Stewart House (Former)

Waitepeka School Road, Waitepeka

  • Stewart House (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7660 Date Entered 30th June 2006


Extent of List Entry

The house, and that area of land bounded by the stream on the south, the fence line (c.5m from the house) on the east, by the row of gums to the west (c.10m from the house), and by a 10m curtilage on the north, being part of the land in Certificate of Title OT3A/1463.

City/District Council

Clutha District


Otago Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 9 Blk XXXVII Clutha SD (CT OT3A/1463), Otago Land District

Location description

Ten kilometres south of Balclutha


This one-and-a-half storey house is thought to have been built c.1863 for settler Donald Stewart at what was then called Puerua Bush. The house sits at the base of a small hill on Waitepeka School Road, some ten kilometres south of the small Otago township of Balclutha. The house combines post and beam construction with earth building in a carefully designed and planned dwelling. The house represents the kind of settler houses common to the first wave of Pakeha settlers, and is a transitional dwelling between the often primitive huts of initial settlement and the more permanent dwellings constructed as later residences. It is a special and rare survivor of the initial settler period, particularly in that it has never been adapted for twentieth century life.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Stewart House has historical significance as one of the earlier surviving first generation settler houses in this part of Otago. Donald Stewart and family were among the first generation of immigrants to settle this area of the Clutha District, and follows closely on the heels of the first Pakeha settlers in South Otago, who settled in the nearby Port Molyneux district in increasing numbers from around 1850. The residence is a special example of the homes that these settlers literally carved out of the bush, providing insight into the history and technologies of the early Pakeha settlement in the area. The Stewart family lived in the property for over 40 years.

The Stewart House has special architectural and technological significance. It is an illustration of first generation cottages built from local materials, and is all the more significant in that it is largely untouched. Its fragile (and partly collapsed state) tells a clear story of construction methods and materials. Its illustration of building technologies - from the transition between post and beam construction to balloon frame, to hand adzing and pit sawing and the use of bush timber, to its incorporation of "mud and stud" with these other technologies, make it outstandingly significant.

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

The Stewart House reflects both important and representative aspects of New Zealand history. In the story of South Otago the Stewart's residence reveals the life of the earliest immigrant settlers in what was then an isolated part of the country, a story repeated by many families throughout the country. Importantly the house reveals the adaptation and development of building technologies, part of New Zealand's architectural history.

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

The Stewart House is associated with the earliest settlement of the South Otago area, an important part of the history of the region.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

Through further analysis and interpretation of its history and the technologies used in its construction the Stewart House has potential to provide public education.

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

The Stewart House has outstanding significance in its illustration of the unique combination of methods used in its construction. As an untouched example of an mid-nineteenth century bush construction combined with the skill and knowledge of its builder Thomas Tolmie the house is especially important. The house is carefully designed, and uses the available materials with economy and thought.

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

The Stewart House dates from some of the earliest settlers in this part of South Otago, and is therefore important in identifying historic places known to date from early periods of settlement.

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

As a largely unmodified example of a first generation bush settler's house and one revealing unique adaptation of construction methods to local conditions, the Stewart House is important in identifying rare types of historic places.

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

A brief survey of the historic landscape of South Otago, undertaken by NZHPT staff, and a more detailed study of the landscape and history of the area, reveal a pattern of settlement and dwellings which provide insight into the wider historical landscape. The Stewart House is part of this wider story of development.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

This one-and-a-half storey house is thought to have been built c.1863 for settler Donald Stewart at what was then called Puerua Bush. The house sits at the base of a small hill on Waitepeka School Road, some ten kilometres south of the small Otago township of Balclutha. The house combines post and beam construction with earth building in a carefully designed and planned dwelling. The house represents the kind of settler houses common to the first wave of Pakeha settlers, and is a transitional dwelling between the often primitive huts of initial settlement and the more permanent dwellings constructed as later residences. It is a special and rare survivor of the initial settler period, particularly in that it has never been adapted for twentieth century life.

