Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

31 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 35. Langlois-Etevenaux House, Akaroa

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.


30 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 34. Colonial House, Pipiriki

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.

Why is it that when I visit Pipiriki I feel like a trespasser? Is it because it sits on a restless river, long fought over - still fought over - in a valley whose hills and beaches have witnessed tragedies suffered by proud, sad people? Or is it because Pipiriki is a village where so many hopes have walked hand in hand with despairs like bad companions? For example there is, today, in Pipiriki, the shattered ruin of a modern tourist lodge, abandoned uncompleted. It was successor to Pipiriki House, burnt down in 1959, which itself replaced another built in 1903, itself successor to ‘primitive accommodation’ established before 1891 when tourism on Whanganui paddle steamers was becoming increasingly popular and fashionable.

For well over a century The Colonial House has mutely witnessed the ebb and flow of Pipiriki. It was built sometime after 1860 and its first known occupant was Pipiriki’s first chairman of the school committee, Reone te Maungaroa, in 1896. It stayed in his family until 1937 when it was taken over by Captain Andy Anderson a legendary river steamboat skipper who followed in his father Andrew’s footsteps (or rather, wake) as pilot of the Ongarue, a light draught steamer that carried sixty-five passengers and connected with the main railway line at Taumarunui. Captain Andy’s death, as well as his life, was patterned upon his father’s, as they both drowned, at different times, in the river on which they had made their lives’ work. Andy died in August 1958 but the house remained in his family for some years after.

Looking the worse for old age it was extensively restored from 1976; but although it was repiled, the floor levelled, it gained a new roof and lost an ugly concrete chimney, it is a faithful representation. Inside, walls were re-painted, scrim replaced, and plastic lighting fittings were superseded by old brass ones. And the garden was planted with ‘old fashioned’ herbs and flowers rosemary, lavender, violets and roses. Now administered by the Department of Conservation, it’s a local museum.

From the elegant dormers with their serpentine barge boards, Captain Anderson must often have stared south towards Wanganui along the historic river; reflecting, perhaps, upon its turbulent past: private, cryptic, secret …

29 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 33. Alberton, 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.
I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

When I saw Alberton for the first time - over thirty-five years ago - I thought it weird. The oddly curved ‘ogee’ towers seemed a clumsy attempt to do something almost impossible with corrugated iron and the balustraded façade, a mixture of Italianate and Indian arches, had a saccharine pomposity. But maybe its phoney grandeur was concealing something genuine? I was pleased to discover that behind the grand exterior there lies a simple farmhouse the evidence of which, in my illustration, is the central gable.
Allan Kerr Taylor, born in India in 1832 and educated in Edinburgh, was one of six brothers who came to New Zealand between 1843 and 1851. He bought land at Mt Albert when he was sixteen and farmed it while probably living in a cottage of local scoria. He began ‘Alberton’ in 1863 to house his new wife Martha Meredith whom he’d married in 1862 while on a visit to England (she died the following year.) Widowed and childless, Kerr Taylor married again in 1865 to seventeen year old Sophia Davis of Kaitaia. She bore ten children and outlived Allan Kerr Taylor by forty years, dying in 1930 as ‘mistress of Alberton’.
In his heyday Kerr Taylor prospered mainly from forestry and mining investments. He employed Matthew Henderson, a leading Auckland architect to give visual expression to his wealth through building on to the modest farmhouse a ballroom, guest rooms, a conservatory, and all that addendum of architectural embroidery by which Alberton is so well recognized. Thereafter, until his sudden death in 1890, life at Alberton was an open season of ‘at homes’, archery parties, balls and meets of the Pakuranga Hunt. It was not all parties, though; Kerr Taylor served on the Provincial Council and was chairman of the Mt Albert Highway Board.
When he died, Sophia found that prosperity had faded and in the remaining years she had to sell portions of the estate in order to keep Alberton going. She clearly managed well, though, and she and her daughters continued to live in the big house while she threw additional energies into feminist, ratepayers’ and welfare matters. The three daughters remained in the house after Sophia’s death and the last of them, Muriel, bequeathed Alberton to the Historic Places Trust in 1972. Of its original 550 acres the estate has contracted to the one last acre and its house, completely surrounded by Auckland’s expanding suburbs.
Alberton is now an exhibition of dynastic life from colonial days to the early twentieth century. Of all it has to show I find the pencilled message written on the white painted wall above a housemaid’s bed most intriguing: ‘Susan does not like it here so she is going to leave cause Mrs Taylor calls her Cookie.’

Who was Susan? Was Sophia Kerr Taylor a cruel mistress? Why did she call Susan ‘Cookie’?


28 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 32. Captain Simeon’s House, Lyttelton

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.

