top of page

The Story of Oruawharo

Written by . . . D.M. Luke,  Assistant Research Officer. N.Z. Historic Places Trust. 10 March 1978

The story of Oruawharo, near Takapau in the central Hawke’s bay began in 1853. When John Johnston (later Hon. J. Johnston), following a visit to Hawke’s Bay with his cousin, Alex St. Clair Inglis and a friend John Harding, successfully applied for a lease of 9,280 acres of land. Other areas were added over the years to the initial holding and, at one time, the property comprised 17,726 acres.

John Johnston arrived in Wellington in 1841 on the Prince of Wales bringing with him his wife and three children. After a period in business, he founded his own firm – Johnston and Co., general merchants, which is now part of the Dominion brewery empire. Wellington’s Johnston Street recalls his name to present and future generations.


For many years, John Johnston took an active part in public affairs – he served for example almost continuously from 1857 as a member of the legislative council – and applied himself closely to his business interests. He was himself not personally associated with the Oruawharo property, having granted grazing rights to his cousin, Inglis and to Charles Gully (a relative of John Gully, the well-known artist). When they went to their Springhill station (at Onga Onga) in 1865, Johns second son Sydney (born in Wellington in 1841 and educated at the Jesuit College of Stonyhurst, Lancashire) took over the management of his father’s property. He was at Oruawharo at least as early as 1862. For about three years he lived in a primitive hut on the property until his marriage to Sophia Lambert, of the nearby Tangarawa Station in 1865.


Under Sydney’s management, considerable changes were made to the property including the ploughing of land for the first time, the growing of oats and wheat, the construction of a sheep dip and the erection of fences. There was also some stocking of the property with cattle. About this time, a cottage was erected which was enlarged in 1870. Despite the demands of Oruawharo, Sydney Johnston was also manager of his fathers Tamumu station near Waipawa, which had been bought in 1865, as well as another of his father’s properties at Clive.


Major milestones were reached in 1879 when Sydney leased the Oruawharo property from his father and then, on 2 October moved into his new house – the present Oruawharo homestead. This was built primarily of Totara and Matai with some use being made of pumice between the rooms for the absorption of noise. The local newspaper reporter wrote the following description...

Mr. Sydney Johnston’s new house at Takapau, now almost completed, is a spacious, solid and elegant building. It is sixty feet by seventy feet with a twenty-five foot stud. The front is beautifully set off with large bay windows and a balustrade in level with the upper story. On the side facing the railway there is a large balcony, with a floor three inches thick, and tightly caulked. A brick stair overlaid with concrete and having a splendid rail, leads to the entrance vestibule, next to which there is a large hall. The building comprises twenty-one rooms, all firmly plastered. The nurseries were dadoes, as precautionary measures against juvenile tendencies to scratch plaster. To the upper story there is access by three different stairs. The culinary departments with apparatus of the most approved kind. Baths with warm water apparatus are also provided. In short, everything that tends to administer to domestic comfort and convenience is provided. The whole structure combines elegance of design with masterly workmanship and solidity. Mr. Tringham of Wellington was the architect and Mr. D. McLeoud of Waipukurau the contractor for all the work, the plastering being sub-let to Mr. McGuire of Wellington. The workmanship reflects the highest credit on Mr. McLeoud and all others associated with him. The house is situated about quarter of a mile from the railway line at the base of a gentle undulating ridge planted with trees. The situation can be made both beautiful and picturesque.

Screen Shot 2022-05-10 at 12.32.34 PM.png

Despite the size of the original structure, Johnston enlarged it in 1899 by the addition of bedrooms and a ballroom, his last being provided with a magnificent carved ceiling and fireplace surround, the work being done by craftsmen brought out from Bavaria. It is, perhaps, not surprising that Oruawharo is one of the largest private homes ever to be built in New Zealand. By this time, too, Sydney Johnston was the owner of the property, having inherited the place on his father’s death in 1887.

In the hey-day of Oruawharo, the Johnston’s employed a domestic staff of twelve including a parlourmaid, cook, lady’s maid, chauffeur (the family owning a car – a Decauville – in 1907) kitchen maid and gardeners.

There are reports of guests for house parties arriving by train at the nearby Takapau Railway Station and then being brought to the house by horse drawn vehicles. Also the family had an objection to drying greens, consequently the family’s wash was railed each Monday to a laundry in Palmerston North and back again on the following Friday. As early as 1879, races were held at Oruawharo and, for a time, the town boasted two racecourses, visitors attending the meetings coming as a matter of course by rail.

