Early History of the Site
The northern shores of the Waitemata Harbour are of significance to several iwi, having been explored and occupied since early human arrival in New Zealand. According to oral tradition, the Arawa canoe under Tama Te Kapua investigated the Waitemata. The canoe deposited a ritual obsidian core brought from Hawaiki on Te Mata (Boat Rock), an island to the west of Chelsea Bay, giving rise to the name of the Waitemata Harbour.
The Tainui canoe also landed at Te Hau Kapua (Torpedo Bay) in present-day Devonport before travelling to its eventual heartland in the Waikato. According to oral tradition there were people living at Te Hau Kapua at the time of the visit of the Tainui canoe. Physical evidence of very early settlement has been found on the foreshore where adzes were manufactured on stone working floors.
Tainui named the western headland of Te Hau Kapua, Te Kurae a Tura / Tura’s Point. A pa later occupied Te Kurae a Tura, the headland known more recently as Duder’s Hill. Other pa including the nearby Takamaiwaho; Takarunga / Mt Victoria; Takararo / Mt Cambria; and Maunga Uika / North Head, as well as recorded horticultural features, midden and other remains reflect a landscape intensively used by Maori.
By the eighteenth century, land in the vicinity was occupied by Kawerau, who held settlements along the Waitemata shoreline noted for their access to shark fisheries. The beach at Te Hau Kapua was the site of a late-eighteenth-century battle when a Nga Puhi, Te Kawerau and Te Parawhau alliance raided the Ngati Paoa pa, Takapuna, now known as North Head. Following Nga Puhi incursions in the 1820s, much of the North Shore was depopulated, assisting its purchase by the British Crown after formal colonisation in 1840. A small Maori settlement remained at Te Hau Kapua until 1863.
Devonport emerged as a colonial settlement with its use as a British naval station from the 1840s. Situated adjoining the site of the former naval magazine established in 1840-1 on Beach Road, the site on which Rockcliff was constructed (Lot 3 and Part Lot 4 in the 1859 village of Devonport subdivision) formed part of a Crown Grant issued to Auckland businessman John Logan Campbell in 1853. The area’s potential as a seaside suburb was recognised as early as February 1859 when notices appeared in the New Zealander offering land for sale by auction. Although the area was subject to some speculation and land subdivision in the 1860s, large-scale development emerged primarily during the economic boom of the 1870s and 1880s. With the establishment of reliable ferry services to and from Auckland, Devonport became a well-established residential suburb and a significant seaside resort in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Owners of the Beach Road property included David Burn (d.1875) - an editor of the New Zealander and of the Daily Southern Cross - who owned a tenanted house close to the beach. Wood turner John Jessie Swinnerton (1830?-94) purchased the land in 1891 and constructed a timber villa on the site soon after.
By the turn of the century, Beach Road (re-named King Edward Parade in circa 1902, but known locally as King’s Parade) was considered to be one of the main residential streets in Devonport, which were collectively said to be occupied chiefly by the families of city men whose homes were, ‘entirely removed and differing in aspect from the scene of their labours’ across the harbour in the commercial heart of Auckland. In 1919, by which time the Devonport waterfront was fully built up, Gilbert Sanford (1883-1967) purchased the Swinnerton property. The nineteenth-century house was relocated onto the eastern portion of the holding (Pt Lot 4) and on-sold in 1922.
Gilbert Sanford, the fourth son of Albert Sanford (1843?-1924) founder of New Zealand’s first large fishing company, had married Marie Wyatt Wright in 1907. The young couple had taken up residence in Buchanan Street, continuing a long family association with the seaside suburb where Albert had founded his fishing business shortly after his arrival in New Zealand in 1864.
Gilbert was one of at least four Sanford sons engaged in the day-to-day operations of the registered company that emerged from the family business in 1904. He had received a better education than many of his eight brothers, and as company secretary was prominent in the affairs of Sanford Limited. Gilbert presented evidence to a 1919 Royal Commission into trawling in the Hauraki Gulf; and in 1921 travelled to England to investigate the purchase of fishing vessels. His choice of a beachside residential site capitalising on views over the Waitemata Harbour and Auckland’s eastern suburbs reflected Gilbert’s growing status in Auckland’s business community as heir apparent to Albert as managing director of the company.
Construction of Rockcliff (1923)
A Council drainage plan, a mortgage and street directories indicate 1923 as the date of construction of the one-and-a-half storey Arts-and-Crafts-style house. In a difficult economic climate, Marie Sanford advanced her husband short term finance of £900; followed by a further £900 in 1925, amounts secured by mortgages over the beachfront home. These mortgages were extended in 1930 and not extinguished until sale of the property in 1938.
