Opou Station Stables (Former)
95 Whakato Road, Opou Station, Manutuke
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Private/No Public Access
2nd May 2013
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 1771 (GS3B/150), Gisborne Land District and the building known as Opou Station Stables (Former) thereon and its fittings and fixtures including the chaff box. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).
Lot 1 DP 1771 (CT GS3B/150), Gisborne Land District
Unusually for such utilitarian buildings the 1883 Opou Station Stables (Former) were architect-designed, and are set amidst spacious gardens and mature trees on the northern side of a sweeping driveway leading to Opou Homestead in Whakato Road, Manutuke. Built at the same time, the stables share architectural elements with the grand country homestead and were built to support the rural lifestyle of those who lived and worked there. The land on which Opou Homestead and Stables stand was included in the Tahuniorangi Block purchased from Maori owners in 1839 by Thomas Halbert, and by Captain George Edward Read in 1852. The homestead and stables are not intimately connected to Read, who died before they were built, but they do owe their existence to the wealth that Read accumulated. The homestead and stables were built for Captain Read's nephew and heir, Thomas Edward Bloomfield. The stables are one of several utilitarian buildings designed and built as part of the homestead complex, named Riverslea by Bloomfield. They were designed by architect William Peter Finneran and built by Willliam Oswald Skeet. The stables were designed to harmoniously compliment the elegantly detailed classical colonial architecture of the homestead.
The stables are located on the north side of Opou homestead, set several metres back from the main building and with a strongly symmetrical façade. They are described as large and well-ventilated, measuring 36 x 39 feet (11 x 11.9 metres), with a 16ft. stud (4.9 metres), and fitted up with loose boxes, stalls, a saddle room, coach house, harness room, and a sleeping apartment for the grooms. They stand one and a half storeys high, with rusticated timber cladding and a corrugated iron roof with boxed eaves, supported by modillions. A one storey lean to garage has been built onto the south elevation, using the same materials as in the older structure. Above the centre entrance a small gable projects from the roofline with a matching gable on the rear west elevation. It has a roof mounted weather vane, relocated from the Opou homestead tower when it was removed in 1949. After Bloomfield’s death, the homestead was leased by the owner of nearby Opou farm, John Clark from 1911 to 1934, who renamed the house. In 1934 it was purchased by his son, William Clark, and has remained in the Clark family ever since. In 2002 a sympathetic conversion utilised the loft as visitor accommodation.
Opou Station Stables (Former) have aesthetic significance as contributing to a wider landscaped setting for the homestead approached along a wide sweeping driveway flanked by mature trees and set amidst spacious gardens. It has architectural significance for its high quality, architectural design and as a fine example of the utility work of Finneran. As an essential utility building the stables have historic significance for their association with the rapid pastoral development of the Tairawhiti district and the prosperity it brought to the region. It has social significance as representing settler dependence on the horse and coaches for transport and farm work in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and reflect the relative wealth of its owners and of that period. The stables also have an association with an important event in New Zealand, the raid by Te Kooti in 1868 when he razed all but one building in Matawhero.
Historical Significance or Value
Opou Station Stables (Former) have historic importance as one of the main household buildings associated with Opou homestead. They are also historically important as a physical reminder of settlers’ dependence on the horse, both for transport and farming operations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are few such stables surviving in the area.
Successive owners or lessees of Opou have historical importance as having contributed to pastoralism in the Te Arai area of Tairawhiti and contributed therefore to the development of the growth of the area, to the township of Gisborne, and to the development of pastoral farming in New Zealand. The most significant impact was made by Captain George Edward Read who purchased the land from trader, Thomas Halbert in 1852. The Captain was a successful entrepreneur who was responsible for much of the early development of the town centre of Gisborne and with the growth of pastoralism in the district. John Clark, who leased Riverlea following the death of Read’s nephew Thomas Edward Bloomfield, had a good head for business and went on to become one of the region's most successful sheep farmers.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Opou Station Stables (Former) form part of the grand setting of the homestead, in landscaped grounds set some distance from the road, with the generously proportioned sweeping driveway flanked by impressive mature trees and gardens. The grandeur of the homestead and stables is strongly complemented by its setting.
Archaeological Significance or Value
The Opou Station Stables (Former) are a key feature in the archaeological landscape of the wider Opou Station complex which reflects 19th century pastoral development within the Gisborne region. As part of this landscape, the stables have the potential to reveal archaeological information about how the transported model of a private British estate functioned within a NZ setting and how it changed through time. Archaeological investigation of the stables using buildings archaeology techniques has the potential to reveal important information about the building’s construction and subsequent modifications and additions.
