The Apothecaries Hall

In 1859, on the Southwestern corner of Colombo and Armagh Streets, a handsome, new two story wooden structure was built for Drs. Hilson and Turnbull. Designed by Thomas Tomes, the two doctors had wanted a bigger facility to replace their current quarters in Cashel Street which would not only house consultation & surgery rooms but also a pharmacy. Two chemists that the doctors hired, Cook and Ross, seemed to have been the ones with the lasting impression as this corner of Christchurch bared their names right into the 1920’s. It was first called the Apothecaries Hall.

The partnership between these four men wasn’t destined to last very long. In February 1862, a notice appeared in ‘The Press’, advising the public that the two doctors were no longer partners and that Dr. Turnbull would remain at the Apothecaries Hall. But before that very year ended, Dr. Hilson was pronounced dead while in the care of the six month old Christchurch’s Public Hospital – of Delirium Tremens, fatal violent alcohol withdrawals.

In a turn of events that I’m sure Dr. Turnbull couldn’t quite believe, he was publicly accused of murdering his ex-colleague. The motive? Insurance money, of course. Although many stood by the good Doctor, he sold out of the Apothecaries Hall early 1863 to one of his chemists, John Valentine Ross, and attempted to move on from the scandal. He succeeded, continuing to service Christchurch as a much-trusted doctor and during the 1870’s, he was also the Speaker for the Canterbury Provincial Council.

In 1866, Cook left the business as well, and the Ross family, in one role or another, remained a part of the running of the building till its demolition in 1927. The old place proved to be quite interesting to take apart as all the rooms had different floor levels, and with many little staircases and hallways, it was quite a character.

The land was now in the ownership of Henry Owen and he hired architects, Helmore and Cotterill, to design a new office building. These two business partners had gone through Christ’s College together and then traveled around England and America studying architecture. When the pair were asked to design what would become the National Bank Building, they brought forth their love of American designs with their four-story, neo-Georgian brick structure that included a mansard roof and dormer windows in the attic.
Just like the years before, the offices were leased out to doctors and dentists, working in conjunction with the private Limes Hospital across Victoria Square.

In 1962, the National Bank opened their main city branch on the ground floor and remained there until the earthquakes of 2011. Meanwhile upstairs, slowly the medical professionals that called the place home moved on and it became known more for its tenant law firms than anything.

Although the National Bank remained, the building had lately become known as the ‘Isaac House’ as the late Lady Diana Isaac – of Isaac Construction – had brought it and made the attic her own personal apartment. This went hand in hand with her financial interests in the Isaacs Royal Theatre which she wanted to be closer to. It was reported that she was in her apartment at Isaac House when the earthquake hit on 22nd February.

The Isaac House has survived the quakes and will survive the rebuild despite the up and coming convention centre project (2015).

*Image of the Cook & Ross Corner during the Canterbury Jubilee procession in 1900 (as it headed north up Colombo Street and into Victoria Square) courtesy of the Canterbury Museum – – 2000.198.1 165*

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