Oruawharo was at the time the venue of a Territorial Army training camp. Preparations were well underway at the end of 1913 when a site was surveyed sufficient to house 6,000 men under canvas. Several special trains brought the troops in April 1914 and away again after the exercise. Unfortunately bad weather caused considerable unrest among the participants. The exercise ended on the 6th May with the battle of Oruawharo being fought complete with the “big shots” of the day being present.

Over the years, the property has been reduced in size and there are now some

2,850 acres in the hands of the family and carrying some 10,000 sheep and 480 head of cattle.

With Sydney Johnston’s death in 1917 while on one of his several visits to the U.K., the property went to his daughter, Miss Agnes Beatrice Johnston who, five years later, married J.C.Rolleston. Their son Christopher was born at Oruawharo in 1923.
He went to England to finish his education in 1938, returning to New Zealand in 1947 after military service with the Grenadier Guards in Germany. He took over the management of the property in 1952. Early the following year he married Jennifer Hyde – their daughter being born at the end of the year. As 1953 was the centenary of the property, arrangements were well advanced to celebrate the occasion when, on 19 March, Christopher Johnston was killed in a tractor accident on the property. His tragic death caused a sense of shock to be felt throughout the district and, of course, the celebrations were immediately cancelled.

After the death, in 1965, of Mrs. Rolleston (senior), the homestead and 62.5 acres of land were given to the Roman Catholic Church with the object of eventually establishing there a preparatory school for Roman Catholic boys. The last report we have on file is that of the house being used as a country restaurant with the balance of the farm lands being held in trust for Miss C.J.M Rolleston, daughter of Jennifer and the late Christopher Rolleston, who is living in England.


WW1, Oruawharo, and the Lemon Squeezer

During World War I a territorial army camp was established at Oruawharo, the Takapau divisional camp, and here was witnessed the
birth of the lemon-squeezer.

There was a spell of very wet weather and the hats collected water in the dents. Lieutenant Colonel W G Malone, later of Gallipoli fame, at that time commanding the 11th Taranaki Rifles had the idea of eliminating the fore and aft dent in the crown and pinching it with 4 dents so that the hat shed water. (Similar to Baden Powell’s style)

When the General Officer Commanding, Major General Sir Alexander Godley, visited the camp he noticed the change in hat style and requested Lieutenant Colonel Malone to explain. The Colonel drew attention to the fact that the 11th Taranakis as the only Rifle Regiment in the New Zealand Army did not conform to arms drill as practiced by the other 15 Regiments of the New Zealand Infantry. As a Rifle Regiment does not slope arms there was no need to pin the brim of the hat up.

As His Excellency The Governor General, Lord Liverpool, was Honorary Colonel of the Regiment and he came from the Rifle Brigade of the British Army he would be approached to approve the regimental dress distinction if the General would not accede to it. Permission was granted and the hat, later to be dubbed the “Lemon Squeezer” was introduced.

The New Zealanders of WW1 also wore a slouch hat. Their orders required that it be worn ‘Brim: horizontal. Crown: dented with a crease running from front to rear. The regimental flash to be sewn on both sides of the puggaree. When the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was raised for World War One, Lieutenant Colonel Malone was appointed to command the 1st Battalion the 5th Wellington Regiment.

As his Adjutant and Regimental Sergeant Major were also ex-11th Taranakis the Wellingtons hats were promptly changed to the

Taranaki style.

May 5th 1914 . . Riot at the Takapau Camp

Fixed Bayonets, Military Rioters, Charged By Police . .This ugly riot was big news in New Zealand and internationally at the time . . you can read a newspaper article here about the event.


Additional information - Historical Narrative


Traditional History:

Oruawharo Homestead and station are set within the Takapau Plains of the Central Hawke’s Bay / Heretaunga. The name Oruawharo is associated with Ruawharo, the tohunga, high priest of the waka Takitimu, and ancestor to a number of iwi and hapu that settled the land. The name of the area may have originally been te maunga o Ruawharo and it has been shortened to Oruawharo.

In the vicinity to the south is the wahi tapu site of Te Pa Horehore. Te Pa Horehore was a Kauwhanga-whiri-a-riri (battle ground) that involved numerous tribes and war parties including Tangowhiti and Whata, Te Amiowhenua, Tangi te Ruru and others where blood was shed. Te Pa Horehore is also a pa tuwatawata (fortified pa); urupa (a place of burial); and a place of wananga (school of learning) and is valued by the local iwi in the traditional, ritual and spiritual senses.



