Historical Significance or Value
The Gardener’s Cottage (Former) has historical significance for its connection to James Erskine Watson and his Estate. Watson was a prominent Invercargill figure in the late 1890s and early 1900s. His home ‘Trafalgar’ is also significant as it became Invercargill’s St Helen’s Maternity Hospital. These St Helen’s Hospitals spoke to an emerging interest in midwives and their training, as well as the proper care of mothers and their newborns. The very existence of the former Gardener’s Cottage represents Watson’s wealth and the extent of his estate. The cottage is now the last remnant of this story.
Aesthetic Significance or Value:
The former Gardener’s Cottage has aesthetic significance. It is known locally as the ‘Gingerbread House’, particularly for its white ornamental fretwork and decorative windows.
Social Significance or Value:
The Gardener’s Cottage (Former) represents a slice of social history peculiar to a particular period in New Zealand’s past. The servant class no longer exists in contemporary New Zealand, but was an important feature of our colonial past. It was the starting point for many of our early immigrants, particularly women. Although most servants lived within the ‘big house’ it was an indication of the special respect attached to a gardener’s skills which saw a large homeowner build a separate residence for the gardener.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The Gardener’s Cottage (Former) represents a little studied aspect of New Zealand’s history. The occupation of private gardener to a large estate or wealthy home owner has been largely overlooked. It does, however, form part of the history of the working class in New Zealand, particularly late nineteenth and early twentieth century household services.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
The Gardener’s Cottage (Former) is associated with the prominent James Erskine Watson. It speaks to New Zealand’s colonial nouveau riche and the way they displayed their new found affluence. J.E. Watson and Co. was also important to Southland’s economy and its farming progress.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:
The Gardener’s Cottage (Former) is apparently one of only a few late nineteenth and early twentieth century gardeners’ cottages still extant. As it is largely unmodified, it is a rare glimpse into the original layout of such cottages. It is also rare in that it was constructed in brick, where other similar extant houses appear to be wooden.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
The Gardener’s Cottage (Former) forms part of wider historical and cultural complex. The Cottage was part of Watson’s empire, including not only the substantial house and grounds but his very successful stock and station company J.E. Watson & Co. Unfortunately the Cottage is the last element of Watson’s empire to remain but it continues to speak to a much larger story.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, j and k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
Ancient stories tell the origins of southern Maori, with the waka of Aoraki becoming Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island). Traditions tell of Maui arriving in his waka Maahunui, and pulling up the stone to be used as an anchor - Te Puka o Te Waka a Maui (Rakiura).
According to the Ngai Tahu important villages along the south coast included Te Wae Wae (Waiau), Taunoa (Orepuki), Kawakaputaputa (Wakapatu), Oraka (Colac Bay), Aparima, Turangiteuaru, Awarua (Bluff), Te Whera, Toe Toe (mouth of the Mataura River) and Waikawa.
Mokamoka (also known as Mokemoke or Mokomoko) was a settlement at the Invercargill estuary sustained by the rich resources found there. Tauranga waka occur up and down the coast linking land and sea trails with mahinga kai resources. From the 1820s whaling boats were attracted to the southern waters, leading to changes in settlement patterns and resource use. 1853 saw the Murihiku purchase which left Maori south of the Pataki (excluding the Otakou Block) with only 4,630 acres, the start of a long quest by southern Maori for justice questioning the legality of the purchase as well as the inadequacy of the land reserved.
The land on which the Gardener’s Cottage (Former) now stands was originally included in the 1860 Crown grant of 65 acres in east to Captain Andrew Jamieson Elles. He named his property ‘Ellesland’. Captain Elles died in 1886 and the trustees of his estate gradually sold off parcels. On 4 September 1900 James Erskine Watson (1863-1917) bought Part of Lot D, Lots 1 to 8 and Part of Lot 9 on Block V.
James Erskine Watson:
Prominent merchant James Erskine Watson was born near Edinburgh in 1863. He arrived in New Zealand in 1880 and entered the service of the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company. In 1889 he formed a partnership with George C. Tothill and established Tothill and Watson, ‘auctioneers, commission agents, grain merchants and general merchants for the purchase of farm produce and the sale of farm requisites at Invercargill and elsewhere’. The partnership was dissolved by mutual consent on the 15 July 1902. Watson continued with the business under the name of J.E. Watson and Company, Limited.
