30 Rimu Road, Kennington, Invercargill

  • Ardneil, Invercargill. North west elevation looking round to north east veranda.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Susan Irvine. Date: 18/03/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2549 Date Entered 26th August 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Sec 30 Blk II (CT 127/20), Invercargill Hundred, Southland Land District and the buildings known as Ardneil thereon, including the house, cottage, hen house, and cow shed; and its fittings and fixtures (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Invercargill City


Southland Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 30 Blk II (CT 127/20), Invercargill Hundred, Southland Land District.


Magnificently sited at the end of a sweeping, tree-lined driveway of 30 Rimu Road, Kennington, is the grand Ardneil homestead. Built in 1905 by John McNab (1876-1958), the early history of the home was tarnished by stories of lost love and court cases. The youngest son of the influential McNab family, John bought the land from his uncle in 1902. Commissioning noted architect C.J. Brodrick (1867-1946) to create his dream home, the design proved whimsical, charming and picturesque. When the contractor, Alexander Menzies failed to complete his contract, Brodrick took over the project bringing it to completion in November 1903.

The homestead was built in red brick and featured a turret, notched curvilinear gables, pediments, Corinthian columns, two wide and decorated verandas, and numerous classical decorations. Even the rounded chimneys and roof eaves were decorated with rosettes. McNab named the house, albeit briefly, ‘Balnab’. Locally it became known as McNab’s Folly.

McNab lived in the house for just two months before either lost love (as local legend has it) or severe financial difficulties (suggested in the written record) forced him to sell. In 1905 the house passed into the ownership of Henry Fowler who named it ‘Ardneil’ after his home in Scotland. In 1922 the Fowler family sold the property to Keith Jopp. In 1927 Alice Hillis bought the home. The house remained in the Hillis family and is now owned by Alice’s granddaughter Regina Stephenson. Remarkably, the house and its furnishings remained unchanged between 1927 and the late 1980s. Even now, the homestead is structurally unmodified. Although it fell into disrepair for many years, the current owner has restored Ardneil to its former glory, even using the original colour schemes.

The impressive scale of this grand home, its remarkable detailing and eclectic conglomeration of architectural styles create a visually charming picture. It is a combination of Queen Anne Revival, Anglo-Dutch and Italian Renaissance styles and is an outstanding example of Brodrick’s early work. Ardneil is not only associated with this noted architect but also with a number of prominent individuals and their pioneering Southland families. As the social centre of rural Kennington, Ardneil was a focal point for community gatherings including balls and weekend parties. The homestead represents the progress, status and wealth of Southland’s elite who helped to mould New Zealand’s cultural, political and economic landscape.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Ardneil’s historical value lies particularly through its association with a number of prominent families and individuals. The Brodrick and McNab families were pioneer Southlanders who contributed considerably to the social and economic development of Southland. The McNab family produced explorers, an eye surgeon and the eldest son, Robert, was a politician and historian whose name is honoured in the McNab Room of the Dunedin Public Library. The house’s original owner, John McNab, was a lesser known member of the McNab family. His own attempt at greatness was through the construction of the elaborate and charming Ardneil, whose architecture and romantic history would capture the public’s imagination and go on to become part of local legend. Henry Fowler not only explored and named many Southland landmarks but took and active interest in the economic development of Southland, particularly in the development of the Kennington, during his period of residence at Ardneil. Ardneil is the grand homestead representing the progress and status of these pioneering Southland leaders.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

Ardneil has a ‘grand homestead’ aesthetic, created by a combination of its architectural design and its setting. The large stand of heritage plantings surrounding the property encloses the house from the road, adding an air of mystery. The impressive scale of the house, its remarkable detailing and eclectic conglomeration of architectural styles create a visually charming picture. The outstanding aesthetic value of the house is enhanced by the originality of these features. Modifications have not disrupted the original intentions and appeal. Even the outbuildings, though in a state of disrepair, add to the aesthetic context of the house.

Architectural Significance or Value

Ardneil has special architectural value as an eclectic example of Queen Anne Revival, Anglo-Dutch, and Italian Renaissance styles. It is these architectural features which form a major part of Ardneil’s heritage values. Key characteristics of each of these styles are evident in the curvilinear gables, ‘candle-snuffer’ roof, tower, precisely laid red brick work, round windows, double-hung windows, rectilinear verandas, heavy pediments, Corinthian columns and a busy façade with numerous details.

Ardneil is an outstanding example of architect C.J. Brodrick’s early work. The key to his success was his ability to successfully design in a number of architectural styles. Nowhere is his versatility better demonstrated than in the design of Ardneil which combines features from a number of architectural styles. Brodrick’s architectural contribution saw his reputation extend throughout New Zealand, although the true extent of his efforts may not have been given the acclaim they deserve in more recent times.

Social Significance or Value

Ardneil has social significance as an example of a stately home of a rich, rural landowner. The house reflects how rural New Zealanders socialised during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Dinner parties, balls and weekend parties were a common feature in the social life of Southland’s elite. Ardneil’s substantial foyer and lounge rooms provided perfect open plan entertainment space. Ardneil was a social centre for community gatherings.