European Settlement:

In 1851 Donald McLean (1820 - 1877) agent on behalf of Crown, negotiated with Te Hapuku (? - 1878), a leader of Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti with kinship links to Ngati Kahungunu, Rangitane, Ngati Ira and other major tribal groups in Hawke's Bay, for the purchase of lands around Waipukurau consisting of 272,000 acres. By 1861 the Crown acquired over two million acres and changing land policy opened the way for the acquisition of large runs and the creation of land monopolies, ‘creating the foundation of a landed elite whose grip on the reins of power was not broken until after the Liberal land reforms of the 1890s.’

Wellington merchant John Johnston was an early run holder in the region, who held a Depasturing Licence from about 1850. Governor George Grey, in an effort to foster land holding throughout New Zealand, passed a regulation in 1852 that allowed for the freeholding of land at five shillings for pasture and 10 shillings for agricultural land. Pastoralists like Johnston began to buy up large blocks. Johnston, along with his cousin Alexander St Clair Inglis, had walked to Hawke’s Bay from Wellington to view the land he had invested in.

By the mid-1860s three Crown Grants had been made to Johnston, bringing the total area of the Oruawharo run to 11, 738 acres. St Clair Inglis and Charles Gully held the grazing rights for Johnston until his son Sydney, returned from his education at in Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, England, to manage his father’s properties at Oruawharo, Tamumu and Clive. Sydney moved to Oruawharo in 1861, initially living in a bark hut until a house was built on the station about a mile south of the present Homestead. Sydney married Sophia Marianne Lambert of Lambertford Station (also called Tangarewa Station) on 12 July 1873. The couple lived in the house until the completion of the Oruawharo Homestead in 1879.


The Johnston Family:

John Johnston (1809-1887) had married Henrietta Charlotte Hatton (? - 1878) in 1838. Henrietta was a devout Roman Catholic and came from a family of some means. The Johnstons arrived in Wellington in 1843. With capital at their disposal in the new colony the Johnstons acquired a number of town acres and country sections and John set himself up as a merchant trading in commodities and later shipping, founding the successful mercantile business Johnston & Co. John involved himself in public affairs and he went on to become a representative in the Provincial Government and later the Legislative Council. Johnston Street in Wellington City is named after him. The Johnston family were part of the economic and political élite of Wellington and the marriages of their children were indicative of their status and their class distinction. Like other elite families in Wellington who moved to the suburbs or Thorndon, the Johnstons moved to ‘Homewood’ in Karori in 1852. While business was conducted in the city, John Johnston acquired large tracts of land in the rural hinterland for farming enterprises and to enhance his prestige as a wealthy land owner with large country estates.

Johnston’s sons, Walter and Sydney, would go on to manage these rural properties with Charles taking care of the merchant business. In 1873 John and Henrietta moved to a new residence in Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon, ‘which for its size, outward appearance, internal convenience and beauty of finish, will not have a peer in the province...’ The architect has been identified as Charles Tringham, who would also be commissioned to design the Oruawharo Homestead.

Home of Sydney & Sophia Johnston:

The Wellington architect, Charles Tringham, was engaged to design a grand homestead at Oruawharo. Tenders notices for the construction of the house were called for in December 1878 and noted that building was for a residence for the Hon. John Johnston. Completion of the Homestead in 1879 and a description of some of its features were recorded in an article in the Waipawa Mail, August 1879:

‘Mr Sydney Johnston’s new house at Takapau, now almost completed, is a spacious, solid, elegant building. It is sixty feet by seventy feet with a twenty-five foot stud. The front is beautifully set off with large bay windows and a balustrade in level with the upper storey. On the side facing the railway there is a large balcony with a floor three inches thick, and tightly chalked. A brick stair overlaid with concrete, and having a splendid rail, leads the entrance to the vestibule, next to which there is a large hall. The building comprises twenty-one rooms, all firmly plastered. The nurseries are dadoed, as precautionary measures against juvenile tendencies to scratch plaster. To the upper storey there is access by three different stairs. The culinary departments are fitted with apparatus of the most approved kind. Baths of warm water apparatus are also provided. In short, everything that tends to administer to domestic comfort and convenience is provided. The whole structure combines elegance of design with masterly workmanship and solidity. Mr Tringham of Wellington was the architect and Mr D. McLeod of Waipukaurau the contractor for all the work, the plastering being sub-let to Mr McGuire of Wellington. The workmanship reflects the highest credit to Mr McLeod and all others associated with him. The house is situated about quarter of a mile from the railway line at the base of a gentle undulating ridge planted with trees. The situation can be made both beautiful and picturesque.’

