Agassiz House

Matchett Road And Sh 2 (Waioeka Road), Opotiki

  • Agassiz House.
    Copyright: S Arabin. Taken By: S Arabin. Date: 5/08/2003.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 808 Date Entered 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the house, it fittings and fixtures, and its curtilage located on the land comprised in certificate of title GS6B/951. (The outbuildings are excluded from the registration.)

City/District Council

Opotiki District


Bay of Plenty Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 9193 (CT GS6B/951), Gisborne Land District

Location description

Located approximately five kilometres from the town centre of Opotiki, on the parcel of land located to the northeast of the intersection between Matchett and Apanui Roads, and State Highway 2.


Agassiz House is considered to be one of the oldest surviving rural villas in the Waioeka Valley, and is linked with limited ongoing Maori ownership of land in the Opotiki area following major confiscations by the colonial government in the eastern Bay of Plenty during the 1860s.

The timber villa is believed to have been constructed in circa 1898 or shortly thereafter by William (Billy) Oakes (1861-1950), an early Waioeka settler and a local carpenter of mixed Maori and Pakeha descent. As a renowned local builder, Oakes is likely to have built the moderately large house to his own specifications. Erected as the main dwelling for a 32.4 hectare (80 acre) farm, the structure is situated a few kilometres to the south of the colonial town at Opotiki. It lies on prime agricultural land in the Lower Waioeka flats, which supported traditional Maori farming practices before being used for growing maize in the late nineteenth century. Opotiki supplied produce to other centres such as Auckland both before and after the colonial takeover of the region in 1866, partly due to the quality of these soils.

Most of the Lower Waioeka was parcelled out to military and other settlers following the large-scale confiscation of land around Opotiki from Te Whakatohea. The plot on which Agassiz House sits is thought to be one of a few allocated to Maori in compensation for land taken elsewhere. It was granted to Te Aira (Ida) Horohoro in 1868 - the same year that the nearby Waioeka redoubt was strengthened against incursions from Maori groups who continued to resist confiscation. It was part of only a comparatively small proportion of land south of Opotiki granted to individual Maori. Te Aira is believed to have been given the grant in acknowledgement of her cooperation with government forces, which may have included helping the Reverend Thomas Grace to escape Pai Marire adherents in 1865. In 1897-1898, she formally passed on the land to her nephew Billy Oakes, whose boat-builder father had been one of the few Pakeha in the district prior to the 1860s. Te Aira continued to live in a whare in one corner of the property, although the house - when built - was successively leased to a Chinese resident, and another mixed Pakeha-Maori farming family, the Matchitts. Oakes derived much of his income from construction work and the ownership of properties in Opotiki, but later farmed the land from the house himself.

The house may have been occupied for a period by Louisa Eliza Agassiz (circa 1886-1981), who had been adopted by Billy Oakes' sister Ani Oakes and her husband Alfred Rowland Agassiz, according to traditional Maori, or whangai, practice. After Louisa Agassiz's death in 1981, the house was transferred to, and occupied by, Louisa's descendants. In 1994, the house was named Agassiz House after Louisa Agassiz, who was their grandmother. They have made considerable alterations in a similar style, in adapting the house to be suitable for bed and breakfast accommodation. Modifications have included the replacement of an original lean-to at the rear with an enlarged structure, the addition of a new verandah and bay window to the north, the addition of dormer windows, and a staircase to new rooms within the attic.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The villa is of historical interest in the locality for its connection to William (Billy) Oakes, an early settler and long-term resident in the Opotiki district. The land is also of traditional interest for its link to Te Aira Horohoro, who is believed to have received it in a Crown Grant as a result of assistance given to the Crown in the 1860s.

Constructed in circa 1898, Agassiz House is believed to be one of the oldest surviving rural villas in the Waioeka Valley. The recently restored and expanded building retains a turn of the century, F-plan villa as its original core. Original decorative elements on the windows, under the eaves, and on the verandah give the house an aesthetic value, which is enhanced by its prominent position next to the main road (now State Highway 2) to Opotiki.

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

The place reflects aspects of the development of farming and rural settlement in the Opotiki district, particularly in the Lower Waioeka Valley. A pattern of dispersed farmsteads was established following confiscation of land in the Opotiki district during the 1860s.

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

In the minds of the community, the land on which the villa was constructed is connected with one of the key historical events in the Opotiki district - the killing of missionary Carl Sylvius Volkner (1819-1865) by Pai Marire emissary Kereopa Te Rau in 1865. According to the belief, Te Aira Horohoro assisted Volkner's assistant Reverend Thomas Grace to escape Volkner's fate. In 1868, Te Aira was the recipient of one of the few Crown Grant's received in compensation for the land confiscated after Volkner's death.

(g)The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

Although recently extended, the original core of Agassiz House forms an uncommon example of a turn-of- the- century F-plan villa. No other F-plan villas are currently registered by the NZHPT in the Opotiki District.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:

Agassiz House is believed to be one of few remaining rural villas of potentially nineteenth-century date in the Waioeka Valley.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Oakes, William (Billy)

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

Located at the intersection between Waioeka Road (State Highway 2) and Matchett Road, Opotiki, Agassiz House originally faced west towards Waioeka Road. The bay-fronted villa features a renovated verandah, and has double-gabled sides. The double-hung sash windows feature a curved head on the upper panes. The original front fa├žade is decorated with a gable mounted with a finial and orb. The bargeboards are decorated with corbels, and the paired verandah posts feature trefoil patterned brackets. The villa conforms to an F-plan design, with modern extensions to the rear.

Internally, its ground floor contains a long central passage, which features a painted timber dado, and extends from the front to the back of the house. To the north, a new verandah has been constructed and a new entrance from the north side now serves as the main entrance into the house. The north side of the house originally contained a parlour, and three bedrooms. Following alterations completed in 2002, the area now includes the original parlour space. A staircase has been added where one of the bedrooms was located, and the third bedroom has been extended with the addition of a bay window to create a dining space. The kitchen and bathroom area to the north east have also been remodelled. On the southern side of the house there were three rooms. These were originally used as a bedroom, dining room, and kitchen. They are now used as two bedrooms and an office. Additional space to the rear is used as a bathroom and storage space.

An upstairs area in the attic, originally reached through a hatch and ladder prior to the construction of the stair, includes three bedrooms with shared bathroom facilities and what is now a master bedroom with an en suite bathroom. Renovated as a bed and breakfast, the fittings in this area are all new, as are the dormer windows. A fireplace, retrieved from Louisa Agassiz's parent's house in Victoria Street, has been installed in one of the rooms.

An associated timber building located at the rear is believed to have been built at a similar time, and was evidently used as duplex - or semi-detached - housing for farm workers. This structure also faces west, and features two sash windows and two doors. It may also have been the residence of Te Aira Horohoro and, later, Louisa Agassiz.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1898 -
Construction of house on Matchett Road

1969 -
Toilet added to rear of house.

1990 - 2002
Renovations (including re-piling, and the construction of a new kitchen/ ablution area)

Construction Details

Timber frame, with a timber cladding of weatherboards, and a corrugated iron roof.

Information Sources

Connor, 1994

Kath Connor, Narena Olliver and Annabel Allan, Opotiki:the Women's Stories/Nga Pura Kau a Nga Wahine, Opotiki, 1994

Opotiki County Council, 1977

Opotiki County Council, Opotiki 100 Years: 1877-1977, Whakatane, [1977]

Other Information

See SO 2814/A2, Gisborne Registry, for a plan of Allotment 60 Waioeka Parish.

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region 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.