Historical Significance or Value
The Gittos House has historical significance as it has played a significant role in the history of the Kaipara, through the work of William Gittos in the spread of Christianity and especially Methodism in Northland. The site was selected as appropriate by William Gittos early in his mission, because of its close proximity to the Maori centre of population across the river at Tanoa.
After Gittos left, the house was the centre for an innovative and very unusual venture into the farming of ostriches in New Zealand. Although the Aramando ostrich farm was not economically successful, it led to the establishment of a thriving ostrich feather industry in Auckland that lasted for thirty years, until changes in fashion made it redundant.
Subsequently the house was used by the manager of the local fish cannery, a Kaipara industry that thrived for a period, until diminishing fish stocks and distance from markets made it uneconomic.
For the longest part of its life the house was a farmhouse for a successful Kaipara farming family, who played an important part in the creation of wealth through pastoral farming in this part of New Zealand.
The house thus has an association with several significant aspects of New Zealand’s settlement and development.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
William Gittos played a significant role in the spread of Methodism in Northland and elsewhere, from his base here at this mission station. He also played a significant role in the alienation of large areas of Maori land, something that continues to have social, economic and political significance.
The Linnell family have played a significant role in the agricultural, economic and political history of the Kaipara District over several generations.
Both ostrich farming and mullet canning with which the house is also associated are significant, if somewhat unusual, elements in the history of the economic development of Northland and New Zealand.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
Although this is a privately owned house in a relatively isolated position, its historical significance in connection with the Methodist Mission and its long association with the Linnell family mean that it is well regarded by many in the Kaipara community, including many that have not actually visited it.
(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement
This house is one of the oldest surviving European style houses in the Kaipara District. At the time it was built there were very few other houses in the vicinity, or indeed in the wider Kaipara area. Particularly because of its long retention in one family, it has survived when most of the small number of its contemporaries have not.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The house has a direct connection with the Kakaraea church across the river, which Rev. Gittos built as the central church of his mission (NZHPT Record number 460). In its later history, there is a connection to the house at Batley, site of another mullet factory, and to St Albans Whakapirau, erected under the aegis of a later owner of the Gittos House, W H Jackman (NZHPT Record numbers 7349 and 462). The Gittos House thus forms part of a group of places along the shores of the Kaipara, connected by the use of the harbour as the principal, and indeed often only, means of transport and communication.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: b, e, i, k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
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.
The Methodist Church in Northland
The Methodist Church was founded in England during the 1730s by John Wesley, an Anglican priest who sought to reform the Christian religion by instituting greater discipline in spiritual devotion and social work. The first Wesleyan mission in New Zealand was established at Wesleydale, Kaeo, on the Whangaroa Harbour in June 1823. The missionaries lived in an uneasy relationship with their hosts, Ngati Uru. After four years of difficult and largely unsuccessful evangelism, the mission was abandoned in a period of intense Maori political activity in January 1827. The missionaries fled to safety in Sydney. The mission was pillaged according to the law of muru; nothing remains today but a commemorative cairn.
In October 1827 they returned, this time to the Hokianga, at the invitation of the Ngapuhi chief Patuone. A mission station was established at Mangungu. Many local Maori were supportive of the mission, lead by the chiefs Patuone and Nene who both became Christians. The missionaries instituted the Methodist practice of preaching in a 'circuit' of chapels and meeting places in Maori villages and Pakeha settlements such as the nearby Horeke shipyard.
In 1836 a Wesleyan mission station was established at Tangiteroria, on the upper reaches of the Wairoa River, in the rohe of Tirarau. The mission station was close to Tirarau’s principal pa Aotahi. The mission circuit developed from there by James Wallis and subsequently James Buller included several places around the Kaipara, including Otamatea (Kakaraea) at Tanoa. However, the mission station at Tangiteroria was not successful and both Wallis and Buller frequently complained that Tirarau’s people living nearby were ‘very heartless in everything of a religious character’. The mission was well supported by other Kaipara chiefs including Arama Karaka Haututu (Adam Clark) of Otamatea.