Rockliff was designed by Auckland architect William Cumming (1860-1947) and exhibited Arts-and-Crafts-style features that were a marked departure from the late-Victorian and early twentieth-century villas predominant on King Edward Parade’s beachfront sites. The residence exhibited informality in its planning, use of materials, fenestration, and setting. A random rubble retaining wall in place on the front boundary by 1923 was also likely to have been part of Cumming’s design. The sweeping line of the coping evoked curved elements evident on Rockcliff’s façade. The gate was framed by an overhead archway.
The cross gabled roof with wide eaves supported by verge rafters was a dominant feature that enhanced the picturesque character of the house as a building in-the-round rather than a façade. The contrast of dark timber trim against light-coloured stucco walls, and an arched roof form over the opening in the front entrance porch and over a bay window also added visual interest. Fenestration in the south and east elevations ranged from circular and oval openings, to rectangular diamond-paned casements. Small window openings reinforced a domestic scale, evoking qualities of snugness and cosiness that reflected Northern Hemisphere climatic and cultural influences of the Arts and Crafts architectural style adopted by well-do New Zealanders in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Internally, the front entrance within a corner porch opened into a small rectangular hall containing the staircase and a cloakroom. A lobby off the east side of the hall led into an east-facing kitchen that terminated in a sun porch. A south-facing bay window overlooking the harbour may have formed part of a sitting room, or lit a smaller space. A small single-storey wing centrally located on the west elevation contained a lavatory and a washhouse. The upper storey accommodated bedrooms, a lavatory, a bathroom and a small storeroom.
Rockcliff was one of comparatively few known residential commissions undertaken by Auckland architect William Cumming who was best known as the designer of educational buildings including Mt Albert Grammar School (1922) and Takapuna Grammar School (1926). Commercial premises to his design included the three-storey Sanford Building erected in Customs Street West in 1914-15, a firm of which he was director in 1922-4 and in 1933-44.
William Arthur Cumming, an inaugural member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) in 1905, was President of the Institute in 1917. In 1919 he provided a site plan for relocation of the former Swinnerton house prior to designing Gilbert Sanford’s new home. Also in 1919, two major projects were completed to Cumming’s designs. Substantial additions and alterations to the former Choral Hall housed the science department of the Auckland University College. The second was Pridham Hall (Register no. 147, Category 1 historic place), built to accommodate New Plymouth Boys High School after destruction of the school buildings by fire - a structure opened by the Deputy Prime Minister, Sir James Allen. Cumming had been recommended to design Pridham Hall after the School Board approached the NZIA for a suitably eminent architect to undertake the project. The Edwardian Free Style Pridham Hall combining Elizabethan and Jacobean influences is recognised as one of three outstanding early twentieth-century examples of Jacobethan architecture in Zealand. In 1920, Cumming became the Director and a lecturer at Auckland University College’s fledgling School of Architecture; and was one of three distinguished architects appointed to assess competitive designs for the Arts Building of the University College.
Designed during the peak of his architectural career and currently Cumming’s best-known domestic work, Rockcliff - like Pridham Hall - reflected the continuing influences of British tends on New Zealand architecture well into the twentieth century.
Rockcliff’s builder, ‘E H Wood’, is likely to have been a local Devonport carpenter. Wood was listed in street directories as Edmond Harry Wood (resident at 52 King Edward Parade) in 1922, but as Edward Harry Wood (at nearby 31 Grey Street) in 1925.
Subsequent use and modification
Following Albert Sanford’s retirement in 1923, Gilbert became the managing director of Sanford Limited. By this time the company had diversified into seafood processing, retail, and restaurants as well as harvesting. During the 1920s, when the trawlers sailed at 8 am, ‘if they had not passed Devonport, where Mr Sanford resided, by 8.15 am he was on the telephone requiring an explanation’.
Sanford Limited continued to dominate the industry in the 1920s, selling fish locally into the Auckland market and by consignment in iced boxes to other North Island centres. With new trawlers providing larger catches, Sanford Limited was publicly listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange in 1924 and moved to new premises in Jellicoe Street the following year. The firm diversified into the rabbit trade, becoming the largest buyer of meat and skins nationally. Gilbert Sanford resigned as managing director in 1929 at the comparatively young age of 46 and retired to farm at Rakino Island which had passed into his sole ownership in 1927.
