Harding House

242 Pouto Road, Aoroa

  • Harding House.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Stuart Park. Date: 8/08/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 427 Date Entered 15th December 2011


Extent of List Entry

The registration comprises the house known as Harding House and its fittings and fixtures and the land on which it stands, part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 193628 (CT 430826), North Auckland Land District, within the curtilage shown outlined in red on the map in Appendix 1 of this registration report.

City/District Council

Kaipara District


Northland Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 193628 (CT 430826), North Auckland Land District


John Harding’s sons, and especially Alfred, developed the property, initially by selling gum-digging leases, as well as by developing substantial herds of pedigree cattle and sheep. After their marriage, Alfred and Margaret raised their family here, and the fourth and fifth generation of their descendants now live in the house and farm part of the original property.

The house stands on a rise overlooking the main road from Dargaville to Te Kopuru. It is in the form of a single storey double bay villa, with a detached additional billiard or ball-room. Built primarily of kauri and totara, the house has decorative elements made from a variety of native timbers. It was recognised as a significant and well made house when it was built. It remains in substantially original condition, though some additions and alterations have been made over its lifetime to improve its facilities.

The Harding family has played an important role in the life of the community in the Northern Wairoa and more widely. The house is significant in its own right as a well preserved example of a substantial rural Victorian villa. Harding House has social significance because of the activities of those who lived there, and the contributions they made to New Zealand’s military, political, local government, industrial and agricultural history.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Harding House has historical significance by virtue of its association with the development of the gumlands of the Northern Wairoa into productive farmland, and the pedigree stock raised there that contributed significantly to the improvement of the rural Northland economy. It is significant because of the activities of those who lived there, and the contributions they made to New Zealand’s military, political, local government, industrial and agricultural history.

Architectural Significance or Value:

Harding House is a significant surviving example of a substantial rural Northland late Victorian house. A considerable number of architectural features were incorporated into its construction, with materials being sourced from several parts of the North Island as well as internationally. Its construction was sufficiently remarkable that it attracted a detailed account in the local newspaper, and the quality of the craftsmanship in its construction was remarked upon. A photograph of the house was published in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand in 1902.

Social Significance or Value:

Harding House has social significance as the dwelling of several generations of a significant Northland family, who have made contributions to New Zealand society in a number of spheres of endeavour. The people who have lived here have had significant involvement with local, national and in some respects international organisations involved in the development of New Zealand society in respect of families, women, health, education, farming, the dairy industry, patriotic societies and the military.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The development of rural land in New Zealand has been an important element in New Zealand’s history, society and well-being. The Harding property at Aoroa documents that development from the apparently worthless swamps of the kauri gumland to productive farmland that has produced much of the country’s wealth in livestock, dairying and wool production. The cooperative dairy industry laid the foundation for much of the country’s present economic well-being. It was a movement led by dairy farmers themselves, including prominent individuals like A E Harding. Many aspects of social life in New Zealand have been well served by the voluntary involvement of individuals, mostly women, in organisations and societies such as those Margaret Harding and her descendants have contributed to.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

New Zealand’s remarkable ability to produce ‘citizen soldiers’, military leaders who came from a civilian background to provide service and leadership in war, then to return to civilian life at war’s end, is well exemplified by the involvement and sacrifice of the Harding family in two World Wars.

Summary of Significance or Values

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mansill, Charles Henry

Charles Henry Mansill (1859 – 1945). Mansill was born in Wellington in 1859. He was a qualified carpenter as well as an accomplished cricketer and footballer. With a partner he purchased 3,147 acres in Northern Wairoa, moving to Mangawhare in 1891.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Kaipara in the early nineteenth century was a place of conflict between two tribal confederations, Ngapuhi and Ngati Whatua. Hostilities began around 1807 with a clash between Ngapuhi and Te Roroa, who were supported by their Ngati Whatua allies, including Te Uri o Hau. A battle, known as Te Kai a Te Karoro (the seagull’s feast), was fought at Moremonui, on the coast north-west of Dargaville. The outcome was a serious defeat for Ngapuhi, who lost several of their leaders there. Hongi Hika of Ngapuhi was a young man at Moremonui, and he determined to obtain utu for the loss of his kin. The Ngapuhi confederation he led acquired guns after 1814, and developed a monopoly in dealings with Pakeha traders and missionaries in the Bay of Islands. In contrast, Kaipara Maori had little contact with Pakeha before the 1830s.