As early as 1840 Buller had recommended relocating the Kaipara mission station to a more central place. While in the 1830s the greatest concentration of Maori was in the immediate vicinity of Tangiteroria, by the 1850s the bulk of the Maori population had moved to the Kaipara heads area. In early 1854 Buller established his new mission station at Mt Wesley, just south of Dargaville, to enable him to have greater contact with the bulk of the Kaipara population located nearby. A decline in Buller’s health led to his removal to Auckland in late 1854. He had achieved a great deal in his fifteen years in the Kaipara. Some 400 of the 880 Maori population of the Kaipara were nominally Christian and there were good attendances at the mission preaching places and schools. Buller’s replacement in 1856 was William Gittos.
Initially, Gittos settled at Waingohi, near Oruawharo but in 1866 he relocated the mission station north to Rangiora on the southern side of the Otamatea river and opposite the mission outpost at Tanoa where a raupo chapel seating around 300 people had been built in 1850-1. This brought the mission much closer to the main Maori population base at Otamatea. Tanoa was at that time a significant settlement in southern Kaipara, as the residence of the prominent Te Uri o Hau chief Paikea Te Hekeua. In 1864, the visit of the Colonial Secretary William Fox to Tanoa was recounted in the newspapers of the day:
Tanoa, Paikea's village, is very prettily situated on the banks of the Ota-matea, about twelve miles from its mouth. The natives are numerous, healthy, and respectable. Their settlement is a picture of happy industry, with its clean neat whares and fruitful cultivations. [After visiting Port Albert they] returned that evening to Tanoa, where they were most comfortably lodged by Paikea. The following day was that appointed for the grand ko-rero. It was held at eleven o'clock in the morning, in Paikea's new house, a handsome weather-boarded building thirty-five feet by thirty feet in width.
The land at Rangiora was given to the Wesleyans by Rev. Hone Waiti Hikitanga, a chief of Te Uri o Hau who assisted Gittos for nineteen years.
In March 1868, a correspondent for the Daily Southern Cross newspaper in Auckland described the Gittos House during a visit he made to Tanoa to report on a sitting of the Native Land Court being held there.
Immediately opposite to Te Tanoa, on the left proper bank of the river, is the residence of the Rev. W. Gittos and family, situated in an extremely pleasant little nook, belted by forest on one side and by fern-clad hills on the other. The dwelling -a fine verandah cottage- is built on a terrace from which there is a good view of the river and the adjacent country. From the hill side, a short distance from the house, can be seen the great Kaipara harbour and the distant headlands which seem to be looking down in silent grandeur on the surging billows below. There are cultivated grounds near the mission premises producing vegetables, grain, and flowers, and amongst other good things were conspicuous several fine apple trees in full bearing, the fruit of which Mr. Gittos tempted us to taste. There was no appearance on these trees of that apple bane, the American blight...
On the Sabbath [23 February 1868], in the forenoon, a sermon was preached in Maori by Mr. Gittos, at Te Tanoa, in a wooden structure 54 feet by 21, to an attentive congregation numbering 150..
The ‘wooden structure’ that preceded the Kakaraea church at Tanoa (NZHPT Record number 460) might well have sufficed for the Māori congregation, but for Pakeha settlers and visiting court personnel, Gittos used his own house for afternoon worship:
In the afternoon Mr. Gittos officiated at an English service held in his own house; and in the evening pieces and hymns were sung, Mrs. Gittos playing on the harmonium.
Kakaraea Church was opened on Sunday March 29th 1874.
The opening of this new Church took place on Sunday, March the 29th. The building is of wood, built in the gothic style. It is fifty feet in length, by thirty feet in breadth, and provides sitting accommodation for about three hundred worshippers. It is proportionately of a very lofty character, the matter of ven-tilation having received due consideration, a very requisite quality in any church where natives worship. We were glad to notice that there was no pulpit, but a plain reading-desk inside the communion rail.. Mr. Symon[d]s was the architect and builder, and has done his work well.
