Party’s over but the memories live on

Scores of students passed through this grand Dunedin property before it reverted to a family home. Kim Dungey reports.

A chandelier casts a warm glow in the hallway. Photos: Linda Robertson
A chandelier casts a warm glow in the hallway. Photos: Linda Robertson
Raging student parties are a thing of the past for this historic home in central Dunedin.

But when Ralph and Maerushia Scorgie bought the house in 2000, they were well aware of its colourful history.

The Scorgies, who lived in the house below, often chatted with the tenants — medical students who would arrive at their door complaining of having the flu. Mrs Scorgie would tell them to take two paracetamol, go to bed and stop drinking so much.

Dr Scorgie recalls their cat would return from the property seemingly "stoned" and sleep for "a good 24 hours afterwards".

The five-bedroom Cargill St property was a student rental for more than 30 years and several of his colleagues at Dunedin Hospital had flatted there.

"One of them was telling me about where he [hid] his marijuana joints ... in a hole in the roof. And a surgeon who shall remain nameless said he had his first conquest in our bedroom."

"It’s well used to naughty things going on. But not us because we’re old and tired," his wife jokes.

Stranraer, built in 1910, has a dress circle view of the city and harbour.
Stranraer, built in 1910, has a dress circle view of the city and harbour.
When Stranraer went on the market, the couple were intent on buying a modern house. However, after chatting with the real estate agent over the fence, they took a look around.

The exterior detailing includes rough-hewn Oamaru stone arches and quoining.
The exterior detailing includes rough-hewn Oamaru stone arches and quoining.
Dr Scorgie says they bought it on a whim, having initially decided it looked like too much work.

"I’d just qualified and had a fit of madness, I suppose ... We didn’t get it at auction because we didn’t have enough money. But the guy who bought it offered it back to us."

The sale of Mrs Scorgie’s house also fell into place.

"We’ve got two days to sell my house before the other one goes to auction," she told a friend.

"Don’t do a thing. I’ll be back in 15 minutes," the woman replied, before returning with her husband and making them an offer.

While their new house was solidly built, there was work to do. Before moving in with their two sons, the couple pulled up the flea-infested carpets. Later they set about taming the overgrown garden and repainting the interior — the drawing room was two shades of blue, with writing in black paint around the door and bright red paint on the fireplace and window frames.

A skylight and new cabinets transformed the dark kitchen, which had mice and faulty appliances.

Ralph and Maerushia Scorgie share their property with cats, rabbits and their dog, Coco. They...
Ralph and Maerushia Scorgie share their property with cats, rabbits and their dog, Coco. They both grew up in big, old homes — he in Omakau and she in Christchurch.
Mrs Scorgie also gave the home’s Art Deco-style fireplaces new plaster facades: "The [tenants] had knocked them about and there was only one good one in the dining room".

An old-fashioned rose blooms in the garden.
An old-fashioned rose blooms in the garden.
Archivist David Murray says builder James McGill had the house built for him in 1910 by James McGill and Sons, the building firm started by his father. His widow, Susan, was still living there not long before her death in 1957, then the house was owned by the Scurrs, followed by the Murphys. By the 1970s, it was home to student nurses.

Mr McGill’s father, James senior, was born in the Scottish port town of Stranraer and that is probably how the house got its name, explains Dr Murray, whose Built in Dunedin blog combines architectural research with social history.

Mrs Scorgie says the property originally included a small cottage but it burned down in the 1980s.

"The section used to go from Cargill St to York Pl. The stables used to be on York Pl but the carriages would drop the ladies here. It was a grand existence they had."

With its slate roof, brick walls and arched stone window fascias, the home certainly has a stately appearance. Four storeys high, it includes a basement with huge timber beams and an attic bedroom that was added in the 1930s. There is still evidence of the call bells that summoned servants and seven fireplaces remain, although heat pumps are now the main form of heating.

Metal shelf units in the kitchen are stacked with preserves and crockery. A previous owner had...
Metal shelf units in the kitchen are stacked with preserves and crockery. A previous owner had removed the wall between the kitchen and the scullery.
Bay windows offer panoramic views over the city and harbour. The hall features burr wood panelling and a colourful stained glass window; the main bedroom opens to a small balcony.

The living areas feature ornate chandeliers, gilt mirrors and candlesticks, as well as furniture inherited from Mrs Scorgie’s parents. A former TVNZ staff member, she says the house comes alive at night.

The oil painting in a corner of the dining room is a portrait of Giselle Steiner, painted by her...
The oil painting in a corner of the dining room is a portrait of Giselle Steiner, painted by her husband, Erwin. Close friends of the Scorgies, the Steiners had the Budapest and Giselle restaurants in central Dunedin.
Not in a spooky way though. "We had [a former tenant] trying to get a TV programme off the ground about haunted houses," Dr Scorgie recalls. "She wanted our house to feature but we’ve never had any spirits around."

In 2008, the couple moved to Auckland for Dr Scorgie’s work and the house reverted to being a rental. On their return 10 years later, they lived with the tenants for six weeks because the students were reluctant to leave.

Lichen covered busts sit on a table outside.
Lichen covered busts sit on a table outside.
"I can understand why they didn’t want to move out because it is a lovely house," he says.

"It’s close to town, has good views and lies well for the sun . . . In summer, the rooms are dazzling."

The stained glass window just inside the front door makes a grand first impression.
The stained glass window just inside the front door makes a grand first impression.

The home is thought to have been named after a town in southwest Scotland.
The home is thought to have been named after a town in southwest Scotland.

The front corner bedroom opens on to a balcony via an arched floor-level window.
The front corner bedroom opens on to a balcony via an arched floor-level window.

When the Scorgies moved in, the front drawing room had blue walls and a red fireplace. ‘‘I wanted...
When the Scorgies moved in, the front drawing room had blue walls and a red fireplace. ‘‘I wanted a softer look,’’ Maerushia Scorgie says.

Paintings, ceramics and potted plants bring character and life to the rooms.
Paintings, ceramics and potted plants bring character and life to the rooms.

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