Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

07 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 16. Riverlands Cob Cottage, Marlborough

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 comes as a visual relief; a picture postcard cottage crisply whitewashed, within a small garden of lawn, and floral borders that splash colour on to the otherwise dun, dried landscape of the plains east of Blenheim.

I wonder whether the builder of Riverlands cob cottage ever contemplated the possibility that State Highway One would run within a metre or so of its front door? Indeed, I wonder who the builder was - Charles Redwood or John Emmett? The record seems unclear.

Henry Redwood, Charles’s father, had arrived in Nelson in 1842 from Staffordshire. He soon took up land on the lower Wairau Plain, and by 1870 the Redwood family owned tracts that extended from the secluded inland Taylor Valley to the sea at Cloudy Bay, and included blocks in the Wairau and Awatere Valleys. Charles, one of Henry’s nine children, established the Riverlands Run of 5600 acres (2270ha): the cob cottage stands on Section 32 of that run. He had bought the plot from John Emmett in 1865 and it’s possible that Emmett had had the cottage built.

It’s two-storeyed, with a small attic bedroom. The walls, 40 cm thick in parts, are of a puddled clay and chopped tussock mixture reinforced with horse manure containing ‘undigested’ chaff (an ‘essential’ component according to one account!). Having housed members of the Redwood family and a succession of farm labourers and itinerant shearing gangs, it served as the official schoolroom from 1906 to 1909 and, at some stage, as a headquarters for bookies attending the local racecourse and a shelter for stud sheep. It did worthy war work, too, as quartermaster’s store and area base for the Home Guard in World War II.

The Marlborough Historical Society and Historic Places Trust started a major restoration in 1960, clearing overgrowth, rebuilding walls, re-shingling and furnishing with contemporary displays. The cottage was opened to visitors in 1965, since when it has been maintained with commendable care.


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By Don Donovan