Watson was also civic-minded and was actively involved in local affairs. He was elected a member of the Invercargill Borough Council in 1896 and served on the Southland Hospital Board as member and Chairman for many years. Elected to the Bluff Harbour Board in 1897 he served several terms. Watson was elected to the Chamber of Commerce in 1889 and the position of Chairman of the Invercargill Chamber of Commerce in 1901. He also served as a City Councillor in 1899 and 1900.
The stock and station company continued to flourish. Watson’s firm was built on personal relationships and trust. Agents became friends and farmers branded themselves as a ‘J.E. Watson’ or ‘Dalgety’ man. Watson was also an entrepreneur who ‘overcame the unpleasantness associated with burnt lime when [he] opened a lime works at Forest Hill and ground the lime into a fine powder. This was the beginning of a fertiliser manufacturing industry. It has been crucially important to the province’s economy and its farming progress’. J.E. Watson’s was one of the last local firms to be sold to outside interests, eventually taken over by Australian company, Elders, around 1985.
Watson’s first wife, Katherine, died in 1894 less than a year after they were married. In 1900 he married Kate Royse (1873-1951) in Dunedin. The newspaper reported that:
‘on Wednesday forenoon, a pretty though quiet wedding took place in All Saints’ Church...No guests beyond the immediate relations of the bride and bridegroom having been invited to the ceremony meant that the church was not at all crowded, though as it neared half-past 12, the hour appointed, many ladies and girl friends of the bride crowded into the church, anxious to see the last of the sweet bride. She really looked lovely in an exquisite trained dress of rich white duchesse satin, the skirt trimmed with true-lover’s knots of appliqué lace, and the bodice made with transparent sleeves and yoke. Instead of the customary veil she wore a large white hat, covered with white ostrich feathers, a style of head dress which, in conjunction with a wedding gown, would be trying to many, but which seemed to suit Miss Royse’s fair beauty to perfection’. After the wedding Mrs Royse entertained the guests as her residence in Montpellier.’
The couple had four children; Helen (1901- ), Kate (1903- ), Jessie (1906- ) and James (1909- ).
Watson set about establishing a home for his new wife. He purchased property on the former ‘Ellesland’ just prior to his wedding and over the following two years built a large and impressive residence. By September 1902, the family had moved into their new home on Nelson Street. The house was named ‘Trafalgar’. The Estate was about four and a half acres and required cultivation. Watson needed a gardener.
The occupation of gardener was common enough in colonial New Zealand. For example, by 1890 there were 345 men recording their occupation as ‘gardener’ in Otago. Many of New Zealand’s early professional gardeners began their careers in England with an apprenticeship on large properties. After emigrating they might become head gardener on a large country estate, although most often they tended to diversify. Some opened their own nurseries, or designed and maintained public and private gardens. Large country estates often employed a number of gardeners, although they tended to be jacks-of-all-trades, sometimes termed ‘cowman-gardeners’. As the tag implies, they milked the cow and gardened, but usually did other odd jobs as required.
New Zealand’s new urban elite, who had become wealthy in the colonial environment, displayed their affluence by building mansions surrounded by landscaped gardens. For example, historic Riverslaw employed nine gardeners. By the late nineteenth century ‘it had become reasonably common for larger city householders to employ a gardener, often on a part-time or casual basis.’ By the first decades of the twentieth century the front gardens of a town’s wealthiest citizens resembled those of the large country houses, and required a permanent gardening staff to maintain them.
The gardeners of New Zealand’s ‘big houses’ were viewed as servants. Most wealthy households had a permanent staff of four: cook, parlour maid, kitchen maid and gardener, while a laundry maid might cover three or four big houses. Domestic servitude was the starting point for many early immigrants, particularly women. Most servants lived in. It was an indication of the special respect for a gardener’s skills which sometimes saw a large estate owner build a separate residence for the gardener.
In September 1903 Watson advertised for a gardener:
"WANTED. An old man as gardener. Apply A E Watson and Co."
Andrew Campbell, a gardener, lived on nearby Princes Street. It seems that Campbell was the successful applicant.
