In 1870 runholder David McKellar designed and built his imposing residence on a hill overlooking Waikaia Plains Station in Southland. From this stone house he provided comfort for his new family and oversaw his large estate.
Waikaia Plains Station Homestead along with the nearby property of Wantwood, provides insight into the lives of the gentleman runholders of Southland. The homestead has architectural and historical significance as a gentleman’s residence from the height of the pastoral period of Southland’s history, and has a strong link with the McKellar family who were pioneering Southland runholders and explorers.
Waikaia Plains Station was taken up in the 1850s. It was part of the Victoria Company’s speculative land holdings. Prominent runholder and explorer David McKellar acquired the run in the late 1860s and brought his young family to a primitive house on the run while they waited for the new house to be built. David McKellar, who had some architectural training, designed the house himself, choosing this lofty location and positioning the house for the view.
David and Jane McKellar moved on to other ventures in the mid-1870s. The station was bought by Duncan Gillanders, David’s former head shepherd. When Gillanders experienced financial trouble, the mortgage holder the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company took over the property. Managers were put on the station for some years, before the Company sold the property. The Manson and Wallis families lived at Waikaia Plains in the mid-twentieth century. The Bowmar family bought the property in the 1960s.
The house, built from stone quarried nearby, is of one and a half storeys. Though altered from its original form, it retains its substantial appearance. The upper storey has been expanded – with four dormers replacing the initial pair, and a modern addition has been added to the rear elevation.
In 2012 Waikaia Plains Homestead remains a private residence.
Historical Significance or Value
Waikaia Plains Homestead has historical significance as it represents the early history of pastoralism in Southland, and in particular the pivotal significance of the McKellar brothers. The McKellars’ exploration and extensive holdings were a formative element of Southland’s pastoral history. Waikaia Plains Station Homestead represents David McKellar’s significant position, and the lifestyle of a man of his standing.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Waikaia Plains Station Homestead has aesthetic significance, being prominently placed on a hillside overlooking the picturesque Waikaia Plains. It is a landmark building and its materials, design and position are striking.
Architectural Significance or Value
Waikaia Plains Homestead has architectural significance as a good example of a substantial stone Victorian gentleman’s residence, befitting McKellar’s status as a runholder. Although altered, the house still gives a sense of a more gracious past in what was an isolated area.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Waikaia Plains Station Homestead reflects the history of large scale land development in nineteenth century Southland. The house, with its grand position and architectural style, show the importance David McKellar attached to his position as a large land owner and pastoralist.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
Waikaia Plains Station Homestead is associated with David McKellar. With brother John, the McKellars were important figures in the early European pastoral and exploration history of Southland. David McKellar was one of the first Europeans to see the southern end of Lake Wakatipu and his exploits are recognised in the name of Lake McKellar, near Glenorchy.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Waikaia Plains Homestead forms part of a wider historical landscape reflecting nineteenth century runholding on the Waikaia and Waimea Plains. Other properties within this landscape include Wantwood to the south-east at Mandeville (Category 1, Register No. 7705) and Castle Rock Station (Historic Area, Register No. 7366) to the west.
The Mataura and Waimea plains were known to Kai Tahu with eeling camps in the summer months, at places like Wharekorokio close to the confluence of the Mataura and the Whakaea (Waikaia) Rivers, and Waikakahi close to the Waikakahi (Waikaka) River. Moa were also an important resource for early Kai Tahu in the Waikaia area. The river was the route of an inland trail to the interior and on to the West Coast. Established settlements such as Tuturau were further down the Mataura River. It was via this route that Te Puoho and his Ngatitama taua from Golden Bay to raid the Kai Tahu settlements in the southern South Island in 1836-37.
Northern raiders were not the only threat to Kai Tahu, by the 1850s there was pressure from European settlers for good pastoral land. The Waimea plains were included in the 6,900,000 acre Murihiku purchase in 1853 and alienated from Kai Tahu.
This run was first held by the Victoria Company in the 1850s, under the management of Edward Orbell. Augustus Brown Abraham applied for the pre-emptive right in April 1865. Augustus Abraham was an English barrister who had other holdings in New Zealand. The Crown grant, however, was issued in favour of Charles Lambert Swanston in February 1869.
According to historian James Herries Beattie, Swanston, Willis and Company of Geelong purchased the Victoria Company’s New Zealand runs in the area of Otama, Wendonside and Switzers. Charles Lambert Swanston was the son of Charles Swanston, an English banker and merchant who settled in Tasmania. He took over his father’s interest in the mercantile firm Swanston and Willis and took over the management of the firm’s extensive pastoral holdings in Geelong. With his brother Kinneir he held pastoral property in Southland. Run 194 (Waikaia Plains or Wendonside) was run as the home station, while Run 193 (Otama) was an outstation. Swanston supplied diggers with meat during the Switzer’s gold rush in 1862.
Run 194 was offered for sale in January 1864 by M. Kinneir Swanston. Swanston described the holding as about 60,000 acres with ‘a good house and old garden, 4 acre cultivation paddock, new iron woolshed, new drafting yards, men’s hut and store, and 2,000 ewes. The run was sold to Charles Watson Jackson and George Thomson in 1865. The run was sold to David McKellar in the late 1860s, with Thomson staying on as a partner until 1870.