Architectural Significance or Value
It is significant and unusual for a utilitarian building such as the Opou Station Stables (Former) to have been architect-designed, and to incorporate as it does, style that echoes that of the homestead. It is an important surviving example of such utilitarian architecture by William Peter Finneran, who commenced practising architecture in 1868 at Gisborne. He was responsible for the alterations to the Holy Trinity Church completed in 1880. He designed many notable Gisborne buildings, including the Poverty Bay Club and the Masonic Lodge in Childers Rd and some of the district’s stately homes, including Opou homestead and stables at Manutuke and Whataupoko homestead.
Social Significance or Value
The stables have strong social significance in regard to the grandeur of their setting within the spacious, mature gardens. The homestead and the stables can be seen as tangible evidence of economic success on the part of the owner and a display of wealth and position. It is also reflective of a more practical aspect of building such commodious places in that given the relative isolation of the large holdings, much of the socialising of the area was hosted at such places, and distances and travel times commonly necessitated visitors staying overnight, with the stables essential for housing the horses used as transport in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Opou Station Stables reflect an important aspect of New Zealand's history; the growth and development of the farming industry which has, and continues to be, the most important contributor to New Zealand's economy. The rapid and successful growth of pastoralism in the Tairawhiti area made a significant contribution to the growth of this primary industry and continues to do so. Station Stables is a utilitarian building representative of the development of pastoralism in New Zealand and the success of the sheep and cattle industry in the Tairawhiti area, where in often remote and challenging terrain, indigenous vegetation was cleared and new grasses sown for grazing. Horses and stables to house them were an essential part of farming in such areas and on some high country areas, continue to be used in preference to farm bikes.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The place is associated with an important event in New Zealand's history; the raid on Matawhero by Te Kooti in 1868, when he razed all but one building in the Matawhero area, including Bloomfield's recently built substantial two storey home, leading Bloomfield to rebuild at Manutuke, the Opou homestead and stables when he inherited the land from his uncle, local entrepreneur, Captain George Edward Read in 1878.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The local Manutuke community esteem extends to the public of the wider Tairawhiti area, and tours and garden fetes hosted by the current owners as charity fund raisers are well attended. The Homestead and stables are included in local historic and tourism publications.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
Opou Station Stables (Former), along with the wider complex, have the potential for interpretation and education relating to both the domestic and operational elements of running an efficient and necessarily, largely independent, farming enterprise before the advent of motorised transport and easy access to a supply centre. The stables have the potential to particularly illustrate the 'vital importance’ of horses and horse drawn vehicles, to both the farm operation and to the social needs of the owner's family and staff.
The extent of surviving original fabric on both the interior and exterior of the stables, and that they were designed by the architect of the homestead the stables serviced, gives them strong educational value for those studying style and architecture in New Zealand.
Finneran, W P
(1) William Peter Finneran (c.1837-1911) practised in Gisborne as an architect since 1878 and “designed and supervised the erection of a large number of public and private buildings in the district”. Several buildings known to have been designed by Finneran are still in existence, but records of his work are incomplete.
In 1879 Finneran was calling for tenders for building the hospital and in 1881 tenders for the brewery. The brewery with its four-storey tower was a significant landmark and lookout point over the town. It is assumed he designed these buildings. In 1901 he supplied designs for a new building. Some uncertainty existed around whether he designed the band rotunda, as entrants for the design competition had entered anonymously. However, it was disclosed at a council meeting that “Mr Finneran was the designer of the beautiful plan selected by the Council” even though he had submitted his design anonymously under Parnell & Co.'s name.
His other work includes the Masonic Hall, still standing but modified, in Childers Road, built 1895 and opened 2 January 1896. The Hall was enlarged in 1897 and is registered as Category II. The Poverty Bay Club is stylistically very similar to two of Finneran's better-known works, the Opou Station homestead (extant) and Whataupoko sheep station homestead (burnt down), the home of Percival Barker. Opou Homestead, Manutuke, (formerly known as Riverslea when built for owner Thomas Bloomfield in 1883; Register # 7170, Category I historic place) is described as “restrained Victorian classicism...[with] stately proportions and vast room heights”. Another more modest building attributed to Finneran [cited as P Fineran] is a “Two-way Bay Villa for Captain Martin” in 1900, the drawings for which “show a preoccupation with details such as the half-drawn blinds and curtains”.
