Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 November 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 7. Tauherenikau

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.


I first saw this cottage in 1965 when with my wife Pat I was on a Sunday afternoon sketching expedition. Its symmetry and classical proportions seemed to characterize it as a typical house fit for a typically successful but modest Wairarapa farmer.

I sat in the car, totally absorbed, scratching away on my sketchpad with an old fountain pen until, almost before the Indian ink was dry, she whipped the finished drawing away and with the cheek of an encyclopaedia salesman marched up the garden path, knocked on the front door and sold it to Brian McEwan, the then owner!

We never saw him again but I never forgot the cottage and was pleased to draw it again and include it in this collection over thirty years later.

It’s not easy to get information about the cottage because, although transfers of land are carefully recorded, the fates of buildings are not. A crown grant of 166 acres was made to William Parfitt Nix and Josias Tocker, Hutt Valley farmers, on 15 March 1854. Nix died that year, leaving his son, Lewis, and wife, Mary Ann, as executors. She subsequently married Christopher Potts* to whom the title transferred in 1870. The land that the cottage stands upon was part of that grant.

The holding was broken down over time and bits were sold off, but in 1884 Potts was issued with a certificate of title to fifteen acres which included the cottage. It was registered in his wife’s name and so, when Mary Ann died in 1900 it passed to her son, William Nix. It stayed in that family until 1954. It was then was bought by John Donald who subdivided it ten years later and sold one-and-a-half acres with residence to Brian Peter Douglas Fitzgerald McEwan. Which is a long winded way of establishing that when I did my first sketch of ‘The Cottage’, McEwan had only recently bought it.

Nick and Lesley Shalders, the present owners, believe it may date to as early as 1860.

The barn, constructed of pit-sawn timber and handmade nails, boasts a long-drop and was probably a milking shed. It may be as old as the cottage.

*Interesting: When researching my book ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ I discovered that the nearby ‘Tin Hut’ hotel was once owned by C Potts - the same man - a land owner of local note thus meriting the title ‘gentleman’.


N.Z. House & Cottage 6. The Turrets, Orepuki

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.


If the earth was flat and you had a well-developed imagination you might see the Antarctic coast in the shimmering distance for at Orepuki, on the eastern end of Te Waewae Bay, nothing impedes the fury of the southerly winds from the pole, winds which are sometimes so salt laden that the macrocarpas stretch out their long, naked, flinching trunks as if to rip their roots from the soil and escape to the north. Here, with only a flimsy yet enduring stand of hardy trees for shelter stands a most unusual house.

I had first seen ‘The Turrets’ some years ago while travelling along the road from Riverton that parallels the southern coast until, faced with the uncompromising bluffs of Fiordland, it turns north to Tuatapere. The house lay in the distance, silver against forest green like a pavilion of towered Camelot. I determined that one day I would approach more closely.

John and Glenda Watson, who have lived at ‘The Turrets’ since 1960, have raised a family of five within the sheltering solidity of its timber walls. With pride they showed me over the house and were amused by my astonishment when I entered the sitting room and saw the most unusual pressed metal ceiling with its wonderful art nouveau frieze, which, they assured me, is entirely original.

The house was built in the late 1800s by George Valentine Printz for his son, John Louis (known as ‘Barney’ for no apparent reason). Printz, born in 1833, came from Sydney, prospered as a whaler and owned 7000 acres (2832 ha) at Paihia. He fathered ten children, two of whom died in infancy, leaving five sons and three daughters. They grew up in a lively community whose economy was based upon mixed farming, saw-milling, shale oil working and the unreliable rewards of winning fine gold from the black beach sands of the bay.

The turrets were a delightful eccentricity: George Printz built houses for four of his sons; Henry’s was towerless, George’s had one turret, William’s had two and John Louis trumped them all with three. They do sparkle so when the sun comes out …

29 November 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 5. Highwic, Auckland

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.
have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.


Gothic Highwic has a cottage-like look which has something to do with its proportions. It’s a large house but it lacks the height and so the dominance usually associated with a mansion. The outside walls are unassuming, too, a step beyond vertical boards and battens but lacking that heavy, earnest look of horizontal kauri with timber quoins made to look like stone.

It has the air of a friendly family house and I don’t doubt that that’s exactly what it was in its palmy days since Alfred Buckland - for whom Highwic was built in 1862 - had nine children by his first wife, Eliza, and another eleven by her ‘companion’, Matilda Frodsham, who he married after Eliza died of pneumonia in 1866.
Imagine having twenty children plus servants rattling around in your family home! Little wonder that by 1873 the house had been expanded from the original part (the left hand portion of my illustration) by the addition of a ballroom, sitting room, dining room and various service rooms and outhouses.

Despite its having grown bit by bit there’s a satisfying rhythm to the building: each addition has been carefully considered so that barge boards, finials and balustrades are harmonious and complementary; and even the large brick kitchen at the west end is not out of place.

The billiards room, which stands alone at the northwest corner of Highwic is a gem of a building and, like its large neighbour, whose style it matches absolutely, is a joy to sketch and paint. I particularly like the way the roof ridge sags slightly in the middle. I went to the winter wedding reception of Sophie Gray (the 'Destitute Gourmet') there some years ago; there was a generous fire burning in the grate and the atmosphere within the honey-hued timber walls was so agreeable that the celebration turned into a memorable party.


