Earliest Dunedin loos

The earliest publicly provided facilities I have been able to trace in the Dunedin City Council Archives collection are in 1861, recorded in the Dunedin Town Board letterbooks.

In 1861 the Town Board made a request to the government of the day to set apart portions of the Beach Reserve area (now where Cargill’s Monument is) for Public Water Closets.

Request for public water closets, Dunedin Town Board, 13 December 1861
1859 shot of the Beach Reserve area, Dunedin. The first public water closets provided by Dunedin Town Board were located here (see arrow). Te Papa Collections, O.030501

The original toilets were shifted slightly to a new spot on the reclaimed ground in 1864. A report from the Inspector of Nuisances Nimon came in shortly after on 24 March 1864 complaining of the filthy state of them.

Dunedin Town Board Minutes, 24 March 1864, DCC Archives, TC 1/1

In April, the Town Board employed a man at one shilling a day to clean them.

Employment of Attendant, 5 April 1864, Dunedin Town Board Minutes, DCC Archives, TC 1/1

The public facilities were seen as a way to improve the sanitation but as this Otago Daily Times article shows Dunedin suffered poor sanitary conditions in the “back slums” in 1864. The author states if the reader dared to venture off the main streets “let him adventure boldly behind its thin screen of decent houses and he will find himself in a marsh, covered with flax bushes, and irrigated by several streams as black as Styx”. The author dramatically goes on to state that “the copious black stream he has been tracing to its sources, has, however, shrunk into a narrow ditch of a yellowish green and extremely fetid filth, which flows sluggishly over a quaking black morass into which a walking-stick may be thrust to the handle without finding bottom.”

So 1860s Dunedin – not the nicest place to be!

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