Zeitblick - Series
A HillAc Production

City, My City - Series One
By Peter Wells

Part 1
The Thistle Inn

The Thistle Inn is New Zealand's oldest surviving tavern and Wellington's oldest, still operational, pub. Today many patrons enjoy its hospitality completely unaware of the significance of its wooden floorboards, its low sash windows and its location, perched on a small rise at the foot of Mulgrave Street near Wellington's Central Business District.

In 1840, when the original tavern was built, the sea lapped at the beach just below its front door and the slight hill on which the tavern now stands was then much lower. Subsequent earthquakes, particularly the magnitude 8.2 earthquake of 1855, and land reclamation has raised the shoreline and moved it several city blocks further away. Stories are told of the early days when Maori chiefs, particularly Te Rauparaha, drew their canoes up on the beach at the front door stopping in for a quick dram before venturing out on a raiding party.

Destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1866, the diminutive Thistle Inn has stood in modest splendour on the same spot for the last 165 years. From its wide front windows it has watched a cavalcade of Wellington's history pass by and rubbed shoulders with politicians, felons and the famous characters of New Zealand history. Today, protected by a Category One Preservation Order it is still popular with local office workers for a lunchtime break and in the evening still resonates to the sounds of talk and laughter and the clink of glasses.

1/1-006735;G - Thorndon Quay and Mulgrave Street, Wellington
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand,
must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

The picture shows the intersection of Thorndon Quay and Mulgrave Street, Thorndon, Wellington, in 1866. From left to right are: a painting and paperhanging shop, Warcup´s plumbing business and the Thistle Inn. St Pauls Church is on the right. Photograph taken by William Henry Whitmore Davis.

The Thistle Inn, Thorndon, Wellington; ca 1930 / Reference number: EP-5560-1/2 - Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Standing as tall as those buildings which surround it, the Thistle Inn still looks good after a further 64 years on its corner section in the downtown Wellington suburb of Thorndon. Reclamation has pushed the sea further back from its front door but the building still looks almost exactly as it did in those early days from the foundation of Wellington. This lovely old building has become a part of the Wellington landscape every bit as much as the harbour, the hills and the curving foreshore of the waterfront.

The Thistle Inn, Sept. 2007 / Foto: Peter Wells

Looking like new after a recent "face-lift" 167 years after she was first built, the Thistle Inn occupies the same corner site as it has done all of its life. Mulgrave Street curves down on its right while Kate Sheppard Place (Kate Sheppard was a leader in the New Zealand suffrage movement) crosses below the main entrance. In behind "The Thistle" we can see some of the never-ending construction that goes on in Wellington and it will not be long before New Zealand's oldest pub is completely surrounded by high-rise buildings. She survives, however, steadfastly holding on to her corner site where she may remain for another 141 years. Come back then and we will see.

© Peter Wells, Wellington, New Zealand