Maori had long occupied the area nearby to the mouth of the Clutha (Matau) River. Waterways were used as routes, as well as overland tracks. The land in south Otago was included in the purchase of the Otago Block in July 1844, and soon after Charles Kettle organised a survey of the area west of the Molyneux River including Puerua, which became known as Kettle's 1847 survey. From the mid-1840s the area was promoted in Scotland by Captain Cargill and Dr Burns. Land selections were made in the "Home Country" by intending settlers and in 1849 first Scottish settlers arrived in area, occupying the land intended to be suitable for mixed farming. Charles Kettle's second survey of 1852 saw the sections surveyed and numbered, mostly into 50 acre blocks. The only communication with the new Dunedin settlement was by open boat landing at Port Molyneux, until the coaching road reached Clutha Ferry in the 1860s, and the rails to Clutha in 1875.

The Stewart House fits into the story of early settlement in the South Otago area. Settlers first built small huts and then small houses on their land. Those with building skills were in demand: Andrew Mercer, from Dunfermline, Scotland, arrived in the Clutha in 1851; a carpenter by trade he "did a good deal of work building houses for new arrivals." Job Dabinett's first house was described as wattle and dab, thatched with rushes, containing four rooms; his second house was built of pit-sawn timber, and contained six rooms. All the furniture was hand made, shaped with axes and knives. Another carpenter William Young, who with his family took up land in 1856, also assisted in building many of the houses in the Clutha settlement. Builder Thomas Tolmie and settler Robert Sutherland built a house near Warepa in 1856. Settler William Dalgleish took up land at Waitepeka in 1862. He lived in a "sod whare" - a simple "but and ben" thatched with rushes and snow grass tussocks. A larger house of "wattle and dab", with shingle roof, and containing four rooms, two up and two down, was then built, and occupied for nearly fourteen years, when a larger residence was built. Other settlers built what they could from material available - James Robertson and son Alexander lived in a two-roomed house of slabs and clay on Totara Island in the 1850s.

Robert Campbell's description of building his house at Glenfalloch, near Kaihiku, around 1856 brings to light the general settler experience:

I began to build at once, and the dimensions of my house were: 12ft. x 12ft., 6ft. high, windows 3ft. 8in. x 2ft. 6in., door 6ft. x 2ft. 9in., and a fireplace 4ft. high, 3ft. 6in. wide, and 2ft. deep. I cut my way into the bush to get suitable trees and built the frame according to dimensions. I cut the trees up into slabs for walls, bored holes for the wall plates, using pegs instead of nails. The roof was thatched, and I nailed small wattles over the walls inside to hold the clay. I dug a hole for the clay, and cut the tussocks rather long, so that they would be long enough to roll around the wattle. This made a good plaster. The chimney was made of the same ingredients, and I managed to get some sawn timber for the floor; and when the door and window were fixed I set off to town for my wife.

Before the first sawmill was opened at Warepa Bush by Messrs Weir and Wilson, and at Romahapa by A.S. Begg around 1858-1859, timber for houses was pit sawn. The process was described thus:

The bush was first inspected, and wherever the greatest number of trees suitable for timber was found there a pit was built. This was done by cutting a scarf into two trees about twenty feet apart and about six feet from the ground; then the end of a good-sized sapling was placed in the scarf at either end, supported by two or three forked ones let into the ground, care being taken that the forks were wider than the plates (side saplings) so that they would not split. This formed one side of the pit, the other being made in a similar fashion. Two pieces of wood were then placed across the top to hold the log. Two skids or fair-sized trees were put in position to enable the tree which was to be sawn to be rolled to the top of the pit, and stays were put between the sides of the pit to prevent its collapse. Next a suitable tree was felled, cut into lengths, the bark knocked off to make it slide on roots or other obstacles, and by the aid of blocks and tackle each length was dragged to the pit. In later years this was done by bullocks; in the very early days these were not procurable.

After the log had, by much hard work, reached the pit it was rolled up the skids on to the top, leaving about six feet underneath for the pit man to work the saw. After the log had been marked with a worsted thread soaked in charcoal and the top and bottom line got perfectly plumb, a saw seven feet long was used, one man standing on top of the log and the other in the pit. The man on the top had the harder and more difficult part to perform, as he had not only to lift the saw for each stroke, and regulate the cut by allowing it to descend as lightly as possible from a light hand - otherwise the hooked teeth would catch and no progress be made - but he had to balance himself on the top of the log, no easy matter, especially when cutting through the side lines on the log. When the log had been cut in flitches or squares, it was easy to cut these into boards and scantling.