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

Ardneil represents aspects of New Zealand’s history, embodying themes of certainty, progress, status and wealth expressed in the building’s architecture. It is the homestead of the next generation of Southland’s pioneering elite who themselves contributed to New Zealand’s cultural, political and economic landscape. In addition these themes are stated in a rural residential context where the mana of the owner was physically represented in the local community by the grand stately home.

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

Ardneil is particularly associated with people of importance in New Zealand’s history. C.J. Brodrick, a noted architect and son-in-law of renowned surveyor John Turnbull Thomson; John McNab brother to Robert McNab, noted politician, author and historian; Henry Fowler, explorer, rural landlord and pioneer of the Kennington dairy factory; even Arnold Nordmeyer, later leader of the Labour party, was connected to Ardneil in his temporary charge of the Kennington Presbyterian Church.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

Strong community association with Ardneil is reflected in its status as a Southland landmark. The house has a high media profile. It has been painted, photographed, and written about in various published formats. Public interest is so great that tourists and community groups request viewings. It is considered one of Southland’s best homes and a significant legacy to the historical treasures of Southland.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

Much of the value of the place is due to its design which has outstanding aesthetic appeal. Brodrick’s design is an eclectic mix of styles. Italian Renaissance elements blend seamlessly with Queen Anne and Anglo-Dutch inspired design. Ardneil presents an inventive use of brickwork, a winsome roofline, numerous classical decorations, and wide verandas with strong Corinthian columns which form a charming and picturesque display. Perhaps of most significance is that these features remain unchallenged by later modifications. They appear as they did in 1905 and provide a time capsule of the owner and architect’s visions.


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

The beautiful Ardneil is a grand, early twentieth century homestead set in stately grounds. Its context, impressive scale, remarkable detailing and eclectic conglomeration of architectural styles combine to create a visually charming picture and an aesthetically significant building. A harmonious mix of the Queen Anne Revival, Anglo-Dutch, and Italian Renaissance styles, the house is an outstanding example of the work of architect C.J. Brodrick, whose versatility is beautifully demonstrated at Ardneil. The outstanding aesthetic value of the house is enhanced by the remarkable degree of retention of Ardneil’s original form and features and it presents a very special and unmodified snapshot of New Zealand’s architectural history. This grand, stately home reflects the aspirations of the great, rural land owning families that contributed to New Zealand’s physical, cultural, political and economic landscapes. To the Southland community Ardneil represents the growth in wealth and status of its early pioneers and their success in establishing the province as an identity in its own right. Ardneil is considered one of Southland’s best homes and a significant legacy amongst the historical treasures of Southland. Highlighted for its historical associations and considerable aesthetic appeal, Ardneil has featured in numerous publications and retains a high public profile.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Brodrick, Cuthbert John

Cuthbert John Brodrick (1867-1946) was born in Invercargill, the fifth son of Thomas Brodrick. He was named for his uncle, the well-known Victorian architect Cuthbert Brodrick (1822-1905). Brodrick was educated at Southland Boys High School. In 1884 Brodrick was articled to F.W. Burwell and trained in the classical tradition, travelling to Melbourne with Burwell to complete his training. Brodrick returned to New Zealand in 1891 after architectural draughting in Queensland for the Government. In 1906 he married Jemima ('Nonnie') Thomson, stepdaughter of surveyor John Turnbull Thomson.

After practising in Hawera for six years he returned to Invercargill. Brodrick entered into a partnership with his pupil Thomas Royds during World War One. Royds died in 1936. Brodrick retired from practice about 1943. During his career, he served as President of the Institute of Architects in 1911, as Vice-President in 1917, and as a member of the council in 1935.

The first building he designed in Invercargill was the Alexandra building. Others (with partner Thomas Royds) included the Italian Renaissance Bank of New South Wales (1912), the Kaiapoi building, the Grand Hotel (1914), the Edwardian Baroque Southland Daily News (1913), the stripped Classical Invercargill Savings Bank (1926), the classical temple Masonic Lodge of St John (1926), the Georgian Waimahaka Homestead, and grandstands for the Southland Racing Club.

Brodrick was also a member of the Borough Council for three terms and became Deputy Mayor.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative


The lower South Island was known as Murihiku, a name that loosely means ‘the tail end’. Maori trace their arrival in Southland back to the chiefs Rakaihautu and Tamatea. Before Europeans arrived, Murihiku were largely hunter-gatherers. It was a difficult existence, and probably no more than 200 people lived in the district. After moa became extinct, it is likely that people moved to the coast for its food sources, building settlements at Waikawa, Bluff, Aparima (Riverton), and on Ruapuke Island.

The early tribe of Waitaha was assimilated into Ngati Mamoe and then, in the early 1800s, into the Ngai Tahu tribe. In 1852 Walter Mantell bought for the Crown the Murihiku block, largely Southland’s boundaries, from local Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe. Reserves were never properly laid out. Into the 1850s, as settlement of the Southland plains began, Maori found themselves on the margins of the new society.

European ownership of the land

In February 1872 the Crown granted Robert Gillies, surveyor, Section 29, Block II of the Invercargill Hundred, in the district of One Tree Point. On 21 February 1882 part of Gillies land was purchased by Robert Coupland (c.1834-1914).

