Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

06 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 14. Tylee Cottage, Wanganui

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 zealous desire to save all old buildings is a modern phenomenon. But you can’t keep everything, and just because a thing is old doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth saving. There’s a balance to these things and I believe that we should try to save old buildings if by destroying them we risk losing a key piece of history or architectural style.

Up to about twenty or thirty years ago most of the ordinary New Zealand houses and cottages whose origins could be traced to the earliest days of European settlement were allowed to rot once their families had no more use for them. It was common to see dilapidated houses used as storage: in the towns you might see what had once been a proud family villa now the tottering ‘office’ of a demolition yard; and in the country it was common to see the old farmhouse stuffed full of hay a couple of hundred metres away from the new house with its mod cons.

Tylee House went through a dangerous phase when, quietly crumbling in commercial ownership, it was used as a tyre storage depot. Fortunately it was rescued and restored and moved in 1984 from its place of origin in Wilson Street to the corner of Bell Street and Cameron Terrace where it sits now, so scrubbed up that it almost looks like a replica.

It was built during the New Zealand Wars, in 1854, by John Tylee who had been appointed to take charge of the commissariat responsible for the supply of food and other necessities to the 65th regiment, which, with the 58th, comprised the town’s British garrison. The 65th were stationed in York Hill stockade which had previously been the fortified Patupuhou Pa. Armies needed to be self-supporting to a large degree and Tylee encouraged the cook of the 65th to grow vegetables near the stockade on a spot which has since become famous as Cooks Gardens. (There’s an irony here; Tylee is remembered but the cook’s name is not. Indeed Captain Cook is the name likely, mistakenly, to be associated with the modern sports stadium).

The rather forbidding notice on the front gate reminds me of a story: a past occupant of the house was rudely awoken one morning by an uninvited history buff who wanted to know the origin of some holes in the wall. The irritated occupier dismissively told him that they were bullet holes from the ‘troubles of ‘47′. The story became legend. The house was built in 1854, remember? The ‘bullet holes’ resulted from the removal of some telephone insulators!


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By Don Donovan