The link to the McKellar family ties the history of the run in with the exploration and settlement of the Waimea Plains in northern Southland. Peter McKellar and Alexander McNab arrived in the area in 1855 searching for good sheep country. McKellar chose the Waimea Plains Block. His run was known as Longridge. McKellar brought in his brothers David and John to help manage the huge property. The early buildings were primitive – a rough sod hut with a canvas roof with food cooked outside. The men set about developing the station - in 1857 there were two huts, one for cooking and one for sleeping, and in 1859 a woolshed and sheepyards were built.
David McKellar explored further afield. He was one of the first Europeans to see the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, and in 1861 with George Gunn from nearby Wantwood Station saw, from one of the high peaks, the sea on the West Coast. McKellar’s exploits are recognised in the name of Lake McKellar. In 1864 Longridge was subdivided. Peter McKellar retained the northern section (Run 195). David built Waimea House on Run 112, a large stone and brick residence overlooking the Waimea Plains which was one of the first permanent residences erected by runholders in the district.
David looked to extend his holdings and turned his attention to the 30,000 acre Waikaia Plains holding (Run 194). McKellar returned to Scotland, where he married Jane Skene, daughter of a well-known Australian pastoralist and politician. They returned to New Zealand in 1869 with their baby daughter, her nurse and a boy Manuel, brought from Cape Verde Island. The family moved into the small primitive residence on Waikaia Plains run – wattle and daub, thatched with grass, small rooms, canvas ceiling which flapped on windy nights. Into this house came the beautiful Erard piano Jane’s father had given her as a wedding present.
As he had done at Waimea Plains, David McKellar set about building a new residence in 1870. McKellar had studied architecture, engineering and surveying, so he prepared the plans and specifications himself. David McKellar hired a mason who wanted a home for his wife and family for £80 and his house and help. With additional labour from the station hands the house was built. Mrs McKellar recorded her impressions of the house in her diary: It was built of stone and plastered inside, and consisted of besides the dining room, drawing room and hall, three bedrooms, nursery and bathroom downstairs, with office, pantry, storeroom and kitchen, with a small room for a servant; store room and two large rooms upstairs.
A contemporary photography shows the one and a half storey house with the verandah across the front and two steeply pitched gable windows on the upper storey. There is a lookout on the gable peak. A visitor to the district in 1871 described the house: ‘a square, handsome mansion of a dozen rooms, built of blue stone and crowning a high knoll forming a landmark for miles around.’ Additions were apparently made in 1874.
In 1872 the McKellar family wintered in Melbourne, not returning to Waikaia Plains until the beginning of 1874. They sold the run shortly afterwards to Duncan Gillanders, one of David McKellar’s head shepherds. David McKellar shifted to New Mexico in the 1880s to continue his land speculation, acquiring 300,000 acres. In 1892 he was murdered in a fencing dispute.
Gillanders expanded his holdings, also working the homestead block of Run 326 at Dome Creek – renaming it Hyde Home. The run was taken over by mortgage holder New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company Ltd in 1894. Managers were appointed to run the station – Donald Manson and E.R. Turton. The Company sold it to Richard Silvers Black in 1904, who subsequently sold the station to Walter Hailes in 1908. Hailes sold to Thomas Barclay Manson in 1916, and Manson later sold to Richard Wallis in 1932. There were managers on the station for much of this period, during which the homestead deteriorated. The Wallis family rescued the homestead from its decay and in the 1930s refitted much of the interior, and this is largely the interior that exists in 2012.
Erskine Bowmar bought Waikaia Plains Station from Wallis’ estate in 1963, by which time the property was 3,280 acres, and the family still runs the farm. Like earlier runholders, Erskine Bowmar was a well-known community figure, knighted in 1984 for services to local government and the community as well as receiving a QSO in 1977 for public services and a Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal the same year.
In the 1980s an extension was added to the rear of the homestead which forms a modern kitchen and living area. Part of the house was reconfigured at this time.
In 2012 Waikaia Plains Station Homestead remains a private residence.
The Waikaia Plains lie between the townships of Waikaia to the east and Lumsden to west in northern Southland. The Waikaia Plains Homestead is set on an elevated site commanding a view of the plain below. The house is located at the end of a kilometre long tree-lined drive. The house is set amid lawns and garden.
The house is built of local blue stone and has a corrugated iron roof. The roof has a shallow pitch. The stone work is squared and brought to course. The window joinery is timber.
The house is rectangular in plan, with the main elevation facing out over the plain. It is one and a half storeys with four projecting dormer windows on the upper storey. A verandah runs the length of the front of the house with centrally placed steps leading to the lawn. A double garage has been added to the south elevation.
There is an addition at right angles on the rear elevation which accommodates the new kitchen and living areas.
The homestead has twelve rooms as well as service and storage areas. There are five bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a lounge, dining room, family room and sitting room.
The ground floor houses the dining room, living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom. The interior is lined with timber panelling and plastered dating from the c.1930s. Fireplaces have largely been closed off (though the chimneys mostly remain). The floors are timber.
From the main entrance hall (now a secondary entrance) stairs lead to the first floor which houses another three bedrooms and a bathroom.
The interior layout has been altered with the kitchen relocated to the modern addition and the remaining space partitioned.
1920 - 1939
Interior refitted and panelled
1980 - 1989
Addition to the rear of the homestead and interior reconfigured (kitchen relocated to addition)
Blue stone, corrugated iron
24th May 2013
Report Written By
JH Beattie, The Southern Runs, Gore Historical Society, Invercargill, 1979
Stanley Slocombe, The Riversdalians, The Riversdale and Districts Centennial Committee, Gore, 1973
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.