28 November 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 4. Deans Cottage, Riccarton

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.


There’s an atmosphere of neglect about the oldest building in Canterbury. Not that it is dilapidated or in need of maintenance, it’s something harder to define - something spiritual, perhaps - as if, having been shifted from its original location slightly farther west, and having been restored to its ‘original condition’, a duty has been completed and interest has flagged.

It might benefit from a cottage garden - hollyhocks and Canterbury Bells - but then the purists would say that that is not what Deans Cottage is all about. Maybe so. It was built in 1843 seven years before the Canterbury Pilgrims arrived in their first four ships. In sympathy with its moody Riccarton Bush surroundings it’s a simple house, especially so as totara, matai and kahikatea from that same forest comprised its frame and boards and shingles. The cob chimney looks suspiciously orderly, though, and doesn’t quite harmonize with the rest of the cottage, perhaps the temptation to tidy things up a little overcame the restorers?

I started my New Zealand life in Christchurch in 1960 and was quickly absorbed by bits of its history. It amazed me that in just over a century the Canterbury Plain had been cultivated and had such a fine city as its centre. What was more amazing was the thought that when planners of the Canterbury settlement arrived and stood on the Port Hills the only sign of ‘civilization’ in the vast run of shingle plain was that group of buildings in a stand of bush which the Deans had named Riccarton after their Scottish parish.

The cottage had been standing for ten years when John Deans brought his new wife, Jane, there from Ayrshire in February 1853. I have been told that when she walked through the door she was suffering from three forms of sickness: sea-, morning- and home-. That year her first son, John, was born and less than a year later her husband died in the cottage leaving her a widowed solo mother. Despite its present impersonality it’s not difficult to imagine, while standing in the dim light of a small back room, how dear a haven the cottage must have been to a pioneer family twelve thousand miles from their origins with nothing but courage and faith to buoy them.

In that same room, on one of the dark-stained walls, there is an indistinct pattern. It looks as if a hot poker has scorched an etching of small leaves and flowers into the timber. Nobody seems to know what it is or how it came there but I believe it must be from wallpaper which has somehow offset into the timber. It is, to me, one of the more intriguing details of Deans Cottage.



26 November 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 3. 68 Nairn Street, Wellington

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.


It’s a square box with a ridged pyramidal lid - you could hardly say it was ‘designed’ - and yet it works wonderfully well. As is so often the case, simple practicality produced a satisfying proportion which could so easily have been ruined by ill-considered embellishment. Those dormer windows, if too small or too large, could have spoiled it but on the contrary they fit perfectly: and the only major addition was the verandah - that part under and including the red iron roof - a full frontal hook-on that seriously altered the house’s shape, but fortuitously improved it.

So it’s a handsome cottage by any standards and thanks to a few people with abundant energy and vision it was saved from demolition, and instead of yielding to a car park gained a new lease of life as the Colonial Cottage Museum in 1980.

The reason why 68 Nairn Street is so good is because it was built by a competent, pragmatic tradesman. In his twenties, probably as a journeyman carpenter, William Wallis of Royston, Hertfordshire had applied his skills to the construction of hospitals and barracks for the British army in the Crimean War. There he would have had a concentrated course in practical, economic timber building techniques, valuable experience that would have served him well when planning and fabricating his cottage and, later, running his Manners Street sawmill and Mangaroa Valley timber yard.

Twenty-seven years of age and with the Crimea fresh in his memory, he arrived in New Zealand in 1857 with his young wife and almost immediately bought the land at Nairn Street, nicely elevated above the bustle of the young city and with a fine view of the distant harbour and its surrounding hills.

On a typically steep Wellington hillside section, he built the kauri cottage in 1858. At around the same time their first child was born and thereafter Mrs Wallis, who must have been a formidable woman, produced nine more, placing not only upon herself but also upon the cottage enormous spatial strains which culminated in the additions of a wash house, kitchen and the front verandah in about 1870; and the building of another house next door.

An inside lavatory was incorporated, too, from which event I deduce that for about twelve years the Wallis family, at times of need, come sun or southerly, beat a well-worn path to the dunny at the back fence. There is still, as you can see from my illustration, an outside loo, but it’s a fresh, smart, treated pine replica probably bearing only superficial resemblance to that which was regularly occupied by members of the family.

68 Nairn Street accommodated the Wallises and their descendants for 120 years until 1977. The Wellington City Council then acquired it and over the ensuing years it was lovingly restored (it still has original wallpaper on some walls) by volunteers of the Colonial Cottage Museum Society until it opened as the museum you see today.


25 November 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 2.

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.


This is a personal collection of houses and cottages that I have gathered over recent years when travelling around the country looking for various ‘paintable’ buildings, subjects ranging from country pubs and general stores through courthouses and churches to grand mansions and simple cabins.

There’s no ’scheme’ to the book. It is not organized in any way other than to present visual variety, page by page. What all of the subjects have in common, I daresay, is that in their lifetimes they have been cherished by at least some of their occupants. It is that emotional attachment which makes a house a home and many of the privately owned properties on the following pages are cherished to this day; proof of that lies in the enthusiasm with which their owners have supplied me with information.

