Pukemarama, constructed on the highest point between the mouth of the Rangitikei River and Palmerston North, is a complement of buildings constructed in 1900 for James McKelvie. The Homestead and Stable were built by notable Wanganui firm, Russell and Bignell, and along with its garden, the large, ornate, late-Victorian timber Homestead is among the most celebrated of the Manawatu’s rural residences.
Maori had occupied the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block for centuries before European incursion into the area. The potential of this area as a farming district lead to a protracted period of negotiation between local iwi and the Crown and then resulted in lengthy Native Land Court proceedings in the 1860s. However, by the early 1870s earnest European settlement had begun; townships were being founded and the areas surrounding them were gradually occupied and developed into farmland. The farm on which Pukemarama was eventually constructed was established in the early 1870s and later sold to James McKelvie in 1900. The McKelvie family were themselves early European farmers in the area. The prosperity they gained in this enterprise is reflected in the grand villa and accompanying stables that McKelvie immediately constructed at what he called Pukemarama, or ‘Hill Moon.’ The McKelvie family continue to occupy this property and are an important local family with some of the largest farm holdings in the Manawatu.
Pukemarama Homestead, with its symmetry, deep verandahs and high level of ornamentation, is a typical late-Victorian, Queen Anne style inspired, grand, rural villa. However, the form of the building is remarkable because of its organisation around a central oval room. This atypical layout may be because the builders, Russell and Bignell are said to have designed the residence in conjunction with its owner. Like the house, the form of the contemporary stable block is unusual due to its H shape. It has two distinct wings which are divided by a carriageway, and it is visually linked to the Homestead through the inclusion of decorative features which elevate it above its purely utilitarian function and are in keeping with the elegance of the Homestead. Other small buildings which contribute to Pukemarama’s story which were also constructed in the same period as the Homestead include the house’s outbuilding, Tom’s Hut, and a lean-to remnant of the property’s original farmhouse.
In particular, Pukemarama’s Homestead and Stables are of significance as an immaculately preserved example of the rural coupling of a grand early twentieth-century villa and stable. The house is architecturally noteworthy for its unusual layout and the excellence of its construction. The necessity for stables in close proximity to the main house is indicative of the reliance on horses for transport and farming, and as such these buildings have historical significance for the insight they provide into the lifestyle of wealthy rural landowners in New Zealand at the turn of the twentieth-century. Pukemarama is of local importance as one of the district's finest country homes and is held in high esteem by that community, as are its longstanding family, the McKelvies.
Historical Significance or Value
This property has been an esteemed feature of the west Manawatu landscape since 1900 and has remained in the possession of the McKelvie family who are prominent locally. It is still the centre of Manawatu's largest full production farm and is renowned in the province, and throughout New Zealand, for the quality of its design and accompanying terraces and gardens.
Pukemarama has historical value because it contributes to the understanding of practical social and farming requirements at the turn of the twentieth century for people who had prospered in the rural environment.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Sited on rising ground above magnificent terraces and sunken gardens, whose formality is contrasted with the untamed forest on its western side, Pukemarama has a landmark quality almost unmatched by other rural New Zealand homesteads. The topography elevates the main house, and when combined with the form, size, and external ornamentation of building, enhances the dignified elegance and aesthetic value of Pukemarama.
Architectural Significance or Value
Although enhanced by its magnificent setting, Pukemarama Homestead is in its own right a very fine example of a New Zealand country villa. Constructed by well-known Wanganui firm, Russell and Bignell, its innovative design, featuring an elliptical plan and unusual central room, is characterised by a very high standard of workmanship and decoration, both internally and externally. The pleasing symmetry and fine proportions add to the quality of this domestic design.
