Acton House and Garden

577 Back Ormond Road, Hexton, Gisborne

  • Acton House and Garden.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 2/03/2003.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 2/03/2003.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 2/03/2003.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7235 Date Entered 14th July 1995


City/District Council

Gisborne District


Gisborne Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 4477 (CT GS113/134), Gisborne Land District


Acton was constructed in 1907-1908 as the residence of Henry White (1858-1926). White was a wealthy and well-connected farmer from Christchurch, whose father, William White, was a major entrepreneur and bridge builder. The residence was the centrepiece of an estate 160 ha (395 acres) in size, comprising 60 ha (150 acres) of flat land and the remainder in 'easy hills'. The estate had been purchased by White in 1907, after the Liberal Government's purchase of his extensive lands at Gisken, Little River near Christchurch under the Land for Settlements Consolidation Act, which sought to break the power of large landowners. The Acton estate had previously formed part of the Whataupoko Block which, first leased in 1864, was one of the largest of the early sheep stations in Poverty Bay. Acton was surrounded by an established landscape that had previously been used for farming and related social activities such as organised hunts. The house is believed to have been constructed on the site of the Whataupoko stockyards.

Acton is believed to have been constructed by the England Brothers, who erected a very similar residence 'Fitzroy' for a wealthy biscuit manufacturer, Robert McDougall, in Christchurch. A tender notice that appeared in the Christchurch Press for the construction of a residence in Gisborne in December 1906 is considered to relate to the erection of Acton. The building's design is based on an example in an American pattern book, published by George Barber in 1903. It is said to have been passed on from Southern California as the model for Fitzroy by the influential Christchurch-based architect, Samuel Hurst Seager. Henry White was a friend of McDougall's and connected to Hurst Seager through marriage.

An extremely large dwelling containing 12 or 13 family rooms and several servants' rooms, Acton was designed in a style variously described as Eclectic Edwardian, Arts and Crafts, and Colonial Renaissance. Several outbuildings were constructed, including a stables and a gardener's cottage. Its grounds were landscaped, possibly by Alfred Buxton, an important late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century landscape gardener. A plan of the grounds, signed by Buxton, is said to have survived in the house until the 1950s or 1960s. Buxton was also the landscape architect for the grounds at Fitzroy.

White returned to Christchurch shortly before his death, and Acton was sold to Henry Barker in 1927. Barker's father, Percival (1824-1902), had owned the Whataupoko Estate from the 1870s until 1902. Henry (Harry) Barker had served overseas in the First World War (1914-1918), and was a past president and later patron of the Gisborne A. & P. Association. Remaining unmarried, he started the Acton Stud of Hereford cattle in 1933. Changes to the house before and during his tenureship included the construction of an aviary with a verandah above after 1908, the conversion of maids' rooms into en-suite facilities in circa 1927, and alterations to the kitchen in 1951. A store, dairy and coalrooms were converted into bunkrooms, a kitchen and laundry/bathroom at an unknown date.

Barker left Acton to his nephews and nieces in 1956, after which nephew Walter Barker moved in to the house. At this time, pumpkin, oats and mangolds were being grown on the flats while contour farming of pasture on the hills was being practised. The farm was subdivided in 1968, with Acton and 8.5 ha (21 acres) of land surrounding the house being sold to Evelyn Pauley, and later occupied by Pauley's son, William.

In 1984, the residence and its underlying land was registered by the NZHPT and accorded a 'C' classification (becoming Category II after the introduction of a new Historic Places Act in 1993). The registration was reviewed in 1995, with the associated garden being subsequently included within the registration, and the site upgraded to a Category I historic place. This was passed by the NZHPT Board on 14 July 1995. Duplication of the registration occurred when a new Record Number (# 7235) was provided to the Category I registration while the initial 1984 entry remained on the Register. Evidence that the Category I registration was a review of the earlier registration rather than relating to a separate place is provided in Appendix 4. Evidence includes i) the use of the same name and street address ('Acton' and 'Back Ormond Road') for both registrations as passed by the NZHPT Board, ii) references to the same building as that registered in 1995 in the Buildings Classification minutes of 9-12 March 1984, iii) photographs of an identical place on the respective Building Record Forms for both registrations, and iv) references to a review being carried out in letters of November 1993 and June 1995.

In 1995, Acton was sold to Developments of Auckland, after which it was temporarily converted into a hotel. In 2002, the property was purchased by Juken Nissho Limited, now known as Juken New Zealand Limited, for use as a company retreat.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of


While not a figure of national significance, Henry White was well known locally from 1908 until the 1920's. His high profile seems to result from his being a landowner with comparative wealth and a fairly lavish lifestyle rather than from any particular achievements within the community. The Buxton garden is significant in terms of garden history in New Zealand.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of



There are few examples of European architecture of the quality of Acton in Gisborne. Acton is oriented to the south to take advantage of the view over Poverty Bay. The garden was designed by the notable garden architect, Alfred Buxton.


