I wrote and illustrated ‘New Zealand House and Cottage’. It was published in 1997. It’s a snapshot of some historic New Zealand homes - both grand and modest - as they were preserved at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.
Lured by the treasures of tourism Akaroa becomes Frenchier by the day, and it is with relish that the richly Gallic syllables of ‘Langlois-Etevenaux’ are rolled out in the town.
Quite right, too; Akaroa has a unique place in the history of New Zealand and whether or not it is for commercial reasons its French colonial origins should never be forgotten.
Jean Langlois was skipper of the whaler Cachalot from Normandy who, having visited Akaroa harbour, felt that it would be a good base from which France might colonize the South Island of New Zealand. He negotiated a doubtful deed of purchase with some Ngai Tahu chiefs in Port Cooper and then sailed for France where his enthusiasm infectiously encouraged formation of the colonizing Nanto-Bordelaise Company and despatch of sixty-three migrants to Akaroa in 1840.
The rest is history: there was to be no French colony; intention was scotched by the pre-emptive establishment of British sovereignty at Waitangi. Notwithstanding, the immigrants came, and stayed. Jean Langlois’s brother, Aimable was among them. He opened the town store - the French Magasin - and he built the dolls house cottage on the corner of Rue Lavaud and Rue Balguerie that is now part of the Akaroa Museum, administered by the Department of Conservation.
It is said to date between 1841 and 1845 and could compete with Deans Cottage as the oldest house in Canterbury. There is speculation that it may have been partially pre-fabricated in France, and my instincts - having seen nothing else quite like it - support the probability that it was at least French-designed for it is wonderfully well proportioned, and its fine, inward opening, casement windows with their flanking shutters have an old world elegance.
By 1845 Langlois had left New Zealand for Honolulu. He died about 1857 near San Francisco and the following year his brother, Jean, sold the house to Jean Pierre Etevenaux, one of the original settlers from France. He, his wife Jeanne Françoise and family owned it from 1858 to 1906. Thus Langlois-Etevenaux’ House.
© DON DONOVAN