Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

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.

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By Don Donovan