Through the early-to-middle decades of the twentieth century New Zealand paid far less respect to its minor historic buildings than it does today. In ‘progressive’ towns early cottages were often bulldozed without a thought, their now prized kiln fired bricks and kauri boards cast aside or burned, to be replaced by fresh, new houses with modern gadgets but little character. Fortunately Lyttelton, as soon as the city of Christchurch had relegated its status to that of a convenient port, could never claim ‘progressive’ as an architectural adjective and as a consequence can count itself lucky to have arrived with much of its old townscape intact at an age when we value our heritage.

In fact, in Lyttelton, charming old houses and cottages are two-a-penny. And that makes Captain Simeon’s house remarkable because it stands out from the rest as something completely different. I think it all comes down to proportion; that triplet of gables, almost too big, each with its bold sash window observing minutely the business of the port, while the downstairs rooms hide modestly beneath a shady canopy.

Built sometime between 1853 and 1860 by Henry Le Cren, a successful Lyttelton merchant, it is a surprisingly large house and has much greater depth than its front view suggests. Four sets of French doors open on to the garden, two from the large sitting room with its timber/marble fireplace surround, and others from the dining room and the study at the western end. Upstairs are four bedrooms: there used to be five until one was converted into a bathroom. (Which leads me to suspect that the morning ablutions were once performed from a rose-patterned hot water jug and bowl; that the beds stood over similarly ornamented chamber pots, and that a serious call of nature would have required a journey to the end of the back garden.)

Mystery surrounds Captain Charles Simeon; he’s hard to pin down. He came from a wealthy English family and had three brothers all of whom had much to do with New Zealand and the Canterbury settlement. John Simeon, a member of the English parliament, later to inherit a baronetcy, was a great friend of John Robert Godley, ‘The Founder of Canterbury’, and also a member of the original committee of the Canterbury Association. Cornwall Simeon owned property in Christchurch: but Charles was the only one actually to come to New Zealand. He arrived at Lyttelton in October 1851 complete with a pregnant wife, five children, a governess, cook, housemaid, footman, lady’s maid and housekeeper - a retinue described by Charlotte Godley, who accommodated them upon their arrival, as ‘alarming’!

The house that bears the Captain’s name a rewarding subject to paint, the rhythms of its shape in harmony with the colourful garden and the volcanic knob of Mt. Pleasant crouching above. Since 1990 it has been owned by Barry and Wendy Fairburn.

27 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 31. Sod Cottage, Lovells Flat, Balclutha

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.

Why would I want to draw an obviously new dunny which may or may not be a replica? Because the work of anybody who has the sense of romance to carve a heart-shaped hole in a lavatory door deserves recognition! It can only be for decoration; as a peephole it would be unthinkable. Sadly, as is also the case with most country churches these days, the dunny was padlocked: that being the case it’s hard to fathom why they’re there.

The house isn’t quite what it seems, either, having been substantially re-constructed; but it is on its original site and despite its newish roof and gable-end clapboards it’s a pleasing, rustic thing for motorists to discover on the road between Milton and Balclutha. It was a sunny day when we lunched alfresco at the picnic table provided on the daisy-lawned garden shaded by a young English oak.
Nobody knows when the sod cottage was built but it’s known that Hugh Murray constructed it for John McIntosh to use as a store. It’s also known that McIntosh was appointed postmaster of the first Lovells Flat post office on 1 February 1865. A number of owners and dwellers came and went - farming folk, a widow and her young children, a Gaelic-speaking doctor from Scotland, a pair of newly weds - but as time went by its use declined until it served only as casual accommodation for itinerant farm workers, and drovers who over-nighted there while their cattle grazed nearby. It is thought that the last occupants were some people caught in a snowstorm in 1939 while returning to Milton from a visit to Dunedin.

In 1967 restoration began to the cottage whose only occupants in thirty years had been rats, mice and nesting birds. Chimneys were re-built, the wooden floor replaced by concrete, and windows were donated by a local farmer who was demolishing a house. New fences were erected, including a gate from the Clydesdale Estate, the lawn was formed and the beds planted with flowers typical of pioneer gardens. The two rooms were furnished with period pieces and knick-knacks from around the district and finally a clay-toned wash was applied to the thick sod walls.

The front door is original.


24 December 2009

Lowercase and Uppercase

Dear P.,

You asked me ‘Why are little letters called “lower case”?’

It’s one of those terms that are used these days without people questioning their origins (like ‘mileage’: young people brought up with kilometres don’t know about miles but still often talk of distance as mileage).

Back in the days before computerized photographic fonts or typefaces, words were assembled from pieces of metal, each with a letter (or ‘character’) raised on its surface back to front.

