Historical Significance or Value
The Watchmaker Shop has historical significance representing the importance of commerce in small isolated gold mining communities, and as a building which epitomises a nineteenth century business in a gold mining town. Business and commerce were integral parts of goldfields life, and few original buildings remain which provide insight into the nineteenth century life in a small town.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Strong’s Watchmaker Shop has aesthetic significance as an ornate nineteenth century shop façade in a prominent location on Leven Street, the main street of the small settlement of Naseby. The building’s scale and design make a special contribution to the streetscape of the town.
Archaeological Significance or Value
The Watchmaker Shop has operated on this site since the 1860s and has the potential to provide an insight into the operation of the shop and the occupation of the site through archaeological methods, including investigation of building fabric.
Architectural Significance or Value
The Watchmaker Shop is a rare surviving example of a goldfield’s era commercial building dating from the first decade of the gold rushes in the Maniototo Area. These flimsy buildings, timber framing, corrugated iron clad, with a decorative façade were never envisaged as permanent constructions and the Watchmaker Shop is unusual in its survival and long occupation for its original purpose. Though there have been changes to the fabric of the building, effort has been made to maintain its integrity and the original layout and function of all rooms is obvious.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Watchmaker Shop is representative of the commercial history of small gold mining towns, and the services that grew up to cater for the needs of the residents. As one of the once numerous retail premises in the busy goldmining town, the Watchmaker Shop illustrates the importance of commerce and business during this period. As a business for over a century and has been a museum since the mid 1970s, the shop is an important part of the history of the local community, and has special significance. The Watchmaker Shop is associated with the gold mining period, a series of events in Otago’s history which had a profound effect on the history and the landscape of the region.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The Watchmaker Shop forms part of the museum complex run by the Maniototo Early Settlers’ Association and as such is the centre for local history for the Naseby community and for those descended from those early residents. The Watchmaker Shop is included in the Naseby Historic Area and is recognised in local publications as an important historic site in Naseby so can be considered to have considerable community association.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
As the site of a museum which is open to the public, the Watchmaker Shop is already providing a place for public education.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The Strong Watchmaker Shop is a special surviving example of a goldfield’s era commercial building dating from the first decade of the gold rushes in the Maniototo Area. These flimsy buildings, timber framing, corrugated iron clad, with a decorative façade were never envisaged as permanent constructions. The design and layout of the shop is significant.
(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement
The Watchmaker Shop dates from the first five years of Naseby’s establishment. Its early date of construction makes it a special survivor from this period.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
The Watchmaker Shop is a rare survivor of a goldfield’s era commercial premises. No other commercial premises have been identified that have the same integrity of age, use and tell the story so poignantly of this important period of Otago’s development.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Strong’s Watchmaker Shop on its main street site close to other notable historic buildings such as the Maniototo County Council Offices and the Ancient Briton Hotel is a significant element in the historic townscape of Naseby. Naseby is notable for its historic townscape (recognised by the Naseby Historic Area), which includes much of the historic town centre.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.
With its flimsy timber construction and ornate façade opening directly onto the footpath, the Watchmaker Shop epitomises the characteristics typical of buildings thrown up in gold mining frontier towns, such as Naseby, to cater for the residents and is now one of the earliest of the small group of remaining shops dating from the gold-mining era. The Watchmaker Shop, set alongside other intact historic buildings which attract visitors to the once bustling town, has survived for over 100 years. Its form is typical of the gold mining period where businesses were essential to these communities, and its false front and diminutive scale make it a special representative example of a now rare building type. With its corrugated iron and timber construction and vernacular style the Watchmaker Shop is a special and iconic element of the historic Naseby township.
There are six known early Maori settlements in Central Otago, though none of these are in Naseby. They are located on Lake Hawea (Te Taweha o Hawea, Mahaea, O tu Purupuru, Turihuka, Te Taumanu o Taki and Pakituhi) and one near Cromwell (Wairere). The moa-rich area was known for camps where moa were butchered and cooked (for example there were large sites in the Hawksburn and Happy Valley areas, as well as the Nevis Valley), and there were quarries used for stone tools in the region of Tiger Hills and Mount Benger. The swampy plains in the Maniototo provided eels and other food resources. Though Maori are known to have joined the goldrushes, little is known about their participation in the rush at Naseby. There are no recorded Maori archaeological sites in Naseby.
Naseby’s Early History
The history of gold mining in Central Otago began 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 Clutha 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. Gold was quickly discovered in other parts of the region, including places such as Hogburn (renamed Naseby in 1874).
There were an estimated 78 goldfields in Central Otago. Boom towns sprung up to service the gold diggings, and disappeared just as quickly as the gold returns disappeared for the itinerant miners. Little remains of these places. Historian John Angus writes ‘[w]hen the miners decamped so too did the commercial section of many of the early towns. This pattern was repeated many times, often at remote locations in Central Otago. But some settlements remained, undergoing a sort of metamorphosis to become service centres for the subsequent stages of more stable mining.’
