Historical Significance or Value
Sexton’s Cottage is of special historical significance. It was built in the second decade of European settlement in Wellington and is one of the oldest buildings in Wellington. It has considerable historical significance due to its long association with one of New Zealand’s earliest cemeteries. It is closely associated with the Church of England cemetery where most of Wellington’s first European settlers were buried. The house gets its name from the purpose of its construction, as a house for the sexton (and St Paul’s verger), although the various sextons occupied it for less than 30 years. Sexton’s Cottage, still on its original site, is the oldest surviving building associated with the cemetery and survived the intervention of the motorway through the cemetery in the 1960s that destroyed parts of the cemetery itself.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Sexton’s Cottage (Former) is located on Bolton Street, a steep street, which gives it street visibility and considerable appeal, especially as it is set against the trees of Bolton Street Memorial Park. Sexton’s Cottage and the replica Mortuary Chapel create an appropriate and aesthetically appealing entranceway to the park and cemetery. Being set among trees and gardens its setting provides an important calm place in a busy part of Wellington. The cottage’s small scale in relation to the nearby high rise buildings, and even the larger houses across the road, helps provide the visual appeal. With the pleasing forms of the gables, and the cottage’s setting among trees and garden, Sexton’s Cottage (Former) makes an important and very unusual aesthetic contribution to the inner city.
Architectural Significance or Value
Sexton’s Cottage is a small cottage, typical of the period it was built in (1857). It is now a rare remaining example of what was a common housing style in early colonial New Zealand. The overall stylistic influence is from the English Georgian period and the New Zealand version became a common vernacular style for small houses. These cottages were a carpenter-designed response to a limited budget, using readily available materials and styles with which the carpenters were familiar. The exterior of the building is largely original from 1885 when the west bedroom was added. The interior lean-to area was modified considerably in the early 1970s renovation, but the remainder of the house has been retained largely intact from 1885. The use of pit-sawn weatherboards reflects the early technology of working timber.
Social Significance or Value
Sexton’s Cottage has social significance, particularly from the public effort to save it from motorway destruction. It was restored by the Ministry of Works due to its historical significance, which was discovered during advocacy to have the cemetery’s significance recognised and preserved. The Ministry of Works also co-funded, with the Wellington City Council, Margaret Alington’s book on the history of the cemetery. The Bolton Street Memorial Park has its own advocacy group. It is now in public ownership and used as part of Wellington City Council’s Artist-in-Residence programme, which sees international artists using it for up to a few months a year.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Sexton’s Cottage is a survivor from the earliest days of colonial settlement of Wellington and is a direct link to the cemetery in which many of Wellington’s colonial settlers were buried and which was surveyed in the New Zealand Company’s 1840 plan of the town. Only half a dozen houses are still extant from this period of Wellington’s history. The cottage also represents the controversial early years of the cemetery and its division into different sectarian areas (in the same year it was built for the Church of England sexton (1857), a cottage was also built for the sexton of the public cemetery). Sexton’s Cottage is an important link with Wellington’s colonial history.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
Sexton’s Cottage is associated with the early period of European settlement in Wellington and therefore the site has the potential to provide further knowledge of this period, through archaeological methods. The section has potential to contain archaeological deposits associated with this period, including evidence of early domestic and garden structures, as well as household refuse. The building itself has the potential to provide information about nineteenth century construction techniques, which is important because it adds to our knowledge about a finite group of buildings from this time.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
Wellingtonians have a high regard for the cottage and for the cemetery it is associated with, which has its own ‘Friends’ association. Because of the battle to save it from the motorway construction, it is widely known as one of Wellington’s oldest buildings and has particular esteem as a survivor of the motorway that went through the cemetery and the suburb of Thorndon.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
There are interpretation panels outside the cottage that give succinct information about the building’s construction and use over the years. It is also close to the replica Chapel which is used for interpretation about the cemetery. The cottage is used as an international artist’s residence for some months each year, and when not in use for that purpose is tenanted when possible. Therefore, while it is not generally open to the public, it has the potential to educate the public about the colonial past of Wellington and the role of the sexton.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
Sexton’s Cottage is representative of an early colonial cottage and a good example of the carpenter architecture of the times. It had one main addition of a bedroom in 1885, but has remained substantially unaltered externally since then. The overall stylistic influence is from the English Georgian period and the New Zealand version became a common vernacular style for small houses. The roof form is described as a ‘salt-box gable’, where the pitch of the front elevation is greater than the back. The cottage is timber-framed with pit-sawn shiplap weatherboards. While the interior has been modified for modern living, it largely retains its original layout.