They were assembled in what was called a composing stick by a tradesman called a ‘compositor’. The capitals were kept in compartmented boxes arranged above the little letters, that’s why little letters are called lower case and capital letters are upper case. Some compartments are bigger than others because some letters are used more commonly than others. For example ‘e’ is the most common English character so a lot more space is allocated to ‘e’ than, say, ‘z’.
This is what the printer’s typecases looked like:

The compositor would pick the letters from their cases and make them into words. Thus if he wanted to make the word ‘print’ he would take each letter - which was back to front - and assemble, in the stick, ‘tnirp' which, when ink was rolled on to it, would come put as ‘print’ when pressed on to paper.
This is what a composing stick looked like:

The clip on the right was springloaded so that, as the letters were loaded, it could be pushed up against them to hold them in place.
There’s a lot more I could write about typesetting but we’ll leave it here for now. If you want to know any more tell me.
*Illustrations from: ‘Printing Types. Their History Forms and Use’. D.B.Updike. Second Edition. OUP 1937. Composing stick from front cover of ‘A Handbook of Printing Types’ W.S.Cowell Ltd, Ipswich 1948.

23 December 2009

The Detestable Practice of Writing the Intensely Boring Circular Christmas Letter.

More and more it appears to have become fashionable to create a catch-all letter to accompany the obligatory annual Christmas card. Where, in past times, a short, hand-penned message might impart family news to absent friends and relations, we now receive (with some outstanding but rare exceptions) litanies of banal irrelevance such as this:-
'Dear All,

'Well another year has passed and we’re all that much older but as Jack says “As long as we’ve got our health what else matters?’

'The highlight of the year was our camping trip up north where we stayed in a rented caravan in a bay by the sea. Unfortunately Bobby cut his foot on a broken beer bottle - not badly but enough to have him limping for a couple of weeks. I can’t understand how these faraway "paradises" manage to have plastic bags, condoms, drink cans and dog poos littering the place. The caravan leaked like a holey bucket but can’t complain, the first four days were really hot and sunny.

'Jack got all ready to have his hip done in May but the op was postponed until July. Then he was told he couldn’t be done until September at which point they sent a letter to say that he’s been dropped off the waiting list and would have to go back to Dr. Khan, our GP. Jack’s fed up underneath but he puts on a brave face and only gets really grumpy when he can’t find his aluminium crutch - the kids keep hiding it.

'Other events on the wider family front: Maureen had her veins done (we went private after I won $500 on Lotto); gran had a run in with the audiologist because her hearing aid wasn’t working properly then they had the nerve to tell her that she was wearing it not only upside down but in the wrong ear! Oh, I forgot, Jack broke his wrist when his crutch went into the slots in a roadside drain at the local shopping centre. Brett (only three, bless him) put Nikki’s cellphone in the dishwasher, we tried to fix it with the hair drier but to no avail. Jack said it was a good thing as she stood a chance of getting RSI of the thumb from texting.

'They still haven’t fixed that nasty bend up the road so we’ve had four more crashes through our front fence. None of the drivers was insured so, to get repairs done, it’s cost us $500 excess on our insurance policy each time. Needless to say, none of the crashers has stumped up.

'We bought a new LCD telly and subscribed for Sky. Jack - whom we basically bought it for because he can’t get around very much - was quite chuffed with it at first but now spends a lot of his time trying to get through to Sky on their help-line to complain about the number of times they repeat everything; he says they’ll be repeating the news next. 

Mind you, TVNZ’s not much better, they seem to spend all their time showing programmes about dogs, sick people’s fights against the odds, and people going round the neighbourhood decorating other people’s houses or digging up their gardens. What I would give to all singing round the piano like they used to do in Victorian times. Or give me a good book - I read the latest Grisham in July.

'We buried somebody else’s tabby in the garden in August. Its body was all squashed on the road and it looked like our Tigger. Just after we’d buried it Tigger came through the cat door large as life so where the other one came from God knows.

'Marcia went trekking in Nepal and came back with an unidentifiable disease. Peter is still in Mt. Eden and vows to clear his name (I know for certain that he didn’t do that warehouse). Tui went on a course on medical terminology so that she could get a job as a doctor’s receptionist/typist but chucked it halfway through because some of the words made her feel sick and, in any case, as she said, who would ever truly need to be able to spell ‘spondylolisthesis’? Pauline fell in love with the boy who picks up the rubbish sacks because she says he looks like Daniel Carter, I said why couldn’t she fall for the real thing as his prospects are better. She stopped talking to me for a few days until she got herself gobsmacked by the lad who collects the empty trolleys at Pak ‘n Save - he’s got more spots than the milky way and wears his hat back to front.