Coupland and his wife Margaret (nee McQueen, 1835-1904) left Scotland around 1857. In 1882 the Couplands took up land at One Tree Point, now Kennington, naming the farm ‘Dunragit’ after Robert’s home town in Scotland. They built a house, the site of which was some way to the rear of the site of the later homestead. In 1902 Robert Coupland retired to Invercargill. He sold Dunragit to his nephew John McNab.

The McNab family

A number of Margaret Coupland’s siblings, including her sister Janet (c.1838-1876), had followed her to New Zealand. Janet married Alexander McNab (1809-1890) of Knapdale, ’one of the best properties of its class in this part of the colony.’ McNab arrived in New Zealand in 1855 and became one of Southland’s earliest explorers. As a runholder and member of the Otago and Southland Provincial Council, he became a prominent figure in the fledgling colonial settlement.

The McNabs had eleven children, five of whom died during an attack of British cholera in 1871. Their eldest son, Robert (1864-1917), held the Liberal seat in Mataura from 1893-1908. In 1906 he became Minister of Lands and Minister of Justice and Marine in 1915. McNab also researched New Zealand’s early history, publishing numerous articles and books on the subject including Murihiku (1905) and Historical Records of New Zealand (1908). Amassing a collection of over 4000 books, in 1913 he donated his collection to the Dunedin Public Library. It was written of McNab that he helped ‘to create in history, science, literature, the arts, journalism and politics a sense of a distinctive New Zealand destiny and identity’.

Other McNab sons distinguished themselves in various fields; three in agricultural studies and one as a Harley Street eye surgeon. It is John McNab who is the least well-known of the family.

John Brentwood McNab was born in Invercargill in 1876, the youngest in the family. By 1896 McNab was living on part of his father’s Knapdale Station. McNab named his portion of his father’s estate Okapua ’famed throughout this island for its grazing capabilities.’ Tenders were invited in 1898 for the erection of station buildings and a residence, to be built in brick and slate, at Knapdale Station. Yet a few years later, McNab leased the Okapua estate.

In 1902 McNab took the opportunity to buy Dunragit from his uncle, Robert Coupland. Later that year an advertisement for tenders appeared ‘for the erection of a residence in brick and stone at One Tree Point.’ Tenders closed on the 21 October with the architect C.J. Brodrick winning the tender.

Like the McNabs, the Brodrick family played a significant social and economic role in the development of Southland. Captain John Brodrick arrived in Invercargill in 1864. He quickly established himself as a commercial leader, as agent for Lloyds, National Mutual Company and manger of the Invercargill Savings Bank. His sons distinguished themselves in commercial, surveying and public arenas. The family’s connection to surveying was strengthened by C.J. Brodrick’s marriage to Jemima, daughter of surveyor, engineer, architect, explorer and writer John Turnbull Thomson in 1906.

Cuthbert John Brodrick was born in 1867, nephew of the well known British architect of the same name (1822-1905). In 1884 he was apprenticed to F.W. Burwell and travelled with him to Melbourne to complete his training. After working as an architectural draughtsman for the Queensland Government, he returned to New Zealand in 1891. Settling in Hawera, Brodrick practised there for six years before returning to Invercargill where he practised until his retirement in 1943. The architect was responsible for such historic Invercargill landmarks as the Masonic Lodge, Bank of New South Wales, Alexander Building and Grand Hotel. Brodrick was also President of the Southland Progress League, a member of the Borough Council for three terms and became Deputy Mayor. He was also President of the Institute of Architects.

Brodrick’s buildings demonstrate an ability to successfully accomplish a variety of architectural styles. Versatility was the key to his architecture. His style ranged from Baroque Revival, apparent in the Grand Hotel and Southland Daily News Building; to Classical and Italian Renaissance, exhibited by the Masonic Hall and former Bank of New Zealand; to domestic residences, some exhibiting an eclectic combination of styles. Brodrick’s 1946 obituary noted that his reputation extended throughout the country, ‘although he is probably not generally sufficiently recognised for his contribution to New Zealand architecture’.

The house

Local legend has it that John McNab’s new residence was to be a dream house built for his beloved wife-to-be. On the grand lawn surrounding the grand house, fountains would flow and peacocks would roam.

Details concerning the construction of residential properties are often lost in the passage of time; yet information concerning McNab’s build was preserved in an unexpected manner – in the Court news. On 20 November 1903 an article appeared in the Southland Times, titled ‘Of Interest To Contractors’. A test case was being heard in the Magistrate’s Court concerning the interpretation of the Workmen’s Lien Act 1893, which ‘was watched with interest by a number of contractors, and is of general importance to those engaged in the building trade’. The defendant, McNab, was sued for material supplied and work done by sub-contractors in the building of his home. Evidence showed that a contract was signed between McNab and Alexander Menzies, contractor, to build a residence for £1450. The contractor failed to complete within the period stipulated in the contract and the architect took over the works in August. The build was completed according to specifications on 14 November 1903 at a cost of £334 10 s 3d. From the beginning of the contract to completion there were no omissions or extras.

