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Dunedin City Council – Kaunihera-a-rohe o Otepoti

The Dunedin City Council archives cover a significant period of New Zealand history in the area administered by the Dunedin City Council and its predecessors.

History of Dunedin [courtesy of Te Ara]

Early years

The town was founded in 1848. Charles Kettle, surveyor for the New Zealand Company, placed the Octagon at its heart, with Moray Place forming an outer octagon of thoroughfares. George and Princes streets – the names of Edinburgh’s principal streets – were the axis, and a town belt  reserve separated town and country.

After 10 years the settlement’s population was just 1,712. It was the gold rushes from July 1861 that transformed Dunedin – its population increased to nearly 15,000 by the end of the 1860s, and nearly tripled between then and 1881. In the mid-1860s, and between 1878 and 1881 (but never  again), it was New Zealand’s largest urban centre.

The city invested in education, religion and public works. Bell Hill, between the Octagon and the harbour, was demolished to allow expansion. Substantial buildings included Otago Museum (1876–77); the main building of the University of Otago with its clock tower (1878); the council chambers (1878–80);  and St Joseph’s Catholic cathedral (1886). Architect Robert Lawson was responsible for some of the most distinctive buildings – First and Knox Presbyterian churches (1873 and 1876), Otago Boys’ High School (1884), and Trinity Methodist Church (1870), since 1978 the home of the Fortune  Theatre. Dunedin Public Art Gallery was set up in 1884; it moved into a refurbished building in 1996.

The Dunedin Town Board

The history of local government in the Dunedin area began with the establishment of the Dunedin Town Board in 1855 under an Otago Provincial Council ordinance, seven years after organised European settlement began in 1848. The town board was established in response to the growing need for a body to  coordinate the development of the fledgling town. The board was hampered in its activities by a lack of funds and continually struggled to find the money to turn muddy tracks into streets and create the rudimentary beginnings of the drainage system. The first rate was levied in 1857 but seems to have  done little to help the situation. The town board was replaced by the Dunedin City Council in 1865.

District Roads Boards

After the establishment of the town board, the next step in the development of local government was the formation of the first district roads boards in 1856, also by an Otago Provincial Council Ordinance. The roads boards administered the construction of local roads in suburban and rural areas and in  some areas did much to help the development of communities. Their efforts were coordinated by a general road board consisting of the Provincial Council Executive and locally elected representatives. The roads boards went through many reorganisations before gradually being replaced by other forms of local government.

Boroughs, Counties and Town Boards

Between 1860 and 1886 there was a period of growth in the number of local authorities; about 35 local authorities were established in the Dunedin area. This was in response to the growing need for services in quickly developing settlements and rural areas. Port Chalmers and Waikouaiti (then called West  Hawksbury) established local authorities in the 1860s, and the suburban areas of St Kilda, South Dunedin, Maori Hill and Green Island all established boroughs in 1875-76. The abolition of provincial governments in 1876 provided further impetus for the establishment of local authorities. New legislation created a new type of authority, the county, and this changed the way boroughs were constituted, making them more appealing to local communities.

The Waikouaiti and Taieri Counties were established in 1877 and continued for a century until they amalgamated in 1977 to form Silverpeaks County. Peninsula County was also formed in 1877 but did little other than meet occasionally to distribute funds to the various roads boards on the Peninsula until 1927 when the county was reconstituted. Peninsula County amalgamated with the city in 1967.

In 1882 the need for an intermediate type of local authority suitable to the needs of small rural communities was recognised by the Town Boards Act which resulted in the establishment of town boards in Mosgiel, Outram and Greytown (now called Allanton). Mosgiel soon became a borough and the Greytown  Board amalgamated with Taieri County in 1907, but the Outram Town Board continued until 1960 when it amalgamated with the Taieri County. The short-lived Bay Town Board (in the Anderson’s Bay area) was formed in 1905 and amalgamated with the city in 1916.


The years following the turn of the century were marked by a series of amalgamations within the Dunedin urban area as suburban boroughs decided to join the city, after finding they lacked the resources to provide more modern services and amenities to their citizens. Further amalgamations occurred in  the 1960’s.

The most recent reorganisation of local government occurred in 1989 when eight local authorities amalgamated to form the new Dunedin City Council under a scheme designated by the Local Government Commission. These local authorities were: the Dunedin City Council, the Silverpeaks County Council, the  Port Chalmers Borough Council, the Green Island Borough Council, the St Kilda Borough Council, the Mosgiel Borough Council, the Dunedin Drainage and Sewerage Board and the Ocean Beach Domain Board.

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