The Mysterious Mr Darnoc

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Proposed extension of the City of Wellington, 1877, Cartographer : N S Darnoc, MapColl-832.4799a/A/1877/Acc.35277, Alexander Turnbull Library

One of the pictorial stories featured my book Wellingtonians was this rather remarkable 1877 plan of a possible Wellington waterfront precinct. It was by N S Darnoc, and features tree-lined boulevards, elegant promenades and ornamental gardens. There are public baths at the bottom of Cambridge Terrace, and a cafe on each side of the semi-circular basin, about where Te Papa is now. As I said in Wellingtonians, such a plan was never going to interest the commercial leaders of Victorian Wellington. Their wharves were for making money, not public enjoyment. Mr Darnoc was a hundred years ahead of his time.

But who was Mr Darnoc? I could find no trace of him, and concluded it was a pseudonym. The only lead available was the Evening Post's mention of him as a "practical engineer" and a "foreigner" whose ideas had been taken up by "several important cities in Europe." That left me intrigued, but no wiser.

Well, now the mystery is solved, thanks to researcher Pamela McKirdy. She pointed out that Darnoc was almost certainly Danish architect and town planner, Conrad Seidelin, who was living in Dunedin at the time. His first name is Darnoc spelt backwards, and the first and last letters of his surname are N and S.

Seidelin had achieved some fame in Denmark early in his career, particularly for a prize winning plan for the reconstruction of Copenhagen. You can read a little about him in this Danish wikipedia entry. The entry includes two of his plans, which have close similarities in style to the Wellington waterfront drawing.

There is still a lot to find out, of course. How was it that Seidelin ended up in Dunedin (he died there, unacknowledged, in 1879). What other work did he do in New Zealand? It is all waiting for someone else to discover.


  • On 13 Jan 2015 Max Thorne says:
    Thank you for finding this rare gem. There was at least one building designed by Conrad Seidelin in New Zealand, in the Octogan in Dunedin (possibly #21). It was demolished in the 1960s but there are still some plans and photographs available. There is a record of him visiting Wellington in June 1876 for the "installation" of Sir Donald McLean, so there is the possibility that this commission (if it was a commission) followed this visit? Jens Conrad Seidelin was a master stonemason and his work is found in Oslo as well as in Copenhagen. He emigrated with his son Jens to Tasmania, and then on to Dunedin, in the early 1870s, the story going that he left in a fit of pique after his plans for a Masonic Lodge were rejected - it would be great to know if this were true. He is related by the marriage of Jens (Jnr) to the Lyders family (also Danes) who were greatly involved in the development of North Dunedin and what became the student areas. The Lyders had a shipping company which was very active between Tasmania, Wellington, and Dunedin, in the age of comparative mobility between these settlements.

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