The plaintiffs contended that money was due to Menzies from McNab which should then be paid to the sub-contractors. The claimants were W. Smith and Co., who had contracted to do the doors, windows sashes etc. to the value of £187 10 s 10d, and were owed £57 7s 7d; R.G. Speirs, who was owed £119 for plumbing; G.S. Williden was owed £25 for slating; Timpany Bros £69 8s 5d for timber and mouldings; C. Myers and Son, £65 16s for bricks; G. Duthie £20 10s for carting; and Southland Sawmilling Co. £115 3s 2d for timber.

McNab argued that the final cost of the residence was considerably over the contract price. Contending that his total liability under the contract was £1450, McNab was prepared to pay only £106, not the £404 8s 8d being claimed against him. The workmen’s wages had already been paid.

Points of law were argued over the rights of subcontractors in a contract and the responsibilities of the employer vs the contractor, particularly when the work had been taken out of the contractor’s hands. The plaintiffs argued that when the contractor was released then the employer became responsible for the sub-contracts.

The arguments were lengthy and complex and the judge reserved his decision until December. In the final judgment, the claims were substantiated and payable by the employer. Although McNab’s lawyer gave notice of an appeal to the Supreme Court, there was no further reporting of the case.

The house, then, was built between November 1902, when the tender was let to Alexander Menzies, and 14 November 1903, when it was completed with Brodrick in charge. McNab named the property, albeit briefly, ‘Balnab’.

The house is an eclectic conglomeration of styles. In one respect it is an excellent example of early Queen Anne Revival design incorporating Anglo Dutch elements. By the turn of the century the Queen Anne revival was gaining popularity. Style markers include ‘conglomerate composition’ or a collection of colonial features, medieval towers, large porches etc. all arranged in asymmetrical composition. An inventive use of brickwork, a winsome roofline, and numerous small decorations freely adapted from classical models are all common identifiers of the style. The domestic Queen Anne styling is charming with verandas on more than one side, often widened to form ‘piazzas’, set in picturesque gardens beyond. The roofs are slates; the structure is usually brick cavity walls in stretcher bond, with a timber roof and floor.

The Anglo-Dutch style, current from about 1890 to1915, features the curvilinear gable, ‘candle-snuffer’ roof, tower, precisely laid red brick work, round windows or vents, and a ‘picturesque silhouette’. Windows are usually double-hung, vertically proportioned and painted white. Facades are ‘busy’ with numerous elements freely adapted from classical models. The Anglo-Dutch style has been described as one which seeks ‘to charm rather than overwhelm. Classical themes [are] re-interpreted with originality and wit’.’

Balnab echoes these style elements with a turret, a steeply pitched roof with decoratively-arranged slates; notched curvilinear gables; oeil de boef portholes surrounded by keystones; two wide and decorated verandas, brick walls in stretcher bond, double hung, vertical windows and a façade which features a number of classical decorations.

While Anglo Dutch and Queen Anne style indicators are evident, there are also Italian Renaissance design elements. These include rectilinear verandas, opposed to a more traditional Queen Anne design; the heavy pediment over the main entrance; the extensive used of the Corinthian order seen in the columns and even in the rounded chimneys. Pediments over the windows are a further Italian element, as are the rosettes banding the house, directly below the roof eaves.

The building’s architecture expresses the themes of certainty, progress, status and wealth. It is the ‘stately home’ of the rich rural landlord resounding with local community mana. Balnab has the ‘grand homestead’ aesthetic. It symbolises so many of the cultural ideas adhered to by colonial Victorians and turn of the century Edwardians. Grand houses were favoured by society’s elite as a shield against coarse colonial reality and as a reflection of progress and standing. Its very being affirmed the owner’s material and cultural achievement and was the ‘finest currency of progress.’

Architecture…effectively celebrated the certainties of bourgeoisie culture...[they] hired architects to translate their vision into buildings….[celebrating] the triumphs of the pioneers and the certainty of progress through capitalism.

Otago and Southland’s wealthiest, often linked together by business or family ties, ‘legitimised their power by conspicuous consumption’. Ardneil, one of Invercargill’s grandest residences, was designed to display the social status, wealth and pride of one of the region’s elite.

By November 1903 McNab’s dream home was finished. According to local legend, however, the dream suddenly shattered with:

the would-be bride breaking off her engagement and taking herself far away, tho’ no one knew where. The broken-hearted bridegroom realized there could no longer be any happiness for him in Kennington, so young John McNab went away, no doubt leaving his dream at the foot of the sale notice at the gate.

Indeed tradition would have it that he ordered the builders to stop work and swore to never live in the house. The romantic story spread through the district and down the passage of time, although it is likely untrue. Certainly it was a broken contract, rather than a broken heart, which halted construction on the house. Also, McNab did live in the house though for no more than two months. In addition, although the vision of McNab driven from his dream home by a broken heart makes for wonderful local legend, it is more likely that dwindling finances were the true cause, particularly as the judgement was against him. Whatever the true reason, for many years afterwards the house was known as ‘McNab’s folly’.

In September 1903 John McNab sold his ‘well known and highly-improved farm’ Dunragit, 300 acres with homestead and all farm buildings together with 135 acres leasehold, to Mr William Philpott of Rimu. The report added that ‘Mr McNab retains as a residential estate about 60 acres of the property, upon which stands the handsome brick residence recently erected by him’. On 30 September McNab’s horses, sheep, cattle and farm implements were sold in a clearing sale.