Other properties of such historical significance that they are now protected by institutions such as the New Zealand Historic Places Trust are no less cared for even though their rooms may be little other than museums; it is only regrettable that for want of resources not all worthy relics may be preserved and so the country is dotted with once-loved derelicts such as the house near Brightwater that is the tailpiece of this book.

Marketing psychologists say that the human race’s only needs are a blanket, a piece of meat and a cave. These are essential to survival: all else is luxury to a greater or lesser degree. When we walked out of our caves and started to fashion our shelters we added a cultural dimension - architecture - and with it came love and pride of home.

Clendon House

I’m certain that when James Reddy Clendon built his simple house on the cliffs of the southern Hokianga Harbour at Rawene he lavished as much love upon it as did the owners of grander mansions like Thomas Marsden’s Isel House near Nelson or Allan Kerr Taylor’s Alberton. Shelter was fundamental but beyond that, shape, space, proportion, utility, decoration, ‘atmosphere’ and layout of the grounds and gardens presented opportunities for creative planning of domestic comforts to mind and body. I’m thankful for that for I doubt that I could raise much excitement over making watercolour illustrations of caves.

With one or two exceptions the subjects are discrete houses or cottages, but I’ve also found some multiple dwellings of interest such as Dunedin’s classical terrace of town houses in Stuart Street, and a charming, mirror-image brace of workmen’s cottages in George Street.


There’s also the fascinating row of timber mill houses, built around 1903, bordering the remains of a village green at Mokai, north of Taupo: they’re virtually all that’s left of a town which, in its heyday, had a billiards saloon, race track, dance hall and sly grog shop - sly because of prohibition. Smoke still rises from the chimneys of the houses but the Mokai Mill closed over forty years ago.

The same type of dwelling has always been built by large corporations or government agencies whose industries and work forces have been large enough to warrant it; although not illustrated in this book, one thinks of timber-town houses in Tokoroa; workers’ cottages at the cement town of Portland or around various electricity power stations, and that fine range of New Zealand Railways’ designs erected all over the country, many of which have disappeared while those remaining are fast becoming collectors’ items to be restored with affection.

The big mansions are impressive (and suggest that despite current fashionable ‘have-and-have-nots’ debates the spectrum of social status was far greater in the early days of European settlement than now) but I’m even more awed by the simple shelters of the pioneers.

The Cuddy, Awatere Valley

A good example is the ‘Cuddy’ built in the 1850s below Mt. Gladstone, a peak in the Inland Kaikouras overlooking the remote Awatere Valley. A long, winding, dusty drive from the Marlborough coast to get there today, the difficulty of access and the lengthy isolations of the mid-nineteenth century are almost unimaginable. Despite that, it is not hard to picture the welcoming cosiness of the Cuddy’s tiny living room with a crackling fire inside and forty-five centimetres of cob wall keeping its occupants safe from the wintry blizzard.

Patersons Accommodation House

A similar haven would have been Paterson’s Cottage, a cob-walled, shingled accommodation house built in 1872 for travellers in the Waitaki/Hakataramea area. It looks forlorn these days isolated in a paddock off the highway, but to a tired, rain-sodden 1890s drover the yellow light spilling from its windows would have promised paradise even though he might have had to share the ripe atmosphere of the loft with several others.

It’s interesting to observe that many of the old cob cottages of the pioneers may be found close by the gracious houses now occupied by their descendants. It rather argues that their forebears were by no means privileged, they earned their success through sweated perseverance. Couched on a peaceful hill and surrounded by periwinkle, the cottage at the romantically named Glens of Tekoa near Culverden is one such, but the best example is another ‘Cuddy’, this one at Waimate in South Canterbury which was built by the Studholmes in 1854 and is still in the family. It’s such an unbelievably picturesque cottage of snowgrass thatch and totara slab surrounded by English country garden flowers and green baize lawn that I was diffident about painting it - it’s almost too pretty.

I make no apology for the accidental emphasis on Akaroa. I could do a whole book on that pleasant little town which, it seems to me, has the highest concentration of picturesque cottages in the land. It’s a town that has been ‘discovered’ in the last twenty years and many of the houses, which had gone past their best, have been rescued and restored by locals and Cantabrians both for permanent dwellings and holiday homes. The town exudes a fierce pride and, it seems, a daily dedication to becoming more and more Gallic, knowing that its French colonial origins make it unique; but so far it has, thankfully, resisted the temptation to exploit tourism to the point where, as has happened in Queenstown, the old enchantment is obliterated.

There are no baches or cribs in this book. They epitomise a unique and irresistibly attractive side to the New Zealand character but they are, in general, a class apart from the serious family dwelling. While, I know, some people live in them full time and some of them are quite elaborate, they are quintessentially holiday homes inextricably linked to long days of seaside sunlight, sand in the cracks between the floor boards, bush flies buzzing behind flimsy net curtains and the heavy aroma of barbecued chops hanging over the bay at twilight. They might be the subject of another book …

And there is nothing modern here: the future will identify the treasures of today but it’s hard to pick what’s going to become a classic. Will tomorrow’s exemplars be gaunt, white, factory-chimneyed fibreglass ‘eccentricities’ or some of the status-symbolic, porte-cochered mini-mansions of Auckland’s North Shore sub-divisons - who can tell? I certainly can’t. Besides, on the houses and cottages I paint there’s a patina that can only come from age. I hope you’ll enjoy sharing it with me.