(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement
In Wellington City, of the early houses remaining, only a few are known to have been built around the same time or earlier than Sexton’s Cottage (Former). Three cottages in the greater Wellington area are thought to be older: in Tawa, Harrison’s Cottage is thought to date from 1855; Collett House, Lower Hutt was originally constructed in the late 1840s (Register no. 7479, Category 1) and in Pauatahanui part of the Taylor-Stace cottage dates from 1847 (Register no. 4018, Category 1).
In Wellington City, Homewood, Karori (Register no. 1368, Category 1) has an L-shaped wing at the south west of the house which is believed to be part of the original 1847 Homewood cottage. Spinks Cottage (Register 4704, Category 1) is thought to date from the mid-1850s. Daisy Hill Farm House (Register no. 4110, Category 1), 1857, and Crofton (or Fox House), 1857 (Register no. 1363) were both larger than Sexton’s Cottage. Nairn Street Cottage (Register no, 1444, Category 1), circa 1858, is similar to Sexton’s Cottage except it has two small bedrooms in the attic. Glendaruel (Register no. 1365, Category 2), is an early cottage in Karori but the construction date is unknown. Sexton’s Cottage is therefore among the earliest houses surviving in Wellington, and a rare example of a small worker’s cottage surviving from that time.
Sexton’s Cottage also links to the cemetery, which dates from the earliest time of colonial settlement – it was included in the New Zealand Company’s survey plan of 1840. As such the place is of special importance to Wellington.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
Currently only two sextons’ buildings are registered – Northern Cemetery, Dunedin (Register no. 7658), established in 1872, includes a brick Sexton’s Cottage; and Sexton’s Building (Ashburton Cemetery) (Register no. 7305) dates from 1870. Although a sextons’ cottage is not necessarily any different from any other workers’ cottage of their time, their distinguishing characteristic is their connection to a cemetery, of which they are usually located within. Sexton’s Cottage, Bolton Street, although just outside the cemetery boundary, nevertheless has a close connection with it. Its purpose was to house the Church of England Sexton (who was also verger of the then nearby St Paul’s Church) and his family; although it was only used by various sextons for about 30 years. Nevertheless, sextons’ buildings or cottages appear to be under-represented on the Register. As they are often located inside a cemetery, and in more recent years are often unoccupied, they can be prone to vandalism. Sexton’s Cottage, Bolton Street, probably survived because it is located next to a street and could be used as a private residence – once the cemetery closed there was little use for the other sexton’s cottage located further inside the cemetery grounds, and it was demolished in 1908. Sexton’s Cottage was also fortunate to survive construction of the urban motorway in the 1960s.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Sexton’s Cottage is at one of the entrance-ways into the Bolton Street Memorial Park, a historic cemetery dating from 1841 that extends across the Wellington motorway and borders Anderson Park, which is next to the Wellington Botanic Garden (Historic Area, Register no. 7573). Next to the cottage is the Mortuary Chapel (replica of the one constructed in 1866, originally a little further inside the cemetery grounds). The cemetery is where many of Wellington’s early European settlers, and some Maori, are buried. Former Premier Richard Seddon is buried and has a memorial at the Kelburn end of the memorial park.
