Historical Significance or Value
Historically The Poplars represents the history of early settlement on the Taieri Plain, with Francis McDiarmid one of the first colonists to live in the area. The McDiarmid family had a long association with the house, owning the land from the 1840s through to the 1960s. The house stands as a reminder of the historically close-knit and interconnected community that centred on this family and this property.
The Poplars has architectural significance as a transplanted attempt at Scottish Baronial architecture albeit at a modest scale. The use of this style of architecture can be seen to reflect the aspirations of Francis McDiarmid in his role as one of the founding settlers of the Taieri Plain.
The Poplars has technological significance. It is one of early houses on the Taieri Plain and in particular provides a good example of brick construction. The bricks were reportedly hand-made on site, and as such provide an excellent example indigenous brick construction. In its design and detailing it is an elegant early colonist's house in this area, and illustrates the status of Francis McDiarmid as one of the founding settlers of that community.
The Poplars and the life of its owner Francis McDiarmid illustrates the experience of an early colonist, from settler living in a rough shelter, through to a long-established resident and central figure in the local community, a representative aspect of New Zealand history.
The Poplars gives significant insight into design and construction methods associated with artisan brick-making by James Dow. Dow built at least one other property, his own house Dowfield, on the Taieri from hand made bricks.
The Taieri Plain is noted for its early domestic dwellings associated with the establishment of the small settlements such as Woodside, East Taieri, North Taieri, West Taieri and Outram. The Poplars can be seen as part of this tapestry of settlements which forms part of the wider historical landscape of the Taieri Plain.
The Poplars is a handsome two-storied brick house built in Scottish Baronial style by one of the earliest European settlers on the Taieri Plain, outside Dunedin. The house was completed in the mid-1860s and was the home of the McDiarmid family for 100 years. The house was the centre of the small community at Woodside and one of a number of early residences associated with the European settlement of the Taieri Plain.
Francis McDiarmid was born in Clackmannanshire, Scotland. He arrived at Port Chalmers on the Phillip Laing to take up his chosen allotments. He had a town allotment in Dunedin and a country allotment at the Taieri. McDiarmid settled at Maungaatua in 1848, 34 kilometres from Dunedin on the Taieri Plain. He was one of the first two Europeans to settle in the area. McDiarmid married Janet Milne who had travelled with him from Scotland, in 1849. He built a wattle and daub cottage on his section.
At the time McDiarmid settled on the Taieri Plain was characterised by thick bush, flax-covered swampy land and an interconnected series of creeks, a rich source of food for Maori, and indeed in early days of settlement such settlers were at times reliant on Maori sustenance in times of emergency. Although relatively close to Dunedin in distance, this forbidding landscape isolated the small towns. Settlement on the Taieri started on the higher areas of the Plain, marked out on Charles Kettle's 1847 survey. The Plain has rich alluvial soil which has led to relatively close farming settlements.
The area later became known as Woodside, and grew into a small town to support the isolated farming area, which was surrounded by the swamp and forest of the Taieri Plain. Woodside was founded by the three early European settlers in the area:- Francis McDiarmid, Englishman Edward Lee and Indian-born James and Robert Fulton. Early industry was based on sawmilling, and the government issued licenses to cut trees in the area to meet the demand for timber. The saw millers and labourers needed housing, and McDiarmid sold his holding at the mouth of the Glen for the purpose of creating a village with small sections plus room for a school, store and church. The area was first known as Maungaatua, but at McDiarmid's suggestion was renamed Woodside. Francis McDiarmid was appointed Crown Ranger, and was also responsible for cutting the first road between Woodside and the Upper Taieri ferry. The name Woodside came to be associated with the area within 2-3 miles from the village. The village had a store, post office, mission hall, brewery and flour mill. It was a coach terminus from Dunedin.
With the gold rushes in the early 1860s, and West Taieri lying on the route to the Otago gold fields via the Dunstan Road , McDiarmid's prosperity improved, and he was able to afford to build a new house. The Poplars was built for Francis McDiarmid reputedly by the Dow Brothers in 1866. McDiarmid's crown grant for the fifty two acres on Section 32 Irregular Block West Taieri, backdated to 16 November 1847, was issued on November 1869 (Deeds Register 26/996).