In February 1904 the Southland Times advertised an ‘Important sale of Superior Furniture and Furnishings’ at Balnab, Kennington. The advertisement, inadvertently, contained a wealth of information. John McNab, it read, was leaving for England and was selling his furniture which was ‘PRACTICALLY NEW, having been in use for only two months’. McNab’s occupancy of Balnab, however limited, at least existed. The advert also provides an interesting insight into the use of the rooms and their original furnishings. The dining room included a red pine suite in leather, a marble clock, and heavy velvet carpet. The smoking room included a first class leather suite, writing table and Brussels carpet. The master bedroom contained a handsome oak suite in green, and a massive wardrobe with glass front, a Brussels carpet and ‘Valuable Fur Rugs’. McNab also put up for sale ‘superior silver plated goods’, one D.B. Breech-loading Gun, and camera with the ‘latest photographic appliances’.

By the end of 1904 McNab was in England and cutting financial ties with New Zealand. According to local legend, McNab remained a broken, lonely man for the remainder of his life. Perhaps the locals missed the following announcement which appeared in the Otago Witness in January 1906:

McNab-Watt.-On the 10th January inst., at Holborn Church, Aberdeen, by the Rev. Andrew McQueen, B.D., John McNab, of Invercargill, to Elizabeth Mowat Watt, M.A., Aberdeen.

During World War One McNab served in the Royal Labour Corps. He lived out the remainder of his life in retirement at Eastbourne. McNab died at the ripe old age of 81 on 1 August 1958, survived by one daughter. Perhaps the story had a happy ending after all.


On 3 October 1905 McNab’s house and its surrounding acreage were secured by Henry Fowler (1867-1947). Again the home belonged to a family of civic leaders who contributed significantly to the development of Southland.

Henry Mitchell Fowler was born to John and Barbara Fowler on 14 June 1866. Educated at Waikiwi Primary School, he worked on the family farm until he and brother James took up a farm at Oreti. On 25 April 1899 Henry Fowler married Clara Mitchell (1867-1963), daughter of a later Mayor of Invercargill, John Mitchell. Henry spent holidays exploring Fiordland, often accompanied by James, and is remembered for his contribution to the exploration of the lower South Island. He named many landmarks included tiny Lake Norma, after his three month baby daughter. He also named Ardneil Peak, Mt Fowler and Fowler Pass. Over the years Henry gave talks and wrote articles about his expeditions, pushing for tracks to open up access to the area.

Henry and his family moved to Kennington from Oreti in 1905. Fowler liked the property from first sight. His wife’s reaction was ‘somewhat different. With her first sight of the house from the curve of the drive, she gasped ‘Are you mad, Harry?’

One commentator later noted that the rooms were perfectly proportioned, giving ‘a feeling of domesticity. For though it’s big, it’s not grand. It retains the feel of the family home…’ Years later Henry and Clara’s daughter, Norma, recalled her impressions:

Certainly, the house presented a palatial appearance with its tower, two massive identical verandas – one facing front or north, the other facing east – Corinthian pillars, balustrades, two large ornamentations above….Father was very happy to name it ‘Ardneil,’ after the family home at Tranent, Scotland…

Norma described the house as it appeared after a few years of Fowler family residence:

[S]hall we take a tour? Starting at the road gate, we follow the winding drive, its right verge planted with toi-toi and flax alternating and on the left a big macrocarpa hedge bounds the orchard – there where the hedge ends a branch drive skirts a clump of bush to arrive at the back of the house. We keep to the main drive and mount the broad welcoming steps that curve upward to join the two front pillars at veranda level. The front doors are open, so we go into a rather larger hall than usual. It is oblong in shape with an open fireplace across the far right corner. On both long walls are double sliding doors, one to the dining room, and the other to the lounge. The doors slide behind unusually wide architraves, heavily carved and quite beautiful. Not just two to a door, but three, the identical third joining the two sides above the doors, making an unusual impact. The focal point of both rooms is the colonial-style fireplaces. Both also have two 6ft floor to ceiling windows – each an exit to a veranda, one from the dining and one from the lounge; and to the side veranda another exit from the lounge window and a bedroom one. Maybe those exit windows were forerunners of glass doors of a later era. When the double doors are open the length of the frontage makes one whole entertaining space – including three fireplaces.’

The design of the lower floor, as Norma describes it, reflects how rural New Zealanders socialised during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Balls and weekend parties were a common feature in the social life of Southland’s elite. Ardneil’s substantial central foyer which accessed two large lounge rooms provided perfect open plan entertainment space. Given the Fowlers’ position in society, it is not surprising that the house was the scene of many balls and dinner parties.

The Fowler property also contained numerous outbuildings including a cow shed and a hen house. Beyond the homestead and its orchard was a two-room cottage containing a bedroom and a kitchen-living room, complete with camp oven. The Fowler family, devout Presbyterians, used the small cottage for Knox College divinity students filling in for the pastor during summer holidays. Arnold Nordmeyer, as a trainee minister and later leader of the Labour party, stayed in the house and took his meals with the family.