'Jack and I will be on our own for Christmas Day this year as, one way or another, the kids are all doing their own things. I don’t mind really but it will be a bit quiet. Jack does love his family Christmas dinner though so I’m going to see if I can get a very small turkey - enough for just us and cold cuts on Boxing Day (the kids will all be busy again then) - and one of those shop-bought puddings. I’ve kept some five cent pieces to hide inside, I’ll wrap them in grease-proof this year as last year Jack broke his dentures on an old threepenny bit we’d found and they cost a lot to replace.

'I hope they still have the Queen’s speech on Chrissy Day - Jack says Sky will probably repeat last year’s - he’s a dag sometimes with what he comes out with.

'Anyway I hope you have a Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year. Any of you is welcome if you’re up this way - especially on Christmas Day.



PS We managed to buy all our Christmas grog this year on Fly Buys - good eh?'


22 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 30. No.259 Williams Street, Kaiapoi

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.

State Highway No. 1 used to run through Kaiapoi but the Christchurch motorway now by-passes it. That’s not to say that the town has lost any mana - in fact it has become more interesting - but it’s a long way short of the expectations of prime-minister-to-be Henry Sewell, who observed, in 1853, that Christchurch had reached its peak, and that the newcomers were all off to Kaiapoi!

Besides its development as a port and woollen mill town, Kaiapoi’s claim to fame was the 1831 attack on the Kaiapohia Pa, nine kilometres north of the present town, by Te Rauparaha, an assault so violent that twenty years later ‘drayloads’ of human remnants of the cannibal feast had to be carted away by Canon Stack.
Modern Kaiapoi was born only ten years after the massacre and, by 1871, William Dickie, a labourer, had bought the land upon which the cottage at 259 Williams Street now stands. Despite such appalling recent events, a holding like this was considered a ‘worker’s paradise’ to immigrants from a land of inflexible privilege; three-quarters of an acre and house were deemed sufficient for a man to keep hens, a goat or sheep, and to grow fruit and vegetables for his family.

Dickie probably built the cottage but there is a slight possibility that it was already in place, erected by the former landowners ‘R.H.Rhodes and another’ as early as 1867. The central front door opens into the sitting room next to a bedroom complete with four-poster. Beyond are kitchen and scullery and, between, a narrow stairway leads to two attic rooms whose ceilings parallel the roof. From research and investigation done by its present owner, Ted McCulloch, it most likely began as a small one-roomed shed with a fireplace at one end but was soon enlarged to look very similar to its present appearance. (’Unspoilt’ is one of the descriptions most often heard.)

The cottage has had a number of owners since William Dickie. In 1925 a young couple, the Thompsons, paid £165 for it. Despite raising six children they made surprisingly few alterations beyond installing electricity and a bathroom and so, when Ted McCulloch (whose Austin 7 Ruby saloon graces the driveway)

bought the house in 1989, he found himself with a charming heritage building which he has sensitively maintained since (although he was once growled at by Mrs Thompson’s daughter for not having polished the brass light switches!) While restoring the sitting room he removed and preserved samples of twelve separate layers of wall-covering, the earliest of which were sheets from the London ‘Times’ of 1866.

21 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 29. Miners’ Hut Replica, Ross, Westland.

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 came across this replica of a gold miner’s hut in the dank forest hills above Ross on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island. I’ve included it in my collection because I doubt if it’s possible to find a genuine one - one that dates to the gold fossicking and mining days of the nineteenth century - and because it is very well done, simple, sound, an honest endeavour and a nice evocation of times past.

It stands beside the Ross Water Race Walkway, a short, circular track that passes by Jones’s Creek where gold was first found in Ross in 1865. It’s a pleasant and peaceful walk on a fine day and you can stop and pan for gold in the stream if you have a mind to. It’s quite likely that you’ll get the ‘colours’ too, for Ross was a very rich source of yellow metal, and mining still goes on at the back of the town.

The hut was built to ‘fill a hole’ 1980. It seems that some wayward children had attacked a grove of pongas with axes, leaving an unsightly clearing in the bush, so a group of Department of Conservation men from Ross and Hokitika took the opportunity to show off their skills and dedication. They made it of local timbers: heart rimu walls and floors on silver pine piles, and topped it with the inevitable corrugated iron roof. It’s a working replica, the fireplace and chimney are functional and have occasionally given comfort to the transient backpacker.

It was modeled upon a photograph taken around the turn of the century which appears in ‘Goldtown’, a book written in 1969 by Philip Ross May in honour of the town where he was born and is now buried, and from which came his middle name. The picture shows ‘Old Geordie’, a ‘hatter’ sitting outside his vertically-slabbed timber hut. He’s on his best behaviour, wearing a suit jacket and stained-looking felt hat and his full, streaky beard has been combed. Smoke pours from the semi-detached, slab-and-iron chimney on a sunny day when the front door stands open and, despite obvious and serious patches of rust, there’s something of a reflection off the undulant tin roof.

