Sunday, 16 February 2014

Wantwood Homestead

Wantwood Homestead- Historic Place Category 1

Just past the gravel road we took back through the Hokonui Hills to home I spied this very grand homestead set back off the road & up on a small plateau overlooking the Waimea Valley near Manderville.  I took some photos & assumed it would have a Historic Place category which I looked up when we got home. Sure enough it is a Category 1, along with it's old farm buildings. David was most disgusted with the farm buildings (see photos further down)  & the state of them; "They should burn them down, or remove them somehow, they're an eysore". I told him I bet they were historic which explains why they still stand.

Here is some of the listed information about Wantwood & the farm. I thought I'd do a separate post as I know some of you will find it interesting. I especially liked how the name came about- Wantwood was so-called because of the shortage of wood in the vicinity; bullock drivers had to carry their firewood for their first night journey, which led to the naming of the stopping place on the Run.

Wantwood Farm's stone homestead is a prominent landmark property sitting at the base of the Hokonui Range, and with its associated buildings (farm office, former cookshop/shearer's quarters and woolshed) it tells the story of one of the earliest and most significant pastoral properties in the district, associated with the New Zealand Agricultural Company, (this is the company that Flemings Mill was built for-see my previous post), and the contribution it made to farming in the Southland District.

Wantwood has historical significance. The complex of buildings represents the early history of pastoralism in Southland, and in particular the pivotal significance of the New Zealand Agricultural Company in the development of the Southland Plains. The Wantwood Homestead itself, as the surviving Company manager's residence, with all the architectural style and grandeur befitting such an important position, represents the lifestyle associated with the Company, as the gentry of inland Southland, a significant period of the history of the region.

The Homestead

Wantwood has architectural significance. The house is an excellent example of a substantial stone Victorian Gothic residence, with its irregular silhouette, steeply pitched roof with finials at the gable-ends, prominent gables and contrasting quoins. The interior is notable, with its grand stair, generous landings, wall finishings, decorative fire surrounds, and its coloured glass detailing in the windows.

The substantial two-storey homestead is constructed of local stone, quarried from a site nearby. It is a dark stone, squared stone brought to course, with contrasting stone facings. The roof is corrugated iron, and the window joinery is timber.

The plan of the house shows a series of intersecting gables forming a cruciform shape. There are smaller decorative gables on the main wings of the house. All gables have finials at the gable ends. There is a return verandah on the principle north elevation, with entrances on both the ground and first floors. The main elevation has a faceted bay window with balcony above. The east elevation also has a faceted bay window on the ground floor. The windows are largely double hung sash.

The main entrance to the house is on the north elevation with a commanding view over the Waimea Plains. It has a four-panel timber door with sidelights. There is a substantial entrance hall. The wallpaper in the entrance hall is notable, possibly a block printed design, with plant foliage detailing, and accompanying frieze. Above the dado line is a more formally patterned paper.

On the right is the main formal parlour. It has a decorative fire surround. There are panelled ceilings with a central decorative ceiling rose. Further through the hall is the dining room. It has a decorative fire surround, with inset ceramic tiles and timber mantle. The wallpapers in this room are significant, block printed floral design with at least eight colours (indicating paper of quality, and may date from before the 1930s). The panels on the four panel door are painted in landscapes, apparently by a daughter of the one of the nineteenth century owners.

On the left of the hall is the main stair to the first floor of the house. This is an elegant stairway with a curved timber banister. There is a skylight above the stairwell, although its light source in the roof has been covered over. The upstairs landing features the same wallpaper as the main entrance hall, and also has a large picture window with etched and coloured glass.

The bedrooms are located upstairs. They have the original maid's bell callers in the bedrooms. The servants' accommodation was at the rear of the first floor, with maids' sitting room and bedroom on the east elevation.

Continuing through the ground floor hallway reaches what was originally the servants' area of the house. The back passage has a row of bells set high on the wall, forming the basis of the bell system that called servants to particular rooms, which is still operative. There is a servants' stair to the first floor, narrower and less decorative than the main stair. There is a informal sitting room at the rear of the house in what was the original kitchen space. The kitchen is located in what was the scullery. The other service areas of the house are located adjoining the kitchen, close to the rear entrance which is in the south elevation.

Woolshed (former, now largely disused)

The associated woolshed is also significant although in poor condition. The woolshed is a substantial timber structure, with the timber shingles and evidence of pit sawn timber indicating an 1860s construction date (with subsequent additions), providing insight into the building technology of the period, as well as representing the kind of technology and architecture associated with the wool industry.

