Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

29 October 2009

Thistle Inn, Wellington

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

This is the second Thistle on its site. It was built in 1866 and used to be dated from that year but in 1967, when renovations were under way, they discovered parts of a structure that were declared to be those of the first Thistle Inn, built in 1840. So, rightly, it may be described as the oldest pub in New Zealand on its original site and shares with that historic year the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (although the Thistle may be a little less controversial than that founding document).
Just a beer bottle’s throw from the House of Representatives, the pub is almost marooned on a promontory of land bordered by the chariot race of Mulgrave Street and quiet Sydney Street. It now overlooks an extensive area of reclaimed land carrying wharves and railway marshalling yards; but at its beginning, the Thistle was on the waterfront. It is said to have been popular with mid-nineteenth century sea captains who, having come to safe haven after the caprices of Cook Strait, could drop anchor in the wonderfully sheltered waters of Port Nicholson, row ashore and wash the salt out of their throats in the bar while keeping an eye on their ships and restless crews.

It’s also said that Te Rauparaha, that notorious Maori general, coming home in triumph to his headquarters at Kapiti Island or going marauding with the gleam of conquest in his eye, sometimes beached his waka below the Thistle and dropped in for a pint.

You’ll hear lots of other good stories in the bar.


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By Don Donovan