Local historian Ethel McLaren identifies the house on Waitepeka School Road as one built in the 1860s by (or for) Donald Stewart. Stewart appears on the Clutha Electoral Roll at Puerua Bush as an owner of a number of sections. The Deed Register records that in October 1863 he owned 183 acres and 3 roods in Block XXXVII (26/1058), and the Crown Grant was issued in October 1865. Donald Stewart was married to Barbara Tolmie. Barbara and Donald Stewart had four children.

The house is thought to have been built by Thomas Tolmie, brother of Barbara. According to local historian Ethel McLaren Tolmie was a builder by trade. Tolmie was from Cawdor (also spelt Cador) in Nairnshire, Scotland. He arrived at Port Chalmers on the Thomas and Henry in 1855. In 1857 he settled on a farm on what is now Tolmie Road in 1857. He and his brother John went to Gabriels Gully where they had a successful claim.

A small settlement of farmers, of which Donald Stewart was one, seems to have developed at Waitepeka, with a population sufficient to warrant the construction of a small school built nearby. An early history records the first school being built in 1868, and constructed of wattle and dab, with a W. Harrhy doing the woodwork, and James Marshall the clay work. The area developed in the "midst of a closely settled area consisting of small farm holdings and industries such as sawmills, a flaxmill, a flour mill, store and Post Office." A school teacher's residence was erected nearby in 1871, in a style common to others in the area - two-storied with dormer windows upstairs, chimneys on both ends, and another in the kitchen at the back (a similar construction to the Stewart house).

Donald Stewart died in 1895, leaving his personal estate to his wife Barbara for her life time, and his real estate (182 acres) to eldest son John on the condition that he pay £100 each to his siblings Lewis, Isabella and Ann within two years. Barbara Stewart transferred the property to John in 1896, and received an annual rental in return. She died around 1904.

In June 1908 John Stewart sold the property to Waitepeka farmer Andrew Kearney. Soon afterwards the property was transferred to Waitepeka farmer Thomas Creighton.

In 1917 Waikoikoi farmer John Forbes purchased the property, now amounting to 226 acres, for £973 10s 10p. The surrounding farm had been purchased by Balclutha man John Forbes, and he rode out every day to tend the stock and cultivate the land. Later the house was used as a hay barn.

It is possible that around this time the house was tenanted as local historian Ethel McLaren writes that the Cook family lived in the house after the Creighton family, and that around 1926 James Pickering and family lived there; none of these names appear on the title. She adds that "descendants remembered the house being warm and cosy because the rooms were small and clay was packed into the walls as insulating material."

In 2005 the house is in a fragile condition. The Forbes family continue to own the property and farm the surrounding land.

Physical Description

General Location

The house is located on Waitepeka School Road c.10 kilometres south of the South Otago town of Balclutha. It is surrounded by rolling pasture land. The only other residence visible is the former Waitepeka School and teacher's residence around 300m away on a rise to the east of the house.

Site Description

The house is 250m from Waitepeka School Road. It sits at the base of a small hill, and is built facing east. Access is via a farm gate on Waitepeka School Road across a paddock. Just inside the gate are a line of mature macrocarpas and stumps of the same, which may mark a historical driveway to the house. Other than the trees there is no clear indication of the historic access to the property.

Running about 5m in front of the house is a modern post and wire farm fence, and a modern power line, following the fence line. To the south is a modern pine plantation. To the west (rear) is a farm track going up the hill, passing alongside a small pond some 20m up the hill.

To the north are a group of exotic trees, possible fruit trees which may be a remnant of an orchard associated with the property. On the eastern side of the fence are a group of mature gums forming the outline of a square which may mark the historic boundary of a farm steading. To the north-east there is some swampy land, with a rectangle of stones on the ground which may indicate the location of some farm buildings known to been associated with the property, but which have no above ground remains.

External Features (See Plans and Elevations, pp.25-27.)

The building is a one-and-a-half-storey single-gable house with a built-in lean-to. It has two main rooms downstairs with a central hallway, two rooms upstairs, and a large space in the lean-to at the rear which shows evidence of being partitioned in the past. All the windows and doors have been removed. There are built-in chimneys at the gable ends.

The ground floor has a central doorway on the principal east elevation, flanked by symmetrically placed window openings. The first floor has three evenly spaced half dog-house dormer windows, and no other window openings.

