Moa Flat Downs Station Buildings

976 Moa Flat Road, Moa Flat, Otago

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7625 Date Entered 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes part of the land in certificate of title OT14A/1104 and the buildings (cottage, cookshop/mens quarters, stables, blacksmiths shop and woolshed ramp), and the fixtures and fittings thereon.

City/District Council

Central Otago District


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 5 Blk I Wart Hill SD (CT OT14A/1104)

Location description

Moa Flat Downs Station Buildings are about 11 kilometres from Ettrick on the right hand side of Moa Flat-Ettrick Road, just past owner Karl Devereux's home, and his son Boyd's houses.


Moa Flat Downs Station has had an eventful history associated with the Chalmers brothers, significant figures in regional history, as well as the subsequent dealings of the wealthy Melbourne land magnate Big Clarke and the Otago Provincial Government.

The station buildings (blacksmith's shop, stables, cookshop/men's quarters, and farm cottage) are all associated with the first years of settlement of the large station holding and formed an integral part of the station infrastructure during the nineteenth century, when stations needed to be self sufficient to a large extent and to cater for and house large numbers of seasonal workers. In this respect, the Moa Flat Downs buildings are representative of a way of life and a pastoral history that is now much altered.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Moa Flat Downs Station buildings are significant in the history of station buildings of Central Otago, dating from c.1880s. Moa Flat Station itself is significant in the history of the area, being one of the large early runs taken up by the first European settlers in the late 1850s-early 1860s. Hence the station is integrally important in the history of Central Otago pastoralism. The station also has a history of changing land tenure that is associated with the history of the Otago Provincial Government and some of its more dubious dealings with Melbourne-based businessman and landowner Big Clarke, as well as an association with the Chalmers brothers, of some local significance.

These farm buildings are significant for their vernacular architectural style, while the cookshop and men's quarters would once have been a large impressive structure. They are constructed from a range of materials - weatherboard, schist, and corrugated iron, each of which holds an important place as a building material in New Zealand's history. They form a significant complex of buildings because many similar structures, dating to the same era, have since been demolished or otherwise lost.

While there are no recorded archaeological sites in the area, the buildings and their surroundings do have archaeological values due to the age of the structures. This is particularly evident in the case of the cookshop and men's quarters, now approaching a ruined state. This building once had other structures standing around it, and archaeological evidence of these can be expected to remain. The same archaeological values apply to the other buildings, the stables, cottage and blacksmith's shop to some extent.

The buildings demonstrate cultural significance in their association with the history of pastoralism and early methods of farming in the region.

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

The Moa Flat Downs Station buildings are representative of New Zealand's history as they are integrally associated with the first European settlement of this pastoral run and the history of pastoralism. The history of Moa Flat Downs is also significant for its illustration of the land dealings between Big Clarke and the Chalmers Brothers, as well as between Clarke and the Provincial Government. It is illustrative of the financial activities of that period.

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

The Chalmers brothers, in particular Nathanael, hold a place in the history of Otago and Southland. Nathanael Chalmers is noted as the first European to see Lake Wakatipu. While these men may not hold a place in national history they are significant in regional history. Moa Flat Downs is also significant for its association with Melbourne-based businessman Big Clarke.

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

The Moa Flat Downs Station buildings have the potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand history in their demonstration of the infrastructure associated with early land holdings and methods of farming. Buildings such as stables were required to house horses needed for farm labour in an age predating mechanisation, the cookshop & men's quarters was required to cater for and house a large seasonal work force, and the shearers' quarters were constructed to house the shearers working seasonally in the woolshed.

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

The Moa Flat Downs Station buildings are known to date to the first years of European occupation of the area, and are associated with the first lease of this pastoral run. In this respect, the buildings are known to date from the early (first) period of European settlement.

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

The Moa Flat Downs Station buildings form one of a limited number of such farm station complexes in Central Otago. As this type of farm infrastructure is regionally distinctive it constitutes a rare historic place.

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

The Moa Flat Downs Station building complex shares characteristics with a limited number of other such station buildings scattered throughout the Central Otago landscape. In this manner, Moa Flat Downs constitutes a significant part of the wider historical and cultural landscape of pastoralism in the region.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The history of large sheep runs such as Moa Flat Downs dates to the early years of European settlement of Otago. Following the establishment of Dunedin in 1848, the Waste Lands Board was set up in 1853 to allocate pastoral runs in the country outside the Otago Block. Many of these blocks were located in Central Otago, with those exploring this new country often applying for the first leases. After the leases were granted, freehold title to a homestead block, known as a pre-emptive right, was also granted. Most run holders stocked their land with sheep, although a few also ran cattle. Sheep were brought into Southland and Otago ports from 1853 onwards; others drove flocks south from Nelson, Marlborough and Canterbury although this was a difficult trek through country with many rivers and no bridges. Poisonous tutu and wild dogs also took a heavy toll on flocks with numbers much reduced by the time they reached their destinations.