Gilbert Sanford’s Devonport home was tenanted for much of the 1930s by hosiery retailers and manufacturers’ agents Alfred and Mary Respinger prior to its sale to the Very Reverend Joseph Croke Darby (1871-1941) in 1938. The dwelling, described as consisting of six rooms, dressing room, bathroom and two lavatories and set in a beautifully laid out garden enjoying extensive harbour views, remained Darby’s home until his death in 1941.
Auckland-born Darby was one of three sons of New Zealand publicans to attend St Patrick’s College, Sydney, in the mid-1890s. Darby’s father Patrick (1832?-1910), a wealthy philanthropist who donated much land and money to the church, was a trusted adviser to a series of bishops of Auckland. His son Joseph Darby had as Dean of the Waikato (1916-18) commissioned construction of the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and presbytery - projects for which he had contracted large debts. A controversial character whose confrontational style led to conflicts with Bishops Lenihan and Cleary, Darby retired from active parish work in 1921 after two decades as parish priest in the Waikato.
Rockcliff was subsequently bought by Ruby Amelia Stenborg (1882-1967), the wife of piano repairer Gunnar Stenborg (1893-1986) a Swedish national. Ruby was the founder and major shareholder of The F. Moore Piano Company (1925-9) which had emerged out of the business of her late father. To finance Rockcliff’s purchase, Ruby may have sold the Warwick Chambers (Register No. 4589, Category 2 historic place), a five-storey commercial building which she had purchased on Auckland’s Queen Street in 1925.
Rockcliff changed hands twice in the 1950s, and again in 1972. The single-storey laundry wing was demolished in 1976, making way for a two-storey addition containing a library and a playroom / music room on the ground floor and a first-floor study opening onto decks facing north and south. The sunroom became a laundry. The following year, a family room with a pergola above was added, opening off the laundry (former sunroom). A swimming pool was installed in the outdoor living area in 1981. In 1994, a garage and accessory building at the rear of the site were replaced by a substantial two-storey structure incorporating a minor dwelling unit and garaging. A conservatory was erected over the first floor deck on the north side (rear) of Rockcliff in 1999.
Rockcliff remains in use as a private residence.
Rockcliff is situated immediately to the east of the commercial centre of Devonport, a maritime suburb of Auckland. Lying on the northern shoreline of the Waitemata Harbour, Devonport has a strong maritime flavour, a rich archaeological landscape and is noted for its well-preserved nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings.
Rockcliff occupies an elevated site on the north side of King Edward Parade, a lengthy and largely tree-lined esplanade extending to the east of Devonport’s main ferry terminal. Devonport, the location of an 1841 naval station and of the later headquarters of the Royal New Zealand Navy (incorporating Calliope Dock, said to have been the largest dry dock in the Southern Hemisphere when opened in 1888) is particularly aware of its seafaring origins.
Devonport’s main commercial thoroughfare Victoria Road a short distance to the west of Rockcliff is a particularly well-preserved historic streetscape. Formally recognised historic buildings in Victoria Road include the landmark Esplanade Hotel (NZHPT Register no. 4481, Category 1 historic place) opposite the ferry terminal. At the southern end of Victoria Road are a number of commemorative monuments including the Alison Clock (NZHPT Register no. 4513, Category 2 historic place); and the Coronation Sea Wall (NZHPT Register no. 4516, Category 2 historic place) on King Edward Parade. The Tainui Memorial located to the east of Duder Street on a King Edward Parade esplanade reserve commemorates the landing of the Tainui canoe.
Also fronting King Edward Parade are several late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings that are scheduled in the District Plan. Apart from Rockcliff at number 6A, these include notable dwellings at 7, 14, 36-39, 55, 56, 60 and 62; the apartment building Elizabeth House at 5 King Edward Parade; the Calliope Sea Scouts Hall; the Masonic Tavern; and a commercial building known as The Works. Other notable dwellings in the wider neighbourhood include houses at 5, 15 and 17 Jubilee Avenue.
King Edward Parade and the adjoining foreshore form part of a rich archaeological landscape and contain a number of sites including a pre-European stone-working area; remnants of Te Kurae a Tura (a site and landform of significance to Maori); nineteenth-century wharves; a timber mill; and several shipyards. Rockcliff itself is located within the general vicinity of the former site of the nineteenth-century naval magazine. On the south side of King Edward Parade, opposite the junction of Mays Street, is a bronze plaque marking the 1848 execution of Joseph Burns on the site where he committed the murder of Lieutenant Snow, wife and child.