Summary of Significance or Values
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place. Sexton’s Cottage (Former) has special significance as an early and now rare building in Wellington, particularly as an example of a worker’s cottage. It is associated with the early settlement of the city, being established in the second decade of organised European settlement but directly linked to the cemetery which was included in Mein Smith’s New Zealand Company survey plan for the city in 1840. Some of the ‘founders’ of the city, such as the Wakefield family, are buried in the nearby cemetery. The cottage’s purpose was to house the sexton of the Church of England part of the cemetery that backed on to the cottage. As a rare remaining and early example of what would have been a typical worker’s cottage set in the park-like surroundings of the Bolton Street Memorial Park, close to the high rise offices of the Terrace, it provides a tranquil place and a remnant of colonial history in one of the busiest parts of the capital.
As there are currently only two sextons’ buildings included on the NZHPT Register, they would appear to be under-represented or rare types of buildings. Sexton’s Cottage (Former) is a rare survivor from the early days of Wellington settlement.
Before the arrival of Maori from Taranaki in the 1820s, the Wellington area was populated primarily by people of Kurahaupo waka descent, including Ngai Tara, Rangitane, Muaupoko, Ngati Apa and Ngati Ira. The Waitangi Tribunal referred to these as ‘Whatonga-descent peoples’ since all claimed descent from Whatonga, an early Maori explorer, who named the harbour Te Whanganui a Tara, for his son Tara. The people from the Taranaki region were often given the common name of ‘Ngati Awa’ (and later Te Atiawa) by outsiders, but they comprised a number of tribes. These ‘incoming tribes’ included Ngati Toa (also known as Ngati Toa Rangatira), Ngati Rangatahi, Te Atiawa, Ngati Tama, Ngati Mutunga, Taranaki, and Ngati Ruanui.
By the 1820s, Europeans were arriving at Port Nicholson (as it came to be known, after John Nicholson, the Sydney harbourmaster). In May 1839 the New Zealand Company advertised in London 990 lots of Port Nicholson land for sale in a colonisation scheme. Each lot was to consist of 101 acres – comprising 100 rural acres and one urban acre – at a cost of £1 per acre. All 990 lots were sold by July 1839 and in August 1839 Colonel William Wakefield arrived and began negotiating with Maori to purchase land. The first immigrants began arriving in January 1840.
Eighteen acres of land were set aside for cemeteries by the New Zealand Company in Captain Mein Smith’s survey plan of Wellington of 1840, plus a small area to the south for Roman Catholic burials. The public reserves, including the cemetery, were ‘approved and appropriated’ when Governor Hobson visited Wellington in August 1841. Burials there began immediately after.
The area was simply called ‘cemetery’ without any sectarian divisions. However, Bishop Selwyn requested a piece of land within the cemetery that could be consecrated for Church of England burials. The land was divided proportional to the number of adherents among them; the Church of England receiving about half. Surveyor S C Brees drew up a map in 1843 showing the divisions, and the Church of England enclosed its portion with a fence at its own cost. However, as the Church of England’s portion already contained the graves of people of other faiths, this caused considerable resentment which took some years to diminish. In 1849 the dispute was largely settled. Bishop Selwyn agreed to a 30 year period in which relatives of those ‘non conformists’ already buried in Church of England land could be interred in the Anglican cemetery, provided their names were listed in a schedule to the legal agreement. The land was divided into five sections, two of which were set aside for the Church of England, two for a general public cemetery, and one small section for the Jewish community. Early graves were surrounded by white picket fences and were quite visible in the generally tree-less environment – such fences being the cheapest and easiest markers available to relatives, and necessary due to wandering animals. It was many years before trees provided some shelter.
The Church of England finally consecrated its cemetery on 31 December 1855. The Church’s sexton dug graves and maintained the cemetery, but his duties were combined with the role of verger of St Paul’s, which was built in the Government Reserve in 1844, later replaced by the present Old St Paul’s in Mulgrave Street in 1866. As historian Margaret Alington observes, the sexton was given that title but performed both sexton and verger’s roles, being caretaker of both cemetery and church. During the period of reorganisation into separate cemeteries, the Church of England sexton looked after the whole cemetery until the public cemetery trustees appointed their own sexton in 1857.
The first Church of England cemetery sexton, Harry Buxton, who held the position from 1840 to 1847, and his replacement James Futter both lived in private dwellings. During Futter’s tenure, in 1857, the trustees decided to build a sexton’s cottage.
