Nairn Street Cottage
68 Nairn Street And Macalpine Avenue, Wellington
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Able to Visit
25th September 1986
Lot 1 DP 48297 (CT WN24D/942), Wellington Land District
68 Nairn Street, Wellington
Forming a dramatic contrast to the housing development that once threatened to engulf it, the Nairn Street Cottage was saved from developers and converted into Wellington's first house museum. Thought to be central Wellington's oldest identified residential building, the exact date of construction of the cottage is uncertain. It was definitely constructed by 1861 as watercolour artist Charles Barraud painted it in that year. As the house's first owner, William Wallis, rented the site for three years before purchasing it in 1860 it is generally thought to have been built by early 1858.
Wallis, a carpenter from Royston, England, had raised money to purchase the section during the Crimean War. Wallis's remaining wealth allowed him to construct a slightly larger home than was typical for a working man. Based on a simple 'double-box' shape, the cottage has four rooms on the ground floor and a narrow staircase leading to two small bedrooms with dormer windows under the high, ridged roof. The parlour and main bedroom occupied the front rooms and a nursery and kitchen were located to the rear. Early photographs show that this was a typical style used in early colonial Wellington. According to Wallis's granddaughter Winifred Turner, the timber used in the cottage was delivered by bullock wagon from Wallis's own timber yard in Manners Street.
Wallis used nails sparingly and most of the framing is constructed of pegged mortice and tenoned joints. This construction technique can be seen in an exposed section of the wall between the two upstairs bedrooms. Wallis's carpentry skills are evident throughout the house and it is clear he took considerable care when building the cottage. The tongue and groove boarding in the kitchen is hand-planed and the architraves and doors were hand crafted. To reduce the dust and noise Wallis lined the ceilings with two layers of tongued and grooved boards, each finished off with a small roll bead at the edge. Around 1880 Wallis added a curved iron verandah to the front of the house. Traces of varnish suggest that it may have been added when the original shingle roof was first replaced with corrugated iron.
After working as a partner in a building firm Wallis was able to begin his own business in 1866. By 1870, commercial success enabled him to built 'Royston' House next door to the Nairn Street Cottage for his wife and growing family of seven children. The Nairn Street Cottage was leased until Wallis's daughter Clara Turner purchased it for £1000 from her father's estate. Having left her husband, Clara remained in the house until her death in 1953. In 1968, Clara's daughter, Winifred Turner, received notice that the council intended to demolish the house to provide parking space for a housing development. The council acquired the cottage in 1974 under the Public Works Act against Winifred Turner's wishes.
Many of Wellington's early buildings were demolished during this period. There was little interest in heritage preservation in Wellington and old buildings were seen as impediments to progress. Unlike other major New Zealand cities, Wellington did not have a house museum and the newly formed Colonial Cottage Museum Society began a campaign to save the cottage. The council relented in 1977. The cottage was restored to its original, 1858 condition and installed with furniture from the period. Since its opening as a museum in 1980, the cottage has been well patronised as an educational resource, and it has been assisted in this function since 1999 by an interpretation centre built next door. The cottage, now known as the 'Colonial Cottage Museum', is one of the few remaining examples of what was once a typical form of housing in early Wellington. The authenticity of the interior is unmatched in Wellington.
During restoration several modifications were made. Later additions, such as the extra rooms added on in 1957 and 1967, were removed and missing original items such as the shingles on the roof were recreated. Interestingly, the verandah, added at the same time as the corrugated iron roof, was retained. The interior was decorated with period wallpaper and furnishings. In the nursery remnants of the original wallpaper were discovered pasted directly onto the boards, and are now protected with clear perspex. Domino pieces, nit-combs and other small items belonging to the Wallis family were found during the renovations and are displayed in the visitor's centre. Arranged to appear as though the Wallis family was still living in the house, the cottage challenges visitors' consciousness about their perceptions of Wellington's past.
The Nairn Street Cottage is historically significant as it is believed to be the oldest identified residential property in central Wellington. It is a rare example of a form of housing once typical throughout the country and prevalent in Wellington in the late nineteenth century. The house retains most of its original character and is in an excellent condition. It is also noteworthy as Wellington's first house museum and reflects the national trend for the creation of such museums between 1960 and1980. The house is particularly interesting as one of the few Wellington buildings saved from development on heritage grounds during this period. The juxtaposition with modern housing and council flats is an eloquent reminder of its near brush with demolition. The cottage is physically significant for the insight it provides into early colonial building techniques. The retention of original wallpaper, and the inclusion of items such as William Wallis' tool chest, add to the authenticity of the building and enhance its value as a historic resource. The collection of period furniture adds to the cultural value of the building. The cottage is a popular tourist attraction and a valuable educational tool.
No biography is currently available for this construction professional
1858 wall paper on 'nursery' wall
Pencil marks left by William Wallis when numbering the boards on the wall by the kitchen. These indicate the need, when building with hand-planed boards, to note the sequence in which they were cut as the boards were of varying widths and would only fit together in one way.
Scullery and hallway added
1875 - 1980
Separate wash house added
Rooms added at rear of house
Rooms added at rear of house
House returned to original condition
5th October 2002
Report Written By
Friends of the Colonial Cottage Museum, 2001
Friends of the Colonial Cottage Museum, Making Good on Shaky Ground; A Story of Colonial Wellington, William Wallis and his Cottage, Wellington, 2001
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen
A. Trapeznik (ed.), Common Ground? Heritage and Public Places in New Zealand, Wellington, 2000
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central 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.