Historical Significance or Value
Murrell’s Cottage has historical significance representing the life of a nineteenth century settler in Cromwell. Murrell and his family were significant figures in Cromwell in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The cottage remains to tell their history. The cottage also tells part of the story of the inundation of Cromwell’s main street in the early 1990s as a result of the Clyde Dam. As one of two buildings which remain on their original sites, it has historical significance.
Architectural Significance or Value
Murrell’s Cottage has architectural significance as a surviving nineteenth century building in what was originally the town centre of Cromwell. It is a remnant of the historic town, noted for its small-scale nineteenth century buildings constructed of vernacular materials such as stone, like Murrell’s Cottage.
Social Significance or Value
Murrell’s Cottage has social significance as one of a group of buildings that form part of Old Cromwell Town, which is an attraction for visitors and locals alike. It also reflects the social concerns of the Cromwell community to save its history in the wake of the flooding of Melmore Terrace when the Clyde Dam was filled.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
Murrell’s Cottage is associated with Edward Murrell who was a locally significant figure in nineteenth century Cromwell. Murrell was a long time politician, twice mayor of Cromwell, and active in many civic affairs. Murrell’s Cottage is also associated with Old Cromwell Town and the inundation of the main street of Cromwell in 1992 when Lake Dunstan/Te Wairere was formed when the Clyde Dam was filled.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The formation of the Old Cromwell Town society to reconstruct and restore the buildings in upper Melmore Terrace, following the inundation of the lower terraces of that street, show the significant community esteem for Murrell’s Cottage and its neighbours.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
Murrell’s Cottage is open to the public, with an interpretation panel explaining its history. It is part of Old Cromwell Town, which tells the story of nineteenth century Cromwell, and also the story of the flooding of Cromwell by the filling of the Clyde Dam in the early 1990s.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Murrell’s Cottage is part of Cromwell’s historical landscape. It is part of Old Cromwell Town, a reconstructed town of the buildings from Melmore Terrace which was flooded when Clyde Dam was filled. It is a remnant of the old town centre, standing next to the Masonic Lodge (Category 2, Register No. 2130).
Kai Tahu whanui were familiar with the Upper Clutha area. The Mataau/Clutha River was one of the major river systems which enabled exploration and discovery. Many trails were established by tipuna who followed the natural valley systems of the Waitaki, Waihemo, Taieri and the Mataau to the plains and valleys of Central Otago for seasonal food gathering. Along the trails the takata whenua established kaika nohoaka (semi-permanent campsites). These sites were carefully placed to allow maximum use of local resources. The high country mountains, valleys and plains were places of spiritual significance. The site where modern day Cromwell is was known as Wairere.
It was other resources, first pastoralism and then gold that drew European settlers to the Upper Clutha. The history of the town of Cromwell is linked with the history of the discovery and mining of gold in Central Otago. Gold mining began in Central Otago with Gabriel Read’s discovery of gold in Gabriel’s Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. The following year Hartley and Reilly left this gully and travelled further into Central Otago. They spent the winter prospecting in the now-flooded Cromwell Gorge between present day Clyde and Cromwell, finding enough gold in the area to travel back to Dunedin and lodge 87 pounds with the Gold Receiver.
The 1862 discovery precipitated a rush to the area. Cromwell, at the northern end of the gorge and only a mile or so from Hartley’s claim, was first known as The Junction, for its location on the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha/Mataau Rivers. The town was surveyed and given its official name in 1863. Cromwell was declared a municipality in 1866, when it had a population of 470.
A lack of timber meant that most of the town structures were built from stone, as was the case with Murrell’s Cottage. Murrell’s Cottage, as it is now known, was built by Edward Murrell in the 1870s on the upper slopes of Melmore Terrace. Murrell, born in Aberdeen in 1837, trained as a watchmaker and jeweller and later worked in this trade in London and Exeter. Murrell travelled to Nelson as an assisted immigrant in 1860, setting up his own shop. After financial trouble he moved again, first to Greymouth, and then, after a brief return to Nelson, the family moved to Dunedin in 1869. The Murrells settled in Cromwell three years later where he set up business as a watchmaker and jeweller. Murrell and his wife had a family of ten children.
Murrell’s name first appears on land title deeds in 1901, when his cottage was on part of a section consisting of over an acre of land. According to genealogist and historian Bryan Jackson, Murrell built the cottage in the early 1870s, and it contained a living area and bedrooms. The interior walls were timber framed with scrim and then wallpaper. Murrell was a keen winemaker, and is thought to have made wine in the stone cottage. Later a corrugated iron house was built on the front of the original cottage, presumably to accommodate Murrell’s growing family.