Finneran was responsible for designing the enlargement of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church (subsequently the Anglican Church Hall) with the chancel and transept of the wooden church being added. However, these changes were not approved by all: “some details of decorative style were introduced by the Gisborne architect, Mr Finneran, which marred the “pure” Gothic style of the first stage of the building.”
The only other architects known to be working in Gisborne in the 1880s-early 1900s are W J Quigley from 1882 , James O Barnard , and Andrew Y Ross.
Little is known of Finneran's life and family. In an 1881 New Zealand-wide directory, W.P. Finneran is listed twice, once as a carpenter in the Napier electorate with freehold qualification in Gisborne; and again as an architect with residential qualification in Gisborne, in the East Coast electorate. His name is listed in directories for 1883-84, 1894, 1896 (in Gladstone Rd) and 1898-99. He and his wife Margaret are listed on the Waiapu electoral roll for 1902, and in the Borough of Gisborne Roll 1901 as being at 34 Lowe Street, Gisborne, but are not listed for 1900 or 1903. However, in 1904 he is again listed as being architect, Gisborne, but is not in the nationwide directories for 1906, 1908 and 1909.
William P Finneran died on August 25, 1911, at Ponsonby, Auckland, aged 74 years and survived by his wife Margaret Ann. The funeral cortege was to leave from his former residence at Mason's Rd, Herne Bay for the Waikumete Cemetery.
Skeet, W O
William Oswald Skeet established the City Timber Yards in Gladstone Road in 1880. W.O. Skeet, builder, was listed on East Coast electoral roll in 1881 and 1887. His 1896 directory listing is a large notice for Skeet as “Builder and Timber Merchant, Gladstone Road and Cobden Street” as well as an advertisement. Another advertisement at the time the Club was being built shows the business was a timber merchants, building and contracting, as well as supplying ironmongery. Skeet worked with Finneran as builder on several of Finneran's projects.. He designed as well as built the alterations to the Club building in 1903 and 1905.
East Coast oral tradition states that the honoured ancestor Maui-tikitikia-Taranga fished up the North Island of New Zealand. Two Maori ancestral canoes are associated with this region; Takitimu, which made landfall in this region around 1450AD and Horouta. The area is thought to have been extensively cultivated and utilised by Maori, with the plains and rivers both an excellent food source and transport link. Abundant bird life and tidal flats yielded a wide range of protein sources. The nearby grasslands and swamps provided food as well as materials for weaving and construction. Large villages or pa were built on strategic points on the rivers and hills.
In 1769 Captain James Cook on his ship ‘Endeavour’ made landfall at what he named Poverty Bay. This was the first contact between European and Maori. When Cook arrived in the area, it was occupied by four main tribal groups; Rongowhakata, Ngai Tahupoo (later known as Ngai Tamanuhiri), Te Aitanga a Mahaki, and Te Aitanga a Hauiti. Although there was no planned European settlement, by the 1830s traders and whalers had ensconced themselves in the region, and trading posts established by settlers such as Captain Read led to further European settlement. Captain Read is often described as a pioneer of European settlement at Gisborne, transforming the village into a colonial township. As per The Telephone in 1884, ‘It was undoubtedly Captain Read’s spirit of enterprise that led to the astounding progress that of late years has been witnessed in the town of Gisborne and in the rural districts of Poverty Bay.’
The Opou Station Stables (Former) are located adjacent to Opou Homestead on Whakato Road, Manutuke, about 15 kilometres south of Gisborne. Both buildings sit in a spacious garden with a number of mature trees and a sweeping driveway. Opou Homestead is the oldest grand home in the district still standing. The stables are contemporary with the homestead, and are an essential utility building which supports the lifestyle and work of those who lived there, sharing architectural elements with the grand home.
The land on which Opou Homestead and Stables stand was included in the Tahuniorangi Block purchased from Maori owners in 1839 by Thomas Halbert, who on sold the land to Captain George Edward Read in 1852. A prominent and prosperous businessman and pastoralist, Read is reputed to have been unscrupulous and to have acquired land by questionable means. As historian J.A. Mackay notes, when Read died on 23 February 1878, the Poverty Bay Standard estimated that three quarters of the business property in Gisborne had been created with his financial help, and his estate was valued for death duties at £130,000.