McDiarmid received some income from his wider holdings, leasing the one corner with its associated dwelling house and outbuildings to a number of tenants. John Farquarson leased part of a house and stable on a 21 year lease from November 1871, with the condition he build a "live thorn hedge" around the property and maintain the post and rail fence (Deed Register 37/49). Abraham Posnanski leased the stable, wash house, hen house, piggery and the middle and south wing of a nine-room dwelling house in July 1881. John Campbell, a baker, leased the middle portion of the house, the bake house and oven, part of the stable and cart shed, a small paddock and 1 acre garden in 1884 (Deed Register 76/257, 84/471).
By the 1880s the heyday of Woodside was subsiding, with the decline in the gold rush traffic, but it remained a centre of community and activity. Members of the family settled nearby, forming a close knit community. The Poplars was the centre of that community, and was a "cheerful and talented social centre not only for West Taieri but also for many visitors and friends from Dunedin." At that time it was an enclosed area ringed with Lombardy poplars, hence the name The Poplars.
After Francis McDiarmid died in 1896, at the age of 96, some of his lands, extending in a strip between the mountain and the Maungaatua-Woodside Road between the two hamlets, were bequeathed to some members of his family, and other pieces sold or leased. Son Francis got the homestead block (The Poplars) and 100 acres. His will gave his unmarried daughters the right to occupy with Francis McDiarmid the dwelling house and to use the garden, dairy, hen house, cow shed, and one cow, on part of his land (OT262/173, probate 109/257, dated 16 Sep 1897).
In 1922 18 acres was subdivided from the property and sold to farmer William Marshall for £700 (Deed Register 214/621).
Three generations of the McDiarmid family lived at The Poplars. As each generation of McDiarmids inherited the farm, it was broken down in size and gifted to sons and daughters. In the 1940s and 1950s title remained in the McDiarmid family. Eventually the homestead block became uneconomic. Once the last family member, Mrs Marshall, moved away, the house fell into disrepair. In August 1961 title was transferred to Woodside farmer Gordon Brass.
The section was subdivided in the 1970s, and a new title issued in 1974. The house was purchased by current owners in that year. During the 1970s they built a small cottage and stable in a complementary style. A large brick and stone entrance way with iron gates was built. The one and a half hectare site was planted with trees. An addition to the rear was built to accommodate the kitchen, bathroom and toilet.
Today the building remains a private residence.
The house is one-and-a-half-storeys, built in triple brick with a stone foundation. The bricks are laid in Flemish bond pattern, with contrasting quoins and facings, and a horizontal stone band running below the first storey windows. The house has a single gable with three gabled dormers on the east elevation, and tall chimneys at the gable ends. It had a built in lean-to on the west elevation. It has decorative barge boards. The windows in the early photographs show double-hung sash windows, with six-light panes. It is reported that the bricks for the house were fired on site. The roof is slate with rimu sarking underneath. The ceilings are lathe and plaster. The framing timbers are rimu, while the floors and joinery were constructed of Baltic pine.
There are four main rooms downstairs with a kitchen, scullery and pantry at the rear, and four rooms upstairs. Two of the upstairs rooms were originally servants' quarters, and have a separate stairway.
A number of alterations took place in the 1920s, including modification of the staircase, and enlargement of the main living room. The living room has art deco style pressed metal ceiling, deco style doors and wall panels. The fireplace was moved, and a door converted to a window. The kitchen was moved into a lean-to at the rear of the house, which has since been demolished.
The house was largely unoccupied from the 1950s through to the 1970s, although the framing timbers and brick work were still sound. Repairs were needed to weatherproofing, windows and sashes and re-plastering of the interior.
In the 1980s, after the house was purchased by the Beardsmores, a small cottage and a larger stable were built in the same style to the rear of The Poplars, and used as accommodation and storage while the main house was restored.
Alterations to living room, kitchen and staircase
1950 - 1970
Triple brick with stone foundation and slate roof.
13th December 2005
Report Written By
Alex Chisholm, Growing Up in West Taieri, [A. Chisholm], Fairfield, 1977
Daphne Lemon, Taieri Buildings: with drawings by Audrey Bascand, Dunedin, 1970
Daphne Lemon, More Taieri Buildings with drawings by Audrey Bascand, Dunedin, 1972
Margaret Shaw and Edgar D. Farrant, The Taieri Plain: Tales of the Years that are Gone, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1949
Historic Places in New Zealand
Historic Places in New Zealand
Ray Beardsmore , 'The Jewel of the West Taieri', September 1994, pp. 30-31
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.