The Sydney Johnston family moved into the house on 2 October 1879. Sydney leased Oruawharo from his father for £3,500 per year, and on the death of his father in 1887 he bought the station under the terms of the will. At this time the station consisted of 17, 726 acres and carried 22,000 sheep, 100 head of cattle and 30 horses.



Takapau and the Johnstons - Life at Oruawharo Homestead:

As with many of the large run holders of the time, Sydney Johnston was involved in politics and local affairs and he was elected as a member of the Provincial Council in 1875 and elected to the County Council in 1876. The township of Takapau was surveyed out of the Oruawharo Station land on 19 September 1876 by John Rochfort, under the instructions of Sydney Johnston. The name was taken from Te Takapau pa, which was located in the area. The streets bear the names of Sydney and his wife and children. The first sections were advertised for sale in August 1877. The Johnstons were great benefactors to the town of Takapau and land was set aside for a school and churches. They made donations for the construction of both the Catholic (St Vincent’s) and Anglican (St Mark’s) churches, the town hall and library, and gifted the section for the Plunket rooms.

The Sydney Johnstons, like other wealthy landowners in New Zealand, ‘became the colony’s nearest equivalent to Britain’s landed gentry and aristocracy’. Their link to the ‘Mother’ land had not been extinguished and the Johnstons took frequent and long holidays back to England and their children were sent to Europe and England for their education. Sydney Johnston’s daughter Jessie (known by her second name Meta) was educated at the Convent of Sacred Heart at Roehampton, England and a finishing school at Rue de Varennes in Paris.

The servants, nannies, station managers and farm workers were important to the life of the homestead and the station. The cultural traditions of the English upper class were maintained at Oruawharo, with many of the servants coming directly from England. At one point Oruawharo had twelve servants and the linen was put on the train to Palmerston North every week.

In 1903 Worrall, the station manager, left for England due to poor health. On 14 October of that year Sydney received a cable from Freemantle saying Worrall had died at sea, and wrote ‘I received this news with deep regret. He was in my employment for over 25 years and was a most valuable servant and good friend.’ A number of employee cottages were built on the property but have since been removed. Close to the coach house is a grave site marked with a wooden fence. It has been noted that two employees were buried near the old homestead, one being C. Austin (buried 24 February 1876) who was injured in a fall from his horse. The first son of Sydney and Sophia, Robert Quentin Johnston, died on 14 October 1877. He was buried on the property and later reinterred in Takapau Cemetery.

The family mixed with other landed, mercantile and professional elites, and politicians of the day. Frequent receptions, balls and entertainments happened at Oruawharo. The house was used as a vice-regal residence by the Governor Lord Plunket for three months in 1906 while the Johnston family were visiting England. Governor-General Lord Jellicoe and his wife also summered there in 1923. There were links to other pastoral farming elites, including the marriage of Sydney and Sophia’s daughter J. Meta Johnston (1883-1963) to Daniel Henry Riddiford of the Wairarapa at Takapau. On 17 February 1911 John Riddiford was born in the blue room at Oruawharo.

Oruawharo Homestead:

Additions to the house began in December 1899. Theses comprised of a two-storeyed wing with angled bay windows that included new bedrooms and a billiards room. This addition is noted for its use of native wood panelling, and ornate wood carving for the ceiling and large mantelpiece in the billiards room. It matches the carving of the grand staircase and it is said to be the work of Bavarian artisans.


The Interior:

Furnishings and antiques collected by three generations of Johnstons formed the holdings of the homestead and included silverware, family portraits and prints, a library that included a New Zealand collection, and heavy curtains consisting of corded silk and pink embroidered velvet, made in France. A notable feature in the bedroom in the north east corner is the inside of the door that is painted in spring blooms and signed N.J. (Nancy Johnston); a tangible reminder of the family that occupied this home for over 100 years.


The Garden:

The Oruawharo Homestead was a showplace of Hawke’s Bay and the grounds were developed with tennis courts, croquet lawn, ha ha, rose garden and shady walks under the many exotic trees planted by the Johnston family and notable visitors. The Station Diary records the first trees being planted by Sydney in 1874 prior to the construction of the homestead.

Lady Jellicoe planted a pine tree that had been grown from a seedling of the Lone Pine at Gallipoli. Harry Hall, who was head gardener at the time, remembered preparing the ground for the tree.