Storekeepers and retailers were important in these developing communities and they were among the earliest residents. Goldfields’ administrator and politician Vincent Pyke wrote that the storekeeper and publican were the start of the community that only became ‘a proper town’ with the government official and the surveyor. Writer Anthony Trollope, a visitor in 1872, commented that there were three successive styles of architecture: canvas, in which residences, business establishments and government ‘buildings’ alike were tents; a corrugated iron period, for it was portable, very easily shaped, capable of quick construction, and it keeps out the rain’; and finally wood and stone. The last were seldom seen in Central Otago towns at the time of his visit.’
Towns developed haphazardly. Historian John Angus writes that gold mining towns were often an ‘incongruous jumble of handsome stone hotels and public buildings, ornate shop facades often masking bare corrugated iron sides, and ramshackle tin sheds.’ These were often ‘frontier towns’: ‘hotels, illicit sly-grog shops, gambling booths and what Europeans called the ‘opium dens’ of the Chinese. Over the towns there often remained an air of impermanence.’ Hogburn (Naseby) was typical of impermanent impromptu development.
The site of the Mt Ida goldfields and the associated township was originally part of a depasturing license, Run 204, called the Sowburn. After the discovery of gold the Otago Provincial Council cancelled the license and proclaimed the Mt Ida Goldfield. In May 1863 prospectors working their way across the Maniototo from the Dunstan found gold in the vicinity of Naseby. By the beginning of July, five gullies were being mined and by the end of that month a canvas town had sprung up. This town, with a population of around 2,000, had a main street with about eighteen stores, two bakers and other services.
While the original canvas town was set up in the Hogburn Gully, when the official town of Hogburn (Naseby) was surveyed it was situated at the mouth of the gully, about a kilometre from the original location. The nascent town was built largely of iron and canvas structures. The suggestion of a new location resulted in angry outbursts and a memorial signed by 350 miners and business people protesting the injustice of such a decision. Businessmen protested that their ability to carry on their trade was dependent on being located near the customers, and there were 150 storekeepers in the existing township, and only 40 allotments surveyed in for businesses in the new survey, let alone that the ground under the new town had not been worked and was likely to be auriferous. Despite objections the town was established in the new location.
The name Naseby, used from 1874, was evidently taken from the English town that was the birthplace of John Hyde Harris, Superintendant of Otago in the 1860s. By August 1863 5,000 men were reported prospecting in the Naseby locality.
The town grew steadily with the fortunes of its gold miner population during the 1860s and 1870s. Even in these early years Naseby was seen as the quintessential goldfields town. A correspondent for the Timaru Herald wrote in 1874 that it was ‘one of best specimens, I should say, of a goldfield town; on all sides, in the streets themselves, round the very church which is perched up on a bit of ground only just preserved sacred from the pick and shovel, there are signs of the destructive miner. Acres of land turned over in all directions and the muddy waters of tailraces running down the main thoroughfares, present altogether a curious picture, not the less odd by the funny collection of the small sheet iron shanties which for the most part make up Naseby.’ There were eighteen public houses at this time.
In 1878, the European population was around 300, with about 100 Chinese also mining in the area. In the next decade, small farming developed in the district, with land plowed and crops sown. A flourmill opened in 1881 and at its height the town also had twenty-five hotels, a brewery, several banks, as well as bakers, butchers, blacksmiths, drapers and general stores.
The Strong Family and their Watchmaker Shop
English born Robert Strong (1838-1899) arrived in Naseby in the mid 1860s and was in business by 1868 with £600 in his pocket. A Day Book from the shop exists from 1867, so it can be confirmed that his business was underway around that time, making it, according to the Hocken Library, possibly one of the first such businesses in New Zealand. According to Bowron, who prepared a conservation plan for the shop. Robert Strong, watchmaker and jeweller, arrived in Naseby in about 1868 and opened his shop in the town’s main street in the same year, which may be a little late as a day book dates from 1867. O’Neill, author of a history of Naseby, gives a slightly earlier date, 1865, for the shop’s opening, while Strong’s obituary records he arrived in Naseby in 1863. Whichever date is correct, Bowron also notes that it is likely that the building grew from the land claims before Naseby itself was surveyed.
Robert Strong married Waihola resident Jane Ferguson (1843-1911) in St Paul’s Cathedral at Dunedin and returned to Naseby. The couple had six sons and two daughters. Two of Jane and Robert’s children were also to become watchmakers – Robert (b1870) and William (1879-1967).
