Bonnington Cob Cottage

77 Hill Street, Richmond

  • Bonnington Cob Cottage, Richmond.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Karen Astwood. Date: 1/06/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1675 Date Entered 30th October 2009


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 2 DP 324500 (CT NL98880), Nelson Land District and the building known as Cob Cottage thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. This extent excludes the other buildings on this section. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Tasman District


Tasman Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 324500 (CT NL98880), Nelson Land District

Location description

When travelling south west from Nelson city via Main Stoke Road continue until this road transitions into Salisbury Road. At the round-about intersection of Salisbury and Champion Roads turn south east into Champion Road and continue down this road for approximately 1 kilometre until the intersection of Hill Street and Champion Road is reached. Turn south west into Hill Street and travelling approximately 200 metres. Bonnington Cob Cottage is within a large private section accessible via a driveway on the southern side of Hill Street. This building is not visible from street level.


Located on the outskirts of Richmond, near Nelson, Bonnington Cob Cottage was constructed circa 1853 by the Bonnington family. The cottage's small scale and fabric are indicative of the modest expectations of its initial inhabitants and their economic position as recent immigrants to New Zealand. The particular prevalence of this form and scale of building in the Nelson province during the period is indicative that the Bonnington's situation was a common one.

After the New Zealand Company established its Nelson settlement in 1841, areas close to this nucleus began to be settled. Richmond was one of the first such communities to develop because of its proximity to Nelson, and in conjunction with other advantages such the quality of its farmland, by the 1850s it was beginning to coalesce into the second settlement of the province. Therefore it is not surprising that there was sufficient demand for land in the vicinity to allow Edward William Stafford to subdivide his large Crown Grant soon after it was acquired. The Bonnington family purchased a sizeable section of this land and built the homestead which housed the majority of this family of nine children. It was while living in the cottage that George Bonnington first developed his nationally renowned Bonnington's Irish Moss. It was after the property was sold to the Lusty family in the late nineteenth century that it was subdivided further and a much grander residence was constructed on the section. The function of Bonnington Cob Cottage then changed several times during the twentieth century, from an auxiliary accommodation building to a wood shed, and by the closing decade of the century it was in a dilapidated state. However, the building was brought back from the brink of demolition by an intensive and extensive restoration project by its new owners in 1998.

Bonnington Cob cottage is a predominantly cob building with few openings punctuating this fabric. It has one main living space which occupies the ground level of the building, with an appropriately scaled lean-to providing space for modest kitchen and bathroom facilities. The upper level bedrooms are contained within the steeply pitched timber gable, which also features several dormer windows and other glazing in the timber gable ends. The restoration project focused on stabilising the cob heritage fabric and re-establishing the accommodation function of the building.

The heritage significance of this building is predominantly attributed on the basis that it is a rare remaining example of a characteristic form of house from New Zealand's early period of planned European settlement. However, the cottage is also important because of its close association with the Bonnington family, some of whom were well-known regionally, and George Bonnington who gained prominence as the inventor and purveyor of Bonnington's Irish Moss. Also, the innovative methods adopted during the restoration project, the sympathetic additions, and return of original function that the project enabled, enhanced the building's architectural value.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The construction of Bonnington Cob Cottage in the early 1850s is historically significant because it was symptomatic of the expansion of Nelson's New Zealand Company settlement out from its nucleus and the planned creation of rural settlements that could support the province and become the backbone of Nelson's economy. Richmond was the first such satellite community to develop. As such when Crown Grants were issued owners found that there was sufficient demand to enable these tracts of land to be subdivided almost immediately. Therefore, the acquisition of the section of land by the Bonnington family in 1853, and the building of Bonnington Cob Cottage as their homestead, is indicative of wider historical currents within the Nelson and Richmond area.

The subsequent subdivision of the land and the construction of the large villa next to Bonnington Cob Cottage in the early twentieth century, as well as the wider landscape of residential build-up which developed from this period, forms a strong contrast which is of historical value because it demonstrates the changing living requirements and expectations of the populous during the intervening years; from small necessity driven and functional dwellings like Bonnington Cob Cottage to much larger and more lavish equivalents.

