to Messrs Warwick and Daniel, large builders, of Aberdeen then went to London to work for 18 months. When he arrived in Wellington, he was employed by Messrs Barry and McDowall until he joined Paterson in business. By 1897, the two men had been in business as Paterson and Martin for just a short time. Their business was in Elizabeth Street, probably in premises they built for themselves in 1896. They were described as coming into prominence relatively quickly “owing to the number of important buildings which have been erected by it”. Among the most important buildings they had erected by 1897 were the Convalescent Home, an addition to the Home for the Aged and Needy, and warehouses for Messrs W H Green and Co, Mr FC Brailsford, and for the Wellington Woollen Company. Both Paterson and Martin were members of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners and the Wellington Builders’ Association. They were also both Oddfellows, belonging to the Antipodean Lodge. Paterson and Martin were 24 and 25 years old when they arrived Wellington and their lives seem to have run in tandem for so many years that one imagines they must have been close friends.

John Paterson built and lived in two houses in Mt Victoria which still stand. The first was a small, gabled two-storey house which you can still see if you look straight up to the top of McIntyre Avenue off Hawker Street (No. 9 McIntyre Avenue). He lived here until 1897, when he built 71 Hawker Street (next to the monastery now) and moved there.

The Paterson family returned to Scotland just after the Town Hall was built but, because of World War One, couldn’t come back to New Zealand until 1920. While he was in Scotland, in 1908, John built his parents (and himself) a grand, manor-like house called Wellington House in Turriff, which still stands.

Paterson’s wife, Ellen, died in 1932 and he then remarried. He himself died in 1937.