Don Donovan. Albany 1997



New Zealand House & Cottage 1.

I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.
This is the title page of the book




18 November 2009

The Rat Trap Re-visited

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 it was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

The book contained 37 pubs, inns, taverns or hotels (call them what you will). This is the final page.

On 19 May 1994 The Upper Takaka Tavern, for years affectionately known as ‘The Rat Trap’, suffered the same fate as many other pubs in New Zealand’s history.

At the time I wrote and illustrated this book, the latest such fires had been on 26 October 1994 at the Burkes Pass Hotel, the central portion of which was 133 years old, and on 4 February 1995 at the New Empire Hotel, Hamilton. Perhaps ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ may serve as a reminder that the old pubs, which, like old soldiers, seem fated slowly to fade away, were much more than drinking holes; they played a big part in the social, economic and geographical development of the New Zealand we have today and so deserve a valued place in our history.

Don Donovan, Albany, 1995 [Re-published 2012]


Vulcan Hotel, St.Bathans

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

St Bathans was born of a gold boom in 1863. A year later it had ten hotels, forty businesses and a population of up to 2000 in the surrounding hills and gullies. Across the road from the pub you can look down into ‘The Glory Hole’, a blue lake that was once a hill 120 metres high! Gold fever hit St Bathans in a big way and, blinded by the urge to win metal above everything else, the early citizens tolerated a mushroom shanty-town of ‘corrugated iron, red iron, tin, gin cases, staves and canvas’. But there seems to have been born into gold miners a need for dignity and a prayer for permanence and so, as the town survived into and beyond the 1870s, more substantial buildings appeared, some of them with sufficient stamina to have lasted into modern times.

St Bathans today is like a time capsule from which it’s possible, in just a couple of hours, to get an appreciation of the composition of a goldfields town: a public hall that was the miners’ billiards saloon, the Bank of New South Wales Gold Office of the late 1860s, the stately old Post Office and postmaster’s residence, the ruins of the 1866 public school, damaged irreparably by earthquake in 1948, the church of St Alban the Martyr given to the town by Captain Dalgety and shipped out, pre-fabricated from England in 1883, and the stone cottage, one of the earliest permanent buildings in the town, first occupied by Sam Hanger who owned the first Vulcan Hotel.

Bank of New South Wales Gold Office

There’s been a Vulcan in St Bathans since 1869. Sam Hanger’s first one was a little farther north than is today’s, an impermanent affair thrown up to cater for thirsts rather than architectural appreciation. Twelve years later, they replaced corrugated iron with a structure of sun-dried bricks that became the new Vulcan: it stood until early 1914 when it was burned down. In its turn it was replaced by red brick which was also destroyed by fire. The Vulcan’s licence was transferred at this time to the Ballarat Hotel, which was not in use.

It had been built in 1882 and is the uniquely handsome little Vulcan Hotel in my illustration.
Through the left hand door is a narrow, intimate public bar and beyond that, the lounge bar. There are four accommodation rooms, one of which is said to be haunted. The hotel is owned by a company mainly consisting of local shareholders. I can’t think of a nicer place to hold a shareholders meeting.


17 November 2009

Goldfields Hotel, Roxburgh

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Yellow and square as a block of butter, it’s the brightest thing in Scotland Street, the main highway through Roxburgh. It hasn’t always been yellow and its shape has probably altered over the years: it’s certainly changed its name for when it was established around 1870, it was called the Queens Head.

It became the Goldfields Hotel thirty years later, had a ‘face-lift’ in 1912, a pool room was added in the 1960s, followed by a dining room in the ’70s but then, in August 1992, there was a serious fire which burned out the roof of the bar and damaged some of the guest rooms. Although major re-furbishment was necessary on the inside, the outside of the pub was undamaged. As a reward for its sufferings, it was given a much deserved coat of new yellow paint.

These days, Roxburgh is all about fruit orchards - particularly apricots - and the hydro-electric power station north of the town. But Roxburgh (its first name was Teviot) was born out of the Otago gold rushes. Gold was first discovered in 1862 when two young men, Andrew Young and James Woodhouse, searching with two companions for colours in the area, did a little prospecting in the river while their clothes were hanging to dry in the bushes. They found such rich deposits that they precipitated a gold rush that lasted until the later dredging boom petered out in the 1920s.

Old goldfields water wheel
Be careful where you put your car in Scotland Street: if, inadvertently, you take Geordie’s carpark outside the Goldfields Hotel (his name is painted on the kerb, he’s parked there for 42 years) it’ll cost you a fine of one jug of beer; the proceeds to St John’s Ambulance.


Read It Quickly


When I was a little boy growing up in a working class district of south London I thought that rich people only came from the so-called upper classes. 