‘Old Geordie’ personified a breed once common around the goldfields. They were called ‘hatters’ but nobody knows why: perhaps, being solitary, they kept things under their hats, or maybe, as one observer has proposed, they washed in them! Archdeacon Harper suggested that they worked hard and were happy in their solitude - living simply with a few books and a dog for company - and that it was those in the world outside, unable to comprehend lonely contentment, who thought them ‘mad as hatters’.

My fanciful ‘Old Geordie’, in sweaty pink flannel, pans the gravels of Jones’s Creek…


20 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 28. Stone House, Hakataramea Downs

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.

The Hakataramea River runs through a wide valley at the head of which is the little used pass from whose narrow, shingle road looms the haze of Mackenzie Country: farther north lies Burkes Pass.

Hakataramea (’Haka’) Station once extended from Hakataramea to Burkes Pass and it was said that the property had ‘a pub at the front door and a pub at the back door’. Those two pubs are eighty-five kilometres apart by road. At the mid-point is Hakataramea Downs, which was incorporated into ‘Haka’ Station when at its largest between 1900 and 1925. The earliest buildings there date to the 1860s and J. W. Dalzell’s ownership.

The house in my illustration is one of them. It began with the portion on the left, a three-roomed cottage whose off-square rooms and crude window apertures contrast with the more sophisticated construction of the 1878 extension. The walls are almost a metre thick at their bases, consisting of large river stones bedded into a stone chip and cob ‘mortar’; inside walls were rendered with cob then distempered.

In 1877 Dalzell sold to a quartet of Dunedin businessmen who added this block to others to form ‘Haka Downs’. Then the rather dishonest extension to an honest cottage was added: not only was one of the chimneys false (see how it sits directly over the nearer window) but a return wall had a fake window painted on to it! The whole building was then coated with a black pitch and pointed to look as if it was made of expensive bluestone.

Things are seldom what they seem. It wasn’t until some time after I’d done my drawings that I sought some history of the owner, Dr. Mervyn Smith of Dunedin. In a letter he wrote: ‘The iron gate in your painting was constructed by the station blacksmith in the 1890s… It was lost for some years… buried under the ground. In 1986 we re-discovered it not all that much worse for wear…’

19 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 27. Mitchell’s Cottage, Fruitlands, Central Otago

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.

Central Otago is one big builder’s yard, a colossal litter of a remarkable construction material from which every conceivable type of building has been erected since European immigrants moved across the face of the land.

It’s that fine-grained, metamorphic rock called schist, in whose lasagne-layers wink and sparkle promises of Central Otago’s mineral wealth. It’s a stone that will split but not break across its grain, wonderfully suitable, in a variety of lengths and thicknesses, for horizontally-raised cottage walls, door and window lintels, quoins, chimney breasts and stacks, and even the odd roof, it makes walls and fence posts, bridges and cattle troughs, and even in its unquarried state it provided overhangs and cave-like niches for itinerant gold seekers stranded in winter’s fury. Artistically it’s a gemstone, providing texture and form to tempt the pen, and offering to the palette the rich ochres, browns and greys of the lichened landscape from which it springs
Completed in 1904, Mitchells’ Cottage at Fruitlands, above the winding highway from Alexandra to Roxburgh, is an outstanding example of the drystone mason’s craft. It was built with painstaking skill, each stone carefully considered and cut so precisely that no mortar was used or needed. It was made by men who knew of no other way to work - no short cuts, no shoddiness - simply the best.

From the Shetland Islands by way of the Australian goldfields Andrew Mitchell arrived in New Zealand in 1866, followed by his brother John in 1872. They worked around the Otago goldfields until, in the 1880s, Andrew discovered a quartz reef on the hills of the Old Man Range above the Clutha Valley. Unlike most gold mining ventures it prospered over a long period and John and Andrew, using skills they’d learned from their father, started to build the cottage below the mine. What is now the foundation was quarried for the building’s schist and as they worked meticulously they yet found time to carve, in situ, a solid sundial platform from rock in the garden.

John and his wife Jessie brought up ten children in Mitchells’ Cottage (while Andrew lived nearby, alternating between a small stone cottage close to the mine shaft and a smaller iron hut next to John and Jessies’) and although the mine was sold in 1890 and John died in 1922, the cottage stayed in Jessie’s ownership until 1929. It is now in the care of the Department of Conservation.

Schist stone fenceposts are a common sight in Central Otago; this one is in the garden of Mitchells’ Cottage.


18 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 26. Stuart Street Terrace, Dunedin

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.

Town houses may be a modern idea but this elegant row, specifically designed as seven residential units by James Salmond for retailer Daniel Haynes, dates from 1901. As well as residents, it has housed booksellers, lawyers, doctors, cafés and music shops and includes the Dunedin office of the Historic Places Trust.