A triangular piece of land on Bolton Street (part of town section 473), adjoining the cemetery but not on the cemetery reserve was purchased from Robert Park, a surveyor, for £25. Work began in 1857 on the cottage, which was built by C. Mills, assisted by the soldiers of the 65th regiment, with the permission of Colonel Gold. Dr Marshall, also of the 65th, contributed towards the costs with a debenture of £122.
As Futter had his own house in Hobson Street the first occupants of Sexton’s Cottage were probably Edward Jupp, then schoolmaster of St Paul’s School, and his family. As he was on site, he also had a cemetery key and kept the register of graves. The Jupps were followed by a labourer, R. Watson who lived there until the end of 1865, when Thomas Madeley, Futter’s replacement, took up residence. He was the first sexton to occupy the cottage.
Madeley resigned in March 1874 and Thomas Carr took over his duties and the residence on 1 April 1874. He also had church duties. Mrs Carr earned extra by washing clergy surplices – she complained about the winter rains making the house very damp. William Mowbray, schoolmaster and organist at St Paul’s, owned the land next to the cottage and around 1875 he developed Mowbray Street. As a result of a re-survey at this time, the Sexton’s Cottage was found to have encroached on Mowbray’s land and so the trustees acquired the necessary small strip of land. In 1885 another room was added to the cottage, which modified the original symmetry of the small cottage. Carr received a £30 grant ‘towards’ the expense of this. This room stands out as an addition, there having been little attempt to integrate it with the existing cottage; but the narrow triangular site (and budget) probably restricted the options available.
In 1891 the cemetery had reached capacity, and the government issued a closing order which disallowed new burial plots in all parts of the cemetery; after that new burials were only allowed in pre-purchased or existing family plots. Many of Wellington’s pioneer European settlers, and some Maori, were buried in the cemetery. For example, members of the Wakefield family connected with the New Zealand Company, and former premier Richard Seddon is buried and has a memorial at the Kelburn end of the cemetery.
The Wellington City Corporation took over control of the Church of England cemetery in February 1892 and incorporated it into the public cemetery, whose sexton became responsible for the whole cemetery. Thomas Carr, whose performance as he became older attracted criticism, stayed on in his capacity as the St Paul’s verger until July 1893. He was still listed as the occupant of the cottage the following year, but by 1895 he had relinquished his tenancy. Surprisingly, the cottage does not appear on the 1892 Thomas Ward Survey Map of Wellington city – the five houses next to it down to Mowbray Street are shown on this map. The public cemetery sexton’s cottage is also not shown on this map, so both may have been excluded as by this time the City controlled the whole cemetery. However, when the map was revised a few years later, Sexton’s Cottage was included.
From 1895 until 1920 the cottage, still owned by the church, was rented out to a succession of tenants, among them Samuel Telfer, a greaser, Robert Allen, a bootmaker, and Miss Eugenie Godet, whose occupation is not known. In 1920 the Diocesan Board of Trustees sold the cottage to Mary West, widow of the Rev. Dr West, a longstanding minister of the Terrace Congregational Church (where the Reserve Bank now stands). The Wests had lived one door down in Bolton Street for many years. It seems Mrs West continued to live at no. 24 and rent out the cottage. In 1927 it was sold to Robert Spittal, a Wellington builder; in 1931 to Jessie James, ‘spinster’; and in 1949 to Ellen Ward, another spinster. However, prior to Ellen Ward, it seems the owners did not usually occupy it. Annie Dudley lived in the cottage from 1924 until 1937, according to street directories. The next occupant, Herbert Hynson, carpenter, took up residence some time prior to 1939. E. Ward was the occupant in 1955.
In 1968 the land was taken for the proposed urban motorway construction. The motorway cut through the cemetery dividing it in two. Many headstones were moved and 3700 burials were reinterred in a mass grave near Sexton’s Cottage. . However, the cottage occupied land that was not required directly for the motorway and so was spared demolition. It was during this period that historian Margaret Alington discovered that the cottage was the former Sexton’s Cottage. The Ministry of Works and Development (MoWD) decided to keep the cottage and restore it. Plans were drawn up in 1976 by Chris Cochran, then working in MoWD’s head office, and work was supervised by architect Sarah Treadwell in the department’s Wellington District Office.