Then at the end of the war, I read of a virtually uneducated man who made millions of pounds out of scrap metal. At that point I realized that you didn’t have to be ‘posh’ to be rich, but riches might make you posh!

I photographed this gate post outside a house in one of Sydney’s most exclusive semi-rural suburbs: Bayview. It reminded me of that scrap metal dealer; once he’d made his pile he didn’t care a damn about anybody!


16 November 2009

North Western Hotel, Palmerston

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.
The first coach travellers from Dunedin to the Otago gold rushes in the early 1860s were treated to a terrifying trip over the flood-prone Taieri Plain and across the hostile hills and valleys of the Old Dunstan Road. Despite the legendary skills of determined coachmen it wasn’t a satisfactory route and so, around 1864, a safer, more reliable alternative was developed which saw Cobb & Co’s coaches bustling up the coast road from Dunedin to Palmerston and then following the Shag River valley ‘Pigroot’ into Central Otago. 

The first North Western which was built in 1863, described by E.M. Lovell-Smith in ‘Old Coaching Days’ as a ‘pretentious wooden building’, became the depot for Cobb & Co. But it burned down and was replaced by the hotel that still stands today.

Built of bricks from a local kiln in 1887, it prospered until 1906 when it was hit by local prohibition. The wonder of it is that the building survived for it was variously used as a boarding house, fish and chip shop and a babies’ clothing shop until a tourist licence was granted almost eighty years later.

In 1989, with a new licensing act in place, it obtained a restaurant licence, but only in 1992 did it become fully licensed once more. Today’s North Western is a handsome structure and, being the only survivor out of fourteen original hotels in Palmerston, is an important remnant - as is the town hall (above) - of this historic junction town; especially as the original stables, essential to Cobb & Co coach travel along the ‘Pigroot’ to the gold fields, are still there.


15 November 2009

Hororata Hotel

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Hororata came close to being a railway town when a line from Christchurch to the West Coast via Browning Pass was surveyed. It’s on record that the Hororata Domain Board members kicked up a stink when they heard that it might pass through the eastern part of the domain.

In 1865, fortunately for Hororata and the travelling public, Arthur Dudley Dobson found Arthur’s Pass where it had always been, and the threat disappeared. All the same there was pedestrian demand for accommodation along the old Maori greenstone route, from hunters, and from drovers taking cattle from Longbeach to Hokitika via Browning Pass. A chain of accommodation houses grew, one of which was set up in Hororata by Edwin Derrett. Having arrived in 1852, he was one of the first settlers in the district and it seems he spread his interests between farming and hospitality. Sometime later he built a hotel which was sold as new in 1873 and re-sold in 1874 to Thomas Napier.

In 1882, Napier had a new, two-storeyed timber pub built by local tradesmen. It was described as: ‘large and lofty… almost entirely surrounded by tall pines, and the crescent-shaped roadway by which it is approached from the main road gives it a pleasing appearance.’

A 1903 photograph from the ‘Cyclopaedia of New Zealand’ shows Thomas Napier’s pub, owned at the time by Patrick Crowe. It is a fine clapboard building with modillioned eaves, and ornamented lintels over the doors and windows. Arranged before the pub, in attitudes of studied indifference, is a group of local patrons; the whole scene is framed by large macrocarpa trees. It is that same hotel that stands today; macrocarpas still frame the scene and the windows and doors still have their bracketed lintels but the modillions have disappeared and the clapboard exterior is hidden under a stucco cladding. The pub was ‘re-designed and modernised’ in 1967 but I suspect that the old timbers are still slumbering under all that plaster.



14 November 2009

Hôtel des Pècheurs, Banks Peninsula

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

As with the streets of Akaroa, the names of both the Hôtel des Pècheurs and its settlement are evidence of how close this area came to being a French colony. Duvauchelle was named after two brothers who, in 1843, had acquired sections at the head of Akaroa Harbour from the colonially minded Nanto-Bordelaise company: they never took up residence.

In 1851 the first inn at Duvauchelle was opened by Francois Le Lievre, a member of one of the original French families brought to Banks Peninsula in 1840. He also ran a ferry service to save travellers who’d tramped across the hills from Lyttelton Harbour the last hard plod to Akaroa.

Ben Shadbolt, an ex-convict from Van Diemen’s Land, bought Anderson’s Accommodation House at the head of the bay in 1861 and named it, appropriately if unoriginally ‘The Travellers Rest’. Ironically a condition of the licence was that Shadbolt was sworn in as local constable; thus the poacher turned gamekeeper! He and his wife, Elizabeth, were at the heart of the community and, with his larger-than-life ebullience, he was famed as a racehorse owner, trainer and breeder, farmer, forest owner, local politician and proprietor of a coach service.

The Travellers Rest burned down in 1876 whereupon Shadbolt erected ‘The Somerset’, a palatial affair named after Elizabeth’s birthplace in England. For six more years The Somerset served the travelling and resident communities with grog, sustenance, accommodation, travel and a post office; but a wowser arsonist maniac, who laid fires in a number of Banks Peninsula hotels, burned it down in 1882: that, coincidentally, was the year of Ben’s death.