The Stables and Coach House:

The stables and coach house were constructed in the 1880s. The coach house would have housed carriages first before the advent of the motorcar.

Catholic connections:

The Johnston family was a well-known Catholic family who made generous donations to the church including the construction of St Vincent’s in Takapau. Mother Suzanne Aubert (1835-1926, in religion known as Mary Joseph Aubert) visited Oruawharo during her fundraising for the rebuilding of St Joseph’s Church at Jerusalem. She stayed at the homestead in 1889 and again in 1913 before her departure to Rome to gain pontifical approval of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion which she had founded. Mother Aubert carried on correspondence with Nancy Johnston and with the birth of Nancy’s son Sydney Christopher in 1923, she asked Mother Aubert to be his god-mother.



World War I:

Preparation for the New Zealand’s participation in World War I saw a section of the Orawharo Station surveyed out for a Territorial Army Camp, thought to be the largest in New Zealand, that would hold 6,500 men under canvas. The camp was constructed in early 1914 and the troops arrived by train and marched to the site in April of that year. Colonel E.W. Chaytor was in charge of the camp that included mounted, infantry and artillery brigade. The officers were stationed at the Homestead with the Johnston family and a bout of bad weather caused considerable unrest among the troops that ended in a riot. Captain Powles led the mounted police which restored order.

On 6 May 1914 Sir Ian Hamilton (1853-1947), Inspector of Overseas Forces and Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force during the Gallipoli campaign, was present to see the staging of the ‘Battle of Oruawharo’ and the exercise gained much publicity in the local media.


The family travelled to England during the war and it was there that Sydney Johnston passed away on 29 June 1917. He was buried in England and memorial gates were erected at Takapau cemetery in his memory. The family returned after the war to take up residence at the Homestead.



The Rollestons:

Sydney and Sophia’s daughter, Agnes Beatrice (Nancy) Johnston, married John Christopher Rolleston on 5 July 1922. The service was held at the St Vincent de Paul’s Church, Takapau. A dance was held at Oruawharo that night and another dance at the Takapau Hall on 7 July. John Rolleston was the son of the late Hon. William Rolleston, notable public administrator, politician and provincial superintendent. John was also engaged in politics and was elected Member of Parliament for the Waitomo Electorate in 1922 and was a member of the Reform Party in 1928.

John and Nancy’s son, Sydney Christopher Rolleston (known as Christopher), was born in the blue room at Oruawharo on 3 December 1923. Sophia Johnston died on 9 October 1931 and was buried at Takapau Cemetery where her children Robert and Henrietta were also buried. In the grounds of Oruawharo Homestead are two wooden crosses with inscribed copper plaques that mark the passing of Henrietta and Sophia.

On 15 July 1933 Nancy Rolleston took over her mother’s and sister’s shares in Oruawharo and in December she and her family took up residence at the Homestead. In June 1936 the Rolleston family left for England, returning in 1938 after leaving Christopher at Ampleforth College. Christopher later attended the Royal Military College Sandhurst and left in 1943 to join the Grenadier Guards. Christopher undertook military service and was posted to the 4th Tank Battalion. He served in North-West Europe, was wounded in Holland and awarded a Military Cross for his conduct in action. Christopher returned to New Zealand in 1947 and on the 4 July that year a ball was held in the billiard room to celebrate Christopher’s return and the Rollestons’ silver wedding anniversary.

In 1951 John Rolleston commissioned Gray Young, Morton & Calder to design alterations and additions to the homestead. Plans and specifications were drawn up and work undertaken to demolish the back wing, and create an apartment on the second floor above the billiard room. Other minor internal additions and alterations were also made at the time.

Christopher Rolleston worked as a rouseabout and shepherd on nearby properties before becoming manager of Oruawharo in January 1951. On 19 January 1952 Christopher Rolleston married Jenifer Mary Hinde, only daughter of Mr and Mrs Douglas Hinde of Kenya. The ceremony was held in a Catholic Church in Kenya and a daughter, Caroline Jane Rolleston was born in 1952.

As preparations were being made for the centennial celebration of Oruawharo Station, tragedy stuck when Christopher Rolleston was killed in a tractor accident at Oruawharo on 19 March 1953. The centennial celebrations were cancelled and the incident was a turning point in the fortunes of the station and the homestead.