The link with Read is not an intimate one, as he died before the homestead was built. The homestead and stables do, however, owe their existence to the wealth accumulated by Read. Captain Read's tomb is located near the property. It is notable that in his will Read made provision for several of his old farm hands who received a pension of £1 per week for life; the first old age pensions known to have been awarded in Poverty Bay. Captain Read’s will left his estate equally to the sons of his brother Thomas, with a life interest in the Tahuniorangi Block given to the eldest son, Thomas Edward Read Bloomfield (?1859-1890) who subsequently built Riverslea homestead and stables there in 1882-1883. Bloomfield's previous family home, a substantial two storey house at Matawhero was razed by Te Kooti when he raided the area in 1868 and laid waste to all but one of the European buildings in the settlement. Although not as prominent in public affairs as his uncle, Bloomfield was also a well-known local figure as a result of his relationship to Read and his social status. Bloomfield was a committee member of the Poverty Bay Agricultural and Pastoral Society. For a short period of time he was the captain of the Matawhero cricket club. He also kept racehorses and was a member of the Waerenga-a-Hika Jockey Club.
The homestead, named Riverslea by Bloomfield, was rapturously described in the Poverty Bay Standard in March 1883. ‘Built upon a choice portion of the Arai, a mansion, unequalled in the Bay, if in New Zealand, has been erected by Mr W.O. Skeet, to the order of T.E.R. Bloomfield, Esq. Of course, at present, the grounds and approaches are not sufficiently advanced to report upon, but on Thursday we had the pleasure of going through the building, which is creditable to all connected with it – the owner for the taste and liberality he has displayed; the architect, Mr Finneran, for his admirable design; the builder for the faithful manner in which the work has been carried out; and Messrs Houghton and Hall for the skilful execution of the painting and paperhanging.’
Opou Homestead and Stables reflect the short lived prosperity of the owner through his inheritance from Read, in having this utility building architect-designed to reflect the style of the homestead. Large homes such as these were aspirational on the part of the owner, reflecting not only their status in the community, but the standing to which they aspired, and how they wished to be perceived by their community. Large estates and homesteads were the sole province of the upper classes or wealthy citizens within the United Kingdom and estates such as Riverslea were an attempt at recreating a British society in New Zealand. Despite the ‘show off’ grand houses which were built on these estates, the land was at essence farming land and these farming estates were to become the agricultural and pastoral backbone of New Zealand’s economy. The land in the Tairawhiti area was considered to be challenging terrain with difficult access due to the few and poor quality roads in the district. Much of it had to be extensively cleared of native trees and bush before it could be farmed.
Horses were essential for rural development, communication and socialising at a time when roads were either non-existent or in poor condition. Horses were also an excellent way to gain access to the uneven terrain on farm estates and are still used today in high country farms. The large distances between estates meant that social functions usually involved having houseguests, and it was essential to not only provide guest accommodation, but stabling for their horses. Draft horses did the heavy farm work, and lighter breeds were used for riding or pulling buggies or carts. Horses were an investment that had to be appropriately housed and looked after, and the design and size of stables were an indication of the horse’s value to their owner. The development of horse racing as a leisure pursuit occurred in Gisborne from the 1870s onwards with the establishment of several jockey or turf clubs in this decade. The Opou Station Stables (Former) were a very necessary building as we know that Bloomfield was the owner of several racehorses as well as at least one buggy mare in 1882. On several occasions Bloomfield used the stables as a business, in that he had a stallion in his stables and advertised for mares to be covered.
The stables are a well preserved example of colonial classical architecture, generous in both its dimensions and details. Like the homestead, the stables are built from kauri shipped from Northland. They form, along with the other outbuildings, a most impressive homestead complex and are the most outstanding example of W.P. Finneran's work and a rare surviving example of his utilitarian architecture. Finneran commenced practising architecture in 1868 at Gisborne. He was responsible for the alterations to the Holy Trinity Church completed in 1880. He designed many notable Gisborne buildings, the Poverty Bay Club and the Masonic Lodge, as well as some of the district’s stately homes, including Whataupoko homestead. The builder, William Oswald Skeet, established the City Timber Yards in Gladstone Road in 1880. Skeet worked with W. J. Finneran as builder on several of his projects, including the Makaraka Racecourse Old Grandstand.
The Poverty Bay Standard described the stables, which were part of the grand tour in March 1883. ‘Descending again, we were shown a most convenient wash-house and coal shed, and a large and well ventilated stable. The latter is 36 x 39, with a 16ft. stud, and fitted up with loose boxes, stalls, etc., and a saddle room. Then there is the coach-house, harness room, and grooms sleeping apartment.’
