Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

09 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 18. Cotons Cottage, Hororata

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 makes a nice little watercolour but it’s important that I tell you that what you see is a very substantial restoration - virtually a complete re-building - of the original.

Having said that, it is an excellent restoration, is very faithful to its predecessor and incorporates quite enough of its ancestral genes to be ‘authentic’.

Bentley Coton (who, they say, despite his imposing name, was an illiterate Yorkshiremen) bought fifty acres (20 ha) of land at Hororata in 1864 and built the cottage in which he lived with his wife, Sarah Jane, until he died in 1913. His illiteracy was no impediment to his craftsmanship for he showed great expertise in the technique of rammed cob walling. The clay came from his own land and was mixed, as usual, with chopped tussock then compacted into boxing to make the walls.

In his blind dotage, holding out his hands, he was reputed to have said on more than one occasion: ‘They be my tools!’ With them he not only built the walls of his five-roomed cottage, he also thatched the roof with wheat straw then, later, with shingles and finally with iron.

Cotons’ cottage was used for local Church of England services until a small kauri church was built in Hororata in 1875. Thereafter the locals dubbed the cottage ‘the old cathedral’. There’s a nice photograph etched into a metal plate outside the cottage which shows Bentley and Sarah in 1910 sitting either side of the front door like bookends in a setting astonishingly like today’s, even with a backdrop of poplars.

Eroded cob can look like licked ice cream and the cottage was getting that way when it was restored by the Hororata Historical Society in 1977. Although it had a new, Canadian cedar shingled roof and concrete foundations, and although they imported some clay from Glenroy for the floor, they endeavoured to keep as much of the old place as possible and so re-cycled the cob from the 45cm thick walls and incorporated the original window frames, architraves, mantelpiece and fireplace.

So there it stands in an open paddock close by the Society’s museum which, with the cottage, makes a worthy tribute to Bentley Coton, the first smallholder in Horotata.




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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.