It owes its survival to John Martin and Colin Doherty who rescued it from decay in 1980 - for which they deserved a medal.


17 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 25. Woodside Manor, West Taieri

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


‘Tis distance lends enchantment…’ My first illustration of ‘The Poplars’ was for New Zealand Odyssey published in 1989. On that occasion I could get no closer than the locked gates, from which distance it had a romantic, Caledonian promise, as if it had been transported, fully built, from some remote Scottish glen. It came to mind again when I was planning New Zealand House and Cottage.

I daresay that Ray and Eve Beardsmore’s first impression was the same as mine. But they would have been under no delusions about the restoration task ahead of them when they bought the house at auction in 1974. It had been empty since 1958, vandals had broken windows, birds nested in the rafters and cattle roamed through the ground floor. The first thing the Beardsmores did was to restore its original name, ‘Woodside Manor’, then they set out to put it all back together again - a long term project upon which they are still working.

It was built by a Scot, Francis McDiarmid, in 1866. He had bought the land unseen and had come to Maungatua on the Taieri Plain in 1848 to win his farmland from forest and swamp. He and his wife Janet prospered during the Otago gold rushes and improved their accommodation from a wattle and daub cottage to this brick, limestone and slate mini-mansion. The bricks were fired from local clay, the stone came from Oamaru and the rafters and joists were of pit sawn native rimu, but from Wales came the roof slates, and the nobler timbers were of Baltic pine; a happy combination that has fought well against time’s depredations.
Woodside Manor is a treasure house: the Beardsmores have a jackdaw hunger for collectables everything from cups and saucers to Rolls Royces and Model T Fords. They intend to leave it to the people of Dunedin - not too soon, I hope.
There’s an unsolved mystery here: in the central gable there is a stone tablet which records Francis McDiarmid’s completion of the house in 1866. Above his initials are the letters: ‘PR. OF. WS.’ I’ve found nobody who knows their meaning.

(Later note: PR. OF. WS. could mean Prince of Wales - but in what context?)



16 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 24. Mona Vale Lodge, Christchurch

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.


In its riverside, park~like setting this little two storeyed house has that character which, with others around the city and suburbs, gives Christchurch its ‘English’ look. Typically Victorian, with over-decoration that should make it an architectural mess, it is in fact enchanting.

I took delight in painting it because it came as quite a departure from sod cottages and wooden villas. As I worked I thought I could feel how the mysteries, hinted at beneath its Marseilles tiles and beyond its diamond-paned gothic windows, would appeal to a child with a romantic imagination. It’s a story book cottage.

The lodge is associated with the older Tudor-revival house, Mona Vale, the entrance to whose grounds it ‘guards’. On land that once belonged to the Deans family, Frederick Waymouth built the big house in 1900 and called it ‘Karewa’. In 1905 it was bought for £6000 by Annie Townend, one of the country’s wealthiest women, and she changed its name to Mona Vale after her mother’s house in Tasmania. Aged eighteen, Annie had arrived in New Zealand many years earlier with her father, George Moore. He owned the grand Glenmark house in North Canterbury which, tragically, burned down in 1891. It’s said that, for sentimental reasons, Annie later developed Mona Vale and its gardens on the banks of the Avon in the style of Glenmark, and it was probably also nostalgia that caused Annie to have the entrance lodge patterned upon the one she had known at Glenmark rather than have it complement Mona Vale house, whose architecture is quite different.

Annie Townend didn’t have long to enjoy Mona Vale; she died in 1914. Thereafter the property passed through many hands until it was bought in 1962 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints whose house of worship stands nearby. In the late ’60s the church decided to subdivide the property and demolish the house, but the people of Christchurch didn’t like that idea and Mona Vale and its picturesque entrance lodge were bought by Christchurch City Council. Since then the big house and its gardens have been used as a reception centre and the lodge as a residence.


15 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 23. Fyffe House, Kaikoura

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


Since before recorded history there were whales off Kaikoura. They mewed unmolested because Maori, who flocked to this coast for its fish and crayfish, had developed no technology that might harm them. But the whalers came in the early eighteen hundreds with their harpoons and flensing knives; the seas and beaches hereabouts must often have been a loathsome sight

Kaikoura’s first whaling station, the Wai O Puka Fishery, was established in 1842 by Robert Fyffe and John Murray in ‘Fyffe’s Cove’ (now called Armers Beach). Twelve years later Fyffe was joined by his cousin, George, who unexpectedly found himself in charge of farming and whaling operations when Robert drowned just a few weeks later.

