Tomanovitch Cottage

Rafters Road, Gibbston, Kawarau Valley

  • Tomanovitch Cottage.
    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 7595 Date Entered 14th April 2005


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes the land in certificate of title OT15B/296, and the building and orchard thereon. The registration includes only the building and its orchard (noted on the site plan as 'Orchard Zone' in Appendix 2), known as Tomanovitch Cottage, and not the adjacent modern dwelling.

City/District Council

Queenstown-Lakes District


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 40 Blk V Kawarau SD (CT OT15B/296), Otago Land District

Location description

Rafters Road is a private access road used by rafters to reach the banks of the steep-sided Kawarau River. Rafters Road is off the main highway on the right, some 200m before Coal Pit Road traveling towards Queenstown. Tomanovitch Cottage is on the right side of Rafters Road after it drops off the edge of the river terrace.


Tomanovitch Cottage is a single-roomed mud brick building constructed by Pietro Tomanovitch dating from the late 1860s gold mining period of Otago's history. Its small scale and simple construction methods provide an illustration of the kind of dwellings built by solitary miners during this period. The cottage is unusual because it was occupied by its owner for a nearly fifty year period, with its orchard illustrating his long term occupation. The story of Pietro Tomanovitch's life is one of a sojourner who settled, but whose life is typical of the bachelor miners who turned to other land-based occupations, and made a significant contribution to the local community - in this case through his involvement in orcharding and the grafting of fruit trees. His own orchard, still extant, is a reminder of this contribution to the Gibbston area. With the creeping vines of the wine industry stretching through the Gibbston Valley and beyond, and adding a new layer to the landscape, survivors such as Tomanovitch's cottage are important elements of the earlier historical landscape associated with the goldfields.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Tomanovitch's cottage is associated with the transition from gold mining to settled farming in the Wakatipu Basin. Pieter Tomanovitch came as a miner and settled into an agricultural life as gold field returns declined. His small house is an important reminder of the lives of bachelor miners, whose experiences were an integral part of gold fields life, and whose lives are part of the legend of the gold fields, but whose lives have been largely invisible and untold, and the remnants of their physical existence often transient. This cottage is a rare surviving example of the primitive accommodation used by the miners.

Tomanovitch's Cottage is a good example of a simple mud brick abode. The construction shows both skill and care, for example, in the carefully rounded corners on both the inside and outside of the door. The use of building material (earth) is particularly interesting in an area where houses were generally built of either stone or timber. The cottage is unmodified, (and is unlikely to be modified), and is therefore an important representative of one-room earthen dwellings.

Very few miner's huts or cottages which dating from this period have survived as well as this particular example. This is probably because few were lived in for as long as this cottage, (at least 60 years), and few were lucky enough to have had 'one careful owner' for fifty years, as this one did with Pietro Tomanovitch. There is also an important connection between the cottage itself and the orchard which Tomanovitch created and trees he spread throughout the Gibbston District.

Tomanovitch Cottage has cultural significance. It represents the life of the solitary member of the Dalmatian community in goldfields Otago. There is thought to be no other known built heritage associated with that community in the area, so the Cottage stands out as a representing an early migrant from that community, representing the cultural spectrum in New Zealand's history.

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

As the home of a Dalmatian immigrant, Tomanovitch's cottage is representative of a wider historical event. Prior to the Dalmatian migration to Northland in the late nineteenth century a number of Dalmatians came to New Zealand during the gold rush years (1861-1870). Many of these miners, who had come via Australia, traveled to the Wakatipu goldfields although few settled. Those that did lived a relatively lonely life, perhaps cut off by language difficulties (although there is no evidence that Tomanovitch had this problem) and almost certainly finding it difficult to marry. They perhaps suffered some persecution during World War One. Tomanovitch's cottage is representative of the history of Dalmatians on the gold fields of New Zealand and also of migrants from countries such as Germany, Austria, Prussia and places within Eastern Europe.

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

Pietro Tomanovitch is the only Dalmatian immigrant who settled in the Wakatipu District that we know anything about and this is thanks largely to the author Anne Cook, (Gibbston Story) who interviewed people who had been neighbours of Tomanovitch. Not only is the Cottage one of the oldest remaining buildings in Gibbston, it is also significant because it was the home of a long time and early resident of Gibbston who contributed to the development of the district, particularly with respect to the planting and grafting of fruit trees in the area.

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

Given the age and long occupation history, the site is likely to contain archaeological material which could provide further knowledge of New Zealand history.

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

Tomanovitch's cottage dates from the early days of Gibbston's settlement, built within the first decade of gold mining in the Wakatipu Basin, and it is one of the oldest remaining buildings. The only buildings estimated to be older are Wentworth Woolshed (built during the 1860s), the stone dairy and stables originally part of the Gibbston Hotel (c.1867) and possibly Rum Curries Hut, (modified stables which could have been built in the late 1860s).

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

Tomanovitch's cottage is an excellent example of a bachelor or solitary miner's cottage. In the Wakatipu there are very few intact examples of this type of basic dwelling which demonstrate the simple way that these men lived. There were many solitary miners who eked out an existence and lived in very basic homes, yet we know little about them. Their homes have generally not survived and they are difficult men to research. They often kept to themselves and, having no descendants, memories of them are less likely to have survived.

