When the Leviathan Railway Temperance Hotel was built in 1884 it was situated beside the harbour, beside the original railway station, on land, which had been reclaimed from the harbour, with rock dumped during the flattening of Bell Hill. With 150 bedrooms, the Leviathan was then reputed to be the largest hotel in Australasia. The name Leviathan originates from the book of Revelation in the Bible and is used to describe a huge creature usually of the sea.
At the time the Exchange area of Dunedin was the hustling hub of the city with many fine buildings situated nearby. The railway station, steamboat landings and tram terminus were all minutes away making the Leviathan Temperance Hotel, unquestionably the most advisable Hotel, in every sense, to stop at, according to newspaper cuttings of the 1890s. This area has always been a wonderful site for hotels because of its proximity to all forms of transport and its ample parking. (Another, now historical hotel nearby was the Terminus Hotel, now the Gresham.)
The first owner of the Leviathan was Mr George Bodley, who sold it after five years to Mrs Anstiss Silk. She was born, Antiss Dottin in Devon, England in 1839 and immigrated to Australia with her parents and siblings (Henry and Edward) on the ship ”Blackwell” in 1857. In 1859 she married George Silk who later immigrated to New Zealand as a steerage passenger in February 1868. In October Antiss followed him with their four young daughters and they lived in Lawrence where George mined for gold and Antiss ran a successful baking and catering business. After George’s death in 1887 Mrs Silk moved to Dunedin and took over the Leviathan Hotel in 1889. At the same time she kept mining interests near Nenthorn and in the Lakes district, where she was mainly interested in dredging on the Nevus River. On display in the Leviathan she put a 2.3kg cake of gold recovered from her “Surprise Co” mine at Nenthorn, Antiss had purchased this company in October 1891 for £80. She was a true pioneer with a wonderful entrepreneurial spirit.
Antiss ruled the Leviathan with an iron hand. All staff had daily uniform inspections and woe betide anyone who was caught misbehaving. Apparently it was difficult to keep house staff and waitresses because no sooner were young women trained than they would go off and get married – frequently to hotel guests. Still, under Antiss Silk’s direction the hotel prospered wonderfully. She died on 10 June 1899, and on 9 August 1899 the Leviathan Hotel Company was incorporated to run the hotel. The company’s shares were closely held by Otago people throughout the twentieth century and in 1999 they were sold to a company owned by the Laing family, so the Leviathan Heritage Hotel is still locally owned and operated.
There were big changes in the 1950’s around the time when the Queen came to Dunedin soon after her coronation. The Leviathan Hotel was extensively ”modernised” with most of the original ornate exterior being removed, and the dining room renovated. The 150 rooms were reduced to 75 rooms by making each alternate room into an ensuite.
More significant changes came in the 1970s. Until October 21st 1974 the hotel was ”dry” although there had been an unsuccessful attempt to get a liquor licence in the 1880’s. Subsequent owners were teetotal and one of the directors of the Hotel Company said it would be over his dead body that they would sell liquor. It is reputed that he died in October 1974 and the hotel started selling liquor the next day! Also during the 1970’s the adjacent Insurance Office of Australia building was purchased and incorporated into the hotel. This was a distinctly separate building with a different facade on the exterior and remains noticeable by slightly different floor levels inside.
In the twenty-first century the hotel is progressively undergoing refurbishment and is being restored as faithfully as possible to the original. The archway at the back of the dining room has been uncovered and restoration of the dining room has been completed to its former glory. The fireplace has been repaired, and we light the fire during meal times over winter or as required. This gives the room a wonderful ambience. The restoration of the wood panelling around the walls is now complete and all the woodwork has been specially run according to the original samples. As the restaurant had a wonderful reputation in Antiss Silks time, it has been named after her. It is planned that reception and the bar area will be refurbished soon.
The hotel was originally built around the parameter of a roughly triangular site with an internal courtyard, which held stables. The old stables are still there (now the hotel kitchen) although a laundry and boiler were placed in this area in the 1950s but have since been demolished to recreate a landscaped courtyard.
On the third floor of the hotel it is reputed that a ghost of an unknown lady lives. Many staff that have worked here acknowledge its existence. Their experiences range from a cool and spooky feeling, to glasses of water appearing and disappearing, doors opening and closing, floors squeaking from footsteps or your name being called but with nobody there. She is a nice ghost, and the general view is that it is Mrs Antiss Silk, forever watchful of her charge.
Haunted Auckland was granted exploratory access on Nov 26th 2015