The decline of Oruawharo:

Christopher’s wife and daughter moved to England and Nancy Rolleston had the homestead surveyed out from the station land and gifted to the Catholic Church upon her death in 1965. For several years Oruawharo was used as a Novitiate for nuns, the order Sisters of the Presentation was housed there and the Billiards room used as a chapel. In 1972 the Church could no longer afford the upkeep of the large homestead and a large auction of the chattels was held at Oruawharo with up to 1,000 people coming to the viewing.

The administrators of the Oruawharo Estate regained control of the homestead and land from the Catholic Church for the benefit of Caroline Rolleston, who resided in England at the time. In 1973 the Trustees leased the homestead to Diane Brooker and Colin Baxter who had the intention of restoring Oruawharo and turning it into a country club, but the financial strains of maintaining a huge homestead and its grounds proved difficult and featured in a Television One program ‘Good Day’. In 1978 the lease was transferred to Orua Wharo Country Homestead Limited and Dennis Hall took over the management. It was during this time that the NZHPT facilitated the painting of the Oruawharo with the help of the District Office of the Ministry of Works and Development. Financial difficulties continued for the homestead and a long running legal battle between the Trustees and the Lessee was finally resolved in the High Court with the termination of the lease.

The restoration and future for Oruawharo:

For the first time the Oruawharo Homestead, grounds and associated buildings were put up for sale - the surrounding Oruawharo Station land remaining under family administration. In December 2000 the Harris's bought the property and invested much time, labour and money into the restoration of the Oruawharo Homestead, ancillary buildings and grounds. The homestead is still a residence but with a commercial use to help fund its maintenance and ongoing repair. The Harris’ have added their own extensive colonial native timber furniture collection to the homestead and a number of Johnston chattels, photographs and ephemera have made their way back to their original home. The Johnston and Rolleston connections to Oruawharo are maintained by the Harris’ who characterise themselves as ‘caretakers’, not just of buildings but the history of the place. The homestead receives thousands of visitors per year and is a popular and much frequented wedding and function venue, as well as the site for large gatherings such as hunts and motor home conventions, whose enthusiasts are more than happy to contribute to the upkeep of the property through working bees.

Physical Description

Construction Professionals:

Charles Tringham, Architect (1841-1916)

D. McLeod, builder

McGuire, plasterer

Gray Young, Morton & Calder

William Gray Young (1885-1962)

New Zealand Dictionary of Biography: URL:


Physical Description and Analysis:



Oruawharo is a large house set on extensive grounds in the rural area of Takapau in Central Hawkes Bay. A sweeping drive leaves Oruawhara Road, skirts a hill, and passes through large, mature trees and pasture to approach the house from the north. The drive runs past an extensive garden of lawn, beds and borders to the eastern front entrance. The house sits at the base of the slope on a generally level area, slightly elevated above the driveway.

Eastwards from the house, is a vista that can be fully appreciated at the Main Entrance. Lawns and gardens, separate the house from rural pasture by a ha ha, which is a ditch used in place of a fence to keep cattle out but maintain the uninterrupted sweeping vista. To the south, beyond the house, are the Oruawharo Coach House and Stables. To the west, the hill rises steeply, covered in mature trees.



Exterior of the House:

The house is a large two-storey building of timber construction with a gently sloping, corrugated iron roof. The roof is a multitude of gables, with two primary gables, in L formation, with hipped ends. Midway, each has a small secondary gable marking an entrance beneath. Another secondary hipped gable has smaller tertiary gables projecting at 45 degrees from its hexagonally hipped eastern end. Behind, are two further secondary hipped gables in a row, all creating an array.

The exterior of the house is impressive for its two storey timber facades - a gracious colonial adaptation of Neo Classical style with Renaissance influences and a Palladian-styled façade arrangement. Extensive balustraded balconies, rhythmical double-hung timber-sash windows; and timber detailing (quoins and ornamental brackets) lend a stately air. The upper floor surmounts the lower floor beneath resulting in impressively high timber walls that are augmented with bays and verandas.

On the primary east side is a handsome Main Entrance porch with an arched veranda and bay windows each side, all supporting balustraded decks above. Features are set in symmetrically lending grandeur to the entrance up concrete and brick steps from the forecourt.

A second (equally impressive) view of the north side of the house is obtained from the lawn where the symmetry of similar features presents a gracious and dignified aspect. The balcony veranda extends the full length of the upper floor here, uninterrupted.

An overriding asymmetry of the house is apparent however which is confirmed when the interior is also considered. The house appears to have been specifically designed to provide the dignity of a stately home and the comfort of a rural homestead, all the while taking the highest advantage of its pleasing situation. The two highly decorative facades of the house meet at the north-east corner; while at the south-east corner, to the left of the main entrance, large bay windows from the Billiard Room project in two directions in a pronounced way.

