Downshire Homestead

2861 Lauder-Omakau Road, Lauder

  • Downshire Homestead.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5220 Date Entered 19th April 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes Lot 1 DP 21985 (CT 13C/982), Otago Land District, and the building known as Downshire Homestead, thereon.

City/District Council

Central Otago District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 21985 (CT 13C/982), Otago Land District


Built in 1908 for John Wilson’s Downshire Farm near Lauder in Central Otago, this generous stone residence reflects Wilson’s status as a successful gentleman farmer and has historical and architectural significance.

In 1886, Irish-born John Wilson took up land at Lauder on a deferred payment license and set about clearing the matagouri and tussock, and building his first house of mud brick and stone. Wilson named his property ‘Downshire’ after the Irish county where he was born. By the early 1890s, Wilson had acquired a large holding, and set about developing a model farm. He secured a number of water rights, giving him all-important access to irrigation in this dry area. He built a cluster of farm buildings including, in 1895, a large stone building that had a stable on the ground floor and a granary/barn on the upper level. By 1900, Wilson owned over 5,000 acres. A 1902 article in the Otago Daily Times describes the ‘pretty house in stone and sun-dried brick’ and the adjacent farm buildings.’ Downshire became a model for progressive farming techniques – including irrigation, and the use of modern machinery for ploughing and haymaking.

In October 1907, fire badly damaged Wilson’s residence. Wilson converted the structural elements that survived into farm buildings – the sundried brick portion becoming the woolshed, and the stone addition, the smithy. While he built his new house, Wilson lived in the cottage that had served as the farm cookhouse. Wilson’s new residence was modelled on an Irish residence Wilson had known as a young man. The new house was built of Port Chalmers bluestone, and roofed with red clay tiles. Plans show a generous single storey villa H-shaped in plan. The rooms included a kitchen, dining room, office, boys’ room, girls’ room, main bedroom, drawing room ‘strangers room’, servant’s room, a small bathroom and a store room.

In 1918, Elizabeth Wilson died, and the land that was in her name was transferred to a family trust. The farm was split, with a portion seized by the mortgagees. After John Wilson’s death in 1931 the farm was bought by Ralph Ewing Scorgie.

The homestead was in poor condition when Scorgie took it over, but he returned it to a ‘show place’. Scorgie was a gentleman farmer with artistic interests – the Dunedin School of Art visited Downshire in November 1939 and painted the picturesque place. Scorgie retired in the mid-1950s, leaving the farm in the hands of a manager. His son Peter bought the property in 1957. Peter died in 1965, and his widow and family continued to live at Downshire.

In 2015, Downshire Homestead remains a private residence.


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1908 -

Completion Date

10th February 2015

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

‘Downshire’, Unpublished Ms, Heritage New Zealand file 12013-1446

Other Information

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.

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