The church is situated in the native village of Otamaha [Otamatea], on the opposite side of the Wesleyan Mission Station, where the Rev. Mr. Gittos resides.
The Gittos family home drew the attention of visiting journalists:
The residence of Mr. Gittos is opposite the church, and in a snug nook by the river-side, most conveniently situated, and commanding a fine view. There is a capital orchard, and the flower garden is most tastefully laid out. There are several very choice shrubs and flowers amongst the numerous sorts, which flourish beyond expectation.
William and Marianne Gittos had five daughters and two sons. Sarah, Esther, Clara Emma, John William, Kathleen, Marion and Sarah were all born at Waingohi, while Eric Sydney was born at Rangiora in 1872.
In April 1882, an event took place at the Gittos House that was reported throughout the country. Gittos’s second daughter Esther received unwelcome attentions at 8 o’clock on a Sunday evening from her former fiancé Frederick Fairburn. With the assistance of her mother and a servant, Esther Gittos drove Fairburn and a male friend from the house with a horse whip - Rev. Gittos was away from the house at the time. It appears that Fairburn had been courting a young lady in Auckland at the same time, and this was the reason that Esther had broken off her engagement. A widely publicised prosecution was brought against Fairburn for being illegally on the premises at Rangiora. A hearing was held before Justices of the Peace in Port Albert and he was committed for trial in the Supreme Court in Auckland. However, when he came up for trial in Auckland three months later, having been held without bail, the case was dismissed since it could not be demonstrated that he was on the premises ‘with felonious intent’.
In 1886 William Gittos with his family left the Kaipara district to become Superintendent of the Methodist Maori Mission in Auckland. By this stage financial and spiritual support for the mission from both Maori and Pakeha had waned. Gittos was not replaced and the Rangiora mission station was closed and sold. The twentieth century brought significant changes for the church. Many Maori at Otamatea were questioning their situation. The land sales of the previous century that Rev. Gittos had facilitated were now seen in a less positive light. Much of their land had gone and there was now little to show for it. The failure of Gittos and the Methodist Church to appoint a new missionary for Kaipara after his departure in the mid 1880s left a gap, and the influenza epidemic of 1918 had hit the area hard.
The property at Rangiora was sold to Victor Nissen, described as being ‘a Dane rich enough to ignore the economic climate’. Nissen had been involved in sheep farming in Australia in the 1860s and 1870s, and in Otago in the 1870s. ‘In 1886 he bought the recently vacated Gittos mission station on the Otamatea, renamed it Aramando Estate, and set about importing ostriches’. In spite of the South African government export tariff of one hundred pounds per bird to try to discourage ostrich breeding in other countries, Nissen purchased 57 ostriches in South Africa, and shipped them under his personal supervision (eight birds died en route), coming through the Kaipara Heads into the harbour in the ship Johanna Brodersen, arriving on 27 January 1887. The value of the consignment of ostriches, including their purchase, export tariff, transport, fitting out of their stalls on the ship, staffing, care and feeding was set as being ‘upwards of £12,000’. There are various methods to evaluate the modern value of money in the nineteenth century. These methods would equate that amount with New Zealand dollar sums ranging from 2 million dollars using the retail price index to 15 million dollars using per capita gross domestic product to 27 million dollars using the share of gross domestic product. Whatever the conversion, this was a very considerable investment, which does not include the purchase price of the property at Rangiora.
This was probably the first ostrich farm in the North Island. John Thomas Matson is credited with being the first importer of ostriches into New Zealand to his Springfield farm at St Albans, Christchurch in the early 1880s, though no precise date has been established for that venture.
However, serious drought struck the Kaipara in the first half of 1887, ‘a terrible season unparalleled in the memory of the oldest settlers’. Nissen indicated in the press that he had found that Otamatea was ‘not so easily accessible as could be desired, owing to the irregular communication with Auckland, and it has been decided to remove the ostriches’ to the Nathan property at Whitford near Howick. It seems more likely that the drought and the deteriorating health of the birds were the real reasons for the relocation to Auckland. Nissen himself also relocated to Whitford to manage the birds at least until April 1888, and it is not clear how long he retained the property at Rangiora. Nathans continued to farm ostriches at Whitford and subsequently at Helvetia near Pukekohe until 1922, though Nissen’s involvement was forgotten.