Moa Flat Downs was the central run of the original Moa Flat Station, which historically dominated the country between the Umbrella Range and the Clutha River. As a central part of this large station, the complex of buildings occupies an important place in the history of the region, and in the history of the development of pastoralism and the farming industry nationally. Historian J. H. Beattie considered the history of this run "one of the most eventful and changeful in the annals of Otago squatterdom." Other land was formerly incorporated into this extensive run.

Brothers Gerit Alexander and Nathanael Chalmers arrived in Dunedin in 1848, the year the city was first established, Nathanael then aged only eighteen and his brother four years older. They took up land that their father had pre-purchased for them in the Clutha district near the present-day town of Balclutha in South Otago, and spent some time exploring this country and neighbouring Southland. In 1852 they followed the gold rush to Victoria. After little success, Gerit Alexander remained in Melbourne, where he worked as a banker, while Nathanael returned to Otago with the first shipment of sheep destined for Southland. Nathanael Chalmers then travelled with a Maori guide, Reko, through the Central Otago district and became the first European, according to Beattie, to see the Wakatipu district.

In 1857 Gerit Alexander returned to New Zealand from Melbourne and a third brother, Dr. Charles Bonnor Chalmers, arrived from the Punjab where he had been inspector-general of hospitals. Alexander and Charles took up Runs 215, 253 and 268 in partnership with John McHaffie, with Gerit Alexander Chalmers receiving £500 per year as manager. Nathanael Chalmers remained on his land near Balclutha, and was not initially involved in Moa Flat Downs.

After securing a lease on the runs, Alexander and Charles travelled to Melbourne to find financial support to purchase stock for their runs. They arrived back at Port Molyneux (Clutha River mouth) in April 1858 with 2,000 young merinos purchased with a mortgage from the wealthy Melbourne squatter W.J. T. ("Big") Clarke (1801?-1874).

Big Clarke is a notable figure in the history of pastoralism in both Tasmania and Victoria. English-born William John Turner Clarke emigrated with his wife Eliza (nee Dowling) to Tasmania in 1829, making his fortune lending money to local gentry. He purchased large land holdings, and in addition controlled a good deal of property between Hobart and Launceston. He shifted to Melbourne in the 1830s, purchasing around 67,000 acres of land, and dispossessing nine squatters in the process, settling at Sunbury, outside Melbourne. He had three sons, who inherited his substantial estates in Melbourne, New Zealand and Tasmania on his death in 1874.

Disastrous losses followed. About fifty sheep were drowned when the boat was swamped during landing at the river mouth; further losses occurred during the long drive to the runs from tutu poisoning and the depredations of wild dogs, while others were smothered after the flock became jammed in a narrow pass. By the time they got to Moa Flat, only about half the flock remained. According to Sinclair, despite these losses, the Moa Flat run prospered and in 1863 the Chalmers brothers bought out McHaffie for £16,000, minus his half-share of debts due. Clarke, however, tells a slightly different story, stating that in 1863 Charles Chalmers approached Big Clarke for a loan of £20,000, on which Clarke charged 20% interest. The Chalmers brothers used £16,000 of the loan to buy out McHaffie and the remaining £4,000 to buy the merinos with which the station was first stocked, five years later than the date Sinclair gives for this event.

In 1864 Nathanael Chalmers joined his two brothers on Moa Flat Station, but it is not clear whether he had a financial interest in it. Three years later Big Clarke was in Otago visiting the Moa Flat run, where outbreaks of scab and severe snowstorms brought about heavy stock losses. The financial losses were exacerbated by economic depression; the Chalmers were no longer able to meet interest repayments and by the end of the decade Big Clarke effectively foreclosed on his mortgage on the property and took over the holding. In November 1868 the Otago Government cancelled the Crown lease to the Chalmers and re-issued this to Clarke, according to Clarke in the name of Big Clarke's eldest son, also W.J. (Will) Clarke.

Three years later, in 1871, the Provincial Government was under some financial pressure, with the Bank of New Zealand threatening to foreclose on the Government's large overdraft. As a solution, the Government offered to freehold 50,000 acres of the Moa Flat run to Clarke to ease its liquidity problems, working through William Larnach, Clarke's Otago agent. After Machiavellian dealings, the deal went through, to much outcry and protest from the Otago settlers. Clarke paid less than 15/- per acre for land for which the legal minimum price was £1 per acre and Larnach received £455 in commission; Clarke's purchase included fertile river flats which had previously been surveyed by the Government for small farm holdings. Clarke also purchased a further 17,000 freehold acres of the Teviot station, with both this run and Moa Flat held in Joseph Clarke's name, Big Clarke's youngest son.