The woolshed is a large single-storey timber structure. It is T-shaped in plan. The southern portion has a hipped roof which flares out at the bottom. There is evidence that it was constructed of pit sawn timber, and shingles are evident beneath the corrugated iron roof. The other section of the shed is formed by a single-gabled wing. It appears that this was constructed in stages, with the first portion added to be a slightly smaller gable at a later date. The interior of the hipped section of the building is divided into pens, and has a drag-across board with shearer's stations still evident. This part of the shed is in fragile condition with parts of the floor and the roof collapsing. The later section of the shed is largely filled with dags and is not divided into pens. The most northern part of that gable is used for storage, but it too is in a dilapidated condition.

Cookshop and Shearer's quarters (former)

The cookshop is an interesting example of the type of facility required to feed and house farm workers, although it is in poor condition.

The Cookshop and Shearer's quarters sit in a paddock to the west of the woolshed. This is a timber structure, single storey on the eastern end (cookshop), and double storey on the west (shearer's quarters). The shearer's quarters sits at right angles to the cookshop. The buildings look to have been constructed separately, with a series of additions creating the single connected structure.

The eastern portion of the cookshop is a single storey timber cottage, rectangular in plan. It has an external brick chimney breast and a small timber lean-to addition on the eastern elevation. It has two six-light sash windows and a ledger and brace door on the northern elevation. There is a single door on the south elevation, and no windows.

The adjoining portion of the cottage is of similar form, and has a single window in each of the north and south elevations, and no doors. There is internal access to the two storied portion from this section of the cookshop. There was an external chimney breast on the east elevation, but this has been enclosed by the shearer's quarters.

The shearer's quarters is a two-storey single gable structure, connected to the cookshop by an internal door. There are two doors and a small window opening on the eastern elevation. There is a small window opening on the first floor of the eastern elevation. The north elevation has window openings on the first and second floors. There are no windows on the east elevation.

The cookshop and shearer's quarters are in poor condition, in a state of partial collapse.

If you have any further interest I've included more information below from the Historic Places register on the history & importance Wantwood was to the Southland District, I find it all very fascinating even though this is pages long!

Wantwood reflects the history of large scale land development in nineteenth century Southland. The house, with its grand position and architectural style, show the importance owner George Meredith Bell attached to his position as a large land owner, and also a company official for the New Zealand Agricultural Company. Land companies played a particularly significant role in opening up European settlement in inland Southland and represent the period of initial European settlement and occupation by pastoralists, and the later subdivision and closer settlement which followed in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The failure of the New Zealand Agricultural Company and the selling of its estate also illustrates the flow on effects of the economic depression of the 1880s.

Wantwood has an association with the New Zealand Agricultural Company, the directors of which included a number of prominent men including William Larnach, Robert Stout and briefly, Julius Vogel. The Company, formed in 1878, played prominent role in the settlement of the Gore and Lumsden district, including financing a railway in the area. New Zealand Agricultural Company, along with others such as the New Zealand and Australian Land Company (also significant in the history of Southland), are central to the understanding of the developments in pastoralism in nineteenth century New Zealand. Wantwood was the centre of operations for the New Zealand Agricultural Company in Southland, and has a particular association with company manager George Meredith Bell.

The design of Wantwood homestead is significant. It is an excellent example of a substantial Victorian Gothic homestead styled as befitted the manager of a land company, and the centre of company operations.

In addition the woolshed shows considerable technical accomplishment. The large building is of pit sawn timber and is notable for its scale and design. While in poor condition the building is worth recording.

Historical Narrative-
Wantwood Farm is situated on the Waimea Plains, which lie between the townships of Lumsden in the north and Mandeville in the south in Southland. The Waimea Plains was on the route from the coast to the interior for Maori, and on the Plains about the junction of the Mataura and Waikaia Rivers, Roki and his people defeated northern chief Te Puoho in 1836.

The first European settlers in this inland district were the pastoralists, with the Alex McNab and Peter McKellar moving to the Waimea Plains in 1855. McKellar's Run 112, which became known as Longridge, covered a huge territory from the Snowy Mountains, to the Mataura River, and the Hokonui Range. In 1864 the run was divided into two (112 and 195). After John Turnbull Thomson's survey of the runs in 1857 there were further subdivisions.

It was not until the 1860s that permanent residences and farm buildings were erected by runholders. One of the first was Waimea House, erected by David McKellar. Waimea House was a substantial two-storied sixteen-roomed house of brick and local stone. It was built on a terrace overlooking the plains. McKellar sold the run and Waimea House to George Meredith Bell in 1867.