Although no photographic evidence remains of ‘Trafalgar’s gardens, Campbell’s work must have satisfied. In 1911 Watson added to his Estate a house and outbuilding on the newly created Hardy Street, which formed the southern boundary of Watson’s land. Andrew Campbell, the gardener, took up residence. He was the only occupant of the newly created street.
The Gardener’s Cottage:
No records are available, unfortunately, to indicate who designed or who built the Gardener’s Cottage. Yet the architectural style is noteworthy. Locally, the cottage is often been referred to as the ‘Little Gingerbread House’ because of its architectural ornamentation. It has been described as having a ‘unique old worlde charm’. Built in an English cottage style, the foundations were concrete and the walls double brick. The windows were small paned, and included an unusual ‘X’ pattern in the top panes. The roof was probably clad in corrugated iron and the gabled ends included ornamental carved fretwork. A lean-to was built on the western elevation and a small porch on the south.
The interior had six rooms ‘one of which [was] cell-like in proportions’. The partition walls were timber and the ceilings and floors were tongue and groove. The house included a galley kitchen and a coal range. The bathroom contained a cast-iron, claw-footed bath. There was also a deep cellar under the cottage. The toilet was in an outhouse.
A limited survey shows that relatively few historic gardeners’ cottages remain extant in New Zealand. The Gardener’s Cottage in Rotorua’s Government Gardens dates from c.1899 and is a registered Category II building (Record No. 2708). It was built for the head gardener. The Gardener’s Cottage on Coniston Homestead’s Estate, Ashburton, was built in 1870. The Gardener’s Cottage in Te Aroha was built in 1907 to provide accommodation for the Domain gardener. These three gardeners’ cottages are perhaps the most prominent of only a few purpose-built structures still extant. Interestingly, they are all wooden construction. Watson’s Gardener’s Cottage stands in rare company and appears to be the only such cottage built of brick.
Andrew Campbell lived in the house until about 1914. Campbell’s name then disappears from the local directories. Perhaps he was drawn to the War effort or, if he was indeed the ‘old man’ Watson advertised for, he may have died. An Andrew Campbell was buried in Invercargill Eastern Cemetery in 1915, aged 63.
In the following years, Watson leased the house variously to an engine driver, a grocer’s assistant and a journeyman tailor.
The end of Watson’s Estate:
During the War years Watson held the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the territorial force. He died on 26 June 1917, aged 54 at Timaru. His obituary noted that Watson had been one of the most prominent citizens of Invercargill and a member of most of the local bodies.
Perhaps Watson had been ill for some time, as several months before his death the Estate was surveyed dividing Section 15 in half. The lower half, including the Gardener’s Cottage, was retained by the family. The portion containing the Watson’s home ‘Trafalgar’ was sold to the government for use as Invercargill’s St Helen’s Hospital.
With the advent of the twentieth century, changes had occurred in the attitude towards midwifery and home births. Emphasis was placed on training, registration and skilled treatment at a low cost to the patient. St Helen’s Hospitals were established to forward these ideals. When the Minister of Health visited Invercargill in 1916, a deputation from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), urged him to establish a St Helen’s Hospital in Invercargill. He replied that ‘he thought is a sacred duty of the Government to guard the infant population’. This turned out to be more than a pious platitude and on 24 April 1917 the Crown officially purchased ‘Trafalgar’. The Watsons no doubt believed this was a fitting use for their family home as Watson had been a longstanding member of the Southland Hospital Board and visited to the hospital almost weekly.
The Invercargill Hospital Board was informed that Watson’s residence was a fine roomy brick building standing well back from the street in two acres of grounds. It was lit by electricity and ‘had every convenience’. Nurse Hester Maclean commented that the house ‘was quite I thought, the best of any of the old buildings, and could be adapted very satisfactorily for about ten patients. So plans were made for certain additions.’