The redoubtable Elizabeth rebuilt the pub, which has lasted over a century with few changes apart from odd additions, several changes of name - ‘The Crown’, ‘Duvauchelle Hotel’, ‘The Bricks’ and now ‘Hôtel des Pècheurs’ - exotic and complete with accents Françaises. The biggest change is that the road now passes what was the back of the pub and so, like the Hukerenui Tavern, it’s back to front.

Ah, yes - and they’ve painted it white since I did my illustration. Oh well, as the French say, ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…’


12 November 2009

Hilltop Tavern, Banks Peninsula

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

There aren’t too many Kiwi proprietors who can say their pub has been in the family as long as Joy Tarling’s has. These are her words about The Hilltop:-

‘First built in 1872 by James Garwood. Burned down April 7th, 1931. The hotel was a stopover in the coach and horse days. Then the drovers stayed when they brought stock out to the rail at Little River. My grandfather, Harry Bell, bought the licence on 15th November 1920. The freehold has remained in our family ever since. 

Prior to 1920 there had been eight owners. My parents lived here until 1951 then it was leased out. Now we have been here since 1990. My children are the fourth generation of our family to live here’.

And why, I ask, would anybody want to live anywhere else than on the rim of this ancient volcanic crater of Akaroa Harbour where the air is clean and clear as crystal?

The tavern lies just below Barry’s Pass, which was named after a shepherd who settled in the bay at the foot of the hill in 1847. In those days Banks Peninsula was largely covered in stands of native timber, but by the turn of the century it had been virtually clear-felled and milled, mainly to supply lumber for the buildings of Lyttleton and Christchurch. But what we’ve never seen we can’t miss and I love the peninsula the way it is; one of New Zealand’s magic places with its secret valleys, remote bays and the old stock routes that trace the contours of its scoria hills.

The coach road from Christchurch to Akaroa, completed in 1871, was opened the next year to Cobb & Co’s coach service which soon added Hilltop Hotel to the string of other coaching inns along the route. Then the railway came to Little River in 1886 and that boosted the hotel’s business further, bringing many travellers to the peninsula settlements. I’ve seen a historic photograph which marks the decline of the stage coach era. It was taken in 1910 and shows a coach with its horse outside the old Hilltop Hotel (a pretty building, I should have loved to have painted it). The first motorized transport service over Barry’s Pass started that year.

Tourism brings ever more visitors to the tavern. These days coach loads of camera clickers and videotapers, arrive daily, intent on recording the unchanging panorama that has kept Hilltop in the same family all these years.



11 November 2009

Valley Inn Tavern, Heathcote

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 it was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Much history lies in and around the Heathcote Valley and most of it is to do with the fact that the Christchurch settlement had, as its deep water harbour, the flooded crater of an extinct volcano - Lyttleton Harbour. When the first settlers arrived in 1850 they had to tramp up a precipitous bridle path to the saddle above Heathcote, from which they could gaze down into the estuary of the Heathcote and Avon rivers and across the tussocked Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps.

It didn’t take the newcomers long to realize that a railway tunnel through the hills would make life easier and, amazingly, within nine years of the pioneers’ arrival trial shafts were being sunk by the English contractor’s agents. The first sod of the tunnel’s construction was turned on 1 7 July 1861 in the Heathcote Valley and the first passenger train ran through on 9 December 1867. The second tunnel was built in 1964 for road traffic, and a recently constructed gondola cableway now makes light of the old bridle path. Thus what should have been a peaceful valley enjoying its micro-climate - so favourable for orcharding - became an increasingly important artery between port and city.

The Valley Inn, I was assured, originated as an accommodation house for the workers on the Lyttleton Rail Tunnel; but the house was built in 1870, three years after the tunnel opened. The truth of it is that the workers were building a 500 000 gallon reservoir 65 metres above sea level on Te Tihi o Kahukura, otherwise known as Castle Rock, overlooking Heathcote Valley. It was the town supply for Lyttleton and its water was piped through the railway tunnel.

In 1877 the Valley Inn, with its trapeziform rooms and not a right-angle anywhere, became a licensed hotel. Out the back, beyond the garden where they hang the bar towels to dry, you can still see the original stables; in the lounge bar is an old, brick lined, artesian well, sunk in the 1860s, from which they drew water for the animals working on the tunnel.


10 November 2009

West Oxford Hotel

 I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

The first licence in Oxford was granted to William Satchell in 1859. His ‘pub’ was a four-roomed accommodation house. It was taken over by Salathiel Redfern who promptly put up the two-storeyed Oxford Hotel. Next came David Fisher’s Forest Inn of 1863, which was later named the Terminus Hotel (historical clues are in both names for there was a large forest near Oxford and there were two railway lines with stations at East and West Oxford). Pub number three, the Harewood Arms, built by a sawmiller named Luers, went up in 1864. They’ve all gone.

In July 1878 William Paget raised the Commercial Hotel. The licence had been granted on the condition that the pub was up within a month - imagine that happening nowadays! Designed by architect Jacobson of Christchurch, it was declared ‘one of the finest country hotels in the province’, and is now the West Oxford Hotel, the survivor of Oxford’s first four pubs. Paget owned livery stables opposite his hotel and every Saturday he’d hitch up a brougham and collect thirty thirsty sawmillers from Coopers Creek in Oxford Forest and bring them to the pub. (In so doing he anticipated ‘Dial-a-Driver’ service by over a hundred years!).