The south side view of the house is not marked by the arresting splendour of the two primary facades but presents a more familial mixture of doors and windows and decorations that give comfort to the kitchen entrance. A two storey hip-roofed extension is easily identified.

Somewhat behind, to the west, a lean-to along the full west side of the house contains service rooms and marks the rear of the house. A brick utility building (heating, fuel and dairy), with a tiled roof and elegantly timbered gable ends, is connected by a covered way to the house. A timber outbuilding is slightly separate, and at some distance to the south are outbuildings.

Generally, the house is of timber framed construction with a corrugated iron roof with several brick chimneys, and timber exterior cladding and detailing - pediments, bracketed eaves which continue as cornices, rusticated weatherboards strongly quoined. Windows are double-hung, timber-sash, four paned, in single or paired arrays.

The main entrance arch, with slender posts and simple curved arches, is lightly decorated. The door is a simple six-panelled door with top and sidelights. Bay windows, either side, have ornamental leaf brackets.

On the north, the veranda has curved solid brackets and small arch decorations between double posts, and balustrading continues the semi-circular motif. Doors are within the window opening.

The Billiard Room has two projecting ornamented bays with cornices, dentils, eave brackets and ornamental window brackets around broad double hung timber windows, single-paned. At first floor level there is blind balustrading beneath the windows.


Interior of the House:

The house has two levels. The original house is a sturdy-looking rectangular form with comfortably high ceilings. The Billiard Room Wing adjoins the south-east corner. Access between floors is via three stairways.


Entrance Porch and Main Hall:

A small simple Entrance Porch, with timber panelling and a ceiling rose of flowers and fruit, leads into the Main Hall through a single door with sidelights and toplights with repeated semi-circular patterns.

The Main Hall is a large, impressive, L-shaped, double height room: with rimu and kauri joinery; a pressed metal ceiling to the upper floor; partly-plastered walls above the diagonally-timbered wainscot; high timber panelling; a timbered bay window; a fireplace and chimney with a timber surround and mantel; and a timber floor. Particular features are found in the room – a carved timber-relief showing a native bird eating berries; an ornate timber and statuette pedestal light on the landing of the stair.

The most remarkable feature of the Main Hall is the timber staircase: with comfortable handrail; turned banisters of alternating timbers; incised fret fleuron panels; diagonally-timbered soffit; extended treads over ornamented stringers; drop-newels; a complex and exquisitely turned newel at the ground floor; and further newels supporting ornamental timber urns with cone decoration and inlaid contrasting native timbers.

From the Main Hall, the main living rooms are nearby - the Drawing Room and connecting Dining Room to the north, the Library immediately to the south; and further south, the Billiard Room and associated rooms. Straight beyond the Main Hall, westwards, is a panelled hall to the service rooms.

Ground Floor Living Rooms:

Drawing Room and Dining Room (now connected) are of large proportions. They have fine pressed metal ceilings and ornamental cornices, plastered walls, high skirtings. Windows open to the north under the long veranda to the croquet lawn and access is through single doors that have been fashioned into the lower part of the sash windows.

The Living Room timber-panelled bay window looks east over the forecourt. Its ceiling has a wide, dainty ceiling rose. A fireplace with a tall fire surround and mantel of marquetry, mirrors and turned embellishments backs onto the Dining Room.

The Dining Room has a fireplace with a surround of Italian black marble and a tiled hearth. Beyond the Dining Room a wall section has been removed to allow the connected use of a room that was once an office. Finishes in this room have been matched to the Dining Room.

Across the hall, the Library is a slightly smaller room with finishes somewhat less lavish. The pressed metal ceiling and cornice are moderately decorated; walls are plastered; the corresponding timber-panelled bay window, with its elaborately carved side columns and brackets, looks out over the forecourt; and a simple timber fire surround and mantel frame the brick fireplace.

Beyond the Library, though a timber panelled hall, is the Billiard Room, a room of elaborate embellishments. The grandeur of the room is in its superb, ornate timber work. The coffer ceiling is a plethora of shapes and reliefs, hexagonal and octagonal patterns, scroll and quatrefoil relief, diagonal boarding– all surrounding two central octagonal roses of a lancet pattern. The timber cornices are intricately carved. The timber wainscot is diagonally patterned with circular motifs at corners and high skirtings.