During his time at Ardneil, Henry Fowler grew into a civic leader who took an active interest in the economic development of Southland, particularly in the development of the Kennington township. Seeing the need for a dairy factory in the district, in 1909 he mortgaged his home and property to build the local factory to service the farms in the area - although, Henry forgot to mention it his wife. He was active also in other community forums, organising lectures, administering the Southland Progress League and as Chairman of the Southland Electric Power Board.

In 1922 Henry sold Ardneil to release funds for his eldest son to take up a farm in South Otago. On the eve of the Fowler’s departure for Dunedin in 1922 the Kennington community presented Henry with a handsome roll-topped oak writing desk. The couple remained active until their deaths. Clara’s obituary noted that through their public activities the couple were ‘closely associated with the development of the province’.

Jopp Residency

On 27 July 1922 Ardneil and the surrounding farm was taken up by Keith James Jopp (1891-1965). Born in 1891, by 1920 he was farming near Mount Allan and looking to build a house on site. By 1922, however, Jopp had bought Ardneil. His wife died there in 1923. In 1927 Jopp married again and sold Ardneil.

Hillis residency

On 8 April 1927 Ardneil and 200 surrounding acres was bought by Alice Hillis (nee Ward, 1881-1951), wife of Alexander Hillis (1876-1951) of Invercargill, farmer. Alice used money left to her to fund the purchase in her own name.

The Hillis family farmed the surrounding land for many years and raised a family of seven children. Alice furnished Ardneil with style. Old family photographs lined the walls and rooms were furnished with antique vases and furniture. Alice’s daughter remembers the house fondly. She also recalls the two roomed cottage being moved to its present situation near the rear of the house.

In 1951 both Alice and Alexander died. In 1953 the property was transferred to their sons Alexander and Desmond Hillis. Bachelors, the two men lived in three rooms in the back of the house, originally servant quarters. A visitor noted in 1966 that Alice Hillis’ furnishings remained untouched and the house was completely unmodified, other that the addition of electricity and a telephone. The rooms still reflected the ‘Edwardian era of elegance and graciousness.’ She concluded that it was ‘a house built for a lady. A lady of a hundred years ago, not today’s busy housewife’.

The Hillis brothers continued to farm the surrounding land but maintenance on the house fell so far behind that local identity Fred Miller wrote in the Southland Times in 1974 that ‘restoration was probably out of the question’.

In 1989 ill-health forced the brothers to lease out the farm and move into care. In April 1992 the property was bought by Regina Stephenson. Desmond died in 1994 and Alexander in 1997.


For eight months between 1989 and 1990, the house remained empty. During that period, intruders emptied the home of its furnishings. Thieves removed clocks, two twelve foot dining tables, hall furniture, antique mirrors, a bureau, every brass doorknob, thirteen brass coat hooks, a marble washstand, ‘and a host of treasured pieces of china…nothing but a piano remains of the original furnishings of one of Southland’s best homes’. Even the timber-panelled fire surround was pulled askew in an effort to remove it.

The new owner, Regina Stephenson, was faced with a house stripped of its treasures and decades worth of deferred maintenance. Work began. By 1993 the interior was restored to its original condition. The restoration was tasteful and, as far as possible, the original colours were used. The exterior, however, needed a great deal of work. The turret was rusting, the fascia was rotting, and the slate roof needed repairs as did the chimneys. The NZHPT made a small grant toward the works. By March 1995 the project was completed and the repairs were judged to have been well executed.

Over the intervening years, Regina continued with repairs with the aid of an excellent builder. In 2010 a project was begun to replace the roof. By 2011 the slates had been replaced and the original pattern exactly reproduced. The house was finally watertight.

Ardneil stands alone in terms of the aesthetic eccentricity of its design and the unique stories which surround its construction. In Southland there are no other registered domestic dwellings which were built in the early part of the twentieth century. There are a few registered dwellings but they were largely built around the 1860s, 1880s and the 1920s. Extending the comparison to Otago, the homestead’s early Edwardian date of construction places it in the same category as a small collection of Dunedin’s treasures such as Olveston, Manono and Stuart Street’s terraced houses. Nationwide there are relatively a small number of examples of outstanding domestic dwellings built around this era, Antrim House, Wellington, being one of the few. Beyond this, however, is the special whimsical and eclectic aesthetic appeal of Ardneil. The historical contribution of its owners to the establishment of New Zealand’s southernmost province is also outstanding. In these respects it has few challengers.

Ardneil has a special place in the history of Southland and in the heart of the community. The Southland Times has called the building ‘one of Southland’s best homes’. Regina Stephenson hoped that Ardneil would always hold a place in Southland’s future.

People have always loved to look over the hedges and see the slate roof and the towers; we are private people and cannot share it all now; but in the future, after we have gone, then it will be the turn of others.

Physical Description

The house is hidden within an embowered enclave and is invisible from the road. Some of these significant stands of heritage trees were planted by McNab. At the beginning of the drive two strong brick pillars support black wrought iron gates bearing the name ARDNEIL. This is the current owner’s most recent addition and much valued by the family. The driveway approaches from the east and is a winding and forbidding tunnel of arched trees but, like entering another land, opens out into a green paradise with the towered castle set in the middle of the grounds.