After Clarke's foreclosure on the Moa Flat mortgage the Chalmers brothers left New Zealand, Charles returning to medical duties in India, Gerit Alexander to banking in Melbourne, and Nathanel to Fiji, where he ran a cotton plantation. Subsequently, after Alexander challenged Clarke's actions, Clarke was forced to pay the Chalmers £55,000 in compensation for his rather ruthless dealings with them.

These events, detailed clearly in Clarke's publication, are also documented in the Land Information New Zealand records. A search of LINZ archives produced a copy of the 1872 grant from the Otago Waste Lands Board to "Joseph Clarke of Mandeville in the Colony of Tasmania Gentleman" for 29,000 acres at Moa Flat. While the property was in Joseph Clarke's name, it was managed by John Fry Kitching (also known as Kitchen). More land was acquired until Moa Flat Station consisted of approximately 200,000 hectares and was some 100 kilometres wide. Merinos continued to be bred here following the arrival of the first flock. The farm prospered under Kitching's management and in the 1870s he formed a syndicate to lease the property from the Clarkes, but again after a financial disaster following severe winter losses in 1878, during which the first woolshed structure collapsed, the Clarke sons cancelled the lease and took possession. Their father, Clarke senior, had died in 1874.

Following Will Clarke's (eldest son of Big Clarke) death in 1897, the Colonial Bank of Australasia continued to run the property as mortgagees until they sold it to the Moa Flat Estate Company in 1905. At this time the run consisted of about 64,500 acres of freehold land and 93,600 acres of leasehold land. The new owners then surveyed and subdivided this extensive holding into about thirty smaller properties and so estates such as Moa Flat Downs, Wilden and Island Block came into existence.

In 1906, Benjamin Throp, formerly a Dunedin dentist, purchased Moa Flat Downs, which included the complex of buildings noted here, and expanded his holdings. In 1947 after Throp's death, the station was taken over by the then Lands and Survey Department. This department became Landcorp following the economic restructuring of the 1980s, and in 1982 the station was leased to Maitland Todd. Karl Devereux, who spent much of his early life in the district, worked for Maitland Todd from about the age of twenty, and went into partnership with him in the 1970s. In 1982 an agreement was made between Landcorp and Frederick (known as Karl) Devereux for the purchase of Moa Flat Downs (2854.66 hectares), and it was freeholded to him in 1996. Moa Flat Downs has been owned by a limited company named Moa Flat Downs since 2002, with the company directors being Karl Devereux and his son Stewart (known as Boyd) Devereux.

Physical Description

The buildings in this registration proposal form part of the complex of farm buildings still standing on the Moa Flat Downs Station (Run 215) and consist of the stables, blacksmith's shop, farm cottage, and cookhouse and men's quarters. The original homestead for Moa Flat Downs is now located on the neighbouring Dunrobin Station, subdivided off the original station title. These buildings date from the first occupation of the farm and formed the infrastructure essential to its day-to-day functioning in the nineteenth century.

Archives held in the Hocken Library contain a notebook likely to have been kept by an unnamed carpenter working on the station in late 1863/early 1864. He gives quantities of timber brought in to the station for buildings, carted principally by "Joe Shirlan." The woolshed is amongst the buildings he records wooden boards being obtained for, as well as the house, a moveable hut, and a small stables building.

While part of the complex, the woolshed is not included in the registration proposal, but the history of this building should be noted here as it demonstrates some of the difficulties the station owners faced. Thornton states that the woolshed was both a shearing shed and a structure for storing wool. The design followed that common in Australia, with three basic areas: pens for holding sheep, the shearing board, where shearers cut the wool with hand blades, and the wool room where fleeces were sorted, classed and pressed into bales, then stored until they were carted to the nearest port. Sheep pen floors were built of slatted timber, about a metre from the ground to allow sheep droppings to fall through and the area to be cleaned out from time to time.

The original wooden woolshed was constructed in 1855 but was replaced in stone after a fire. The replacement, 320 ft x 70 ft (97.5 by 21.3m) was one of the largest woolsheds in the country at the time.

The stone ramp into the woolshed, still standing and included in the registration, was built for access to the second building. This ramp is built from schist slabs with vertical capping stones, and grades up to a height of about three metres and now stands about 30 metres back from the end of the woolshed. About one third of the second structure collapsed under the big snow fall of 1878. The woolshed was rebuilt in stone during the 1880s with an arched corrugated iron roof supported by curved iron girders standing on wooden posts. This rebuilt woolshed also collapsed under heavy snow in 1961 and was again reconstructed. A small portion, about 24 ft (7m), remains of the c.1880 structure along with two of the old iron girders.