The restoration involved the reinstatement of a considerable amount of fabric. New doors and fireplace surrounds were secured from demolition yards to replace missing joinery. The house was repiled and relined. A photograph from the early 1970s shows the front door had been enclosed in a closed entry porch; this was removed and replaced with an open porch with a gabled roof. The cottage was reopened in 1978 and handed over to the Wellington City Council. A cemetery caretaker was installed in the house for a time. In 1980 the Bolton St Memorial Park was gazetted as a Reserve under the Reserves Act of 1977 and the Sexton’s Cottage and land were incorporated into the Reserve in 1989.
In 2007 the brick path around the building was lowered as it was higher than the bottom boards and prevented ventilation flow under the house. Currently, the cottage is tenanted when possible and also used for an artist-in-residence for between six weeks and three months per year, in collaboration with the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
Sexton’s Cottage is located in Bolton Street, just off The Terrace at the northern end of central Wellington. Bolton Street is a steep street and so the cottage and chapel are seen on a rise on the right as one heads up from The Terrace. The cottage is the last house on the right before a motorway over-bridge. Opposite the cottage are two large houses. On the corner of Bolton Street and 22 The Terrace is an 1866 house (Register no. 220). Otherwise, The Terrace end of Bolton Street comprises tall office and hotel buildings.
Sexton’s Cottage is set in the remains of the historic cemetery that is now called the Bolton Street Memorial Park. The cottage is surrounded on two sides (front and Bolton Street sides) by a white picket fence, and there is a small planted area to the rear of the building. Two interpretation panels are located around the cottage, and a short distance away is the replica Mortuary Chapel used for providing interpretation and information on burials in the surrounding cemetery.
The graves located in the Bolton Street Memorial Park begin immediately behind the fence at the back of the cottage. The cemetery is bisected by the Wellington urban motorway, with both sections being connected by a foot bridge that crosses the motorway. On the cemetery’s south-western boundary are Anderson Park and then the Wellington Botanic Garden (Register no. 7573).
Sexton’s Cottage is a small cottage built in a style that was popular in the 1850s and 1860s. Originally constructed in 1857, the overall stylistic influence is from the English Georgian period and the New Zealand version became a common vernacular style for small houses. These cottages were a carpenter-designed response to a limited budget, using readily available materials and styles with which the carpenters were familiar. Salmond notes that of the 12,812 houses in New Zealand in 1858, almost 80 percent were built of wood, nearly half had only one or two rooms and a further quarter had three or four rooms. Sexton’s Cottage’s original symmetry of two front rooms, a central entrance and a lean-to at the back was altered in 1885 with the addition of another room to the right of the front entrance. The addition of this bedroom reflects the flexibility of the simple box cottage. The roof form is described as a ‘salt-box gable’, where the pitch of the front elevation is greater than the back. There is a smaller gable over the front door; although the entry porch with a second gable is a later addition, both front and porch gables are steeply pitched and Gothic in style. The cottage is timber-framed with pit-sawn shiplap weatherboards. While the interior has been modified for modern living, it largely retains its original layout. The roof is constructed of corrugated steel, replacing the original wooden shingle roof.
The cottage’s front elevation faces north-east and has two six-over-six sash windows (one either side of the front door), and no decoration, except that provided by the gable forms over the porch. The later-added room extends past the edge of the rest of the cottage by approximately 1.5 metres and has no window on the front elevation, but has one on the north-west side elevation and another facing the back of the property.
The south-east elevation is close to Bolton Street – about 1.5 metres away from the footpath, behind a picket fence. There are two windows on this elevation; one sash window the same as those on the front and in the main bedroom, and the other is a smaller window in the lean-to part of the cottage (now providing light to the laundry area). Window and door joinery is of timber.