The Stables are an excellent example of this class of building and complement the Homestead through its decorative features, which also distinguish it from other purely functional stables. Like the Homestead, the Stables also has architectural significance because of its interesting and unusual design.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
New Zealand’s economy has been predominantly based on rural industries since planned European settlement began, and Pukemarama is reflective of the continuance of this as the early twentieth century homestead of family that had farmed in the Manawatu from the early period of sustained settlement. Through amassing property to farm the McKelvie family was able to prosper and Pukemarama is indicative of the affluence that this family, and other contemporaries, were able to acquire in this way.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The Homestead at Pukemarama is an exemplar of late Victorian villa design and decoration with an added individualising twist due to it spaces being formed around the nucleus of its central oval room. The elevated site of the Homestead was a deliberate decision, and in combination with it’s the formal garden, and the eminently fit-for-purpose positioning and form of the other Pukemarama buildings, the overall design of the place has formal elegance and impact, as well as practicality.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Pukemarama and its associated family are an integral part of a larger historical landscape that documents the transformation of the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block, in the western Manawatu, into a farming district from the late nineteenth century.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.
Pukemarama is an outstanding example of a typical set of rural buildings from the turn of the twentieth century. The scale, proportions, form, and ornamentation of the Homestead and Stables befitted the social status and requirements of the longstanding Manawatu family, the McKelvie’s, who had been farming in the area since the 1870s. What sets Pukemarama Homestead apart from other impressive late-Victorian villas is its unusual form and the high level of immaculately preserved craftsmanship. The residence and gardens are widely famed as some of the grandest and most elegant in the district, and the McKelvie family, who have owned Pukemarama since its construction over a century ago, have continued to be influential within that community.
Original interior fabric including the pressed metal ceilings, timber detailing and fireplace surrounds
Layout of rooms
The elliptical plan and windowless centre room
Tile fireplace and timber surrounds in dining room
Outstanding landscape quality
Brick, concrete, corrugated iron, glass, timber.
Various iwi inhabited the Manawatu, primarily along the rivers, for approximately 300 years before European incursion into the area began. Of the several fortified pa of the Upper Manawatu area, which encompassed parts of the Ahuaturanga and Rangitikei-Manawatu Blocks, only Awahuri was situated inland of the river amongst a heavily forested and swampy landscape. Despite the presence of many riverside settlements the region was not heavily populated, but it was known as a wonderful hunting and gathering ground for eels, waterfowl, and other native birds and fruits. There were instances of dispute between the various Manawatu iwi and hapu, perhaps the most significant sustained period of conflict occurred in the early nineteenth century as a result of the southward movement of some Waikato tribes and Te Rauparaha.
Because of the various periods of conflict and displacement, by the late 1840s the right to sell the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block to the Crown was contested between several iwi and ‘…there raged for years a storm of litigation around the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block which not only strained the relations between [iwi and] European settlers, but at one time threatened to break out in inter-tribal war.’ Therefore, it was not until the conclusion of several Native Land Court cases in the late 1860s that the European settlement of the block was able to progress to any extent.
Soon after the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block was formally acquired by the Crown in 1866 the property on which Pukemarama was later constructed was purchased by Thomas McKenzie. McKenzie bought the land for his son Robert Bruce McKenzie (d.1914) to farm and a small cottage was constructed to service the farming of the rich grazing land.
In the same period a contemporary of McKenzie, Scotsman John McKelvie (1818-1893), was issued a grant of just over 5265 hectares (13011 acres) of land in the district, and he and his family continued to amass land holdings in the area. At one stage the McKelvie's owned 16,000 acres. This has since been reduced to 5,000 acres, but remains the largest property holding in full production in the Manawatu. While several members of the family still farm the property, some have also branched out into other areas. For example, Ian McKelvie, who resides at Pukemarama, has had several consecutive terms as Manawatu Mayor.
In 1900, Robert Bruce McKenzie sold the, by now well-established, farm to McKelvie's eldest son, James McKelvie, with McKenzie moving to a larger property further north. Upon acquiring the property James McKelvie immediately set about constructing a grand villa to replace the old farm cottage as the main residence, as well as large accompanying stables and other utility buildings. The Homestead, its outbuilding with washhouse and other facilities, and the Stable were constructed on the highest point between the coast and Palmerston North, and the farm’s old cottage was relocated down the hill. Following the fashion of the times, McKelvie bestowed a Maori name, Pukemarama, on his new house, which translates as 'hill of light' or 'hill moon'.