The Fyffes’ house was built in three distinct stages. The first, a simple cottage, possibly built in the mid 1840s, was earlier known as Cooper’s House. Its construction materials were standard for the times: cob, lath and plaster, pit sawn native timbers and eucalypts. But it also had whale vertebrae for foundations!

By 1857, George had added a kitchen with a store room above; then, with his wife, Catherine, he continued the extension, at right angles to the old cottage, until they had, by 1861, completed the west wing of Fyffe House. Only two other families, the Goodalls and Lows, have owned Fyffe House since it was built. George Low bequeathed it to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1981.

In the intervening years Kaikoura has grown into a flourishing tourist town and it’s difficult to picture life when it was a remote whaling station on a harsh and craggy peninsula below mountains whose snow lasts all summer.

These days Fyffe House and its genial resident curator, Bill Edwards, welcome visitors warmly while, out in the bay, the equally genial cetaceans are hunted by harmless whale-watchers with cameras.


14 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 22. No.44 Old Slip Road, Hakataramea

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 a certain ‘Kiwiana’ house that exhibits all the art, craft and ingenuity of the home handyman, you see its exemplars at beaches and river sides from one end of the country to the other.

Typically, it has grown ad hoc, following the demands of changing lifestyles or new owners: a shower box here, an extra bedroom there; a proper hot water cylinder; a laundry. Essentially once a crib or bach it’s become a permanent home, warm, dry and reassuring.

No. 44 Old Slip Road is one of a neat row of cottages just past the Hakataramea pub. It was bought as a weekender by Ernie and Rosemary Gilchrist in 1986; now it’s their retirement home.

It started as a two-roomed hut built by two brothers in the late 1800s. I’ve not been able to discover how long they lived there but it was bought in 1943 by two hardy rabbiters, Mr and Mrs Currie. They were a tough couple, having previously lived in tents, hunting a rabbit population every bit as bad as it is in the Mackenzie Country today. Violet Currie boasted that she could skin one hundred rabbits in a hour! Her husband was a water diviner, consequently most of his neighbours, following his indications, drilled wells in their back gardens. (I like that story: virtually surrounded by the Waitaki and Hakataramea Rivers it would be difficult not to find water here!).

The Curries lived at No. 44 for forty-two years during which time they added (clearly without help from a master builder for none of the walls, ceilings or floors is square) a kitchen, bathroom, laundry and another bedroom. Despite the Curries’ ‘improvements’, when the Gilchrists bought the house there was only a dribbling cold water supply from ground level tanks, the hot water coming from a 5.6-litre Zip over the kitchen sink.

But now it’s a comfortable home with every convenience, greatly cherished and surrounded by the neatest garden. It retains its essential simplicity, though, that’s what I found so endearing.

Over coffee and scones the Gilchrists told me that after the big Hakataramea flood of 1986 the floors of the house, having been inundated, took longer than expected to dry out. The floorboards were lifted to reveal that, at some time past, rabbits had blocked the air space under the house with their diggings.
Which only goes to prove that you can’t skin ‘em all.


That Calm Sunday

A happily retired busy old man. 

When a Chicago company bought mine out in 1990 I took the money and ran - home. I was 57. I could, I guess, have done nothing for the rest of my life but I wasn’t built that way. I grew up with a work ethic.
Fortunately I had had a book published before I ‘retired’ and was working on writing and illustrating the second when the Yanks came. Over the next seventeen or so years I wrote, or wrote and illustrated, about twenty-four books, some large some small, and also cobbled a lot of ephemeral journalistic stuff; deliriously busy, relaxations earned. 

But recently I have felt disinclined to work at the previous pitch and have been bothered by a creeping indolence. Can I really go through life without serious projects? Can I sit and read whenever I feel like it? Or just stare at the birds in the garden?

I wrestled with this problem until I read something recently that revealed an ameliorating philosophy with which I could feel comfortable. In Liddell Hart’s biography of Lawrence of Arabia: ‘T.E.Lawrence’ (Jonathan Cape, June 1964 ed.) he discusses Lawrence’s retirement from the Royal Air Force in February 1935 and how, in the previous October, Lawrence had written:
‘For myself, I am going to taste the flavour of true leisure. For 46 years have I worked and been worked. Remaineth 23 years (of expectancy). May they be like Flecker’s “a calm Sunday that goes on and on”
'If I like this leisure when it comes, do me the favour of hoping that I may be able to afford its prolongation for ever and ever.'
Lawrence’s life was one of enormous achievement. He was an Oxford scholar whose graduation thesis ‘Crusader Castles’ has never been out of print. He was an archaeologist with Sir Leonard Woolley in Palestine. He was deeply and famously involved in the Arab Revolt that threw the Turks out of Palestine in 1918. He worked hard to further the Arabist cause at the post war conferences, feeling sullied and guilty at being part of the British betrayal of Hussein and Feisal. He wrote ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’. He deliberately demeaned himself by serving in the lowest ranks of the Royal Air Force and enduring a short, hateful, interregnum in the Tanks Corps.