By the 1820s, Hongi Hika had acquired sufficient guns to begin a series of expeditions southward to settle past grievances, including the defeat at Moremonui, where two of his brothers had died. Among Hongi Hika’s early targets was Te Parawhau of the upper Wairoa Valley, but their leader, Te Tirarau Kukupa, subsequently allied with Hongi Hika. In 1825, Hongi Hika’s war party, which included Te Parawhau, attacked a large force (estimated at about 1000) of Ngati Whatua near Kaiwaka. The Ngati Whatua confederation included Te Uri o Hau as well as several other hapu. In a series of fights around Kaiwaka, called Te Ika a Ranganui, Ngati Whatua were comprehensively defeated with heavy losses. The survivors scattered. Some went north up the Kaihu Valley to their relatives from Te Roroa, some sought protection with Te Parawhau kin in northern Wairoa, while others went south to Tamaki and on into Waikato. For the next decade, much of Kaipara was almost unoccupied, but by the 1830s Ngati Whatua began moving back.

Ngapuhi did not follow the fighting at Te Ika a Ranganui with the permanent occupation of Kaipara. In Maori terms, conquest must be followed by settlement if rights to the land are to be recognised.

Following the establishment of the Native Land Court under the Native Lands Act 1865, the Court was required to name no more than 10 owners, regardless of the size of the block. The newly designated owners held their lands individually, not as trustees for a tribal group. They could manage it or sell it as individuals and for their own benefit. The introduction of private purchasers allowed some very substantial blocks to pass directly from Maori to European hands. In 1878, the year after title was awarded, the Aoroa block, of 13,839 acres, was purchased for £3000.

At the end of 1877, while on a visit to Auckland, a Hawkes Bay settler John Harding (1819 - 1899) purchased the Aoroa block from Kaipara Maori he met there. It is not currently clear exactly who the vendors were, but a newspaper account of a dispute over the distribution of the sale money indicates that several of the leading chiefs of Te Uri o Hau and Ngati Whatua were involved in the transaction, including Arama Karaka, Henare Rawiti, Paora Tuhaere, Te Hemara Tauhia and others.

Harding bought the land with a view to its being settled on his behalf by his tenth child and fifth son, William Bennick Harding (1856 - 1928). The plan of the land produced in the Court at Kaihu before Judge John Jermyn Symonds on 7 July 187- (the final digit is indistinct) shows W B Harding’s name on the land block. William and the youngest son Edwin (1863 - 1929) arrived to take possession in May 1878. The two brothers’ health failed, so in 1879 18 year old Alfred and his 14 year old brother Maurice (1855 - 1936) arrived from Waipukurau to take charge. Clear title to the land was not granted to Harding for a further ten years because of irregularities in the signatures of the vendors. ‘Unfortunately, there was difficulty in completing the title to the Block, and proper farming operations were delayed for several years on this account.’

Alfred Ernest Harding (1861- 1946) was born at Waipukurau and educated in Napier and Wellington. He worked on his father’s Mt Vernon station in Hawkes Bay, and then moved to Aoroa to take over management of his father’s run there.

The first money for the development of the block came from selling wild cattle for their meat, but for many years the main source of income was from kauri gum royalties, the carting of gum to the gumstores and the sale of provisions to the gumdiggers. In 1916, John Stallworthy wrote:

The Aoroa Block has been very rich in kauri gum, and many thousands of pounds’ worth of that article have been taken out by diggers. In the days when this block was purchased, it was thought by some that Mr Harding was paying a big price for the swamp land when he paid a few shillings per acre for it, but time has proved that these same areas have yielded large revenues from fees charged to diggers, and now they are becoming drained they are becoming among the most valuable portions of the block. The Aoroa paddocks, fronting the main road, are among the finest to be found anywhere in the Dominion.

The Hardings were keen to improve the quality of their stock. In 1889, 2,000 sheep were driven overland from John Harding’s Mt Vernon Estate in Hawkes Bay to Helensville on the southern Kaipara, and then barged up to Aoroa. The journey took 50 days, and very few sheep were lost en route. These were Romney Marsh sheep, and included pedigree rams and ewes. Alfred Harding continued to import high-class cattle, sheep and horses. In 1916, John Stallworthy records that ‘on a recent trip to the old Country, he brought back with him some of the best strains of draught stock procurable in England and Scotland. ‘The Hardings were also responsible for the introduction of dairy shorthorn cattle about the turn of the [twentieth] century from the Waikato. Two herds were milked to supply the local [Dargaville] factory which commenced in 1902’.

The house was built as a home for Alfred Ernest Harding and his bride Margaret Astley (1871 - 1962). They were married in the Mt Albert Wesleyan Church, Auckland (NZHPT Category II, Record no. 675) on 25 February 1893.

Mr A E Harding, County Chairman, returned from Auckland on Thursday evening, bringing with him his bride. The marriage took place in Auckland on Saturday last, the happy bride being Miss Astley, who during her late residence at Mangawhare was a general favourite and valuable help in good work. The party landed at Aratapu, where a large number of people awaited the arrival of the steamer. The Aratapu Brass Band turned out and in a pair horse waggon followed Mr and Mrs Harding in their drive home. The band returned home later on making their voices better heard than their instruments.

Whilst John Harding and his older sons played a significant role in the development of Mount Vernon station and Hawkes Bay, the three youngest sons Maurice, Edwin and Alfred all made significant contributions to the Northern Wairoa. Youngest son Edwin suffered ill health but later bought Ounuwhao Block, where he ran sheep and milked cows. He was a chairman of Hobson County Council and a director of the Northern Wairoa Dairy Company. Edwin built a substantial villa at Ounuwhao, three kilometres west of Tangowahine. . Maurice pursued his occupation as a surveyor, then bought land in Horehore (Turiwiri) and Maungatawhiri (Arapohue) to run sheep and cattle, was elected president of Arapohue Show Association and North Auckland Farmers Co-operative. He gave up farming in about 1915, selling his 7000 acres to retire in Auckland.

Whilst living in this house, Alfred Harding played a prominent role in many aspects of the life of the community. He was one of the first members of the Dargaville School Committee, and it is there that he met his future wife, Miss Margaret Astley, who was a teacher, at choir practice. He later also served on the board of the Aoroa School. He was elected to the Hobson County Council representing Aratapu from 1887 to 1905, and was Chairman of the County from 1891 - 1890. He was Independent Conservative Member of Parliament for Kaipara from 1902 - 1905. A E Harding was on the Steering Committee which formed the Northern Wairoa Co-operative Dairy Company, and was one of the first Board of Directors in 1902. He personally donated the site for the factory at Mangawhare. A group of the dairy factory workers’ houses and the manager’s house are registered by NZHPT as the River Road Historic Area (Record no. 7002). Harding was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1891. He donated the substantial headland between Dargaville and Mangawhare to the Hobson County for a reserve, known today as Harding Park, which includes the site of the Dargaville Museum. Ironically, he had to purchase back a small section of the land to become the family burial plot, adjacent to the Mt Wesley Cemetery. A keen rugby player in his youth, in 1914 he donated the Harding Shield which is still competed for in Northland Rugby.

Margaret Astley Harding also played a very active role in the life of the community. With three sons serving in the First World War she was prominent in the Patriotic Society, and for her work in raising £40,000 in a great carnival she was declared ‘Queen of the North’. She was awarded the MBE for this work. She founded the branch of the Plunket Society in Dargaville, became its President and served on the Dominion Council of Plunket as well. Other community organisations on which she served included Women’s Division Federated Farmers, Kaipara Hospital Board, St John’s Ambulance, Northern Wairoa Old Folk’s Association, and the National Council of Women.

The family of Alfred and Margaret that grew up in the Harding house at Aoroa comprised four sons and four daughters. Three sons Ernest (b. 1894), Harold (1895 - 1915) and Ralph (b. 1896) saw service in World War One. Harold was posted missing and is believed to have been killed in action on the day of the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli, as well as by a kauri planted in his memory in the Harding graveyard in one corner of Harding Park, Mt Wesley, Dargaville. Ernest served in the NZ Rifle Brigade and rose to the rank of Captain, commanded 5 (Res) Battalion and was awarded a Military Cross for bravery in France.

Ralph Harding joined the army in 1916, served initially as a corporal in 1 Auckland Battalion. He was awarded a Military Medal and a commission as Second Lieutenant but continued his involvement with the Territorial Army after the war. When World War Two started he was posted to Papakura Military Camp, then England and the Middle East. Ralph won a DSO at Halfaya Pass. He was promoted Brigadier in command of New Zealand’s 5th Brigade for a period in Egypt in Italy when he suffered a second wound too severe to let him carry on.

Both Ralph and Ernest earned their decorations for bravery in the same action at Messines in June 1917.

Ernest, Ralph and another brother Richard (1913 - 1944) all served with distinction in World War Two. Ernest became a Lieutenant Colonel and was acting CO of 21 Battalion in 1941. Major Richard Harding was killed in Italy in 1944 - he is commemorated by a Pohutukawa tree in Harding Park. After the war Ralph continued to command the 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade from 1945 until 1951. The Army Hall in Whangarei was named Harding Army Hall in honour of Brigadier Ralph Harding (NZHPT Category II, Record 7473).

After World War Two Ralph returned to his farm at Kirikopuni, east of Tangiteroria, and Ernest returned to farm at the Harding House property at Aoroa. Ernest formed a partnership with his son Keith in 1950, E. A. and K. D. Harding and until Ernest retired in 1978 they worked hard to further develop the two dairy herds, sheep and beef numbers. In 1997, the Aoroa block was divided between the four great grandsons of John Harding. Keith Harding’s son Hal and his wife Penny Smart now farm the Aoroa homestead block, and they and their children live in the house built for Alfred Ernest and Margaret Harding, Hal’s great grandparents. Hal is a councillor on the Kaipara District Council, the successor of the Hobson County Council his great grandfather once chaired.

Physical Description

A detailed account of the house was published in the local newspaper at the time it was built.

Mr A E Harding’s New House

Mr C. Mansill, now a settler at the Orau, but formerly a builder and contractor in the Wellington district, has just completed to the order of Mr A E Harding, the erection of a handsome and commodious residence in the Aoroa Block. The house stands on the rising ground about a quarter of a mile back from the main road, and about half way between Aratapu and Mangawhare. It has a very pretty appearance from the outside; the Corinthian style of architecture is evident in the many columns, the flat hip roof and square walls; and the work of the painter has added much to the beauty of the building, the different portions of the columns and window frames being picked out in different shades.

The walls are of rusticated weather boards, double rabbetted according to pattern supplied by Mr Mansill to the local mill. There are three verandahs, one on each side of the house except the back; they are supported by several Corinthian pillars of kauri with totara bases and are nicely set of with the eaves brackets. The verandah floors are all of totara. The roof, which extends over the bay windows, is all close boarded and is covered with roofing felt under the iron, so that it is completely waterproof. The felt tempers the heat usually so great under an iron roof, and also prevents the noise of heavy rains being heard in the house.

The plumber’s work was done by Mr W A Ford of Mangawhare and has given thorough satisfaction. The painting and paper-hanging was done by day work under Mr Mansill’s own supervision. The ventilation has been carefully attended to, there being three main ventilators in the roof. Some yards back from the main building is another building which contains a workshop, dairy and men’s apartment.

