Sydney & Sophia Johnston
Sydney Johnston (1841-1917) was the son of John Johnston (1809-1887) and Henrietta Charlotte Hatton (1814-1878), (Scottish immigrants) of Homewood, Wellington. In 1887 Sydney succeeded to his father's property at Oruawharo, Takapau, Hawkes Bay.
In 1873 Sydney married Sophia Lambert they had one son (died in infancy) and three daughters. Sydney died 29 June 1917 and was buried in Wimbledon Cemetery, England.
Oruawharo was completed in 1879 for Sydney Johnston and his bride Sophia Lambert. Designed by a Wellington architect and built by D McLeoud of Waipukurau for around £4000, it was the heart of a 27,000-acre station which originated with an 1853 purchase by Sydney’s father John.
A contemporary reporter described Oruawharo as having “everything that administers to domestic comfort and convenience”, “baths with hot water apparatus”, “culinary departments with apparatus of the most approved kind”, and three staircases.
The Totara, Matai and Kauri construction has weathered 139 years and apart from the removal of the servants’ wing which housed 12 domestic staff and eight gardeners, Oruawharo today is virtually as Sydney and Sophia knew it. Sydney established the extensive woodlands which remain a feature of the property and in 1899 extended the homestead with a grand ballroom and further bedrooms, taking the total number to the present-day 12.
Oruawharo became a center for Victorian and Edwardian ‘gentry’ social life; constant house parties were entertained with tennis, croquet and picnics. There were horse races and the hunt was hosted with lavish breakfasts and teas. It also played a role shaping the emerging district. Takapau was established on part of the station and the Johnston's became ongoing benefactors to the town.
Apart from four years in the 1960s after personal tragedy led to the family gifting it to the Catholic Church, Oruawharo remained in the original family's hands. The property has since been owned by 2 families, the Harris's that saved it from getting demolished in 2000 and the Lauder family that purchased it in 2022 and is currently still living in the Homestead.