After Nissen’s departure, a fish canning business factory operated at Rangiora, where Charles Simich built a factory and a long wharf with manuka piles on the beach below the former mission house, though whether Simich actually owned the property or leased it is not clear. James Hector interviewed a number of people associated with the Kaipara mullet industry during his investigation in 1896, which arose from a claim by Masefield Brothers of Batley that a closed season was required to protect mullet fish stocks. Those interviewed included Charles Simich, who told Hector he had fished in the Kaipara for thirteen years, having learned his fishing on the Dalmatian coast. Discussing the numbers of people employed in the industry on the Otamatea River, Simich said ‘There are three factories - Rangiora, with six white men, having five wives and four children; Batley (Ewing and Co), eight men, having two wives and four children; Masefield, eight men, having three wives and four children.’
As a follow-up to Hector’s visit, The Zealandia Canning Company of Otamatea, Kaipara wrote to the newspaper in February 1896, expressing concern that the idea of a closed season for mullet was being promoted by their rival canning company Masefield Brothers at Batley, solely in pursuit of their own commercial interests, so they could can fruit in the summer months without their competitors continuing to can mullet. W N Ewing also wrote to the newspaper denying the validity of the Masefield case for a closed season. Hector eventually recommended that no closed season was necessary.
Zealandia Canning won a prize medal at the 1896-7 Auckland Exhibition. That medal is currently owned by descendants of Michael Vilicich, who worked at the canning factory. His occupation when he married in June 1904 was given as ‘factory hand’, and his son, born in December 1904 has Rangiora, Batley, Kaipara recorded on his birth certificate as his place of birth. The medal was struck by the Auckland medallist Anton Teutenberg. Around the turn of the twentieth century, newspapers advertised the availability in Auckland of ‘Dagger’ Brand canned mullet from the Zealandia Canning Co, Otamatea, Kaipara.
The next recorded owner of the Rangiora property owner was W H Jackman of Whakapirau, who may have been the owner during Simich’s occupancy. Jackman did not live at Rangiora, but according to the Linnell family history, written on the front of the house were the words ‘This house is owned by Mr Jackman, Billy Paikea is taking chargeh (sic) of it.’ Jackman was already a man of substance and ambition, with an independently wealthy wife, and he was to become a substantial landowner, winemaker and would be copper miner. He rose to some local prominence, representing Whakapirau Riding on Rodney and subsequently Otamatea County Councils, and becoming Chairman of Otamatea County from 1902 - 1913. He stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1896 as a candidate for Waitemata. In 1898 he was elected President of the 50-strong North Auckland Vinegrowers Association, when they held their second annual meeting in Whakapirau. However, in 1911 Jackman sold Rangiora to George Forester Linnell, the nephew of another prominent local landowner, George Frederick Linnell. It passed to George Forester Linnell’s son Hubert Linnell, and then to his grandson the current owner Trevor Linnell.
George Frederick Linnell was born in Cheshire in 1844 and came to New Zealand in 1862 . He worked for a landowning family at Pukekaroro north of Kaiwaka and took up a 40 acre (16 hectare) Crown grant in the vicinity. He also took up a lease from Te Uri o Hau of the Kaitara One Block of 2,300 acres (930 hectares), a few kilometres north of Rangiora. In 1879 he bought land to the south of the Kaitara Block, as well as acquiring one third of Kaitara itself. Eventually, he grazed his cattle on over 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares). A map in the Bull family history shows how the Linnell family landholding had grown by 1921 (one of George Frederick Linnell’s daughters, Edith, married Lovelace Bull).
