Wellington Rowing Club and Star Boating Club

Finding the right earthquake-strengthening solutions for these buildings was a tricky task.

View of Star Boating Club exterior and lagoon in foreground.

Star Boating Club and Wellington Rowing Club.

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The Star Boating Club and the Wellington Rowing Club have been integral to Wellington’s sporting history for almost 150 years. Not only do the clubs give Wellingtonians the chance to train towards world class sporting events including the Olympics, but the buildings that house them retain stories of great challenges and excellent sportsmanship. Through the owners’ initiative and the Council’s Built Heritage Incentive Fund, these historic buildings will be further strengthened to stand tall and continue to serve two of Wellington’s oldest rowing clubs. 

Rowing Wellington’s sporting culture into future! 

Existing from as early as the 1860’s, both these clubs have worked towards keeping rowing alive and happening in Wellington. The clubs had modest beginnings in various makeshift sheds until they found their permanent homes on Wellington’s waterfront. Both buildings were relocated to this spot by the Frank Kitts Lagoon on Taranaki Street Wharf in 1989. Together, the Wellington Rowing Club and Star Boating Club form part of a distinctive townscape on the Wellington waterfront. These two buildings provide a tangible reminder of Wellington's long standing connections with the harbour and the sport of rowing

Two people lean a ladder against a wall inside the Star Boating Club.

Strengthening work has started

The project

Classified with Heritage New Zealand as Category I Historic Places, both are handsome heritage buildings with rich characterful interiors. As part of Wellington City Council’s Earthquake-Prone Buildings Policy both the Wellington Rowing Club and Star Boating Club were recently identified as earthquake-prone. 

Showing true sportsmanship, the owners jointly applied and received funds from the Council’s Built Heritage Incentive Fund for design works towards strengthening. The buildings had been modified and restored when they were moved from Jervois Quay in the 1980s. Both the club houses have distinctive features and are linked by a shared single storey boathouse.

The Wellington Rowing club building is notable for its octagonal lookout tower, and for its decorative scheme made up of timber ornamentation and external timber boarding. It was built as a military building for the Naval Artillery Volunteers in 1894, and adapted for use by the Wellington Rowing club in 1931. The Star Boating Club on the other hand is a simple rectangular building with a subtle yet distinct nautical flavour. This purpose-built club room was completed in 1886, and built in skids so that it could be easily relocated. Maintaining the cultural and unique character values of both clubs was essential alongside strengthening and making structural. This meant a challenging, yet exciting work ahead. 

The buildings’ shapes are quirky and asymmetrical. Finding the right earthquake-strengthening solution was a tricky task for engineers Dunning Thornton. Both clubs needed space for rigging and storing boats throughout the build, which made the strengthening work more complicated. While The Wellington Rowing Club remained fully operational throughout the process, the Star Boating Club stopped operating for three months due to space constraints with the work happening.  

The Star Boating Club grasped this opportunity as they built an easier access route and improved the fire safety for the building. Furthermore, they refurbished their changing rooms says architect, Richard Wright. 

“There’s been a lot of work done behind the scenes which you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know what and where to look. Simple corrections like internal plywood bracing that goes down one meter are all beneficial strengthening for the property.” 

There is still work to be done before we are declared seismic safe. There will be a big celebration when that happens. “We’re making good strides, and we’re on track for 80% NBS (New Build Standard) for both”, says Richard.

The history 

Star Boating Club 

Star Boating Club has about 140 members and has had rowers represent New Zealand at the Olympic Games.

The Star Boating Club is one the oldest sports clubs in New Zealand and plans to celebrate its 150th birthday in September 2016. The club started its initial rowing operations using boats such as gigs, cutters and whaleboats. In 1866, boat owners decided to form the Star Regatta Club, which later became the Star Boating Club. The club was once possibly the largest athletic club in the Southern Hemisphere, boasting 390 members prior to World War One.

The first clubhouse was built in 1867 on the foreshore at Lambton Quay, but reclamation work on the waterfront meant it had to be moved in 1874 and again in 1883. The current building was completed in 1886. In 1889, it was moved to Jervois Quay because of more reclamation work and remained on that site for 100 years. The building was built on skids to facilitate easy relocation and was relocated by steam engine only three years after its original construction. It is likely to be the only building in Wellington to be relocated in this way. In 1989 both the Star Boating Club and the Wellington Rowing Club were relocated to their current location beside the lagoon at Frank Kitts Park. 

Winners

During the mid-1870's, Star Boating Club was active in establishing an oarsman as either professional or amateur, thus forming the New Zealand Amateur Rowing Association – the NZARA. As a result, crews and races could be selected with set objectives in mind. At about this time, Star and Union Rowing Club Christchurch instituted club races as they are known today; the first was held in 1881. With the formation of the NZARA the first National rowing championship was held in 1888. Three years later, Star had its first gold medal winning crew comprising of J. G Duncan and A.S Bliss. The following year W. E Bendall and A. W Newton won the Champion Pairs title. In the six-oared rowing race, Rua Laura won the E. W Mills Cup which is proudly displayed in the club.

 Wellington Rowing Club

The club has an excellent reputation in the rowing community and has produced many international rowers, including Olympic and World Championship gold medal winners. 

The building is a legacy of the late 19th century period of New Zealand history when great anxiety about a sea-invasion, particularly from Russia, led to the erection of a whole range of coastal defence structures. It was designed by prominent local architect, Frederick de Jersey Clere for the Wellington Naval Artillery Volunteers and later became the Wellington Free Ambulance’s first ambulance station. The Wellington Rowing Club became the custodian in 1931 when the ambulance station moved to its new depot in Cable Street. 

Winners

The most famous crew of the Wellington Rowing Club was the Dolly Varden crew. Imported in 1873, the Dolly Varden became the most famous four-oared boat in New Zealand and the first boat in New Zealand with sliding seats. William Bridson was New Zealand's first international sculling representative and won the Amateur Sculling Championship of Victoria in 1891. Tom Sullivan, a professional sculling champion of from England, in 1893 along with Bridson, was a member of the famous WRC crew who won all eight Rowing New Zealand, (then New Zealand Amateur Rowing Association) championship titles between 1889 and 1890. 

Tris Hegglun and Owen Wares were members of the club before World War II. During the war they represented the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) which beat the Cairo River Club and an all-Egyptian representative crew to win the Freyberg Cup. Today the Sir Bernard Freyberg Cup is allocated to the champion single sculls at the New Zealand National Club Championships.

Pete Delaney was the club's first Olympian, representing New Zealand at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The club has won accolades at the Olympics ever since.

The Built Heritage Incentive Fund 

The fund helps with conserving, restoring, protecting and caring for Wellington's heritage-listed buildings and objects. Our focus is on earthquake strengthening. Find out if your project is eligible for funding: