Ferntree Lodge

14 Ferntree Drive, Wakari, Dunedin

  • Ferntree Lodge, Dunedin.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 15/01/2017.
  • Ferntree Lodge, Dunedin. The original 1849 portion.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 15/01/2017.
  • Ferntree Lodge, Dunedin. North east elevation of 1902 portion, with partial view of the 1849 cottage.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 15/01/2017.
  • Ferntree Lodge, Dunedin. Interior details. (Left) The narrow stair in the 1849 portion, and (right) the stained glass door in the 1902 portion .
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 15/01/2017.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 368 Date Entered 24th November 1983


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described Lot 10 DP 22582 (CT OT14C/749) and Lot 2 DP 19517 (CT OT11A/1021), Otago Land District, and the buildings associated with Ferntree Lodge and grounds thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 10 DP 22582 (CT OT14C/749) and Lot 2 DP 19517 (CT OT11A/1021), Otago Land District


Surrounded by native bush reserve, Ferntree Lodge located in the Halfway Bush suburb of Dunedin, dates from 1849 (Dunedin’s oldest surviving residence) with a substantial and grand addition in 1902 by then owner prominent Dunedin businessman Alexander Thomson, of Thomson Cordial fame. Ferntree Lodge is Dunedin’s oldest surviving residence and has aesthetic, archaeological, architectural, cultural, historical and technological significance.

Scottish carpenter Robert Murray built Ferntree Lodge for Dunedin gentleman John Borton in 1849. As was common with such early residences, builders made use of the timbers that were available and easy to work with. Murray built the house from upright squared ferntree (ponga) logs, cut from the surrounding bush, plastered together with clay. The whole was then contained and faced by wooden framing. The roof was timber shingles. Around 1852 the property was sold to Robert Hood. Members of the Hood family – siblings David, Helen and Robert, lived at the house they called Woodhall, until the last family member (David) died in 1894. The house remained empty until 1898, when it purchased by Alexander Thomson (1846-1904) of aerated water and cordial manufacturing fame.

Thomson’s family soon outgrew the house and so he decided to extend the building. Dunedin architect James Hislop (1859-1904?) designed the addition. The extension, mirroring the half-timber design and the gables of the original, was built of brick and slate and attached to the rear of the Ferntree Lodge’s north east wall. It had five bedrooms upstairs, and downstairs a formal drawing room, dining room, breakfast room, smoking room, billiard room, and maid’s room. Ahead of its time, there were also indoor washing and toilet facilities. The billiard room linked the extension with the original portion. Thomson added ferntree logs to the lower portion of the billiard room’s exterior to harmonise with the original. The addition had many fine stained glass windows. The patterns in the windows show a distinctive Māori influence. Thomson was a collector of early Māori objects which were later gifted to the Otago Museum. Features included a richly panelled and balustrade staircase leading up from the pillared entrance hall.

Under Thomson’s ownership the houses were run as a single home. When his son William married, he and his bride moved into the ferntree portion (1849) and they operated as two residences. Ferntree Lodge remained the Thomson family home for 60 years and it was during their ownership that many of the existing trees were planted. Over 6,600 square metres of lawns, gardens and trees were planted. Most were natives, particularly North Island varieties rarely seen in the lower South Island.

William Thomson died in 1950. After his death the property passed through several hands including NZ Breweries who bought the property with a view to opening a restaurant. In 1979 the Dunedin City Council bought Ferntree Lodge. Ferntree Bush Reserve was created on its north, east and south boundaries and other parts of the property were subdivided for housing. The house was sold into private hands in 1986. In 2011 the house was sold by the Crown who confiscated the property from convicted fraudster Michael Swann. In 2017, Ferntree Lodge is a private residence.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Ferntree Lodge has historical significance representing the earliest settler period of Dunedin’s occupation in its 1849 portion, and the culmination of settler aspirations in the substantial 1902 gentlemen’s residence. Prominent business man and owner Alexander Thomson’s rescue and restoration of the 1849 cottage also represents the settler consciousness of their own history in their adopted land and provides insight into the process of history-making in action.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

Set in expansive grounds with mature plantings, Ferntree Lodge has considerable aesthetic significance. The design of the 1849 cottage with its dramatic black ponga logs and white timber framing is striking. Hislop’s 1902 gentlemen’s residence is sensitively designed and sited to complement the earlier structure.

Archaeological Significance or Value

This site has been occupied since 1849 and has potential to provide information about this early period of European settlement in Dunedin through archaeological methods. In addition, the surviving 1849 cottage could provide significant information through buildings archaeology, providing insight into the building technologies of an early settler residence.

Architectural Significance or Value

Ferntree Lodge has special architectural significance. The 1849 cottage is a rare example of a ferntree (ponga) house, once a common building form in the early European settlement of New Zealand, particularly in Otago and Southland. This type of construction reflects the European adoption of a traditional Māori building technology. The 1902 addition, a grand Edwardian gentlemen’s residence, reflects the expertise of the architect James Hislop in designing an addition which echoed the original 1849 cottage, resulting in a sympathetic and aesthetically pleasing pair.

Cultural Significance or Value

Ferntree Lodge has cultural significance. In particular, the use of Māori motifs in the stained glass windows provides insight into the Pākehā attitudes to Māori society and culture in the early years of the twentieth century. Use of Māori motifs in decorative arts in this period is part of the negotiation of settler identity in their new homes, incorporating the indigenous arts as they explored the relationship with the new country.

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

Ferntree Lodge in its juxtaposition of 1849 cottage and 1902 gentleman’s residence provides special insight into the earliest European settlement of Dunedin, and the aspirations and lifestyle of an established and wealthy businessman fifty years later, during Dunedin’s industrial golden age. In this it reflects both periods which are important aspects of New Zealand’s history.

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

Ferntree Lodge has an association with prominent Dunedin businessman Alexander Thomson, one of the country’s most important nineteenth century entrepreneurs. Thomson restored the 1849 residence and built the 1902 residence. The 1902 residence reflects Thomson’s success and status and although he did not get to live long there, it was associated with the Thomson family for many years.

The 1902 portion of the building was designed by well-known Dunedin architect James Hislop. Hislop was responsible for many important buildings in Dunedin.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

Archaeological methods, particularly buildings archaeology, have the potential to provide further information about the early construction methods used by the builders of the 1849 cottage.

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

The two parts of Ferntree Lodge show considerable technical accomplishment in their design. The early ferntree portion, representing the techniques and materials used by early settlers incorporated into a highly decorative Carpenter Gothic design provides an interesting contrast with the status and solidity of Hislop’s 1902 gentleman’s residence.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The 1849 portion of Ferntree Lodge has symbolic and commemorative significance as the earliest surviving residence in Dunedin. This value was identified by Thomson when he rescued the building from ruin in 1902, and the property is recognised in Dunedin as representing this earliest period of European settlement, and has been recorded in newspaper articles.

(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from an early period of New Zealand settlement

The 1849 cottage is the earliest surviving residence in Dunedin, dating from the second year of the Otago settlement, and retains a significant amount of original fabric, giving it special significance.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

Ferntree Lodge has special significance as a rare surviving example of Pākehā adopted ponga construction, a technology common in the early years of European settlement.

Conclusion of Review

This report concludes that the List entry for Ferntree Lodge (List No. 318) should be varied to include the 1902 addition as part of the extent. Ferntree Lodge, with its 1849 ponga cottage and the grand 1902 addition has special significance as both Dunedin’s earliest European residence and an important survivor of a once common building form, and a representation of Alexander Thomson’s successful and well known business. Together, the two parts of the building provide insight into the modest aspirations of the earliest Scottish settlers and Thomson’s realisation of those ideals.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Hislop, James (1859-1904)

‘James Hislop (1859-1904) was born in Glasgow and came to New Zealand at a very early age. He was educated at North East Valley School and received his architectural training in the office of Mason and Wales. He also spent two years with the Public Works Department, as district manager of Nelson. In 1880 he entered into business with W.H. Terry who retired three years later. He established his own practice in Dunedin and later entered into a partnership with Edward Walter Walden. In 1889 Hislop designed and supervised the erection of the South Seas Exhibition among a number of prominent buildings both in Otago and elsewhere in the country.’

‘Among the significant buildings designed by James Hislop, or by the Hislop and Walden partnership are Crown Milling Co. building, Miller Place, Dunedin (c.1880); New Zealand Steam Shipping Co. office, Dunedin; DIC, Christchurch; Evans and Co. Mill, Timaru; National Bank, George Street, Dunedin; Napier Abattoirs (1902); Hallenstein Building, The Octagon; Dunedin City Abattoirs.’ Hislop moved to Wellington around 1903, where he died as the result of an accident in 1904.

Source: Heritage New Zealand Review Report for Ferntree Lodge, List No. 368, 27 Jun 2017, Heather Bauchop.

Murray, Robert (1820-1908)

Robert Murray (1820-1908)

Scottish born Murray was apprenticed as a carpenter in Dornoch. In 1844, he shifted to Kendal in Westmoreland, England, working on the railway works there. He became acquainted with a William Matheson and the pair decided to emigrate to Otago, sailing on the barque Cornwall, leaving London in April 1849 and landing in Otago in September 1849. Murray bought land in Port Chalmers, and worked in the building trade in Port Chalmers and Dunedin. A retrospective of his life records that he built the ferntree house at Halfway Bush for John Borton. Murray went on to build residences on the Taieri (Dunrobin for Alexander McKie), among others. He settled in Clarksville in Tokomairiro. Murray was a prominent politician in Tokomairiro, a member of the Otago Provincial Council, and elder of the Presbyterian Church in Milton. Murray died in December 1908 and was buried at Fairfax Cemetery in Milton.

Source: Heritage New Zealand Review Report for Ferntree Lodge, List No. 368, 27 Jun 2017, Heather Bauchop.

White, John (1840-1929)

Scottish born John White was a Dunedin builder. Born in Edinburgh, he moved with his family to Tasmania in 1853, and came to New Zealand in 1862, settling in Dunedin. He married businessman Alexander Thomson’s wife, Elizabeth, whose house he built in 1902. He died on 5 November 1929.

Source: Heritage New Zealand Review Report for Ferntree Lodge, List No. 368, 27 Jun 2017, Heather Bauchop.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early history

Surrounded by native bush reserve, Ferntree Lodge, in Wakari, a hill suburb of Dunedin on the lower slopes of Flagstaff or Whakari, dates from 1849 and is Dunedin’s oldest surviving house and probably New Zealand’s oldest ponga log structure. Wakari’s name is likely to be a corruption of the Māori Whakaari, which translates as "a raised view". This was the name for the hill, Flagstaff, which lies 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) to the northwest.

There are a number of stories about the early history of Ferntree Lodge. The common understanding (reported, for instance, in 1948) is that in 1849 John Borton and Robert Murray built a two storey cottage for Julius Jeffreys (1830-1888). New research provides a different account. A neighbour of Robert Murray wrote to the Otago Witness on Murray’s behalf in 1903 outlining Murray’s recollection of those early days. Murray had, his neighbour wrote, travelled aboard the barque Cornwall in 1849 with John Borton. Borton bought land at Halfway Bush on his arrival to Dunedin, and Murray, as contractor, designed and built the house for Borton. The house was ‘scarcely finished’ by 1850 when Borton’s brother Frederick and their sister arrived, and the work was hurried to make the house comfortable for them. In 1851, the Hood family arrived aboard the Slains Castle and the Hoods bought the house and ground, living in it together. Borton was resident in Halfway Bush in 1851, with a marriage reported of a Borton family member at Halfway Bush in December of that year.

Julius Saunders Jeffreys was the son of an English surgeon, also Julius Jeffreys. Born in India, and educated in England, he and his family sailed to Otago around 1848. His father, with John Borton, owned the large Maerewhenua Run in North Otago. There is a connection between Ferntree Lodge and Jeffreys – he appears in the first deed transaction for the land in December 1852, but other than that transaction, it is not clear whether the Jeffreys family lived at Halfway Bush. If they did, they had moved to Forbury in 1852. In later years, the Jeffreys family shifted back to England (they were in Hampshire in 1881), later returning to New Zealand. Julius died in Auckland in 1888, while wife Emily died in Dunedin in 1909.

The ferntree house was constructed from upright squared ponga logs, cut from the surrounding bush, plastered together with clay. The whole was then contained and faced by wooden framing. The roof was timber shingles. Use of ponga logs as a building material was common in Otago at the time, adopted from Māori. The original cottage had five main rooms - three downstairs and two upstairs. The rooms were small and the staircase was no more than 60 centimetres wide. Under the steep pitch of the roof a bathroom was later added.

The Hood family named the house Woodhall after their family home in Haddingtonshire. Siblings David Hood, the Reverend Robert Hood and Helen Hood lived at Woodhall. The family were committed members of the Presbyterian Church and founding members of the Kaikorai congregation. Robert Hood is described in the 1853 electoral roll as a gentleman living at Woodhall in Halfway Bush. A Crown Grant map shows land on which the house stands held in the name Robert Hood, with neighbouring sections held by Henry Hood. Helen Hood held six large sections in her own right. The house remained in the family until the last sibling, David, died in 1894.

Alexander Thomson buys Ferntree

The property was subdivided in 1898, with the land bordering Helensburgh Road (now Taieri Road) and to the south west, subdivided into town sections. The subdivision plan shows the ‘old house’ and nearby another smaller ‘house’ sitting amongst native bush on section 109, and section 110 being included with the house. In 1898 Alexander Thomson (1846-1904) bought the property. Thomson, of aerated water and cordial manufacturing fame: ‘Ginger beer Thomson’, as he was affectionately called, was a prominent Dunedin businessman. Thomson and Co. became one of the most important firms of its kind in New Zealand in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In 1898, the ferntree house was in a dilapidated state: every window was broken and the ceiling was hanging to the floor. Thomson hired his brother-in-law John White to make repairs. The Otago Daily Times reported that Thomson had saved the building. The paper reported that the house represented ‘[t]he primitive days of the picturesque ferntree architecture of the pioneer period.’ The house was one of only two surviving examples of this ‘one-time numerous’ building form’, making it a memento of pioneer days.’ Early settler and chronicler Dr Thomas Hocken recalled the homes of the earliest Scottish settlers when he wrote in 1898 ‘[b]y degrees little houses sprang up in every direction, the usual order of architecture being that of "wattle and dab"; saplings were fixed side by side, and the interstices filled with clay, the roof was thatched with the tussac grass, which everywhere abounded, or with shingles; the chimney was a huge clay ingle, to which the house was appended, and was well suited to the consumption of huge logs. Glass was scarce, so windows were small. Furniture was scanty and primitive, a bunk in the corner for a bed, the section of a tub for a chair, or a log, or a whale's vertebra brought from the Heads. The clean, yellow clay made the best of floors, and two rooms, a "but and a ben," made the whole a mansion. Then there were picturesque little houses made in the same way with trunks of tree-fern, of which the last lonely specimen remains at the Half-Way Bush.’

Thomson’s family soon outgrew the cottage and he decided to extend the residence. What he built was an Edwardian gentleman’s residence connected to the 1849 house through the billiard room. The 1902 house was designed by Dunedin architect James Hislop and built by John White. Once completed, the new section was much larger than the original: the new entrance hall was at least the equivalent of three rooms in the cottage. The 1902 residence contained twelve rooms: five bedrooms upstairs, and downstairs, a formal drawing room, dining room, breakfast room, smoking room, billiard room, and maid’s room. The house had indoor washing and toilet facilities. Thomson added fern tree trunks to the lower portion of the billiard room’s exterior to match the original 1849 house.

Thomson chose to decorate the house with many fine stained glass windows, choosing Maori designs. Thomson was a collector and had an interest in Maori art as well as memorabilia from the early settler period. Features included a richly panelled and balustrade staircase leading up from the pillared entrance hall. The fire surrounds were carved wood and marble, while the plaster ceilings were impressively sculptured. Unusual features included a large sink in the kitchen set into a narrow recess with no elbow room or space for dishes to drain. The windows in the smoking room were closed from the inside by mirror-backed shutters. As the window was beside the front door peeping Toms would only get a view of themselves.

Under Thomson’s ownership the houses were run as a single home. When his son William married, he and his bride moved into the ferntree portion (1849) and they operated as two residences. Thomson’s sons, who were renowned amateur botanists, developed the grounds.

The Otago Witness featured a photograph of Thomson’s new residence (including the 1849 section) in 1903. The photograph prompted reminiscences from Robert Murray (the 1849 builder) and a response from Thomson himself that details the work he did on the old house. Thomson agreed with Murray’s history of the property, but indicated that Murray had incorrectly written that the roofing shingles had been replaced by iron. Thomson stated ‘When restoring this old landmark three years ago, we found the old shingles completely done, and no wonder, after 50 years’ honest service. We also found that they had gone so thoroughly out of use in Dunedin that none could be procured here, and the shingles now on the roof had to specially imported from Hobart. There is a lean-to at the back covered with iron that must have been done by the late Mr Hood, as it was there when I took over the property, but this is not shown in the photo.’ He continued ‘Nothing has been altered in the exterior design. The house has been left as nearly as possible as I saw it 42 years ago.’ Keeping native bush in the area was important to Thomson who said that they had ‘planted thousands of additional native trees to replace those that were wantonly destroyed, and are pleased to say that the place is now beginning to look a little like what Mr Murray must have known it to be 50 odd years ago.’

Alexander Thomson did not get to live in his house long – he died at his residence in February 1904. His obituary records that he was ‘one of Dunedin’s most popular and highly-esteemed citizens’ though was he was a private man. He had numerous business interests, was the president of the Australasian Commercial Travellers’ Association, president of the Burns Club, director of the Standard Insurance Company, chair of the directors of the Roslyn Tramway Co., and a founder of the Otago Savage Club.

Ferntree Lodge remained the Thomson family home for 60 years and it was during their ownership that many of the existing trees were planted. Over 6,600 square metres of lawns, gardens and trees established in the grounds. Most were natives, particularly North Island varieties rarely seen in the lower South Island. Stone bridges and mossy seats completed the garden. One of Thomson’s sons (his sons were responsible for the ongoing planting as they were keen botanists), wrote: ‘My father must have spent a hatfull [sic] of gold bars on the place. He bought it in the first place to preserve the last remnant of native forest in Dunedin. It took 20 years of our occupation before the native undergrowth came back’.

William Thomson died in 1950. After his death the property passed through several hands including New Zealand Breweries who bought the property with a view to opening a restaurant. Former owners, the Helyer, Brooks and Ellis families contributed to the restoration of the house and the garden. In 1979 the Dunedin City Council bought Ferntree Lodge. Ferntree Bush Reserve was created on its north, east and south boundaries and other parts of the property were subdivided for housing. By 1985 the house had been empty for 25 years.

The house was sold into private hands in 1986. In 2011 the house was sold by the Crown who confiscated the property from convicted fraudster Michael Swann, and sold to recoup costs. In 2017, Ferntree Lodge is a private residence.

Physical Description

Current Description


Ferntree Lodge sits among substantial grounds with mature trees, both native and exotic. The house is set back off the road. There is terraced landscaping behind the house, and in front, a patio, with a formal stair and flanked by low-walled gardens and other landscaping. The owners are working to restore the gardens which have long been overgrown. There is a bush reserve to the east, with residences on the other boundaries largely screened by plantings.

There are two outbuildings, a brick shed (still containing a tin bath and shower), contemporary with the 1902 residence, and a new garage, in which is incorporated a section of the original stable (the loft and ceiling) in the new fabric.

Ferntree (ponga) construction

Ferntree (ponga) houses were a common building form in the earliest period of Dunedin’s European settlement. The first settler houses made use of ponga in the dense bush that surrounded the harbour. Ferntree houses used available and cheap materials. Builders E. Brown and J. Nicolson, for example, advertised that they would erect clay or ferntree houses for around £20. Ferntree houses were common – but they were not usually as elaborate as Borton’s residence. In early real estate advertisements Fern Tree residences feature – even as close to the centre of ‘town’ as Moray Place, one block from The Octagon. Ferntree cottages were often the earliest Pākehā residences, like that of T.C. De Lacy in Ravensbourne described as the ‘first white man’s residence in that locality.’ Another was built in Wakari and was advertised for sale in 1870, consisting of a large parlour, bedrooms, kitchen and pantry on the ground floor, as well as having attics etc. on the upper floor. As these temporary residences were replaced with substantial houses, they were demolished and became rare survivors. In 1898, only one other Dunedin example was noted, in London Street.

Conservation architect Jeremy Salmond writes that the combination of timber and mud was ‘one of the most ancient ways of making shelter’ and dated back to the earliest human communities, and was, in Britain ‘for centuries the typical self-help housing of the poor.’ The materials were easily collected and cost nothing. Salmond writes that ponga was ‘popular for framed log houses, particularly in Otago and Southland.’

There are few buildings on the Heritage New Zealand List/Rārangi Kōrero with ponga construction elements: known examples are the Ponga Whare on the Chatham Islands, and the German Mission House, also on the Chathams. Both examples date to the mid-late 1860s. Ferntree Lodge is believed to be the oldest surviving ponga house in New Zealand.

Surviving 1840s Buildings

There are several other buildings in the South Island surviving from the 1840s. They include Ackers Cottage (Category 1 List. No. 396) on Stewart Island, the Mt Gladstone cob cottage (Category 2 List . No. 2936) in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, the farm buildings at Matanaka (List Nos.51, 52 & 333, all Category 1) in Otago, Deans Cottage (List. No 3679 Category 1) at Riccarton, Christchurch and French Farm House, Akaroa (List No. 7708, Category 1). The oldest building is Howell's Cottage (Category 1 List. No. 2540) in Riverton, dating from 1837.

In the North Island, 1840s buildings include Hulme Court, Parnell, Auckland (List No. 19, Category 1), Taylor-Stace Cottage, Pauatahanui (List No. 4108, Category 1) and Collett House, Lower Hutt (List No. 7479, Category 1). The oldest building (both in the North Island and New Zealand) is Kerikeri Mission House (List No. 2, Category 1), dating to 1821-1822.


The house is in two sections – the 1849 ponga residence, and connected by the billiard room, the 1902 Edwardian gentleman’s residence. Hislop sensitively designed the 1902 brick residence to echo the form and decoration of the 1849 house – the gables and the stick work reflect the earlier design. The 1902 portion is set back a little, giving the main elevation of the 1849 cottage a sense of identity.

The 1849 Portion

The 1849 portion is a one and a half storey residence built in a Carpenter Gothic style. The shingle roof is steeply pitched with projecting dormer windows. The house was originally T-shaped in plan with two connected gables. The rear of the T has been incorporated into the 1902 residence although the owner records that the roof framing is still in place.

The walls are built of ponga logs and framed by timber painted to contrast with the dark logs, providing a striking decorative effect, reminiscent of Tudor architecture. For such an early residence, this shows considerable thought and effort on the part of the owner and the building to create a residence of some status. This is not a ferntree hut. The windows are casements with multi-panes adding to the intricate detailing. There is a lean-to to the rear in which the updated kitchen is located.

1902 Portion

The 1902 residence is a grand Edwardian gentlemen’s residence, connected with the cottage via the billiard room that bridges the two parts (and the roof structure of which contains some original structural timbers).

Brick was a more expensive material than timber, so Thomson’s decision to build in brick was not one of economy. Dunedin’s wealth (and lack of earthquakes) had seen more brick and stone houses built in Otago by 1888, than in the rest of New Zealand. The form of the 1902 section echoes that of the 1849 cottage – intersecting steep gables, dormer windows, use of multi-paned glazing, decorative stick work detailing, the slate roof (sympathetic with the patterning of the shingles) and the tall brick chimneys. The pairing is sympathetic and aesthetically pleasing.

Such a two-storey residence marked Thomson as a ‘prosperous and successful owner’ as did the interior decorative details and the quality of the fixtures and fittings. Features such as the prominent stairs, with their turned balusters and carved, turned and moulded newel posts give the house grandeur and status.

The main elevation faces east and overlooks the gardens and surrounding native bush, echoing the position of the 1849 cottage. The formal entrance is tucked into the side of the main gable, and has a porch roof with spindled detailing. There is an arched window and a projecting bay window to the left. On the second floor a gabled dormer projects from the roof. The flanked banding on the slate roofs (the house, the porch, and the bay window) provides additional detail.

The main side elevation, facing north east, looks over the lawn and side garden with mature trees. This elevation has two projecting gables. The decorative detail consists of stick work at the peaks of the gables, echoing the multi-pane casement windows. The tall brick chimneys with their decorative cantilevered courses and complex geometries are significant features. Like the front door, the side door has its own semi-enclosed porch, and a projecting box bay with its own slate roof.

The rear elevation has a set of paired gables and another projecting bay window. The first floor has a semi-circular cantilevered bay window that was added at a later date. This is a plainer elevation. The single storey wing to the west end houses the services for the house – the kitchen, maid’s room and the like. The single storey areas are clad in corrugated iron.


The 1849 Portion

The 1849 portion has two ground floor rooms, kitchen, a hall, stair, bathroom, and two upstairs bedrooms. The interior of the 1849 part of the building has evidence of changing finishes over its years of use. Many of the walls are lined with paper on the original scrim. The windows are casements with top-lights and multiple panes (ten-light for the long windows, four-light for the fanlights). Much of the early window furniture remains. The fireplaces date from the 1920s with ceramic tiles and oak mantels. The hall was refinished in oak, probably in the 1920s. The original narrow turning stair remains, leading to the small coved ceilinged upper bedrooms. A bathroom with a round-edged, heavy marble bath is accessed off the landing. In places where the scrim has been partially removed, timber sarking is visible underneath. The floors are wide boards.

1902 Portion

The 1902 section is divided into the family residence and the servant’s areas – and these are demarcated by the decoration – utilitarian match-lining in the servant hallways and rooms, and opulent timber finishing in the family rooms.

Fireplaces are a mix of styles, reflecting changing tastes of the owners. Some of the original marble mantels remain, while others are timber, tile and with brass fittings. The joinery and architraving is in native timbers. In the high status rooms, such as the smoking room, music room and living room, there are heavily ornate plaster ceilings and ceiling roses.

The house is notable for its ornate coloured, stained and leadlight glass. The front door and fanlight, the billiard room window, and the large windows in the hallway are notable. The hallway windows, located on the landing of the grand sweeping stair, feature two Māori figures, Māori motifs and designs, as well as native birds. The hallway has detached Corinthian columns standing on plinths as well as an ornate ceiling. There is timber panelling to a dado level in the hall and stairs. The ‘public’ rooms are designed to impress (but not overwhelm). The main bedroom has a heavily decorated ceiling, while other rooms have more modest finishes, while still retaining a sense of generosity and grandeur. Interesting features include the mirrored shutters in the smoking room. The connecting billiard room is generous with a brick fireplace, timber floors and a decorative panelled ceiling.

Notably, the 1902 portion represents the considerable skills of architect James Hislop. The grounds are also important and some of the specimens of native species are of particular historical botanical importance, some being remnants of pre-European bush.