The manicured lawns which surround the house and the attractive pockets of flowers and trees include a remnant of original trees, as well as the rose garden planted in the 1920s. Figurines and park benches adorn the garden. The edges of the lawn melt into the surrounding bush, through which winding paths have begun to emerge thanks to recent efforts. The remains of farm implements and gates may be seen emerging from the undergrowth. The setting is remarkably picturesque and provides an excellent context for a stately rural home.

The first view of the house is the north east and north west elevations, with their sweeping classical verandas, and the tower which adjoins at the corner of both elevations. The north west elevation is the front of the house and the wide stairs and imposing veranda lead to the double door entranceway. The veranda is wide and provides a large seating area. Six Corinthian columns support a heavy pediment. On either side of the wooden entrance doors are floor to ceiling triple hung windows. These are impressive indeed with the lower and middle panes rising effortlessly behind the top pane. The design of these windows provided the house with an easy indoor-outdoor flow. There are two triple hung windows in the billiard room, one in the dining room and another in the ‘boys’ bedroom’.

Moving to the north east elevation, the main feature is a veranda; a duplicate of the front veranda, although it does not feature a heavy pediment. Triple hung windows provide access to the billiard room and the ‘boys’ bedroom’.

The south east elevation, the rear of the building is less ornate. The house is in a ‘U’ shape’ and this rear elevation is the two end of the ‘U’. What was once known as ‘the fernery’ lies in between the separate blocks. Marks on the brickwork indicate where the glass roof, which covered the fernery, once existed. A back door from one of the interior hallways exits into the fernery. From there the women of the household could make their way, covered from the rain, round to the back of the house where the outside loo was set.

The south west elevation is also less ornate. It features the three large windows of the dining room and the back door and steps which provide access to the laundry.

All elevations are red brick with concrete foundations, quoins, verandas and steps. The roof has recently been re-slated with Chinese slate which is thicker than the original Welsh slate. The pattern has been retained. Part of the roof of the south west elevation was tiled at some unknown date in the past. There are no immediate plans to replace these with slate. The chimneys have been ensconced in iron bands to help preserve them. Fine Classical detailing is evident everywhere. From columns, to chimneys, to windows, to the fine band of rosettes which runs below the eaves. The effect is by no means overdone or clumsy. Rather they add a whimsical charm to the solid and grand structure.

Moving to the interior of the house through the wooden panelled entrance doors, which feature a lion’s head knocker, the visitor enters the exquisite wood panelled foyer. In effect another room, it is square and generously proportioned, including a large fireplace with wooden surrounds, set into the corner. The panelling reaches high to the ceiling and is rich, glossy and dark, with exquisitely carved detailing. The floor is wooden with rugs to warm the space. Light comes through the original stained glass windows which frame the impressive front doors and small glass panels above the entrance way. To the rear of the foyer is a wide entrance to a hall way. On the south west wall is access to the billiard room. On the opposite wall is access to the dining room. The entrance to both these room is afforded via grand and beautifully carved double wooden doors. These doors slide open moving into a wall cavity. The architraves are immense and imposing in an Italianate style, exhibiting superb carvings. These doors are one of the most impressive features of the home.

The billiard room features intricately beaded panelling, large classically styled timber fire surrounds and, the other side of the twin carved double doors and architraves. The fireplace with its carved wooden surrounds has a green tiled hearth. The carved wooden panelling and dado run around the room at mid height. This room, along with the other public rooms and bedrooms, features a ten inch border between the walls and ceiling. These borders were originally wallpapered and while the current owner has replaced the originals, the replacements are sympathetic with the house.

Access to the tower is also provided from the billiard room. A small trapdoor in the white wooden ceiling provides the way into the interior, although there are no stairs or ladder. The northern corner of the room, underneath the tower, is known as the conservatory. Big windows ensure a warm corner for much of the day. A triple hung window in the north eastern elevation of the room provides easy access to the veranda on this side, and another triple hung window on the north west wall provides access to the front veranda. A wooden panelled door leads into a hallway.

On the opposite side of the foyer is the dining room, used by the current owner as a living room. Beautiful period wooden furniture graces the room, although unfortunately these are not original. It does not feature the wood panelling of the billiard room but is painted a soft green; much like the original colour as far as can be ascertained. The room features a triple hung window on the north west elevation providing access to the front veranda. On the south west elevation are three large and imposing windows. The current owner remembers from her childhood that these windows housed blinds with a wide border of lace. Matching new blinds have replaced the originals and lace added to their borders to echo the originals. The ceiling is wooden and unpainted. There is also an original fireplace with tiles and carved wooden surrounds, featuring little seats.

Through a door in the north eastern wall there is access to a hall running south west to north east. A stained glass skylight in the ceiling lights the corridor between the entrances to the dining room and the kitchen. The kitchen is one of the smallest rooms in the house and delightfully original. A stove installed in the 1930s is opposite to the door and wooden shelves line the walls. A wooden bench and sink run along the north east elevation. The sink is a recent replica of the original. The window in the north eastern wall looks past the fernery, through the windows of another hallway, through a bedroom and to the garden beyond. It is one of the owner’s favourite views and is a clever architectural design.

The kitchen leads into what is now known as the breakfast room. The originals servants’ bells are here and still in working order. It is likely that this area was originally intended as servants’ quarters. A wooden fireplace is central to the room, although it is not decoratively carved. Two cupboards line the wall on either side of the fireplace. The large cupboard served as the pantry.