Blacksmiths Shop

This is a rectangular plan single-storey timber-framed corrugated iron building with a hipped roof. It has two large doors (one with a flat-topped 'dormer' above), one small door and two small windows on the northern wall. It still contains the bellows, forge and anvil. The blacksmith, working from this shop would have performed some of the essential functions of the station run, shoeing horses and constructing other metal items such as nails from wrought iron. Gates still in use on the property in the 1980s were constructed wholly from wrought iron worked by the local blacksmith; an example is illustrated in Thornton.

Farm cottage

Although formerly noted as a farm cottage, on visiting it, it was apparent that this was constructed as shearers' quarters due to internal layout and fittings, for example the row of wash basins in the porch. This is a small, square wooden cottage with four-light paired double-hung sash windows on the north elevation, and three-light paired double-hung sash windows side elevation. It is situated overlooking the woolshed. It is in a state of disrepair, and has not been occupied for some time.

Cookshop/Mens Quarters

Thornton states that this is one of the largest of all men's quarters combined with a cookshop still in existence. Even in its current derelict state, it is an impressive structure. It is a two-storey structure with a hipped corrugated iron roof (with two ventilators on the ridge line), constructed of stone with a plaster-render finish.

The cookshop and dining room were on the ground floor with the whole upper storey used as one large dormitory, reached from an outside stairway (on the south elevation). The large coal range is still in the kitchen, which has a hatch way to manager's room. The manager's room also has a smaller coal range, an early twentieth century addition according to Karl Devereux. Outside the kitchen, the brick remains of a large bread oven can be seen.

Some decades ago a tree fell through the roof in a storm. Since this time the building has been in a state of disrepair, and is now quite derelict, although the upper floor is still just accessible. During the time Maitland Todd held the lease on the station, the Todd family lived in a small building adjacent to the cookshop and men's quarters (no longer standing).

Single men's quarters, often combined with a cookshop as is the case here, performed an essential function in the early days of large farm runs, housing the sometimes large numbers of men who worked on the stations. According to Thornton, "it was the custom for station staff to have their own quarters, sometimes located at a considerable distance from the homestead or 'big house.'" These buildings, along with shearers' quarters, were usually located in separate blocks; sometimes there were separate cottages for the cook and married staff. In some cases conditions in the men's quarters could be rather rough and uncomfortable. Thornton points out that these often basic structures could at times house up to 100 men, who ate at plank tables running lengthwise, seated on forms. Basic rations were usually monotonous, consisting of mutton, potatoes, bread and tea.

The Stable

The stable is a single-storey building with a shallow hipped roof. On one side there is a lean-to for a six-bay implement shed that is a later stone addition, with the stone end walls carefully matched to the original structure. The roof has a row of five galvanised iron conical ventilators along the ridge. Inside there are four loose boxes and eleven stalls, and a small harness room between two of the loose boxes. The floor is paved with large schist slabs and the double stalls are brick paved. The stables are built on a large scale, with sizeable stalls and central floor between the two rows of stalls.

The stables played an important role from the beginning of the development of pastoralism in the region, when horses were used for a number of essential tasks. In addition to ploughing they were necessary for mustering and also as a means of transport, both for riding and for drawing a number of different farm vehicles such as the buggy and carriage, as well as the hay wagon and farm dray. Horses such as shires and Clydesdales worked in teams of as many as eight horses drawing wagons, drays and other equipment; all these horses, as well as racing stock required suitable stabling, where they were fed, groomed, harnessed and sheltered.

Notable Features

Blacksmith's shop, stables, cookshop/men's quarters, farm cottage, ramp to former woolshed.

Note the woolshed, which has been partially rebuilt in 1878 and in 1961 after it collapsed in heavy snow, and has not been included in the registration.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
- 1880
Cook shop/ Men's' quarters.

Original Construction
- 1880

Construction Details

Woolshed Ramp - Schist.

Stables - Schist (random rubble brought to course) with a corrugated iron roof.

Cookshop / Mens Quarters - Stone construction with rendered plaster finish, corrugated iron roof.

Blacksmiths Shop - Corrugated iron with timber framing.

Farm Cottage - Weatherboard and corrugated iron.

Public NZAA Number


Information Sources

Beattie, 1979

JH Beattie, The Southern Runs, Gore Historical Society, Invercargill, 1979

Clarke, 1980

M. Clarke, 'Big Clarke', Queensberry Hill Press, Victoria, 1980

Hamel, 1989

J. Hamel, 'Historic & Archaeological Sites in the Umbrella District', Unpublished Research Paper (on file Moa Flat Station Buildings, Otago/Southland Area Office), 1989

Mackay, 1965

C.C. Mackay and D.H. Boyd (eds) Farming at Moa Flat, Moa Flat Young Farmers Club, 1965

Olssen, 1984

Erik Olssen, A History of Otago, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1984

Thornton, 1986

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

Griffiths, 1974

G J Griffiths (ed), The Advance Guard, Series 3, Otago Daily Times, Dunedin, 1974

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.