Architectural Significance or Value:

Bonnington Cob Cottage has considerable architectural significance as a rare remaining example of a small residential building constructed predominantly of cob, which was one of the most popular construction materials used in the upper South Island in the early period of European settlement. This 1850s dwelling is typical of this period in form and features, and is therefore a representative example.

The extensive restoration project at the building in the late twentieth century respected the original fabric, form, and function of Bonnington Cob Cottage. Innovative remedial and pre-emptive measures employed during the restoration, designed specifically with the preservation of the cob heritage fabric in mind, as well as the sympathetic additions to the structure, have extended the life of this building and added to its architectural value.

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

The construction of Bonnington Cob Cottage in the then rural centre of Richmond during the early period of settlement of the Nelson region is reflective of the initial growth of the area once European immigration began. The expansion outwards from nuclei of planned settlement into surrounding rural districts was seen as essential in order for the provinces to thrive, and was common throughout New Zealand during this period.

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

The construction by the Bonnington family and their residence in Bonnington Cob Cottage has some significance as several members of the family achieved high local standing and prominence. However, George Bonnington's residence at the cottage, which is said to correspond with the period in which he invented and began developing his nationally famous Bonnington's Irish Moss, which is still in production and has been used as a chest complaints remedy by generations of New Zealanders, is of importance. The potentiality that this remedy was first manufactured at the cottage lends further weight to this.

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

Cob construction was a characteristic form in several regions of New Zealand in the early period of planned European settlement and was particularly prevalent in the Nelson region. However, cob dwellings from this period are now comparatively uncommon and while there are several examples from the Nelson district on the NZHPT Register, Bonnington Cob Cottage is a rare remnant of this once prolific type of dwelling.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The settlement of the Nelson region is said to have begun with the landing of the prominent early iwi, Waitaha, in the waka Uruao. This travelled from Hawaiki and the voyagers made landfall on the Boulder Bank circa 850, near what would become Nelson city. From there scouting parties set out to explore the interior while others continued their sea journey down the east coast of the South Island. The settlement of the Nelson region then ensued and was driven by the fact that the area was found to be rich in resources, such as minerals for fashioning tradable items like adzes. Food, in the form of seal, moa and shellfish, was plentiful too and the district also had large tracts of land with fertile soil, or soil whose fertility could be manipulated, suitable for growing kumara and other garden produce. It was because of this abundance of resources that the district is said to have been 'one of the most fought over in New Zealand.'

European association with the area was first established in 1642 when Abel Tasman anchored in what was to be called Murderer's, then Massacre, and now Golden Bay. The result of this first visit was a lethal exchange between the Dutch sailors and Ngati Tumatakokiri. It was centuries after this initial encounter that European interest in the area began in earnest with explorative visits from Captain James Cook and Dumont D'Urville and a few others. Then in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century flax traders and sealers began to frequent the coast around Nelson. However, because there were few whaling stations in the immediate area there was no substantive European settlement until the New Zealand Company's establishment and settlement of Nelson from 1841.

The company explored the potential of several sites for its settlement but Nelson was chosen as the nucleus, despite the generally swampy nature of the low lying areas, because of its harbour and the plentiful supplies of game and fish. It was then a matter of Captain Arthur Wakefield meeting with the various iwi of the region to persuade them to agree to the proposed settlement. This was essentially a confirmation and extension of a land sale organised by the Tory expedition in 1839. The meeting took place at Kaiteriteri and Wakefield eventually negotiated a deal with those in attendance. However, subsequent events demonstrate that in regard to this and some later transactions there were discrepancies in what each party believed they had agreed to. This led to several instances of conflict in the Nelson region during the 1840s, in particular. Perhaps the most well-known occurrence was the 'Wairau Affray' in 1843.

It was not until the 1850s that the Nelson community and other towns in the area began to coalesce. Provincial government was established in 1853, and most of the farm land from Wakapuaka to Brightwater was occupied by this date. Between 1853 and 1858 the European population of the district had risen from 4,587 to over 7,000 and continued to grow and prosper into the 1860s and 1870s with the aid of the local gold rushes and the nationwide demand for the areas produce.