Rockcliff occupies a promontory near the intersection of King Edward Parade and Mays Street. The adjoining properties to the west are occupied by impressive two-storey, former seaside boarding houses that date from the early twentieth century. Rockcliff marks a visual transition between these large-scale residential buildings, and the late-Victorian and Edwardian villas that extend east along King Edward Parade. Its well-articulated form; solid construction materials; and 1920s Arts-and-Crafts-style make the building a notable feature in the streetscape.
Site and building exterior
The southern portion of the 960-square-metre rectangular site at 6A King Edward Parade encompasses the 1923 stucco-plastered, tile-roofed dwelling. Within the northern (rear) portion is a minor dwelling unit and accessory building (1996) with a right of way access from Mays Street.
Rockcliff has been described by Devonport-based heritage architect Jeremy Salmond as an Arts-and-Crafts-style house of exceptional quality; and, as one of the best examples of pure Arts-and-Crafts-style architecture in Auckland.
The street frontage of 6A King Edward Parade is delineated by a substantial random rubble wall. In place by 1923, the wall is likely to have formed part of Cumming’s residential design. Towards the east end of the frontage, the wall sweeps down to a pair of rectangular ashlar piers that frame a wrought iron gate. The name Rockcliff appears in cement plaster near the top of the eastern pier.
Concrete steps, flanked on one side by a curved, stone retaining wall and on the other by a freestanding stone wall of staggered height, lead up the slope to the front entrance in a recessed porch within the southeast corner of the house. A broad pathway parallel to the east boundary leads to an arched opening in a stone-faced wall that extends at right angles from the side of the house. The stone walls reflect a deep-seated English Arts and Crafts sense of unity between house and garden, the object of which was to integrate the residence into the site in a manner that suggested it had always been there. A sunken garden in front of the house is a recently-established feature.
The footprint of the 1920s house has been enlarged by two late-twentieth-century additions. The south and east elevations overlooking King Edward Parade retain their original character overall. A two-storey addition (1976) has replaced a single-storey utility area on the west elevation. A rear, upper-storey deck and pergola that formed part of that addition have been converted into a conservatory (1999). A single-storey addition (1977) at the east end of the rear elevation is not evident from the street. The 1970s extension was described in 1989 as having been successfully incorporated into the house.
Within the rear outdoor living area is a swimming pool (1981) and a mature pohutukawa tree. The pohutukawa is scheduled in the District Plan as a tree of local significance (Category D) but not in Category B (Historic Trees) (2012). The pohutukawa is not considered by the NZHPT to contribute to the historical and cultural significance of the place. A timber pergola (1999) parallel to the west boundary extends from the rear of the house, to the back boundary. The northeast portion of the site is occupied by a two-storey ancillary residential building and garaging (1994) which is excluded from the registration.
Rockcliff is a one-and-a-half storey English Arts-and-Crafts-style residence, a style adopted by architects in New Zealand in the 1910s and 1920s for clients anxious to display their new wealth in houses reminiscent of the Old Country. It is stucco-clad with a Marseilles-tile roof and has a simple rectangular chimney that passes through the apex of the (now smaller) west gable. The chimney is topped by a squat, glazed chimney pot. The low-sweeping, modestly bell-cast roof shelters upper-storey bedroom accommodation and has verge rafters - suggesting parallels with the Swiss Cottage style, a related architectural form that was also adopted by wealthy New Zealanders in the early twentieth century.
The broad front gable of the house directly overlooking King Edward Parade and the harbour is balanced by a substantial dormer gable in the east plane of the roof. These elements along with other aspects of the design combine to present two strongly articulated elevations to the esplanade with extensive views of the harbour.
The lower storey of the visually striking facade incorporates an arched entry accentuated by a shelter hood supported on heavy timber brackets; and a modest rectangular bay window with an undulating roof similar to the hood above the entrance arch. These features are separated by a squat, centrally-located, oval-shaped window. The attic portion of the main gable contains a composite five-casement window with diamond-paned lead-lights conveying a Tudor effect. Located on each side of this rectangular opening is a small circular window, possibly a nautical reference given the seaside location. A 1970s addition at the west end of the façade incorporates a simple square bay window on the lower floor and a rectangular window overlooking a deck within a Marseilles-tiled roof area and does not noticeably detract from the overall design.