Stained Glass

In their history of stained glass windows in New Zealand houses Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean write that certain national motives gave New Zealand glass its distinctive character – in the early years New Zealand birds and plants were occasionally portrayed in windows. They write that ‘more significantly there was a consistent effort to represent the Maori and to employ Maori designs.’ They describe the windows in Ferntree Lodge as ‘remarkable examples from the turn of the century, a period when the interest in New Zealand as ‘Maoriland’ was at its height. Using paintwork, as well as the leadline, the artist portrays a Maori chief complete with feather cloak, a Maori woman and child, and high up across a door lintel an eerie Maori canoe. Throughout the windows traditional Maori wood-carving designs are incorporated into the surrounding detail.’ Phillips and Maclean write that Māori motifs at Ferntree Lodge were used ‘for essentially Pakeha purposes of decoration.’ The artist who made the windows is not identified.

Historian Kynan Gentry writes that by the end of the nineteenth century tikanga Māori was of ‘growing importance’ to ‘New Zealand’s tourism industry and colonial identity’ – this was reflected in the growing demand for artifacts for Pākehā collectors. Gentry writes that Pākehā efforts to “save” Māori culture were for the most part self-serving – driven by the ways Māori culture was seen to support Pākehā identity.’ Gentry writes that ‘Indigenous flora and fauna and motifs from Maori carving had been employed as distinctly New Zealand symbols long before the end of the nineteenth century’ and that these symbols were also incorporated into domestic features – such as banisters, mantelpieces, doorframes and the like. The ‘Pakeha adoption and adaption of tikanga Maori during this period is complex, but was ultimately the result of conscious efforts of “native born” colonists to create an indigenous identity for themselves.’ Gentry also writes that the ‘new affinity with the indigenous’ was ‘in part made possible by a fading perception of the indigenous as alien, it also reflected the Pakeha sense that both the landscape and Maori were ostensibly submissive to settler authority.’ The use of Māori carving and design became ‘more common in public and private buildings’ in the 1920s and 1930s, especially in interior design.

Such motifs were used by Dunedin company Smith and Smith in the early years of the twentieth century. The New Zealand Times reported that Smith and Smith were the largest such firm in New Zealand – their exhibit at the Christchurch Exhibition featured clematis and a ‘border of Maori carving, all worked in stained glass (beating all competitors in this section.)’

For successful merchants such as Thomson stained glass emphasised the wealth and opulence of the house. The front door, side and fanlights, and the stair landing were common locations for such displays – providing extra light while maintaining privacy, as well as providing sufficient distance for these designs to look their best. The glass work owes much to the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870s and 1880s which encouraged ‘the urban middle class to look on all elements of interior decoration…as serious aesthetic statements.’ Phillips and Maclean write that ‘[s]tained glass windows became a necessary ornament for the affluent home.’ Birds and flowers were prominent in Victorian glass, some imported from England, but having a kiln for baking glass (as Smith & Smith of Dunedin did) enabled the use local imagery – as was done at Ferntree Lodge.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1849 -
Original ponga log cottage built

1902 -
Extension built

Construction Details

Ponga logs, brick, corrugated iron, timber, slate.

Completion Date

27th June 2017

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Galer, 1981

L. Galer, Houses and Homes, Allied Press, Dunedin, 1981

‘Ferntree-standing time’s test’

Knight, 1988

Hardwicke Knight and Niel Wales, Buildings of Dunedin: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to New Zealand's Victorian City, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1988

Thomson, 1998

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

Galer, 1984 (2)

Galer, Lois, ‘Still standing tall next to Ferntree’, Otago Daily Times, 4 July 1984, 12013-089, vol. 2.

Cowan, 1980

Cowan, Geoff, ‘Ferntree Lodge – a fine asset’, Dunedin City Calling, Christmas 1980, p. 11, NZHPT, 12013-089, vol. 2.

Godley, 1995

Godley, E.J., ‘Biographical notes (19): William Alexander Thomson (1876-1950)’, New Zealand Botanical Society Newsletter, 41 (September 1995): 18-20, URL: http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/research/biosystematics/plants/documents/Godley1995ThomsonWA.pdf, accessed 11 Dec 2011.

Other Information

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from Otago/Southland Area Office of Heritage New Zealand.

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.