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’.



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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.