Bird Cage

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Moving of the Birdcage in 2010 part of the Victoria Park Tunnel Project



The Birdcage, formerly the Rob Roy Hotel (R11/2499), a heritage building built in 1885-1886[1]. The Birdcage is registered by the NZHPT (Category II, No.636) and is scheduled on the District Plan (Category B). The Birdcage is situated on the corner of Franklin Road and Drake Street opposite Victoria Park Market. In order to preserve this building of high heritage significance, the decision was made to shift the Birdcage (excluding the basement) to a new site 40m along Franklin Road. The building will then be relocated slightly north of its original location following completion of the tunnel.

<googlemap lat="-36.848539" lon="174.752961" zoom="19" width="360" height="360">

-36.848651, 174.753004, Bird Cage Hotel</googlemap>

The building conservation was outlined in the conservation plan[2][3] provided a heritage impact assessment (November 2009). Works taking place at the Birdcage to both prepare the building and the surrounding grounds for moving are being monitored under the provisions of Authority No. 2010/206 issued by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

History of the Birdcage

The following excerpt is derived largely from Clough & Mace 2009[4].

The Birdcage was originally known as the Rob Roy Hotel due to an earlier hotel which was located close to Victoria Street. The site of the first Rob Roy Hotel in Freemans Bay was sold by the crown in 1853 to spinster Catherine Marks for £74. She sold it nine years later to William Morrin, making a tidy profit of £426. In May 1862 the property was leased to land agent Michael Wood for a term of five years with a right to purchase. By 1865 a wooden hotel, known as the “Rob Roy” had been erected on the site and was being operated by James Rosie. Patrons could come to the hotel by road or water as the property was close to Freemans Bay shoreline. In 1867 the property was sold to merchant David Nathan. In 1881 the licensee was teetotaller William Regan, who would operate the business for the rest of the 19th century.

In 1885 the Rob Roy Hotel saw many changes. In September it was sold to Samuel Jagger who made plans for a new Rob Roy Hotel on a new site . The following month tenders were called by the architects, E. Mahoney & Sons. On 10 October 1885 the New Zealand Herald gave details of the new hotel which would soon grace the site:

It will be three storeys in height, including basement, and constructed of brick, the basement storey of blue stone, with concrete foundations. The basement will be 7 feet 6 inches in clear, ground floor 14 feet, and first floor 12 feet 6 inches. It is intended to carry the present culvert right under the hotel and through the allotment, so as to have a perfect drainage system. The basement storey comprises kitchen, pantry scullery, store-rooms, beer and coal cellars and servant’s dining-rooms. On the ground floor will be a bar (on street corner), three sitting-rooms, serving room – latter has lift from basement. A commodious staircase gives access to the first floor. There will be a large sitting-room on the corner with oriel window, and nine bedrooms, bath-room, linen closet, & c. The bar will be handsomely fitted up, and all the rooms on the ground floor have dados. The facade is to be in Italian style, pressed red brick with white stone facings, and the whole of ornamental design. It will be surmounted with a parapet with entablature.

By the end of January 1886 the hotel had nearly been completed by the contractors Cleghorn & Rosser. It occupied a prominent corner site fronting Franklin Road and Drake Street.

By 1905 numerous other buildings had been constructed in the area, The level of Franklin Road also appears to have been raised, although the lot behind the Birdcage appears unchanged at this point, still sited at a lower level than the houses. In 1969 the east wing was extended and the name of the hotel was later changed to “The Birdcage”. The hotel continued to serve the people of Auckland through the late 19th and 20th centuries, and most recently this century.

Moving the Hotel

A detailed photographic record was made of the basement and its surviving features prior to the move, including an interpretation of the original room layout. Original kauri panelled walls were recorded, along with the original Shacklock coal range originally built in Dunedin which was hidden in its original location behind a modern wall.

In the coal cellar a French 10 Centime bronze coin with the date 1910 was recovered from the floor. Text on the face of the coin reads: ‘Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite’. The depiction is of Liberty seated on the right, cuirassed Liberty seated on the left, and Cupid or Eros seated to her right. On the reverse of the coin is a bust and the words: ‘Francaise Republique’.

The origin of the coin and the means by which it came to be in the coal cellar is unclear. It might have derived from a guest visiting from France or French Polynesia who spent time at the Rob Roy Hotel in the early 20th century.

A badly gnawed possible bone pendant was recovered following its fall from the basement ceiling during basement stripping in the former pantry adjacent to the stairwell. The pendant was 49mm long and has been severely damaged by rat gnawing making its original form indistinguishable. However, two indents are still present, the first located below the hole for the string, and the second approximately half way down the pendant. Remnant yellow twine is threaded through the pendant suggests it might not have had particular aesthetic value and may have served as a rune and/or talisman and owned by one of the hotel staff.

Timelapse video


Several excavations took place around the Birdcage in order to facilitate stabilisation of the building and installation of concrete beams to on which to move it. While analysis is ongoing, preliminary results have identified a former surface that was contemporary with the Rob Roy, located at the rear of the building. Artefacts collected from the layer consist or a range of artefacts including broken crockery, glass bottles, and leather from shoes.

Additional old surfaces were identified in the stratigraphy, including the former yard surface (south side of the hotel), and early bitumen surfaces butting the front of the building. One bitumen-like surface also appears to predate construction of the Rob Roy Hotel, but further analysis is required to clarify the age of the surface.


  1. Clough, R. and T. Mace 2005, Updated 2009. Harbour Bridge to City: Assessment of Environmental Effects –Heritage. Prepared for Transit New Zealand / Beca Carter.
  2. Matthews & Matthews 2003. The Birdcage Tavern, Freemans Bay, Auckland. Conservation Plan. Prepared for Transit NZ.
  3. Salmond Reed Architects. November 2009. Birdcage Tavern (Rob Roy Hotel) Heritage Impact Assessment
  4. Clough, R. and T. Mace 2005, Updated 2009. Harbour Bridge to City: Assessment of Environmental Effects –Heritage. Prepared for Transit New Zealand / Beca Carter.