Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

07 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 15. Glens Of Tekoa Sod Hut, Culverden

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.


You can still see the hole in the ground whose contents were turned into the seven-roomed sod hut at Glens of Tekoa. It was all done in the summer of 1859: beneath a bullock’s hooves, clay soil and tussock were trodden and scrunched into a homogeneous mud pie from which the cob walls were hand moulded. The rafters were of beech from a nearby hillside and the roof was shingled, to be replaced by iron in 1895.

It’s the oldest surviving building in Amuri County and is astonishingly good to look at; as picturesque as The Cuddy at Waimate but without the prettiness. No tended gardens surround it, just a carpet of wanton periwinkle and a backdrop of sheltering trees. It demands to be sketched and painted.

The hut was home to its builders, George and Roderick McRae,whose father William bought the 22,500 acres and leased a further 85,000 acres (43,500ha in all) which, by 1864, comprised Glens of Tekoa. William, a Scot, had arrived from Ireland in 1849 to make his permanent home at ‘Bonovoree’, near Richmond, while his sons became managers of the North Canterbury estate.

The layout of the hut is slightly more complex than was usual in pioneer days, with each of the main rooms having a separate front door and fireplace; probably to allow for the possibility that if one or both of the brothers married some privacy might have been necessary.

The brothers lived there until their new, brick house was built in 1865 just a few metres away. Since then, the sod cottage has continued in use, as overflow accommodation for visitors, as a schoolroom, and latterly as a museum, housing sundry maps, plans, photographs, letters, accounts and artefacts gathered over the years and relating to the McRae family and Glens of Tekoa.

George married Mary Moore in 1868 and brought her home from Nelson. William having died in 1867, Roderick returned to the family farm at Nelson in 1872 and later the brothers drew up a deed which gave sole ownership of the Nelson property to Roderick, and Glens of Tekoa to George whose descendants have farmed the station ever since.

When I sat having coffee with Beau and Georgie McRae on the terrace of the ‘new’ house from which the sod cottage is plainly visible it occurred to me that not too many people can be so close to their ancestors. With the fortitudinous spirits of William, George and Roderick in the air, one would think twice before making a big decision affecting the Glens of Tekoa.


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By Don Donovan