Murrell played a prominent part in local affairs. He served as a borough councillor from 1879 to 1894 and was Mayor of the borough from 1899 to 1905 and again from 1909 to 1913. He was a member of local groups such as the hospital committee, the cemetery trust, the school committee, and he joined the fire brigade when it was first formed in 1874. He also served as a Justice of the Peace. Mary Murrell died in 1912. Edward remained in Cromwell for another nine years. He was farewelled in a valedictory address in July 1921 which emphasised his important civic contribution to the town – as mayor, and as a councillor with 25 years of service. Edward Murrell moved to Christchurch in 1921 and lived with family members. He died on October 27 1925 at the age of 89 and was buried in Cromwell cemetery.
Murrell leased the Melmore Street land from the Borough of Cromwell, and after his move to Christchurch in 1921 the lease was transferred to a blacksmith, Henry Orr. The lease was subsequently transferred to several other leasees. The cottage became known as Hansen Cottage after a family who occupied it for many years.
In the 1970 and 1980s the government put together large scale hydro power generation schemes on the Clutha River. The high dam at Clyde saw plans to flood the Clutha Valley which would inundate most of the main street of Cromwell. As part of this scheme Murrell’s Cottage, and the land its stands on, were acquired by the Crown under the Public Works Act 1981 ‘for the generation of electricity’ in May 1985. Despite much local opposition the dam went ahead and the main street was flooded in 1992 as Lake Dunstan/Te Wairere formed. Much of Melmore Terrace, built close to the banks of the Clutha, disappeared under Lake Dunstan/Te Wairere. A new town centre was constructed on a higher terrace closer to State Highway 8B. Murrell’s corrugated iron house was demolished in the early 1980s.
Though the town’s centre was flooded, a group of residents set about saving those buildings they could. They formed the Old Cromwell Society with the aim of reconstructing some of the town’s early buildings in the higher part of Melmore Terrace. Buildings on Melmore Terrace were carefully deconstructed and reconstructed in ‘Old Cromwell Town’. Murrell’s Cottage is significant as one of only two buildings on Melmore Terrace which survived on their original sites. In 2002-2003 Old Cromwell Society rebuilt a version of the corrugated iron cottage on the front of Murrell’s surviving stone cottage.
Murrell’s Cottage and the land on which it stands, reclassified as part of the historic reserve known as Old Cromwell Town now form part of this reconstructed historic neighbourhood. Murrell’s Cottage was restored as part of the Old Cromwell Town project.
In 2012 Murrell’s Cottage houses a jeweller’s workshop and gallery.
Murrell’s Cottage sits on a rise overlooking the Kawarau River at the edge of the Central Otago town of Cromwell. Murrell’s Cottage is one of a complex of buildings that are part of ‘Old Cromwell Town.’ This historic reserve is made up of a collection of reconstructed buildings, most of which were moved from the old town centre when it was inundated by the lake formed by the Clyde Dam. Murrell’s Cottage is one of only two buildings in Old Cromwell Town remaining on its original site. It sits alongside the Masonic Lodge (Category 2, Register No. 2130) and among reconstructed buildings.
A new building replaces the corrugated iron house that was originally built in front of the cottage. It houses a restaurant.
What is now known as Murrell’s Cottage was the laundry and storage area for the main house. The building is a single gable structure. It is rectangular in plan. It is built of schist and has a corrugated iron roof on timber framing.
The cottage has a door on each gable end. There are three evenly spaced windows on the north elevation. Window joinery is timber. On the south elevation a corrugated iron building has been added which houses a restaurant. There is no access between the buildings.
The interior has been partitioned into three spaces – a gallery, a jewellery workshop and a storage space.
1870 - 1879
Additional building added to site
Corrugated iron house constructed in front of stone cottage
Demolished - additional building on site
1980 - 1989
Demolition of corrugated iron house
2000 - 2009
Restoration of Murrell’s Cottage
Stone, corrugated iron, timber
5th December 2012
Report Written By
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1905
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 4 Otago and Southland, Cyclopedia Company, Christchurch, 1905
R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978
N. Kennedy and R. Murray, Early Pioneers in the Cromwell Area 1863-1880, Cromwell & District Historical Society with the assistance of the Cromwell Community Board, Cromwell, 1999
Bryan Jackson, The Murrells of Cromwell, B. Jackson, Snells Beach, 2010
A fully referenced registration report is available from the Otago/Southland 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.