The extension of settlement beyond Nelson and the establishment of farms was a recognised necessity if the town was to progress. A survey of the Waimea Plains was undertaken in conjunction with the establishment of the Nelson settlement, which was followed by the creation of rudimentary access roads. Therefore, only a few years after the arrival of the first immigrants villages began to spring up along the route between Nelson and Wakefield. One such rural centre was Richmond. Because of its reasonably close proximity and the outward movement into the Waimea Plains from Nelson it is not surprising that Richmond was one of the earliest settlements established outside of the nucleus of the New Zealand Company settlement. The location of the village, just a few miles from the main centre of Nelson, drew comparisons between it and Richmond-on-Thames, which is similarly close to London. Therefore, when the village was founded in 1843 it was decided that it should be named after that town in England. This proximity to the core of settlement, to the best farmlands, and comparatively good roads meant that Richmond soon became the second town in the province.

Bonnington Cob Cottage dates from the period when Nelson and Richmond were just beginning to emerge from their infancy. Records show that Joseph Bonnington purchased a large section of land in 1853 that had been part of the Crown Grant awarded to Edward William Stafford, later the first Superintendant of Nelson Province as well as a Premier of New Zealand, in 1851. The Bonnington family, consisting of Joseph's wife and nine children, emigrated to Nelson from England in 1851 having followed Joseph who had arrived the previous year. The cottage that they then built on their property on the outskirts of Richmond must have been cramped for the large family, although it is likely that not all of the children would have resided there for long, if at all. For example, Henry Bonnington, who later went on to become an hotelier, farmer, and butcher in Richmond and in later life move to Wairau to farm a large sheep run, was seventeen when the family immigrated.

However, George Bonnington was twelve when the family arrived in Nelson and undoubtedly lived at the cottage. It was while he was still living in the family cottage that George is said to have invented and manufactured Bonnington's Irish Moss, a mixture of seaweed, honey and vinegar that would become a renowned remedy for chest complaints. It is unclear whether this took place at the cottage itself though. After opening a chemist shop in Nelson, George began mass manufacture of his product in the 1860s, and then increased production when he moved to Christchurch in the late nineteenth century, selling his product in his High Street chemist shop. George appears to have been a well rounded individual as it has also been claimed that he and his brother Fred wrote the first piece of sheet music ever published in New Zealand. The subject of the music was Mt Cook/Aorangi, the Cloud Piercer and was performed at the opening if the Holy Trinity Church in Richmond in 1872.

After over twenty years of occupation, the Bonnington's sold their property and cottage in 1876. The Lusty family acquired the 59 acre section and in the early years of the twentieth century subdivided it amongst themselves. This resulted in the cottage, and large timber villa that was built next to it becoming part of a six acre plot of land. The construction of the villa meant that Bonnington Cob Cottage was no longer the primary dwelling on the section.

The property changed hands many more times throughout the twentieth century and by late in the century it had lost its original function and been neglected. Despite this the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) recognised it as a Category C historic place in the late 1970s. Around this time a large garage was added to the rear of the cottage and the building was used as a storage area for wood and other objects. The damp which the wood retained and other factors, such as the lack of maintenance over a long period, had a detrimental effect on the cob walls of the cottage and the interior was said to have been overrun with vermin and borer.

However, in the late 1990s the function of the building was returned to that of accommodation. The McAlpine's purchased the property in 1992 and firstly began work on restoring the main house. By 1998 that project had been completed and they then initiated plans to restore the cottage, which was on the verge of demolition due to previous neglect. When this work, which included stabilising the cob and removing the garage extension, was completed the changes meant that the cottage became a dedicated guest house to supplement the accommodations available in the main house.

Physical Description

Bonnington Cob Cottage, constructed circa 1853, is a small dwelling situated within a sizable residential section between a large early twentieth century villa and a garage constructed late in the same century. The villa is closely adjacent to the cottage's northern corner. This property, which originally would have been in relative isolation on the outskirts of Richmond, is enclosed by other residential properties, the result of the subsequent growth of that town.

Despite the close proximity of the other buildings within the property an effort has been made with the landscaping to create a sense of the cottage as occupying its own defined setting. This has been achieved through the paved courtyards abutting the north west/front and the south east/rear elevations of the building, which also contain the two access points of the building. Despite plantings being present in these areas none are placed immediately next to the walls of the cottage as a precautionary measure to avoid excess moisture, which is damaging to cob. In this vein a solid concrete surround for the building and a drainage system was installed during the 1998 restoration project. Within the building measures to combat the affect of dampness on the cob were also considered. This led to the installation of an underfloor heating system in the concrete pad.