The front door entrance opens into the lounge or living area. The small scale of the cottage is gauged by the fact that the back door can be seen on entering the front. The lounge has original timber match lining (all other rooms have painted plaster board). There is a fireplace to the right, located between the lounge and bedroom, but opening to the lounge. The main bedroom, which is one step higher, comes off the lounge on the right. This room has a built in wardrobe to the right of the door. Its two sash windows look onto the garden at the back and cemetery side of the cottage. The second, smaller, bedroom comes off on the left of the lounge. The lean-to at the back of the cottage contains a kitchen on the right (entering from the front of the house), fitted with modern equipment. Its casement windows open to the back garden. The left side in the lean-to is divided into a separate toilet, bathroom, and laundry. The flooring is timber strip and the doors are generally four panelled with bolection mouldings. Skirtings and architraves are simple mouldings.
The small garden at the back of the cottage is on higher ground, and is reached by a few steps. There is also a garden and shed on the cemetery (north-west) side of the cottage. While the shed forms part of the back boundary of the cottage it is not part of the cottage property, but is accessed from the cemetery and used for cemetery work.
In Wellington City, of the early houses remaining, only a few are known to have been built around the same time or earlier than Sexton’s Cottage (Former). Three cottages in the greater Wellington area are thought to be older. In Tawa, Harrison’s Cottage is thought to date from 1855; Collett House, Lower Hutt was originally constructed in the late 1840s (Register no. 7479, Category 1) and in Pauatahanui part of the Taylor-Stace cottage dates from 1847 (Register no. 4018, Category 1).
In Wellington City, Homewood, Karori (Register no. 1368, Category 1) has an L-shaped wing at the south west of the house which is believed to be part of the original 1847 Homewood cottage. Spinks Cottage (Register no. 4704, Category 1) is thought to date from the mid-1850s – although described as a cottage, it is a large one. Daisy Hill Farm House (Register no. 4110, Category 1), 1857, is a two-storey weatherboard structure with a steep-pitched hipped roof and a veranda on three sides. Crofton (or Fox House), 1857 (Register no. 1363) built for Sir William Fox was substantially larger than Sexton’s Cottage as it included rooms for guests and servants. Nairn Street Cottage (Register no, 1444, Category 1), circa 1858, is similar to Sexton’s Cottage except it has two small bedrooms in the attic. Glendaruel (Register no. 1365, Category 2), is an early cottage in Karori but the construction date is unknown. Sexton’s Cottage is therefore among the earliest houses surviving in Wellington, and a rare example of a small workers’ cottage surviving from that time.
In addition it has historical significance from its role as the accommodation for the cemetery sexton. Surviving sextons’ cottages are not great in number, perhaps because their location inside a cemetery made them prone to vandalism and difficult to re-use as residential accommodation once they were no longer needed by a sexton. Sexton’s Cottage in Wellington is located adjacent to the cemetery rather than within its boundary, and its location next to a street meant it was more attractive for re-use as a private residence.
Currently only two sextons’ buildings in New Zealand are registered. Northern Cemetery, Dunedin (Register no. 7658, Category 1), established in 1872, includes a brick Sexton’s Cottage with slate gabled roof (originally comprising four rooms, including a public waiting room; additions were made in 1876 and 1910). Sexton’s Building (Ashburton Cemetery) (Register no. 7305, Category 2), is a small chapel-like building dating from 1870. Sexton’s Cottage (Former) is older than these other two sextons’ buildings; it also differs in its construction materials from the cottage at Northern Cemetery.
Addition of bedroom
Reopened after extensive renovations
Earthworks to lower surrounding pathway
Timber, corrugated steel
Public NZAA Number
20th November 2012
Report Written By
M. Alington, Unquiet Earth; A History of the Bolton Street Cemetery, Wellington, 1978
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen
Bowman, 2000 (2)
Ian, Bowman, ‘The Sexton’s Cottage, Wellington: Conservation Plan’, commissioned by the Wellington City Council, Wellington, Sept 2000.
A fully referenced registration report is available from the Central Region Office of the NZHPT.
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.