What became known as the Wantwood (or Otamita) Run, number 119A, was taken up by George Gunn in 1857. Wantwood was so-called because of the shortage of wood in the vicinity; bullock drivers had to carry their firewood for their first night journey, which led to the naming of the stopping place on the Run. There are several stories about Gunn's early living arrangements: one notes George Gunn's first residence, a small crib dug into the side of the Otamita Stream, was erected by 1861. He then built a hut on the banks of the stream where it left the gorge, and finally a weather board house near the site of the current stone house. Another notes that when Gunn took over Wantwood in 1862 the homestead was a single-storey building at the mouth of the Otamete [Otamita] Gorge on the Waimea side of the Otamita Stream (about five kilometres south of the current stone house). Gunn was inundated by travellers, presumably on their way to the goldfields, and built an accommodation house about a mile and a half east of the homestead.

Prominent Australian squatter Charles Fitzwilliam Wentworth, who had interests in many Southland runs, wanted to buy Wantwood for his brother-in-law Henry Hill. Gunn would not sell Wantwood until 1867 when Henry Hill came in as manager for the next seven years. Hill was well known throughout the province for his efforts in horse breeding, and his association with the Five Rivers Station.

According to pastoral run historian Herries Beattie (who interviewed early settler William Chubbin) the woolshed was built in 1865, with James and Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paterson and William Chubbin engaged to saw timber for it in Croydon Bush. The timber was then carried twelve miles around the Hokonui Hills to Wantwood where a "commodious woolshed" was built.

Next owner was Patrick McCaughan who bought the 27,600 acres in 1874. Rabbits were a severe problem at this time, with McCaughan apparently employing over 100 men to deal with the invasion.

Extensive areas of land in Southland were taken up by speculative land companies. Company holdings were largest in Edendale (The Australian and New Zealand Land Company owned 125,000 acres) and on the Waimea Plains (the New Zealand Agricultural Company (NZAC), c.300,000 acres).

The New Zealand Agricultural Company was formed in December 1878. The promoters of the company included prominent individuals - Sir Julius Vogel, Messrs W.J. Larnach, J. Clarke, among them. Runholders were interested in forming a company which could control settlement of the district, and the mid-1870s seemed like a good time to do so as prices for land were increasing. Historian G.A. Hamilton writes that the Company was integral to the development of Northern Southland, and notes that Southland benefited most by having a good agricultural area developed at the company's expense. According to Hamilton the Company owned 609,000 acres, amounting to nearly all the land between the Mataura and Oreti Rivers from Charlton Creek to Eyre Peak, a distance of sixty-five miles, the greater part of it freehold. The company spent thousands on improvements and gave free grants of land for public benefit, including school sites, cemeteries and at least one sports ground.

The Company amalgamated the working of individual runs into one organisation. Each run was managed as a separate unit, and in most cases the old homestead was used as headquarters of local management, while the company manager had to oversee the work on all estates. Each run was ring fenced and a few subdivisions were usually made near the homestead. The first sale of township and suburban agricultural land was made in 1879. The general objects of the Company were to improve the land, provide means of access, subdivide it and sell it at a profit. In addition to running thousands of sheep, the company turned to grain growing on a large scale with the Waimea Plains described in 1885 as one waving ocean of corn, a truly admirable sight. The Company in effect was a means of providing farms for many throughout the Waimea Plains who could not otherwise have afforded them.

Tasmanian-born George Meredith Bell (1836-1898) formally passed the Waimea Estate over to the Company, and entered its employ, relocating temporarily to England to watch the interests of the vendors to the Company. He had been involved in pastoral pursuits in Australia before coming to New Zealand. Managers apparently provided a lavish standard of entertainment. Bell lived at Waimea House when he made his rounds of the station he always rode a magnificent horse, usually a chestnut, and his attire was immaculate. Tan boots and leggings, light coloured riding breeches, black coat, a short bell-topper and kid gloves made him a picturesque figure, who could have stepped out of a 'Country Life' magazine. Soon after his arrival he became a member of the short-lived Southland Provincial Council. He was involved in the foundation of the Waimea Railway, built the first flour mill in Gore in 1877, and founded a sawmill at Croydon Bush, which cut timber for the railway. Later he was one of the founders of the Southland Frozen Meat and Produce Export Company (1886) , and a director of that company throughout its existence.

Waimea and Wantwood were the big houses of the district, and were the centres of large scale entertainment. Guests arrived from Dunedin for house parties in specially chartered carriages.