The average profits for the shop for the first ten or so years were about £400. About 1878 the shop and section were transferred to Strong’s wife Jane, who had money of her own, and the business rented the premises from her. She also owned the furniture which represented rents collected. Strong owned a lot of land around Naseby. Strong advertised his goods in the Mt. Ida Chronicle and was well known for his lotteries, with prizes consisting not only of retail items from his shop but also valuable freehold properties such as the ten-roomed Commercial Hotel, which was raffled in 1880.
Strong also invested in mining ventures, taking up a business site in Nenthorn and becoming a stockholder (the stock was later transferred to his son in lieu of wages due). He considered himself of great financial worth due to his investments in the Nenthorn mines.
The Nenthorn rush in the 1880s was a bad case of wishful thinking, as historian Terry Hearn notes the rush occurred because ‘a community had been wanting something like that to happen.’ The 1880s was especially tough for Naseby and the Maniototo more generally as ‘poor mans’ diggings’ with severe conditions and chronic water shortages. Much of the ground around Naseby was worked out and the locals were keen to find new fields. In Naseby the population declined, businesses closed, property values fell, and profits thinned. Naseby businessmen were deeply involved in mining ventures, with Robert Strong prominent among them. In this context in December 1888 was the discovery of that was thought to be an extensive network of rich quartz reefs south of Macraes Flat.
Strong lost heavily in what was known as the ‘Nenthorn Scam’ and as a contributory shareholder was liable for company debt. He was bankrupted in mid 1891, one of five shareholders of the Croesus Company who found themselves in that unfortunate situation. A meeting of creditors was held on the 12 May, with the outstanding debt £2462. The assignee was to investigate all dealings between family members; that the stock in trade and the equity of redemption of the freehold was to be sold at auction (sold to P. Hayman and Co.). This all put Strong’s livelihood at risk because he had been ‘deprived of his tools’ and was thus unable to make a living for his family.
A photograph of the shop front during Robert Strong’s era shows the original signage below the clock stating ‘Under the patronage of the Governor of New Zealand’ and includes the royal coat of arms. Below this panels read ‘R. Strong Watchmaker Jeweller’. The window shows an elaborate display of silverware, clocks, watches and other small items.
The Strong family kept records of the business and material related to the history and community organisations in Naseby. The daybooks for the shop provide insight into the daily workings of the business. William Strong kept stock books as well.
Robert’s son William joined his father in business on leaving school in 1894. On his father’s death at the age of sixty one on 26 December 1899, twenty year old William took over the business. William Strong was civic minded and took an active part in Naseby affairs and held a number of offices in the town. He was mayor from 1923 to 1925, was a secretary of the Freemason Lodge, and was a member of the volunteer fire brigade as well as the Maniototo Early Settlers’ Association. William, a bachelor, ran the business until 1959, when he was aged 80. He died in 1967. The esteem in which he was held by the community was shown by the large number of Naseby’s population paying their last respects.
A retrospective article written in 1958 on the importance of Naseby’s history and the link to the golden past recognised the special significance of the Watchmaker Shop. The Shop (of ‘matchbox proportions with glass-fronted show room that would be crowded if half a dozen men were in it at one time’) was seen as characteristic of the early goldfield’s era premises, and ‘almost as ancient as the town.’ The writer hoped that the ‘little shop’ would never be demolished – ‘it is a museum piece that should be preserved, with other buildings in the town, as typical of an era that has passed.’
On his death in 1975 Jack Strong, the benefactor of William’s estate, gifted the shop and its contents to the Maniototo Early Settlers’ Association.
The Maniototo Early Settlers’ Association
The Maniototo Early Settlers’ Association was probably formed in 1910-1911. The Association at this time focused on ‘social and nostalgic activities.’ In June 1936 the Association acquired the Old County Chambers and changed its focus to museum activities.
The Maniototo Early Settlers’ Association carried out repairs to the building prior to incorporating it into part of the Naseby Museum. In 1977 the Maniototo Early Settlers’ Association completed extensive works on the building. The signage was replaced with the present signs, the clock was replaced, parts of the timber floor removed and concrete laid, the ceiling of the workshop and shop lined with softboard, and the walls of the workshop lined with plasterboard over the top of existing linings, with efforts made to maintain the building’s integrity.
In 1998 further repairs were carried out on the storeroom. It was repiled and refloored along with other structural replacements. Further restoration of the building is currently underway. Stripping of the façade structure has revealed the original facing boards as well as remnants of two early signs, one painted on fine linen and the later one on canvas. Other parts of the original structure have also been revealed and will be retained in the restored façade.
