Willis Street

McIntyre, Peter
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Commissioned by Neil Blundell of The Evening Post, this mural hung in the foyer of the newspaper offices in Willis Street, where Press House is today. Here, about a hundred years earlier, an Irish settler Henry Blundell established The Evening Post, New Zealand's first daily newspaper which published its first edition on 8 February 1865. For three generations the Blundell family managed the newspaper.

1865 was an auspicious year for Wellington. The government moved from Auckland and the city was proclaimed the capital. No doubt this influenced Henry Blundell's business decision as it did those of James Osgood whose new Empire Hotel was built in the same year, across the road. This desirable beach-front location became the hub of the city claiming one of the finest hotels in the country. The 1852 land reclamation had paved the way for greater commercial development and additional housing in the streets near-by. Further land reclamation in the north of the city in the early 1860s improved access along the waterfront. Ideally situated, Willis Street could be approached from sea or land. Close to Queens Wharf it led to Manners Street and fashionable Te Aro, as well as linking Upper Willis Street to the developments along The Terrace.

This scene was first captured on camera in 1865, as verified by a photograph from The Evening Post's collection. From this Peter McIntyre, with some artistic licence, created this painting of Willis Street.

The Evening Post's first building is the small sign-posted wooden structure. The northern corner of Willis Street, which we know today as Stewart Dawson's, was Miller’s Commercial Hotel (now the Grand Arcade). On the left is the famous Empire Hotel with the proprietor James Osgood standing outside, probably with Turnbull from the warehouse of W and G Turnbull (today Chews Lane). Mid-distance are the areas we now know as the Boulcott/Manners Street junction with the Union Bank building on the right corner. The church spire could be part of the second wooden Presbyterian church of St John's, or that of the early St Mary's Catholic church on Boulcott Street. This was a prosperous scene for the new capital of colonial New Zealand. Only 25 years earlier, waves had lapped the sand and the steep hillsides were covered in bush down to the shoreline.
Oil on canvas
h x w 2100mm x 5230mm
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