As its name suggests the cottage is mostly constructed from cob, although its upper storey and lean-to are built with timber. In the early period of planned European settlement, around 1840 to the 1860s, cob was a popular building fabric particularly in Taranaki, Marlborough, Nelson, and Canterbury. This is thought to be because of the prevalence and accessibility of the required components used for cob, such as clay, chopped straw, and cow dung. Therefore, cob was a relatively inexpensive construction technique, and was also popular because it was actively promoted by colonist handbooks at the time, and many of the settlers who used it came from areas in England where it was common. The walls of Bonnington Cob Cottage would have been formed in layers, without boxing. Once the walls were formed a layer of exterior plaster was generally added, which acted as a weathercoat. By the late twentieth century this coating had almost entirely disintegrated on both the exterior and interior. Therefore, during the restoration of the building the cob was stabilised and protected using isinglass, a method recommended by a specialist in adobe construction.

The cob walls extend just beyond the floor level of the upper storey, at which point timber framing and cladding is employed. Although the original framing of the steeply pitched lengthwise gable was retained, the timber roofing shingles replaced corrugated iron cladding circa 1998. The roof is punctuated with contemporary dormer windows; a central dormer on the south east pitch, and two smaller equivalents on its opposite side which correspond in position to the windows on the lower level of the front facade. Within the footprint of the demolished late twentieth century garage on the south east façade of the cottage is a timber lean-to, with central recessed door, that houses the cottage's utility areas.

There are only a few openings punctuating the cob walls. This is a feature of this form of residence as numerous openings could pose integrity issues for the building and also created logistical problems for those building them. This is the reason behind the use of timber lintels that extend beyond the vertical lines of the two double-hung, multi-paned sash windows and main entrance on the front façade which were exposed during the restoration project in 1998. By installing these lintels the builder then had a platform on which to continue applying the wet cob. During the restoration of the building remedial work was undertaken on original timber window frames although the glazing was replaced.

Because of its size, Bonnington Cob Cottage has a limited number of interior rooms. Entry through the front door leads directly into the largest space in the building, the living area, which occupies the entirety of the lower level enclosed in cob walls. This is an open plan space featuring the original cob formed fireplace, which is now ornamental. Auxiliary spaces were created on this level in the lean-to. Originally access to the upper level of the building was via a ladder and small opening. However, a timber stairway was constructed circa 1998. The upper level central hall adjoining this perpendicularly is flanked by two modestly sized rooms, one of which is a bedroom. The light in the rooms provided by the respective north west dormer windows is supplemented by a multi-paned casement window in each gable end.

There are a variety of cob residences currently on the NZHPT Register of historic places whose geographic spread are indicative of the main areas where the material was prevalent. However, despite the popularity of this mode of building during the early period of settlement in the Nelson area, there are only five examples of cob dwellings in the Nelson and Tasman regions on the register; three of which are category II historic places (Record Numbers 2990, 5163 and 5153), and Broadgreen (Record Number 252) and William Higgins Gallery (Record Number 1632) are classified as a category I historic places. Out of these examples most are larger houses, but the Cob House on Brook Street in Nelson is an example of a cottage which is comparable in size to Bonnington Cob Cottage, Richmond.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1853 -
Cottage constructed

1998 -
Restoration project

Construction Details

Cob, concrete, copper, glass, timber

Completion Date

14th October 2009

Report Written By

Karen Astwood

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1903

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 3, Canterbury Provincial District, Christchurch, 1903

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1906

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 5, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, 1906

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Bohan, Edmund. 'Stafford, Edward William 1819 - 1901'. updated 22 June 2007 URL:

McAloon, 1997

Jim McAloon, Nelson: A Regional History, Whatamango Bay, 1997

Mitchell, 2004

J and H Mitchell, Te Tau Ihu o te Waka - A History of Maori of Marlborough and Nelson, Wellington, 2004

Newport, 1966

J N W Newport, A short history of the Nelson Province, RW Stiles ad Co Ltd, Nelson, 1966

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen

Bowman, 1982

Ian Bowman, 'William Beatson, A Colonial Architect', Auckland 2005

Papers Past

Papers Past,

Nelson Evening Mail, 3 March 1908

Other Information

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.