The east elevation overlooks King Edward Parade more obliquely, but also contributes to the streetscape. The roof sweeps low over a side arch of the entry porch - the arch being a form commonly associated with front entry porches of English Cottage-style houses particularly in buildings of brick or stucco construction. The ground floor window is a rectangular composition made up of a single narrow casement flanked by a matching pair, all with rectangular upper lights. The low-sweeping roof has exposed purlin ends; while the deep eaves of the upper gable are supported by verge rafters. The upper storey window consists of two pair of six-light casements. A louvered oculus ventilating the upper gable provides a counterpoint to the two circular windows of the gable at the front of the house. Similar six-light casements occur on the east and north elevation of the northern bay and on the upper floor of the north elevation.
The rear elevation has been extended to the north by a single-storey addition at the east end; and by the two-storey west addition, linked by a verandah - works undertaken in the 1970s. It is unclear whether French doors from the sitting room and the dining room were part of the original design.
The west elevation largely consists of the 1976 addition, the roof line of which commences slightly above the original eaves-line and ends some distance below the original west gable. The windows and French doors of the addition are of a modern design that distinguishes them from those of the original house.
The information in this section of the report has been compiled from archival plans held by Auckland Council.
The interior contains kitchen and living rooms on the ground floor; and bedrooms, bathrooms and possibly a study / living room on the first floor.
In keeping with the standard planning for English-Cottage-style residences of the early twentieth century, the ground floor appears to accommodate a kitchen, a dining room and a living room arranged around a rectangular front hall. The open fireplace in the living room, the only hearth in the house, may survive. The hall staircase adjoins the front wall of the house and is lit by the oval window, and by the five casement windows on the upper floor. The extent to which original timber joinery including doors, exposed beams, panelling and stair rails may survive is not known. The ground floor living room appears to open into the 1976 addition which consists of two large rooms separated by a lobby off which is a toilet. A single-storey one-room addition has been made to what was originally a sun porch located at the north end of the kitchen.
On the upper floor there appear to be five habitable rooms, two bathrooms and a toilet. Apart from the west addition, the building appears to retain its original window openings.
Minor dwelling unit and accessory building
These structures do not form part of the registration.
West side of house
North east corner
Outdoor swimming pool
Ancillary residential unit and garaging [excluded from the registration]
Pergola; Conversion of deck and pergola to conservatory
Stucco, Marseilles tile roof
26th March 2013
Report Written By
Richard Apperley, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds, A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture: Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present, Sydney, 1989
Archives New Zealand (Auck)
Archives New Zealand (Auckland)
BADZ, 5181 Box 473/ record 2753, The F. Moore Piano Company Ltd 1925-1929; BBAE 1569 Box 328/ record 9973, Frederick Moore (Probate); BBAE A645 1570 Box 1938, P2433/1966, Marie Wyatt Sanford (Probate); BBAE A645 1570 Box 2002, record P2050/1967, Gilbert Sanford (Probate)
19 March 1875, p.2; 18 September 1894, p.5; 16 June 1899, p.4; 15 March 1915, p.4; 24 March 1915, p.2; 27 September 1924, p.11; 15 May 1925, p.3; 23 April 1986 (n.p.)
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902
Daily Southern Cross
Daily Southern Cross
15 June 1875, p.2
Evans, 1997 (2)
Nga Waka o Nehera, the first voyaging canoes, Reed Publishers, Auckland, 1997.
7 September 1910, p.2; 17 May 1941, p.11; 8 November, 1943, p.3; 7 April 1945, p.9
Johnson, 1988 (2)
David Johnson, Auckland by the Sea: 100 Years of Work and Play, Auckland: David Bateman Ltd, 1988.
Sydney Musgrove (ed), The Hundred of Devonport: A Centennial History, Devonport, 1986.
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen
T Walsh (ed.), An illustrated story of Devonport and the old North Shore from 1841 to 1924 : with an outline of Maori occupation to 1841, Auckland, 1924 (1974 reprint)
Auckland Council, Takapuna Service Centre
Auckland Council, Takapuna Service Centre
Building file 6A King Edward Parade, Devonport
Verran, David, The North Shore: An Illustrated History, Auckland, 2010
(North Shore), Borough of Devonport, Valuation Lists: 1888 (part 1), DBC 123/2, p.30; 1890-1 (part 1), DBC 123/4, p. 35; 1891-2 (part 1) DBC, 123/5, p. 32
Ian Hunter, Age of Enterprise: Rediscovering the New Zealand Entrepreneur, 1880-1910, Auckland, 2007
A fully referenced registration report is available from the Mid-Northern 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.