‘The West’, its solid walls a tribute to the craftsmen who built it, still offers accommodation and good service - although the ornate bells in the passageways no longer ring to summon chambermaids.

Under some straggly old pines in the adjacent paddock is a classical old two-door lock-up, looking a bit the worse for wear. It was brought there from the Heathcote Valley in 1869. No notable criminals languished in its darkness but it’s said that Michael Leahy, constable, locked-up a miscreant one night for being drunk in charge of a horse and dray. Leahy, next day unlocked the gaol door to find an even drunker drunk: he had forgotten that the cells contained a considerable amount of confiscated liquor!


09 November 2009

Provincial Hotel, Christchurch

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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

The east side of Christchurch city lacks the leafy charm of the Hagley Park end where government and university buildings confidently - and with a distinct air of superiority - reflect a stately English heritage. The pity of it is that the Provincial Hotel rubs shoulders with dreary, small manufacturing units and industrial warehouses rather than being at the ‘hotter end’ of town for, architecturally, it is one of the more unusual pubs in New Zealand and would look well among willows on the grassy banks of the Avon.

It has been described as ‘Dutch-style’ but just what mode it really expresses is a bit of a mystery. Records show that its architects were Clarkson and Ballantyne - two good Canterbury names - but I suspect that the job was given to a promising young designer who, to show off his potential, mixed vaguely Elizabethan and Jacobean styles and threw in some baroque cartouches and Georgian windows to produce what I can only describe as an enormous piece of architectural fun.

The first licence on this site was granted to Robert Warner in 1865 but the present pub probably dates from 1904 as tenders were called for the ‘re-building of the Provincial Hotel’ in 1902 after it was condemned by the licensing committee.


08 November 2009

Hurunui Hotel

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995. It’s a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

John Hastie, a man known widely for his kindness, opened the ‘Hurunui Accommodation House, South Bank’ with a licence issued in Christchurch by J.W Hamilton, Resident Magistrate, on 1 June 1860.

There were conditions: ‘All premises to be kept in good repair… Not less than eight beds for travellers in not less than four rooms… Accommodation for at least six horses… A lamp to be kept burning from sunset to sunrise but not to be visible from the north bank of the Hurunui River… The licence to be cancelled if any drunkenness be proved or if spirits be supplied to any aboriginal native’. Hastie was also required to be sworn in and perform as a constable if required.

The limestone building, still standing well into its second century, was constructed of stone quarried from the gentle hills of nearby Weka Pass. Therein, perhaps, lies the secret of its survival for when most other pubs of its vintage, ticking like tinder-dry time bombs, have gone up in flames these thick, white walls remain. That is not to say that the Hurunui Hotel hasn’t faced its perils. There was a mighty flood in 1868 when the river burst its banks and flowed ‘a mile wide’. Although the hotel suffered no damage it was moved, block by block, to its present site in 1869. By then poor Hastie had died of epilepsy.

The hotel was a meeting place for North Canterbury farmers who would ride in for their mail and to catch up with gossip, maybe pausing for a pint while they watched drovers from the north dipping their sheep to keep Canterbury clear of ‘the dreaded scab’. Through the years the pub experienced varying fortunes and there came a period, as with so many architectural gems, when the worth of its heritage was misunderstood and it fell into disrepair. It had reached its nadir in 1980, patronless, beerless and on the point of closure when, at the eleventh hour, a group of locals, after surprisingly little discussion, pledged over $100 000 and set up a trust to save it.

And so it continues its tradition of welcoming travellers on the Lewis Pass and Hanmer road to its shade and hospitality; and is it too much to fancy that in some cool corner of its restful bar the spirit of John Hastie smiles and nods approvingly?


07 November 2009

Lake Mahinapua Hotel

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were 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.

Not so long ago it stood on a quiet back road. Now the main highway runs right past the front door, which suits New Zealand tourists with long memories who want to see for themselves this pub made famous by a television advertising campaign. Advertising themes are notoriously short-lived but the clever use of nostalgia, personified by a grumpy old man and given location by the almost ramshackle pub made those Mainland Cheese TV commercials rather more memorable than most.

When I painted the pub and its wild west sky the advertising campaign had developed to a point where the Mainland people, in return for cheesy wrappers sent in by consumers, were giving cash to a good cause - the establishment of a protected area where penguins could make love in peace. But things arc seldom what they seem; that grumpy old man didn’t live within cooee of Lake Mahinapua, he was an actor from Wellington; and the habitat of the Hoiho, or Yellow Eyed Penguin, is over the alps and far away, somewhere between Oamaru and the Campbell Islands!

A Mahinapua Hotel was built in 1905, close to the lake, eleven kilometres south of Hokitika. It was described as a ’solidly built house’, containing twelve accommodation rooms, and offering a ‘moderate tariff’. The proprietor, James Henderson, a Scotsman from Edinburgh, had spent time in Otago and, later, on the West Coast as a miner and dredge worker.