George Forester Linnell was the son of Thomas Forester Linnell, the brother of George Frederick Linnell. George Forester Linnell migrated to New Zealand independently of his uncle, and worked in several parts of the country, both farming in the North and South Islands and working in the Martha gold mine at Waihi. On a visit to his uncle at Kaiwaka, he met his cousin Alicia, George Frederick Linnell’s daughter, and they subsequently married. After farming at Hakaru, George and Alicia joined a large family party travelling to England between 1906 and 1908. After their return, in 1911 they purchased the Rangiora property from W H Jackman, which shared a boundary with the land owned by George Frederick Linnell. The former fish cannery on the beach below the house became a woolshed, with stockyards also erected on the beachfront, and the former fish factory wharf used to ship the wool. Other adjacent land holdings were gradually added to the farm.
From George and Alicia Linnell, the Rangiora property passed to their son Hubert, who had been born during the family trip to England. The old mission house was abandoned in about 1955, and it remained empty until the present owner Trevor Linnell, Hubert’s son and George and Alicia’s grandson, took up residence with a view to its restoration in the 1980s. The long association with the Linnell family mean that the house is well regarded by many in the Kaipara community. In 2009 Kaipara District Council made a widely publicised grant from its Heritage Assistance Fund to assist the conservation of the house.
The Gittos House is situated on an elevated terrace on the southern bank of the Otamatea River, opposite the settlement of Tanoa. Now reached via Rangiora Road, it was originally and for many years accessible primarily from the river and the Kaipara harbour of which it forms an arm. For the purposes of this description the side facing the river will be referred to as the north side, though in fact it faces slightly west of north.
The house is square, single storied, with a verandah on three sides, and a series of lean-tos, modified over time, on the southern side. Parts of the verandah have been enclosed in places to form additional rooms. A wing extending to the south on the south-western corner appears in some photographs of the house, though it does not remain today.
The house has a steep pitched iron roof, and is clad in kauri weatherboard. It originally had a kauri shingle roof. Two chimneys break the roofline on the northern and eastern sides.
The north side of the house has three bedrooms opening onto the verandah through three pairs of French windows. At the north-east corner a single door gives access into a further room formed by the enclosure of the verandah. Because these french-doored rooms occupy the frontage of the house, there is no ‘front door’. A corridor leads from the centre of the southern side of the house, but it turns at right angles in the middle of the house and runs behind the front rooms to lead to a main door in the western side of the house.
The central and eastern front bedrooms have no window, but are lit and aired by the french doors. The western front bedroom, which is identified as being the principal bedroom and Rev. Gittos’s study, has a double hung sash window in its western wall. A similar window in that wall gives light into a rear bedroom to the south of the main side door.
There has been considerable reconfiguration of the rooms on the southern and eastern side of the house, with the kitchen now located at the southeast corner, entered by a door in the eastern wall. There is vestigial evidence and family knowledge of the insertion and removal of partitions and doorways to meet the changing needs of the house’s occupants. It seems likely the original kitchen was in a lean-to on the southern side. As plumbing and sanitary and bathing facilities have been introduced into the house, the southern elevation and the back verandah has been altered, probably more than once.
Much of the interior remains in a condition that may be original, or is at least old, with wallpapered scrim covering many walls. Wide board floors and even wider board ceilings remain in many of the rooms.
The house was originally surrounded by gardens, both decorative and culinary, an orchard and cultivated land for crops of grain. Several large trees, including Norfolk pines, now surround the house, giving it considerable privacy and making it less visible from its surrounds than it was formerly.
Fish cannery and associated wharf is erected on the beach below the house
Rev. William Gittos relocates his mission to Tanoa from Waingohi, and builds the mission house at Rangiora
Kauri timber, iron roof (originally kauri shingles)
13th May 2011
Report Written By
L. Nathan, As Old as Auckland: The History of L.D. Nathan & Co. Ltd and of the David Nathan Family 1840-1980, Takapuna, 1985
Brian Byrne, The Unknown Kaipara: Five Aspects of its History, Auckland, 2002
Murray B. Gittos, First there were Three: Biographies and Geneologies of the White/Gittos Families, Auckland, 1992
Chris Barfoot, Paddock and Pulpit: the Bull family of the Kaipara Privately published 2003
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.