Mathiesons Farm Steading

121 Centre Road, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin

  • Mathieson Farm Steading, Dunedin. 2004 Cow Byre.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand.
  • Mathieson Farm Steading, Dunedin. 2004.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7580 Date Entered 10th December 2004


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes part of the land in Section 18, Block III Tomahawk Survey District (OT317/162) Otago Registry, and the connected buildings, their fittings and fixtures, thereon. The registration includes the land to a 45m curtilage from the rear of the buildings.The buildings included in the registration are the residence, former worker's quarters, former dairy and cookhouse, stables, and former cow byre. These buildings are all physically connected (See Plan in Appendix 4 of the Registration Report).

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 18 Blk III Tomahawk SD (CT OT317/162), Otago Land District


The Mathieson Farm Steading is made up of a collection of stone buildings arranged around a central square courtyard which has a three-sided veranda. The buildings include a residence, another domestic building - possibly former servants' quarters, a cow byre, dairy and stables (now all used for storage).

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The story of the Mathieson's farm is a significant element in the history of European settlement and the early industries on the Otago Peninsula. The historical significance relates to the story of new immigrants and the transposition of technologies and experience of farming from Scottish antecedents to the new environment of Otago. In relation to the history of the dairying industry in Otago, it provides an illustration of the development of that industry, relating to the wider industry in the area which saw the first cooperative cheese factory in New Zealand at nearby Springfield. The steading is a reminder of the industry at its height on the Peninsula, before it farmers turned away from dairying with the mid- twentieth century wool boom. The steading has remarkable continuity of ownership, still owned by the descendants of the builder Alexander Mathieson.

Archaeologically the site has potential to provide information about small farmsteads and early dairying on Otago Peninsula, a relatively unstudied aspect of Otago's history.

Architecturally this collection of buildings is an outstanding example of a farm steading based on Scottish/English farm building types transposed to a New Zealand setting. Hailed at the time of building as unsurpassed in the country for the facilities it offered, it is one of the most complete examples of its architectural type. It illustrates the stonemason's skill and the relationship of form to function in both through its design and layout. The steading has technological significance in its method of construction, and also through its illustration of the technologies associated with dairying during the later nineteenth century.

The site has traditional significance relating to a building type and land usage which echoes the building traditions and farming methods of Scotland, transposed to New Zealand by immigrant settlers.

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

The Mathiesons Farm Steading represents the experience of immigrant settlers in the history of New Zealand, and particularly Otago, showing the transposition of ideas and practices from their home country to a new environment. The Steading also illustrates the development of the local dairy industry.

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

The Steading has potential to provide knowledge about New Zealand history, through discussion about farming practices and ideas in New Zealand's history and its relationship to older British traditions, both as an discrete site and as one of a number of such farm steadings in Otago.

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

The design of the steading is an important representation of farming practices, and the variety of buildings associated with the dairying industry. In its stone work, layout and design it is an outstanding example of the Scottish stonemason's craft transplanted to the New Zealand environment.

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

Farm steadings are relatively rare building types in New Zealand, with Geoffrey Thornton mentioning four such groupings, They have a particular association with Otago because of the Scottish settlers' experience in with this type of farming, which they brought to New Zealand. The Mathieson's Farm Steading is an outstanding example of this type of design. As farm technologies change, such intact sites become increasingly important examples of past farming practices, histories and building types.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

Mathiesons Farm Steading forms part of the wider historical and cultural landscape of the Otago Peninsula, which is noted for its distinctive buildings (including the nearby NZHPT registered Springfield, and Smaills Homestead and outbuildings, and the unregistered Seal Point Steading), and small farms with their associated stone walling.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mathieson, Alexander

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Mathieson, Alexander

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Mathieson, Alexander

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Mathieson, Alexander

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Alexander Mathieson (c.1830s-1907) came from a Midcalder farming family, a place south-west of Edinburgh. He trained as an engineer, and in 1854 set out with his new wife for Otago. They stopped off at Melbourne on the way to service sawmilling machinery manufactured by his former employers, and were attracted to the Australian goldfields. Meanwhile his brother John, encouraged by James Adam, an immigration agent working to encourage Scottish immigrants to Otago, arrived in the Province in 1858, dairying at Grant Braes, at the city end of the Peninsula.

Alexander and Sarah Mathieson arrived in Otago at Christmas 1859. For a while they lived with John and family, before taking up land on the north-eastern shore of Tomahawk lagoon, to clear bush and begin dairying on their own account. In spring 1861 Alexander tried his hand on the Tuapeka and Shotover goldfields, earning sufficient money to expand his land holdings at Tomahawk. John Mathieson, meanwhile, established his own household at Springfield (Category I historic place, No. 4715), nearby on Highcliff Road, and was involved in establishing the New Zealand's first cooperative cheese factory there.