The house contains eight main rooms besides offices - a drawing room, a library, a dining room, four bedrooms and a kitchen with scullery, bath room, 2 store rooms and a wash house. Entering by the front door you find yourself in a spacious hall six feet in width and with an arch about the middle. The dado boards are of kauri and rimu alternately, with a rimu cap and stained kauri base; the two timbers producing as very pleasing effect. The drawing room and opposite bedroom have handsome rimu doors which were got from Wellington, as was nearly all the rimu used. The rooms throughout are all very carefully finished and the different timbers have been so dealt with that their natural beauties are well brought out and artistically blended. In the drawing room the ceiling is of common sap kauri with rimu battens and corners, and nothing could be made to look prettier. The mantlepiece of rimu with rewa-rewa panels and black mouldings is a beautiful piece of work. All the mantlepieces and skirtings throughout the house are of rimu which had to be got from Wellington although there is plenty growing in our bushes.

The hearts are in large pieces of burnt fire brick specially constructed. The rooms are papered in plain tinted papers and in those rooms where pictures are to be hung a gilt moulding specially made for hanging pictures to is placed around the tops of the walls. The drawing room measures 20 feet by 14 feet with twelve foot studs. The front bedroom is fourteen feet square. All the bedrooms have distempered ceilings, well ventilated, room [sic] which looks very much like plaster. The library (18 ft. by 16 ft.) has a bay window and diamond glass panelled door opening out onto a verandah. Here the mantlepiece and ceilings are similar to the drawing room. We need not describe the other rooms which are similar to those already noticed.

At the end of the hall is a margin light door with embossed margins and figured panels. The bath-room is supplied by pipes with hot and cold water and is complete with every convenience including one of Shank’s patent closets. The kitchen range is large and complete, being also fitted with a rapid water heating appliance of Mr Harding’s own device. Of the scullery, storerooms and wash-house we need say nothing more than that they have been supplied with everything that could be desired, water being at hand just where wanted. There are numerous round tanks for storing water and the draining is thoroughly complete from all parts of the house. The floors are rat and air proof, there being no crevices between the flooring, plates and joists, and in every way the house is as complete as ingenuity and skilful workmanship could make it. Mr Mansill has indeed completed his work in a masterly manner and to the complete satisfaction of the owner. The whole cost of the building is about £800.

The house today stands on an elevated terrace some 400 metres west of the Dargaville Te Kopuru road. One elevation and bay window faces north-east towards the river, while the second bay faces northwest, now enclosed in the junction to the ball-room. Many aspects of the house remain as it was described in 1893, but there have been some changes over the years.

According to Florence Keene, the original intention was to extend the house upwards, but instead further bedrooms were added at the rear, increasing the house from its original 11 rooms to 14. In 1914, the verandah on the south eastern side was enclosed and a small rectangular room added to form a bathroom, with internal access, either replacing or augmenting the one to the rear of the house described in 1893. Whilst no longer used as the main bathroom, this room remains intact, with its early and unusual shower fitting over the bath. The original Shanks patent water closets for the house were purchased in England by John Harding, Alfred’s father, in 1892 (‘one for the swells and one for the kitchen folks’). Alfred Harding bought the fittings for the new bathroom while on a visit to England in 1914.

About 1916, a billiard room was added to the northwest of the house, and linked by a roof joining it to the house. No billiard table was ever installed, and the room functioned more as a ball room for dances and social events.

An infestation of white ants was found and treated in 1906, and another infestation in 1946. At this latter date the original puriri piles, which were thought to be how the ants had gained access, were replaced with concrete piles.

To the rear of the house the row of outbuildings remains as it was in 1893 (‘workshop, dairy and men’s apartment’). Their specific function has changed from time to time as the occupancy of the house has changed. ‘Across the backyard were the shearer’s quarters and the coach house’. These buildings continue to fill ancillary and service functions.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1893 -

1900 -
Three bedrooms added

1914 -
Construction of a new bathroom in place of the verandah at the north east corner

1916 -
Construction of billiard room / ball room wing

Construction Details

Kauri, totara, rimu, rewarewa, iron roof

Completion Date

17th November 2011

Report Written By

Stuart Park

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902

Keene, 1978

Keene, F., Legacies in Kauri: Old Homes and Churches of the North, Whangarei, 1978

Stallworthy, 1916

John Stallworthy, Early Northern Wairoa, Dargaville, 1916

Byrne, 2002

Brian Byrne, The Unknown Kaipara: Five Aspects of its History, Auckland, 2002

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northland Area Office

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.