1863: Ever Traveled by Rail in New Zealand? You’ve Probably Been to One of the Stations He Designed

October 21, 1863

George Alexander Troup, an architect, and engineer who designed a large number of notable railway stations in New Zealand was born to Scottish parents in London, England. Not long after his birth, his family returned to Scotland to live in Edinburgh. By the time he turned 11, Troup was attending a prestigious school that is now known as Robert Gordon’s College in the Scottish city of Aberdeen. He took up an apprenticeship starting in 1879 with C.E. Calvert, an engineer, surveyor, and architect working in Edinburgh. Troup began working as a draftsman for John Chesser, another Edinburgh-based architect, in 1882.

Late the following year, Troup’s life sailed from London to what was then the British colony of New Zealand for new professional challenges. (New Zealand would cease to exist as a colony and instead gain semi-independent status as a dominion of the British Empire in 1907; New Zealand achieved full autonomy in 1947.) Troup initially settled in the city of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island and found work as a surveyor for the colony’s Department of Survey and Land Information.

In 1886, Troup began what would become a career of nearly four decades with the New Zealand Railways Department (NZR). In his first job with this government department, he worked as a draftsman at the district engineer’s office in Dunedin. Troup soon transferred to NZR’s head office in the capital city of Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island, and he continued to work there for the remainder of his years with the department. Troup steadily rose through the ranks at NZR, ultimately being placed in charge of the department’s architectural division in 1919.

During much of his time at NZR, Troup assumed a major role in the design of many railway stations, viaducts, and bridges throughout New Zealand. He became renowned in particular for the railway stations that he diligently translated from mere blueprints to full-fledged reality.  His creative designs encompassed all types of stations, including “island-platform” depots that are situated between tracks and can often be accessed only via pedestrian overpasses. Troup’s version of this type of station typically consisted of such features as red-tiled roofing and – to cover the platforms on each side — identical cantilever verandas.

Railway Station Dunedin Otago South Island New Zealand

Troup designed several other stations in ways that very much echoed older architectural eras. An example of this type of building is the Dunedin railway station, which was constructed in a Flemish Renaissance style and opened in 1906. Once the busiest railway station in New Zealand, it remains a popular tourist attraction and continues to be seen by many as Troup’s masterpiece. The station has been likened to the Taj Mahal in terms of elegance and aesthetic appeal, and its resemblance to a gingerbread house earned Troup his famous nickname “Gingerbread George.”

The overall legacy carved out by Troup went well beyond his work on behalf of New Zealand’s railway infrastructure. He also immersed himself in a broad range of community activities in and around Wellington. After retiring from NZR in 1925, Troup pursued a career in politics as well. He was elected to the Wellington City Council that same year. In 1927, Troup was elected the city’s mayor. He served in this position until 1931.

Troup received several honors for his longtime public service. These included being made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1931 and a Knight Bachelor in 1937. In 1941, Troup died in Wellington just a few weeks before his 78th birthday. Those paying tribute to Troup at the time included Thomas Hislop, who had succeeded him as mayor of Wellington a decade earlier. “His was a great life,” said Hislop said. “His greatest memorial is the esteem and respect in which his memory is held.”

For more information on George Troup, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Troup_(architect).

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