From the breakfast room there is access to a bedroom which is situated behind the kitchen. It is a small bedroom but has a large window facing the fields behind the house. Also from the breakfast room is access to the large laundry. The lead lined room features a large wooden bench top and porcelain sink, again recreated from the original. The original copper and vent stand proudly in the south corner. Behind the laundry is a narrow storeroom. There is also access form the laundry to a back door, porch and stairs.

Returning to the hall and following down its length, there is access on the left to the billiard room and, straight ahead, the door leading to the master bedroom. The current owner describes this as her grandmother’s bedroom and now her own. It is a appealing white and French blue room, with three large windows looking out on to the gardens beyond. The room is spacious and features a simple and delicately carved white wooden fire place, with a brass surround. The door furniture, which is original, includes figurines and leafy designs.

Passing underneath an archway in the hall, which is decorated in original colours, the visitor finds the bathroom. It contains the original claw foot bath, to which a shower has been added in a complimentary way. The decorated wrought iron sink stand is also original although the marble sink was stolen. The room is generous, enabling the addition of a toilet. It is also light and airy with a large window looking out on to the fernery. The floor is lead, although painted over, and the wall colour is the original green. A picture hangs on the wall beside the bath which the current owner remembers from her earliest days.

Almost opposite the bathroom is the ‘boys’ bedroom’. It is narrower and darker than the master bedroom although still a generous size. Its main feature is the floor to ceiling triple hung window which provides access to the north east veranda.

Next door to the boys bedroom is a bedroom which was the current owner’s bedroom as a child. It includes a large inbuilt wardrobe and a carved, wooden fireplace. The window looks out to the garden beyond.

Ardneil’s room are all generously proportioned, airy and light and bright. The windows are large and numerous. Although grand, the house maintains a homely, family atmosphere. The rooms are perfectly designed to provide grandeur without losing the sense of cosy domesticity.

There are four outbuildings on the property. Further on from the end of the driveway in a south west direction is a building called the garage. It currently functions as a wood shed and is in a fragile state. The structure is corrugated iron and on a lean. A wire stretches from a framing post to a tree nearby. Apparently the Hillis brothers would tighten the wire occasionally to help keep the garage upright. It has been used for so long that the wire is embedded in the tree, which has grown around it. Beside the garage is the site of the men’s outhouse. The structure disintegrated only recently.

At the rear of the house is the small cottage used particularly by Presbyterian ministers in training. It is a small one room wooden structure, originally two roomed, with a corrugated roof and a brick chimney. Two small windows are on either side of the central door. The exterior of the cottage is on a lean and obviously in need of repair. The interior has tongue and groove walls and ceilings. The south east elevation has a fireplace and a black mantel surround. The cottage is used as a store house and the rear wall, in particular, is in a state of disrepair. While the cottage dates to the time of the Fowler family residency, this site is not the original location of the cottage. It was probably moved to this site early in the Hillis residency as the current owner’s mother remembers it being moved to just behind the house when she was a child.

Passed the cottage, through a farm gate and into the field beyond, are the hen house and the cow shed. These are both small wooden structure with corrugated iron roofs. The hen house has two small windows and features hinged planks which could be raised to allow more air into the structure. The cow shed features a small window, stalls and two doors. Both are used for storage and are in need of repair.

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Ardneil is the lack of modification to its original structure and fabric. The home is substantially unmodified allowing the visitor to appreciate and study the original features, even in the utility areas. The Hillis brothers’ lack of attention to the house may have been detrimental to its ongoing maintenance but was fortunate in that the house was not updated to ever changing contemporary styles. Regina Stephenson has proved a sympathetic and caring owner who has sought only to maintain the original features of the house, wherever possible. She has been ably helped by close family members. The existence of the outbuildings adds to the feeling of stepping back into another time when Ardneil was the grand rural homestead at the centre of the district.

Construction Dates

1993 -
Restoration work begun

2010 -
Roof replaced

Original Construction
1902 - 1903

Construction Details

Brick, timber, slate

Completion Date

12th July 2011

Report Written By

Susan Irvine

Information Sources

Dunedin Public Library

Dunedin Public Library

‘Robert McNab - McNab New Zealand collection’. URL:, accessed 16 Mar 2011.

Hall-Jones, 1945

F G Hall-Jones, Historical Southland, H & J Smith for Southland Historical Committee, Invercargill, 1945

Hodgson, 1991 (1)

T. Hodgson, Looking at New Zealand Architecture, Grantham Press, Wellington, 1991.

Olssen, 1984

Erik Olssen, A History of Otago, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1984

Thomson, 1998

Jane Thomson, (ed)., Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago Southland Biography, Dunedin: Longacre Press/Dunedin City Council, 1998.

Hall-Jones, 1946

F G Hall-Jones, Invercargill Pioneers. 1946

Apperly, Irving & Reynolds, 1989

Richard Apperly, Robert Irving, and Peter Reynolds, A pictorial guide to identifying Australian architecture: styles and terms from 1788 to the present, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1989.

Girouard, 1979

M. Girouard, The Victorian County House, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1979.

Other Information

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.