McKelvie and the Wanganui based firm Russell & Bignell, then managed by another Scotsman Robert Russell, jointly designed the double-bay villa. Constructed on brick piles and roofed in corrugated iron, the timber villa was made from native hardwoods and clad in rusticated weatherboards. The layout of the building was unusual. Pukemarama's 17 rooms were arranged around a central, oval room that McKelvie had originally intended as a courtyard. Reflecting the clear cultural distinctions then made between public and private space, service rooms were located to the rear, bedrooms to the east and public rooms to the west. The villa featured elements of the Queen Anne style, such as a deep verandah with elaborate fretted brackets and turned verandah posts. The house was made from high quality materials and was distinguished by the excellence of its craftsmanship.
This level of ornamentation and the general dignity of the property befitted the social position of its owners, as did the large contemporary stable that was constructed to the rear of the Homestead. Despite its utility function, the Stables also featured decorative elements. The beauty of the house and grounds soon gained local renown and was the setting for many social occasions including many wedding receptions for couples associated with the McKelvie family.
Pukemarama has been carefully maintained and remains in excellent condition. The property, which has remained in the McKelvie family since its construction, has become a landmark in the district and remains one of the area's most impressive residences. It is set amongst landscaped gardens that were initially laid out in 1919 by George Agate, who was trained at Kew Gardens, and then were extensively developed in the 1930s. However, Pukemarama supported an on-site gardener from the time it was constructed, and Tom’s Hut is named after the gardener who originally resided in it. Since this time successive generations of the McKelvie family have demonstrated their continued horticultural interests by maintaining the gardens, and for many years the original McKenzie cottage was also used as a residence for the property’s gardeners.
Another family tradition is the continued association with equestrian pursuits. The initial interest in horses, as demonstrated by the requirement for the Stables, probably derived from the transport and agricultural necessities of the early twentieth century. However, the family also has a long history of involvement in polo locally and the Saville Cup Polo Tournament has been held several times on Pukemarama’s farmland.
21st July 2010
Report Written By
Karen Astwood and Rebecca O'Brien
B. Arapere, 'Maku ano hei hanga I toku nei whare; Hapu Dynamics in the Rangitikei Area, 1830-1872', A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment for the requirements for the degree of Master of the Arts in History, The University of Auckland, February, 1999
B. Brookes (ed.), 'At Home in New Zealand', Wellington, 2000
Buick, 1903 (1975)
TL Buick, 'Old Manawatu', Christchurch, 1903 (1975)
Cyclopedia of New Zealand
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908
D. A. Davies & R.E. Clevely, Pioneering to Prosperity 1874-1974: A Centennial History of the Manchester Block (Feilding & Oroua Borough Councils, Feilding 1981)
Manawatu Evening Standard
Manawatu Evening Standard
'A House from the Era of Crinoline Dresses', 5/6/1976; 10 January 1992; 21 November 2003
G. Petersen, Palmerston North; A Centennial History, Wellington, 1973
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen
B. Saunders, Manawatu's Old Buildings, Palmerston North, 1987
Geoffrey Thornton, The New Zealand Heritage of Farm Buildings, Auckland, 1986
14 August 1903; 11 January 1906; 25 February 1909.
M H Holcroft, The Line of the Road - A History of Manawatu Country 1876-1976, John McIndoe Ltd, Dunedin, 1977
Ian Bowman, 'A Heritage Inventory for the Manawatu District Council,' February 2000, Manawatu District Council
This historic place was originally registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. It was reviewed in 2010 and the text in this report is from the review report.
Copies of the original registration report and the fully referenced review report are available from the NZHPT Central Region Office
Tours of this private residence and landscaped garden are by appointment only.