Other examples might be the buildings at Macetown, but these were generally family homes and post-date Tomanovitch's Cottage. Sam Summer's hut on the Twelve Mile near Lake Wakatipu is also a lone miner's hut but dates from a much later period (the Depression of the 1930s). Local sources could not identify any earlier sites in the area. This building in the Wakatipu so aptly shows the industry and simplicity of the life of a solitary/bachelor miner.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Pietro (Peter)Tomanovitch, the man who is thought to have built the cottage, was born in about 1835 in the Adriatic seaport of Cattaro, (located in Dalmatia/Croatia, often called Austria during the 19th century). According to his obituary he made a living on the sea before being attracted to Victoria, Australia, by stories of the gold rush. Some time during the 1860s he came to New Zealand and went initially to the West Coast gold fields. In the late 1860s or early 1870s, when he was in his mid thirties, he settled at Gibbston.

In 1872 he begins to appear on the Wakatipu District electoral roll and it would seem likely that he had built the cottage by this time. From the earliest rates books available (1884) it can be seen that Tomanovitch was paying rates on a residence area of one acre at Gibbston. Tomanovitch made a small living mining in the vicinity, crossing the Kawarau River using the chair near his neighbour, Hugh Harvey's place. He then walked downstream to the Nevis Bluff and took water from a creek locally known as Peter's Creek for his mining operations. This creek is near the Eastburn and Waitiri stations boundaries.

Tomanovitch also had an orchard on his property and apples, pears and plums tree remain along with other unidentified trees. Anne Cook in her book about Gibbston also names fig, mulberry, peach, cherry, almond and walnut trees as being in Pietro Tomanovitch's orchard. Many of the fruit trees in the Gibbston District were grafted by him. Along the western boundary of the property there is a line of large poplar trees and there are also several mature oak trees. He kept bees, which he did in the old fashioned way, with simple boxes and no frames. As well as mining and doing orchard work, Tomanovitch also occasionally worked for the Lake County Council as a labourer repairing local roads.

Pietro Tomanovitch was an accepted member of the Gibbston community and was particularly friendly with David Reid and the Enright family. He lived at Gibbston until the last few days of his life, when he was taken to Frankton Hospital with acute bronchitis. He died of heart failure at the hospital in November 1920 at the age of 86. He had lived in Gibbston continually for at least 50 years.

Pietro Tomanovitch's land was held on a mining licence. After his death, the land and cottage were leased to friend Gerald Enright and a local shepherd, Joseph Kirby. Kirby lived in the cottage and apparently was the opposite of tidy Pietro Tomanovitch, letting the hens inside and the place get untidy. Gerald Enright also lived in the cottage at one time and a Mr and Mrs Goodlet lived there from 1932-1935. It is not known when the cottage was last lived in, although it has been used by itinerant vineyard workers recently. Gerald Enright's half share of the mining lease stayed in the Enright family until 1994, while the other half changed hands several times, being sold to the present owners in 1994 also.

Physical Description

The cottage is a very simple one-room building made of mud brick with a stone base. It has a single door and window in the front and a single window at the back. The walls are about 370mm thick. There is a fireplace at the eastern end of the building. The chimney has disintegrated and is now at the same level as the roof. There is a covering of thin plaster on the outside of the cottage. The roof is of corrugated iron and is probably not original. At the edges of the roof, flat pieces of schist have been attached to the roof by wire looped through holes that have been drilled through the rock.

The western facing end wall is showing signs of erosion from the prevailing weather. There is recent damage to the mud wall at the lower left hand side of the door. The door of the building is no longer permanently attached and is sometimes found in place or sometimes left leaning against the outside of the cottage. The cottage is basically unchanged from the time it was built. Power has never been connected and there is no running water.

The interior of the cottage, although vandalised and dilapidated, shows signs that it was once a home. The floor is tongue and groove and still appears to be sound. The inside walls have a thin layer of plaster which has been covered in wallpaper. It is not known who put the wallpaper up (or when) but finding an approximate date for this style of wallpaper may give some clues. Photos of the wallpaper are included in Appendix 3. The shape of the ceiling when covered with scrim (no longer present) would have been flat with sloping sides to the walls. The fireplace has a painted timber surround.

Recent damage includes yellow paint on the eastern and southern walls and attempts to cement up cracks which have appeared near the fireplace and on the back wall. There is also the previously mentioned damage to the wall near the door (visible in the accompanying photographs).

Notable Features

Cottage and associated orchard as indicated on site plan in Appendix 2 of the Registration Report.

Construction Dates

Construction Details

Mud brick on a stone foundation

Completion Date

21st September 2004

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Cook, 1985

Anne Cook, 'Gibbston Story', Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1985

Lake Country Press

Lake Country Press

Obituary, 25 November 1920.

Lakes District Museum

Lakes District Museum, Arrowtown

Lake Council Rate books, 1884, 1923.

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

Licence for Residence Site, 1924.

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.