Though the alterations to the Watson’s home were not completed, the matron, Miss E. D. Stubbs, and staff were established there by October 1917. Invercargill’s St Helen’s Hospital was officially opened on 22 March 1918. Miss Stubbs later described the occasion:
‘Our visitors wandering about expressed great surprise that St. Helens Hospital could be so comfortable. The ground floor consists of two wards, nursery, theatre and offices, sanitary block, nurses’ duty room, staff dining-room, and kitchens, entrance hall, corridor, and wide verandas. On the top floor are staff rooms, and opening on to sunny balconies. The hospital stands in the midst of five acres of delightful lawns and gardens and a beautiful natural bush, where the nurses are usually to be found when off duty. For a profitable recreation we have a miniature recreation where we have a miniature farmyard, where pugs and fowls flourish under the care of an old Scottish gardener. Our baby work promises to flourish equally well, forty-nine having already been born here, most of whom returned for the opening day, and very proud we felt of our sturdy young citizens. Now we are working comfortable with every convenience in (at least in our opinion) the most delightful of all hospitals’.
It is unclear whether the ‘old Scottish gardener’ was Andrew Campbell. Although Campbell no longer lived in the Gardener’s Cottage, it is possible he still worked the grounds. By 1920 Invercargill’s St Helen’s Hospital was one of only seven such hospitals in New Zealand. Over the course of its existence 8500 Southlanders were born there.
Kate and her children moved to Dunedin in 1918 and bought a smaller home at 21 Park Street. In 1920 she sold the Gardener’s Cottage, Lot 7 Plan 2021, to Robert Maclachlan, a railway employee. It was the only plot in Hardy Street with an existing residence. The surrounding Lots were sold between 1922 and 1929. The Cottage has had only four owners since then.
Although St Helen’s Hospital, formerly ‘Trafalgar’, was still in good condition, the Health Department decided to close it in 1944. The lack of maternity accommodation in the city, however, delayed the closure. The doors to the hospital finally closed on Monday 16 June 1952.
Kate died in February 1951. She had been living in Wellington but her ashes were scattered in a Dunedin cemetery.
In March 1955 the former Watson Estate was ordered to be sold. In 1956, however, it was leased to a state owned enterprise GPS Properties Ltd. In 1992 the property was transferred to the Dunedin College of Education, in whose hands the land remains. It is likely that ‘Trafalgar’ was demolished sometime between 1956 and 1992.
In 2011 the Gardener’s Cottage is a private residence.
The former Gardener’s Cottage is set on the corner of Hardy Street and Wellington Street. The area is residential, populated by 1920s and 1930s houses, all with large well-kept gardens. The Cottage is largely obscured by high hedges. A portion of the north elevation is partially visible from the driveway off Wellington Street.
The Cottage garden is overgrown, which obscures all elevations of the cottage, except for a part of the northern elevation which is partially visible from Wellington Street. The NZHPT was, unfortunately, unable to gain access to the Cottage and the description is based on what was visible from the street. The house is red brick and the foundations appear to be concrete. The roof is corrugated iron. The fretwork and windows are timber and painted white.
The garden has not been tended of late and plants are growing up the wall and through the fretwork. The paintwork on the barge board and fretwork appear to be in a state of disrepair. The outhouse is in a state of extreme disrepair.
The current owner, wrote a description of the property approximately 1993. She describes the existing interior as follows:
‘The interior is partitioned with timber and gib-board lined and has only 6 rooms, 3 of which are bedrooms. One is small as a prison cell! The ceilings and floors are all T. & G. and original. It has a romantic bathroom with an old-fashioned cast-iron, claw-footed bath and a separate shower. It has an outside toilet. It has a galley kitchen and a coal range is the only cooking and heating facility in the house. There is a deep, dark cellar under the whole house and many spooky tales have been told by small children'.
Construction of house
Brick, timber, concrete, corrugated iron
13th March 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
Invercargill City Council
Invercargill City Council
20 Hardy Street Property File, c.1928-2010
New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
Dania Boniface, ‘Property at 20 Hardy Street’, c.1993, NZHPT, 120131-216.
House, 20 Hardy Street, Invercargill, NZHPT, 12013-216.
P. Sorrell, (ed) Murihiku: The Southland Story, Southland to 2006 Book Project Committee, Invercargill, 2006
Southland Hospital Board
Southland Hospital Board. Archives New Zealand.
History of the Southland hospitals and board, 1861-1968, Invercargill, Southland Hospital Board, 1968.
The Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand
Volume X, Issue 4, October 1917.
Stone's Otago and Southland Commercial
Municipal and General Directory.
A fully referenced report is available from the Southern Region office of 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.