It would be interesting to know whether he was familiar with or had worked on the Phillips Dryland Dredge. Unlike most gold dredges, which were waterborne, this one was operated from a railway line. The first gold dredge in Westland County was a Phillips and it first operated on the sandy foreshore of Lake Mahinapua between 1897 and 1902.

In gold mining days, on the shallow lake which is only one metre above sea-level, steamers and barges plied its seven kilometre length conveying the constant flow of gold-seekers rushing from from one strike to another, as rumours of riches flew up and down the coast. It’s now a favourite spot of yachties and picnickers, much prized for its clear, colourful reflections from the surrounding bush.



06 November 2009

The Amberley Lime Company Ltd.

I did this oil painting sometime in the 1960s. The building lay over a siding of the main trunk railway line somewhere between Amberley and Waipara in North Canterbury, New Zealand. Open railway trucks would be run under the two storey part of the building from where the crushed lime would be loaded.

A warm nor’wester was blowing at the time of the painting; it formed the typical heavy lenticular cloud which would build up for the length of Canterbury province; the cloud’s base can be seen in the background where blue sky marks the chain of Southern Alps mountains that lie roughly north-south. The yellow cushions are formed of moss whose colour is enriched, presumably, by lime dust. I did not exaggerate the colour!

The building no longer exists. I have tried to find its site from time to time but there is no evidence left. I have searched the Internet to try to elicit something of the building’s history and that of the Amberley Lime Company; no luck. I’d welcome information if anybody has any.



05 November 2009

Castle Rising

Seven kilometres beyond Kings Lynn*, close by the shallow waters of The Wash on Norfolk’s north western shore, lie the impressive 12th century ruins of Castle Rising on an estate of ill-defined Roman and Saxon origins covering about five hectares.
The castle was built by William d’Albini, Earl of Sussex, who married Adeliza, widow of Henry I (he who had died of eating a surfeit of lampreys).

(D’Albini, interestingly, was the son of William the Conqueror’s butler. In those days that title was not indicative of humble status. The butler was a senior officer of the royal court, often titled. Among other things he had responsibility for controlling wine supplies for the household. William had firstly given the manor of Rising to his brother-in-law, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, but Odo rebelled against him and had his fief confiscated. )

Castle Rising stands in an elevated, level, grassed depression formed by earth ramparts 20 metres high whose outer slopes plunge a further 18 metres to the bed of the encircling moat. The circumference of the main rampart is over 900 metres and even today, with the moat dry and the slopes eroded, its storming would be a daunting prospect.

Entry to the castle is by way of a stone bridge across the deep moat. At the inner end of the bridge are the ruins of the gatehouse whose crumbling arch artistically frames the finely proportioned main tower of the keep with its steeply pitched roof.

The keep, its great hall and chambers, date from 1150. Although that was eighty-four years after the Battle of Hastings, and despite the efforts of Henry I to ‘Anglo-Normanize’ the nation, it still symbolized the arrogant establishment of feudalism imposed upon the Anglo-Saxons by their Norman rulers. But the invaders came to stay and now, after over 800 years of integration, who knows who is Anglo-Saxon or Norman, and who, apart from introspective scholars, recalls the brutal, post-Conquest excursions of William of Normandy and his ill-starred son, Rufus?

On a pleasant summer’s day I found Castle Rising a pretty sight from the springy turf of the footpath on its ramparts and when I came to enter the keep it was open to exploration without petty restriction.

I thought I had the castle to myself and freely examined the eroded, fern laced stones of its lower chambers, trying to imagine life there in the twelfth century. By the time I had reached the top of the staircase with its vaulted vestibule, then inspected the elegant chapel, turrets and gallery above, and had spent time contemplating the vast sweep of surrounding countryside, a large party of senior citizens had started to arrive on the upper floor by way of the only access, a stone spiral staircase just wide enough for one chain-mailed guard with pike. I was trapped for quite some time until the last of the party, a game invader with a walking stick, had puffed her way through the time-worn doorway. One man could have defended that floor against hundreds - senior citizens, boy scouts or mediaeval dissidents - for they could only arrive one at a time. In fact, defence was not put to the test for the castle was never threatened.

All in all, Castle Rising is a well used fortress in surprisingly good repair. It has a ‘hall keep’ as distinct from a ‘tower keep’, being wider than it is high, and although roofless, the walls have suffered very little erosion and still reach their original height. The main, arched stairway is wide and stately and the hall and chambers, for all their remnant bleakness, are redolent of the grandeur and comfort that made the castle appropriate accommodation for the likes of Queen Isabella, conspiratorial widow of murdered Edward II, who made it her principal home from 1331 to 1356 and was often visited there by her son, Edward III and grandson, The Black Prince, who subsequently became its owner.

Once one of the most important strategic fortresses of East Anglia, Castle Rising now belongs to the Howard family it having been given to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk in 1544 by Henry VIII; a logical transfer of title for Howard was a descendant, through the female line of his family, to William d’Albini, the castle’s first Norman landlord. It is today administered by English Heritage.

*Kings Lynn is 150 km north of London via the M1 motorway to Cambridge, then the A10 highway which passes through historic Ely.



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By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.