The fireplace has a simply tiled hearth but has a richly ostentatious fire surround and mantel - a scrolled and screened parapet, a highly detailed cornice with small dentils, Corinthian-styled half-columns with round mirrored arches between, decorative brackets, and finally, elegant Corinthian columns either side of the fireplace.

Ground Floor Service Rooms:

The Kitchen Hallway leads to the service rooms at the west end of the house. This hall has plaster walls, timber dado panelling, a timber floor, a metal ceiling, and includes the remains of the early room bell panel, radiators, and side tables attached to the walls. The modest Servants’ Stairway ascends here.

The Kitchen is a large airy room, south-facing, with a large oven nook and timber mantel above. Joinery finishes and fittings in the kitchen are of various ages as change has occurred. The adjoining pantry alongside now connects directly to the Main Hall. From the Kitchen a door leads through a Laundry to the Covered Way outside.

Off the Kitchen Hall, a couple of small rooms are now used for toilets, and the maids’ sitting room is now used as a store room. Further toilet facilities and small service rooms are found next to the Billiard Room.

Upper Floor:

The Main House upper floor is sleeping quarters. Timber panelled doors in the large Upper Hall, with its ornate stairway balustrading and large rectangular-paned window, lead to bedrooms and bathrooms.

Early plans suggest three large bedrooms (one with a dressing room) and one small bedroom were for use by the family. There were also a bathroom, a sewing room and three maid’s rooms. Some of the rooms have changed their use in recent times. Bathrooms have increased in size or are newly installed. However the general pattern of large and small bedrooms, for family or servants, remains visible.

The ceilings are flat and with a decorative pressed metal ceiling; walls are plastered and often have a frieze rail; and the floor is timber. One room is currently unplastered with its lath exposed. Two of the bedrooms have fireplaces and one of the rooms has attractive paintings of flowers on the panels of the door. The bathroom is wall-tiled. The three smaller servant rooms are accessed first through a small hall and it is here that the servants’ stairway descends.

Over the Billiard Room wing is a small apartment with a living room looking east over the forecourt through the two large bay windows. It has a timber panelled ceiling, sarked walls and a timber floor. The apartment includes other rooms that denote a rural simplicity - a kitchen, a bedroom, bathroom and two anterooms. Direct access to the ground floor is gained from an adjacent staircase down to the south courtyard.

Coach House, Stables and Forge:

The Coach House and Stables are both a moderately-large utilitarian timber sheds of great elegance. The facades of both buildings are marked by gable and parapet trims. The buildings are timber framed with corrugated iron rooves over single gables.

The Coach House, a lean-to at one side, is lined with rusticated weatherboards and has a timber floor. It has large sliding doors and several timber double hung sash windows. The interior is match lined.

The front façade of the Stables has a pair of stable doors within a rounded opening, and three symmetrically placed double hung sash windows - either side and above the doors. Weatherboards are lapped. On the east side of the Stables are five timber-louvre windows and a large sliding door, and the rear of the building has a truncated gable, doors and several windows. The interior is unlined and has a timber loft.

The Forge is a restored, single-gabled, weather boarded building, open for the most part with a room at one end.

Behind and directly adjacent to the rear of the Homestead is a brick and timber structure (formerly used as a dairy and food storage), and a wooden shed used for storing sporting equipment.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1879 -
Construction of the Homestead

1899 -
Addition of two-storey wing that includes the Billiard Room and bedrooms

1922 -
Repiling of the Homestead and modifications for an apartment

Demolished - Other
1951 -
Demolition of the back wing; construction of apartment on the second floor above the billiard room; some minor internal changes

Reconstruction of implement shed


Construction Details

Wood, iron

Completion Date

1st March 2012

Report Written By

Natasha Naus & Alison Dangerfield

Information Sources

New Zealand Woman's Weekly

Hensley, Juliet, ‘Upstairs Downstairs – NZ Style’, in New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, 16 June 1975, pp.6-10.

Wright, 1994

M Wright, Hawke's Bay: The History of a Province, Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1994

Bayliss, 1975

Warren Bayliss, Takapau: The Sovereign Years, 1876-1976, Hart House Printers, Hastings, 1975.

Nicholls, 1990

Nicholls, Roberta, ‘Elite Society in Victorian and Edwardian Wellington’, in David Hamer and Roberta Nicholls (eds.), The making of Wellington 1800-1914, Victoria University Press, 1990

pp. 195-226

Web page info sourced:

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Central Region office of NZHPT.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

bottom of page