It is difficult to establish how many 1860s retail premises from the goldmining period in Otago remain. In the small settlement of Matakanui Duggan’s Store, a substantial mud brick building remains and is a Category I historic place (Record No. 339). It dates from 1880 and is not representative of these early temporary premises like the Watchmaker Shop. All Nation’s Store in Naseby itself, with an ornate shop front still stands but dates from the late 1880s, past the heyday of the gold rushes. The general store in Oturehua is still operating, but it dates from 1929 (Record No.7304, Category II). Pitches Store (Record No. 7282, Category II) in Ophir dates from around 1870 but does not have the same integrity as the Watchmaker Shop. There are many former gold mining settlements in Central Otago, and towns like Clyde have many remnant structures, but these are not registered. From the information at hand it appears that the Watchmaker Shop is a rare and intact survivor from the early gold mining period, and is probably unique in its long ownership and operation by one family.
In 2011 the Watchmaker Shop, still in the ownership of the Maniototo Early Settlers’ Association, forms part of the Maniototo Early Settlers Museum.
Strong’s Watchmaker Shop is located on Leven Street, the main commercial street of the small Central Otago Township of Naseby. Early photographs show Leven Street lined with small scale retail premises built wall to wall next to each other. The Watchmaker Shop is the sole survivor on this part of Leven Street which shows the dense small scale occupation of this once bustling gold mining town.
On the north side of the Watchmaker Shop is a small wooden garage, while on the south is the Jubilee Museum, built as a replica of the Boot Manufacturer and Draper/Clothier Shop that was historically Strong’s next door neighbour.
The narrowness of the Watchmaker Shop and its site, which is a mere 58 square metres in size, indicates the density of commercial subdivisions in Leven Street, and provides insight into land subdivision in a gold mining township. The Watchmaker Shop fronts directly onto Leven Street.
Construction and Exterior
Constructed in timber and clad in corrugated iron, with an elaborate façade and parapet, the Watchmaker shop is a narrow rectangular building consisting of three interconnecting rooms. The shop frontage is the only part of the building visible from the street. In his conservation plan, Greg Bowron describes the building as ‘nothing more than a shed with a single, narrow gable running the length of the building and a parapet across the Leven St. façade’.
The street exterior consists of a panelled bay window and a small porch leading to the doorway. Timber pilasters with simple moulded caps frame the doorway and window. The façade is capped by a clock resting on two timber scrolls above the gable.
The building rests on joists, with concrete piles in the storeroom area. The early flooring timber is Baltic pine. The ceilings are softboard in the shop and plaster board in the workshop. The walls have a range of finishes including scrim hung wallpaper, wall paper on plasterboard and tongue and groove timber.
The joinery is timber. The front window is a plate glass panelled bay window and a 12-light sash double hung window. Internal windows consist of a 6-light fixed window and 2 later single pane windows.
The storeroom at the rear was evidently constructed some time after the front rooms, though the date of that addition is not known.
The Shop Area
Conservation architect Greg Bowron describes the shop area of the interior as ‘remarkable’, in that it has remained relatively intact since the original construction. The retention of the original construction materials provides insight into retail operations. Traces of wallpaper give an indication of the dates of wall lining. The counter and the old bench, display case and the like are of exceptional significance. There is also a wrought iron safe which is a significant element in the interior.
The Workshop Area
The original form of the workshop is evident, though the alterations in 1977, particularly the lining of the walls and rewiring has removed or hidden original fabric. It is believed the original shelves were reattached to the walls. The workbench is in Greg Bowron’s words ‘a remarkable adaptation of available materials. The work bench has turned legs (from a table). The door has its original finishes. The floor is covered with linoleum on paper on Baltic pine and is original fabric.
The storeroom is a later addition. Most of the storeroom was rebuilt in 1998. Parts of the old structure remain including the horizontal boarding on the north wall, the tongue and groove cladding and the corrugated iron cladding. The door is original fabric. The chimney made of sheet tin with a timber brace is of significance.
Likely construction and opening of shop.
Storeroom at rear constructed.
Likely replacement of earlier signage with present form when the shop changed hands.
Extensive work carried out. Signage replaced with present signs, timber floor removed and replaced with concrete, ceilings of workshop and shop lined with softboard, walls lined in plasterboard.
Storeroom rebuilt; repiling, framing, reflooring and adding joinery to match earlier joinery.
Further restoration including the reinstatement of the original fabric of the upper façade and signage.
Timber, corrugated iron, timber joinery, sheet iron.
9th March 2011
Report Written By
Department of Conservation
Department of Conservation
The Archaeology of Otago, Wellington, 2001
J Hamel, Gold miners and their landscape at Naseby. NZ Forest Service, 1985.
J O'Neill. The History of Naseby. Naseby 1976.
Helen Thompson, East of the Rock and Pillar: A History of the Strath Taieri and Macraes District, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1949
Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.
G. Bowron, ‘Naseby Museum & Watchmaker’s Shop Leven St, Naseby A Conservation Plan’, Report prepared for the Maniototo Early Settlers’ Association, January 2001.
Terry Hearn, Nenthorn: Gold and the Gullible, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1988
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area 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.