Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

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’?


No comments:

Post a Comment


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