Acton is a coherent example of Queen Anne domestic architecture adapted for construction in timber and is the clearest known expression of the style in Gisborne. There are indications that the house was designed by the England Brothers or Samuel Hurst Seager. Its design strongly resembles Fitzroy, built in Christchurch in 1898 for Robert McDougall and despite its present state of deterioration it appears to be in more original condition. Its largely unaltered interior is particularly significant with extensive wood work, plaster work and leadlights.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of



The design and the size of Acton reflect the lavish lifestyle and living arrangements of a wealthy landowner at the turn of the century. The house, built for Henry White, is the largest home in the Gisborne area. Its largely unaltered interior still retains the maid's room and bathroom with back staircase.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of


The following comments are made in relation to the criteria identified under S.23(2) of the Historic Places Act 1993.

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

Acton is a substantial Edwardian residence and a coherent example of Queen Anne domestic architecture adapted for construction in timber. It approximates a cruciform in plan and is largely two storeyed. The south end, however, is three storeyed and the north end is single storeyed.

Exterior features include a hipped verandah at ground floor level centred on a pediment above the entrance, an octagonal turret at second floor level, sash windows with fanlights, gables decorated with "stick-style" vertical and diagonal boarding, and moulded eaves brackets. The interior of the house is relatively unaltered. The ground floor has extensive woodwork including a panelled dado, skirtings, arches and panelled doors. Also featured are elaborate woodwork fire surrounds, plastered ceilings and cornices and coloured leadlights.

The obvious comparison is with Fitzroy, in Christchurch, built in 1898 for Robert McDougall (the proprietor of Aulsebrooks biscuit factory, and benefactor responsible for the establishment of the McDougall Art Gallery). The two houses are remarkably similar. and it is likely that they were designed by the same architect, but this cannot be confirmed. There are strong indications that Acton was designed by either Samuel Hurst Seager or the England Brothers who were reputable Christchurch architects. A tender notice from the Press in December 1906 was placed by the England Brothers, for the erection of "a residence" in Gisborne. Also, it is known that Buxton was the landscape architect for both houses.


Acton, is recommended for registration as a Category I as a place of special and outstanding historical and cultural heritage significance and value. It is a fine example of a Queen Anne style Edwardian residence and is the largest known in Gisborne area. Built for Henry White, a wealthy landowner, it reflects the lavish lifestyle of some property owners at the turn of the century in NZ. Together with its largely unaltered interior and Buxton garden (although overgrown), the house has significant architectural merit.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

England, Robert William & Edward Herbert

Robert William England (1863-1908) was born at Lyttelton, the son of a timber merchant. Educated in Christchurch, he chose to go to England for his architectural training and began practicing as an architect in Christchurch around the age of twenty-three. In 1906 he took his younger brother Edward (1875 - c.1953) into practice with him.

Among the notable residential designs the England Brothers were responsible for are McLean's Mansion, (1899 - 1902), and the third stage of Riccarton House (1900). Robert was more concerned with the final effect achieved than stylistic fidelity and drew on a variety of styles including the English Arts and Crafts movement. Some of their more well-known public works include the former D.I.C building in Cashel Street (1908), the A.J White building on the corner of Tuam and High Streets (c.1904-1910) and the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills building in Manchester Street (now demolished). They were also involved in designing a number of churches around Christchurch, including Knox Church in Bealey Avenue and St Albans Methodist Church.

The firm continued after Robert's death in 1908 until 1941, although it is generally considered Edward was a more conservative architect than his brother and the firm's most notable commissions occurred before Robert's death.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1908 -

Completion Date

7th March 2006

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Blackburne, 1992

J Blackburne, The Grand Homesteads of the Gisborne Area, Gisborne, 1992

Christchurch Press

'Tenders', 3 December 1906

'No Secret to Longevity, says Iris', 7 July, 1993 pg. 5; 3 December 1906, p.13; 7 July 1993, p.5

Hodgson, 1991

T. Hodgson, The Big House: Grand & Opulent Houses In Colonial New Zealand, Random, Auckland, 1991

Tait, 1958

G. A. Tait (ed), Farms and Stations of New Zealand Vol. 2, Auckland, 1958

Tombleson, 2002

John Tombleson, Whataupoko: the Land, its People, Gisborne, 2002

Historic Places in New Zealand

Historic Places in New Zealand

Blackburne, James & Robinson, Sheila, ' Three Grand Homes', January 1994

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Tauber, Benedict, 'Conservation Plan: Acton Estate, Gisborne', Auckland, 1996 (copy held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region office

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.