Lawrence was friend and colleague of Winston Churchill, Emir Feisal, Lord Allenby, Lord Trenchard, John Buchan and many of the literary, political and intellectual figures of his age. He worked hard for his ‘Sunday that goes on and on’.

I liken myself to Lawrence in one way only: I worked hard all my life. If he could comfort himself with idleness then surely so could I?

I wanted to find out more about James Elroy Flecker whose words Lawrence had quoted. They knew each other as contemporaries. The words come from part two of the prologue to his ‘The Golden Journey to Samarkand’:
And how beguile you? Death has no repose
Warmer and deeper than the Orient sand
Which hides the beauty and bright faith of those
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

And now they wait and whiten peaceably,
Those conquerors, those poets, those so fair:
They know time comes, not only you and I,
But the whole world shall whiten, here or there;

When those long caravans that cross the plain
With dauntless feet and sound of silver bells
Put forth no more for glory or for gain,
Take no more solace from the palm-girt wells.

When the great markets by the sea shut fast
All that calm Sunday that goes on and on:
When even lovers find their peace at last,
And Earth is but a star, that once had shone.
Lawrence deliberately misread Flecker. He used ‘that calm Sunday’ to mean retirement after a long life in service whereas Flecker meant death (which has no repose warmer or deeper than the Orient sand - sands known only too well to Lawrence). Those who make the golden journey ‘whiten’ - their bones whiten - as they wait for the whole world to die, and for earth to continue as another unpopulated star in the firmament.
The long Sunday of Lawrence’s retirement is simply the prelude to Flecker’s!

The Sunday metaphor arises from the fact that in Victorian and Edwardian England Sunday was taken extremely seriously as a day not only of rest but also of propriety: shops shut, theatres closed, best clothes to be worn and a nation-wide silence; those few who did not attend church or chapel lurked behind net curtains for fear of their neighbours’ disapproval!

Sadly, Lawrence died in a motor cycle smash only three months after he wrote that letter to Liddell Hart. He was 47. He was looking forward to a quiet life in his cottage at Clouds Hill, Dorset. I’ve been there; it is a simple two storeyed house where he might have been contented surrounded by books and washed by Mozart. It was not to be.

James Elroy Flecker, born four years earlier than Lawrence in 1884, died in 1915 of tuberculosis; he was 31.
I, approaching 77, have already had a far longer Sunday than Lawrence, and a busier one, too. Now, having read of his and Flecker’s yearning for indolence, I can relax in a house full of books while, as they so aptly have it these days, going with the flow and innocently enjoying ‘All that calm Sunday that goes on and on.’


13 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 21. Beach Road, Kohukohu

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 sometimes a sub-tropical feel about Kohukohu; a tangible, scented humidity upon which tui songs toll from the surrounding hills: there’s a sound of running water from overgrown runnels and the shadowed sides of fence posts are padded with emerald mosses. It would not take nature long to reclaim the town.

Indeed, when I first saw Kohukohu thirty-five years ago, my impression was of neglect. Rotting timbers peeled off old houses whose mildewed windows were cracked and broken, and road seal crumbled. It seemed that apart from being the northern terminal of the Hokianga Ferry all its glory was in a past when its harbour bay bustled with the scream of milling kauri and a latter day dairy factory flourished until its closure in 1957.

But I have seen Kohukohu re-born. The colour has come back to its face. They say it’s because of newcomers with different ways of living; they’ve brought their children with them and increased the population, and they’ve seen the potential that lies in the recovery of distressed villas and cottages.

The Beach Road house - a residence expressing a certain social eminence - was built in 1889 by Fred Halliwell (who also owned Kohukohu’s first motor car in 1907). In the 1920s it was occupied by the manager of the Rangiora Timber Company, after whom came a train of owners: McArthur, a dentist; J.H.A. Skipper, printer and publisher of the Hokianga Star (who ran it as a boarding house); Doctors Rule and Alexander (in the late thirties); the Methodists; then farmer Brian Gundry, followed in the 1980s by Sue and Alan Clarkson, he a veterinary surgeon.

It’s had coats of many colours, some more controversial than others, no doubt. Not to worry, it’s the structure that matters, not its colour, and its fresh, pink coat offered an opportunity for me to use some of the rarer pigments in my paint box.



Blog Archive

Hits Counter


Loaded Web

Blog Directory for Albany, New Zealand


Blog This Here

Blog Flux

Commentary blogs
Blog Directory


  • <$BlogCommentAuthor$> // <$BlogCommentDateTime$>


By Don Donovan