Title to the just over fifty acres taken up by Mathieson, which included the land on which the steading was later built, was issued to him on 28 August 1871. The land had been granted originally to Francis Laing of Tomahawk Valley, on 17 February 1864 (OT1/127).

Alexander Mathieson took 10 years to build the complex. He quarried the bluestone on his own land and built a farm complex, including the 10-roomed house. The steading was famous for its up-to-date methods, and was described in the Otago Witness of 1 April 1882 as "well worth a visit." According to Geoffrey Thornton, Alexander Mathieson built his Everton Homestead on Centre Road, and nearby to it a very large complex of masonry buildings which consisted of a dwelling house, cow byre, wash-house, dairy, men's quarters, milk-cooling room, hay barn, chaff house and harness rooms in 1882.

On its completion it was noted by the Otago Witness as the most complete set of farm buildings on the Peninsula, an area noted for its agricultural and dairy production. The cow byre was "particularly commodious and convenient...with few equals in the colony." It was capable of housing seventy cattle. The byre contained stalls capable of holding two head of cattle, with a manger between the stalls and the main wall. It had loft for hay above, from which fodder could be forked into the manger. Separate from the byre there was a boiler-room, from which, by means of the tramway, steamed food was available for the cattle. The milk was kept cool in a water-chilled cooler, and conveyed to the city for town supply. Following milking a dung truck followed the tramway, and workers collected the manure, where it was stored in a brick tank, before being spread on the fields. The steading was considered a model farm where "dairy farmers contemplating building new premises would discover improvements well worthy of their attention."

Alexander Mathieson was a founding member and deacon of the Andersons Bay Presbyterian Church. Alexander Mathieson died in 1907 and was buried at Andersons Bay Cemetery. His wife Sarah died in 1909.

Son John Mathieson took over the title to the farm in October 1892 (OT18/144; OT94/201). On John Mathieson's death in 1925, the property was administered by the Perpetual Trustees Estate and Agency and Company, until property transferred to Robert Mathieson in 1945 (OT94/201;OT317/162), carrying on the dairying business.

In the 1940s three milk tankers collected milk from over 90 farms on the Peninsula. By the 1950s many farmers were turning to wool, with the industry boom of that decade.

Robert Mathieson transferred the farm to Fergus Mathieson in December 1959. Robert Mathieson continued to live nearby, further towards the Ocean Grove end of Centre Road. Robert Mathieson was a dairy farmer for over fifty years, and until the zoning system came into effect, also delivered milk. He used to rise at 3 a.m., put in three hours milking, and then go on his rounds, measuring out quarts and pints until he ran out of milk. He was also said to have bought the first tractor on the peninsula. Fergus Mathieson also continued to dairy farm.

Dairy farming on the Peninsula has declined in later years. By 1975 there were only 6 operating dairy farms left on the Peninsula. In 1991 only 2 remained.

The property was transferred to Warren Mathieson in December 1993. The farm remains in the Mathieson family.

Physical Description

The Steading is made up of a collection of stone buildings (primarily bluestone) arranged around a central square courtyard which has a three-sided veranda. The buildings include a residence, another domestic building - possibly former servants' quarters, a cow byre, dairy and stables.

Origins of the Building Type

In British antecedents design related primarily to function, tradition and available building materials - where stock needed to be sheltered from the weather, and activities were brought under cover, and where increasingly specialised buildings were built for specialised functions, often arranged around a farmyard which served as the hub of farming activities. In addition the arrangement of buildings was reflected the connection between functions, and to enable ease of access between homestead and main buildings, with the farmyard a crucial element in the steading. This is a tradition followed with the Mathieson Farm Steading, rather than the Australian model which had a more spread out arrangement of buildings.

In Scotland, Alexander Mathieson's home country, the majority of traditional farmsteads date from the early nineteenth century as changes in agricultural practice and animal husbandry resulted in the extensive development and improvement of farm steadings. These reflected the diversity of farming types, building materials and construction methods. In the mid-twentieth century, again as a result in changes to the industry, steadings fell into disrepair, were insensitively adapted or demolished. Few survived that were relatively intact.

Old farm buildings are a way of unfolding local history, especially if the buildings have had several changes of use. The rural heritage of such buildings is very real. Each has individual character by virtue of its form, arising out of the construction materials. The antecedents of such buildings are often found in Britain. Early immigrant farmers thought it necessary to protect their stock (as was the practice in Britain) and hence farm steadings were created, where buidings to house animals with several allied structures are built around a large enclosed yard.

Dairy farms were small compared to sheep runs, and the buildings were nearly always modest and of basic design. As New Zealand was founded on agrarianism old farm buildings have become a memorial to early colonial memory. Geoffrey Thornton notes that such buildings have their own characteristics and form an important element in the humanising and transforming of the landscape, and that "their different functions imposed essential practical forms on each so that, with very few exceptions, they still demonstrate a fitness for purpose which also reflects an impression of good design."