Despite lofty aims and dreams of profit the Company soon found itself in financial difficulty. The great demand for land which had existed at the time the Company was formed had evaporated, and had not been revived making it impossible to sell land quickly. Both stock and crop prices were low, and sheep losses high, and the rabbits rampant. A bad oat season added further to the losses. Many Company staff in Dunedin resigned at the end of the season, and those remaining were transferred to Wantwood to save the expense of maintaining an office in Dunedin. The Company attempted to sell off some of its holdings, but despite large attendance at the sale there were no bidders.

The Wantwood Homestead was put up for sale in March 1882. The auction notice described:

"About 10 miles from Gore; together with about 2000 acres of very superior agricultural land, subdivided into numerous paddocks and in a high state of cultivation (the English-grass paddocks cannot be surpassed in the Colony), with sufficient turnips to fatten a large number of sheep during the winter. The improvements are all first class; say stone dwelling-house of eight rooms, situated in large plantation and well-laid out grounds and garden, store, offices, large stable and coach house, cottage, barn (with water wheel for chaff-cutting), men's hut (new); cowshed, yards, &c; woolshed, yards &c. The whole forming not only a comfortable and complete home, but the land besides is of undeniable good quality."

Meredith Bell bought Wantwood from the New Zealand Agricultural Company in 1885. Local historian Slocombe describes him as the most prominent figure in Waimea until his death in 1898. Bell acquired more adjoining land in 1889, and by that year had a holding of 48,361 acres. A contemporary report stated: Mr Bell was then the monarch of all he surveyed, not a farm, not a house was to be seen on the Waimea Plains nothing but sheep. Bell enlarged Waimea House and improving the grounds.

The first homestead, presumably the one described in the auction notice, was razed by fire in mid 1886. Bell then set out to build a complete station homestead. A new two-storey building was erected in 1887. He had also built a large woolshed, men's huts and cookshop complete with large baker's ovens in each end. The stables with lofts, stalls and loose boxes were all complete with harness rooms and rooms for various workmen. A blacksmith's shop, built of local rock was located just behind the stables; there was also a general store nearby where all the goods needed for the station were kept. Nearer the homestead were more buildings used as shearer's quarters with an attached office. There was a cricket pitch and a tennis court on the property.

The Company struggled on until 1890 when it went into liquidation, with shareholders losing their capital. In 1895 Wright Stephenson and Company were appointed attorneys for the liquidator. On 6 April 1899 35,439 acres were sold. Land continued to be sold until the final clearance in 1906.

George Meredith Bell died unexpectedly from pneumonia resulting from influenza in 1898. His death was widely mourned. Bell was "widely known and widely respected throughout Southland. He was an energetic settler, hospitable, and an ardent lover of field sports, the hunt and racing having had in him an honourable and enthusiastic supporter. In the business of life he was sagacious and enterprising, being one of the first in the district to apprehend the benefits likely to accrue from the export of frozen meat.Taken altogether the deceased gentleman was one whom the district could ill afford to lose, for his energy was great, and as a personal friend he was among the notables."

On Bell's death, apparently in a state of some financial hardship, large parts of the run were subdivided.

Peter McLeod moved from Central Otago in 1901 and purchased parts of the Croydon Run, and later some of the Wantwood homestead block. McLeod's sons J.H. and W.D. McLeod took over Wantwood from their father.

In the homestead the large kitchen was converted to a living room, with the still large pantry absorbing the kitchen. The Cookshop and shearer's quarters were used until the 1960s, a new concrete shower block having been built to comply with health regulations. A new woolshed and covered yard complex was built in the 1970s. The farm office was shifted from its original site to the rear of the homestead garden. 

Comparative Analysis

Wantwood Homestead is a substantial gentleman's residence/land company manager's residence dating from the 1880s, with its surviving ancillary buildings (woolshed, shearer's quarters/cookshop and farm office).

In Southland's architectural history it is one of the most significant farm homesteads, and its association with the New Zealand Agricultural Company is of special significance, comparable in standing to the other Category I farm homesteads in Southland. Its interior detailing is significant, and other than the service areas of the house (the kitchen and scullery), has been little altered, retaining the sense of grandeur as befitted the centre of the land company estate.

The associated buildings at Wantwood are significant but in poor condition: the substantial timber woolshed, constructed from pit sawn timber is a superb example of its type, but is suffering from general decay, and is in a state of partial collapse. The nearby cookshop/shearer's quarters is derelict. The farm office is in sound condition.                   



  1. Your blog is's keeping my dreams alive to do something similar, currently fixing up our property to sell, downsize and buy a motorhome.
    Keep em coming!
    Cheers & Ciao

    1. Thanks Jimu, glad you're still finding the blog interesting. Keep those dreams to the fore and it won't be long before you too can "hit the road"


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