From 1884 Bloomfield suffered severe financial problems resulting in bankruptcy. He was not only a keen racehorse owner, but also bet substantially on horse racing. Mackay writes that upon inheriting Bloomfield ‘at once became a generous patron of the Turf, and, on that account, and as a result of bad investments, he found himself poorer to the extent of £26,000 within only four years.’ Unfortunately his love of horses and racing contributed to the bankruptcy. His horses, harness, bullocks etcetera were sold at public auction by assignees. Although some of the furniture was sold at public auction, Bloomfield was able to remain in residence at ‘Riverslea’ due to the fact that the title of the land was actually vested in his eldest son, William Swanson Read by the terms of Read’s will.
Bloomfield died on 12 October 1890 and later that same month the Riverslea property was advertised for let. In 1893 the estate is advertised as occupied by JA Bradley Esq and up for lease. The homestead was leased by John Clark from 1911 to 1934, who in 1882 had secured the rights to the adjacent Opou station, and who renamed the house. John Clark was a prominent local businessman who was born in Scotland. He arrived in Gisborne in 1877, taking over the 40,000 acre Okahuatiu sheep farm at Ngatapa. He owned and leased several large estates in the Te Arai area, holding leases for Te Arai Station, Waipaoa and Papatu, and was considered to be one of Poverty Bay's most successful sheep farmers; at one point his properties had 47,000 sheep and 2400 cattle. He was a Justice of the Peace and served on Cook County Council and Gisborne Harbour Board. Like Bloomfield before him he was a keen horse breeder and kept racehorses; one of which was named Opou.
In 1934 the property was purchased by William Clark, John’s son. It remains in the hands of the Clark family. In 2002 the stables were converted into guest accommodation. The house is a well-known local landmark in the Manutuke area, and in Tairawhiti area. The current owners have hosted well-attended charity fund raisers, tours and garden fetes. The Opou Homestead and Opou Station Stables (Former) are included in local historic and tourism publications.
The Manutuke area lies to the South-West of Gisborne. The nearby Te Arai River is a tributary of the larger Waipaoa River which lies between Gisborne and Manutuke and runs to the sea. The Opou Station estate consists of over seven hectares of spacious gardens and mature trees flanking the Te Arai River. The homestead is approached via the long tree-lined drive which sweeps to the left of the site. The drive continues past the homestead to Opou Station Stables (Former) which are set slightly to the right and are approximately 80 metres behind the homestead, surrounded with lawns and mature plantings.
The Opou Station Stables (Former) is one and a half storeys high with rusticated timber cladding and a corrugated iron roof. The roof has boxed eaves and is supported by modillions. A one storey lean-to garage has been built onto the south elevation, using the same materials as in the older structure.
The original part of the building has a strongly symmetrical façade. The central car sized entrance has on either side one timber four panel door with rectangular fanlight, and beyond that a two light double hung window. Above the centre entrance a small gable projects from the roofline (there is a matching gable on the rear west elevation). Below the gable is a vertical loft door with two triangular hinges. A post projects from the wall above the door, probably for use as a rope support when hauling items up to the door from the ground.
The roof is surmounted by a weather vane that was on the Opou homestead tower before the tower was removed in 1949.
The loft space was been converted into guest accommodation in 2002, and features a bedroom, bathroom, toilet and kitchen, accessed through stairs from the chaff room on the ground floor. The stairs were reused from the homestead’s now-demolished Italianate tower. The front elevation has two small windows either side of double glazed doors and a cantilevered balcony. The side elevations have skylights, and the rear elevation has two skylights, double glazed doors and a deck supported on posts
Weather vane from demolished Italianate tower placed on stables
Alterations to stables to convert loft to guest accommodation, including installing two small windows in the upper level of the main elevation and replacing the existing double doors with new glazed doors, skylights, double glazed doors and deck in rear elevation and incorporating the staircase from Opou Homestead’s demolished tower
Timber, corrugated iron, glass
18th October 2012
Report Written By
Damian Skinner; Gail Henry; Linda Pattison
J A Mackay, Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z, Gisborne, 1949.
Geoffrey Thornton, The New Zealand Heritage of Farm Buildings, Auckland, 1986
Blackburne and Robinson, 1994
James Blackburne and Sheila Robinson, ‘Three grand homes’, New Zealand Historic Places, n.45, Jan 1994, p.5
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Lower Northern 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.