The one-and-a-half-storey single-gable stone house faces the road, and backs onto the courtyard. The ground floor has two symmetrically placed single-pane double-hung sash windows to the street front, with a recessed central door with arched fanlight over. The recessed porch is lined with squares of dressed stone. The same motif has been applied to the windows and sills, and the corners of the house. The first floor street front has two gabled dormer windows. The interior woodwork was built by Alexander Mathieson, although some of the interior has been modernised.

The rear of the house has a veranda to the courtyard, which extends down one side of the yard. On the left is a wash house, which used to house the old range on which farmhands' meals were cooked. Part of the floor is paved. Adjoining this room was the dairy. Here milk from the cows was set in pans. The cream was skimmed with an old hand skimmer, and an old barrel churn was used to convert it to butter. With wooden pats the butter was wrapped into 1lb. pats and sent to various shops in Dunedin.

The rear of the house and the farm buildings form a nearly enclosed four-sided courtyard. On one side is a wing of part storage and part domestic buildings, on the other a domestic building (possibly former servants quarters), joined to a large, long cow byre. The final side of the courtyard is made up of the whitewashed dairy, with internal staircase to the hayloft, and the stables with harness and storage room, and eight-stall stables and coach house.

The byre had eighty stalls and was unusual in that it had a tramline running down the full length of the middle with wagons. It was said to have been used to distribute the prepared feed from a stock food processing copper at one end, and to transport vessels containing milk. Fodder for the animals was stored in a loft above the byre. The cow byre was partly paved with brick-sized squared stone. Feed was delivered by means of chutes from the loft to the continuous passage way and mangers. The number of stalls was reduced to eighty when provision was made for a mechanical milking plant. Evenly spaced down the length of the building are air vents, with the apertures on the outside resembling slits in the stone wall. At one end there was a loading bay and beyond this workers accommodation. By any standards this was an exceptional building and for a period it was greatly admired.


The British/Scottish farmstead provided a central group of buildings adjacent to the farmhouse, and included workshops, dairy, cow byre, barn, granary, and implement shed. Stone was predominant in Scotland, and was considered appropriate in New Zealand - Mathiesons is an outstanding example of a central arrangement of stone buildings with interrelated functions.

The NZHPT has 2 groupings of farm buildings registered as steadings: Abbotsford near Dunedin, and Kinross, near Queenstown. The Abbotsford Farm Steading, a large concrete complex of buildings has recently been re-presented to the NZHPT as a proposed Category I historic place. Kinross Farm Steading (No.7240, Category II) has been modified.

Geoffrey Thornton notes four farm steadings in the country, all illustrating the way the British/Scottish practice was transplanted to southern New Zealand. He notes: Hakataramea Downs (Stone Homestead, Category II, No. 7428), Abbotsford Farm Steading (noted above), Seal Point Road on the Otago Peninsula (not registered, brick) and Three Springs in Canterbury (Stone Shed, incl. Stables, Bunk/Cookhouse, No.1969, Category II).

Of the Steadings, Geoffrey Thornton describes the Mathiesons Farm Steading as the most remarkable in the country.

Notable Features

The mature macrocarpa trees surrounding the farm staading add significant landscape values to the site.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1870 - 1882

Corrugated cladding to rear building transecting cow byre.

Interior wall adjoining tramlines altered No other significant modifications.

Construction Details

The Steading is constructed of bluestone, the majority of which was quarried nearby on the Otago Peninsula. The facing stone for the house was brought from Port Chalmers. The stonework on the house is squared rubble brought to course with contrasting pointing and stone quoins. It has a corrugated iron roof. The stonework of house is pointed in cement, while the rest of the buildings were pointed with lime mortar. The stone work of the farm buildings is less decoratively finished, and has random rather than squared rubble. The stone walls vary between 1ft (30 cm) and 18 (45 cm) inches thick.

Completion Date

28th January 2005

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Davey, 2001

Andy Davey, The Conversion of Redundant Farm Steadings to Other Uses, Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, Edinburgh, 2001

Griffiths, 1973

George Griffiths (ed), The Advance Guard: Series One, Otago Daily Times, Dunedin, 1973

Angus, Janet, 'John Mathieson of Springfield - The Emigrant Farmer'

Knight, 1979

Hardwicke Knight, Otago Peninsula, Broad Bay, Dunedin, 1979

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

Otago Daily Times

Otago Daily Times

13 October 1956

Otago Witness

Otago Witness

1 April 1882, p.7

Thornton, 1986

Geoffrey Thornton, The New Zealand Heritage of Farm Buildings, Auckland, 1986

Thornton, 1982

Geoffrey G. Thornton, New Zealand's Industrial Heritage, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1982

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern 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.