The north and south elevation have single windows in the lean-to. The west elevation, which is in a state of partial collapse, has evidence of an external door.

The main entry is through the central front door which leads into the hallway. Once in the hall doors on either side lead to the two main rooms. On the left side of the hall a stair provides access to the first floor rooms. On the right of the hall the passage continues to the lean-to at the rear. There is partitioning under the stairs, which looks to have been a cupboard in the past. Some of the timber joinery on the stairs is painted. A line of nails and nail holes in the hall indicate that there was a dado line. Remnant wallpaper in the stairwell indicates that the upper area was papered.

Entering the left hand room, there is a fireplace on the south wall. There are built in cupboards on either side of the fireplace. The original fire surround has been removed. The walls are mud, which has crumbled in places revealing the wall structure. The walls have had several layers of covering in the past; this has largely gone. The remnants indicate that newspaper, wallpaper, and Hessian have been used as wall coverings (See images in Appendix 3). The timber TGB (tongue, groove and bead) ceilings are painted and the wallpaper colourings indicate the tones were predominantly blue and white. The room is currently used for storing straw bales, and the wooden floor is covered in several centimetres of dried compacted sheep manure.

The right hand room has a fireplace in the north elevation with a built in No. 2 Shacklock coal range. The walls are mud, but there are indications that this surface was papered in the past - again there are remnants of newspaper, and wallpaper in some places. This room has a door to the lean-to in its west wall.

Proceeding up the wooden stairs there is a dormer window on the landing on the first floor, on the east elevation of the house. The interior walls of the hall are a single board thick, finished in board and batten. The upstairs rooms both show the form of the built in chimney at the gable ends, but there are no fireplaces. The timber floors have been partially removed. These rooms too have been wallpapered in the past and the interior wall lining to the hall in both rooms have large remnants of the wall covering.

Returning downstairs, the hall has a door to the lean-to at the rear. This space runs for most of the rear of the house. A single vertical board to the right of the hallway door indicates that there was a partition wall. The ceiling on the north-west corner of the building is lined with TG and B timber. This room is the one that is also accessed from the room with the coal range. It has a window in the north elevation.

To the left of the hall doorway the ceiling height is the full height of the lean-to. The outside west wall of the building has largely is more roughly built than the front of the house, and is collapsing in places. There is evidence of an external door in the west wall of this space.

There is a partition wall, finished in board and batten at the south end of this central space in the lean-to. A door leads to what would have been a room on the south-west corner of the house. The external wall of this has collapsed entirely, but there are indications that there was a window in the south wall.


On the most basic level the house is timber-framed with walls packed with a mud and tussock mix, and roofed with Totara shingles.

The house provides an illustration of transitional building technologies, using elements of both post and beam construction (wall construction in which beams are supported by heavy posts rather than many smaller studs), and stud and plate balloon frame structures (where there is a basic structural system of two-by-fours and other small elements relying on standardised framing timbers is used). Horizontal round wood strakes are fitted between the poles/studs to retain the mud infill.

The exterior walls are around 4 inches thick, with mud and tussock infill laid in behind the batten and board cladding, and brought flush to the inside face of the exposed studs. All exterior walls, including the two gable end chimneys, are constructed with poles/studs and strakes. Timber exterior cladding provides protection against the weather. The downstairs interior walls to the gable section are similarly constructed, but the mud has been finished flush to both sides of the walls. Throughout the building the mud is the full thickness of the walls (usually 4 inches) and has had all exposed surfaces smoothed as a finished surface. The downstairs interior walls (but not the in the lean-to), are around 4 inches thick, with mud and tussock infill brought flush to the both sides of the walls.

In the gabled section of the house all studs and poles are drilled centrally to the wall line at c.8 inch centres, and fitted with horizontal Manuka (and other as yet unidentified timber) round wood strakes to hold the mud. The strakes are housed in c.1¾ inch holes bored into the studs/poles along the walls line. In the rear lean-to section of the house the strakes have been nailed to the inside face of the vertical boards.

Framing timbers (cut to general framing dimensions) are a combination of:

Round wood poles minimally adzed as required to bring to face line of walls.

Partially pit sawn timbers with one face "out of the round", often with bark still extant.

Partially pit sawn and roughly adzed timbers.

Fully pit sawn timbers.

Combination of pit sawn and adzed timbers, with exposed faces hand planed to a smooth finish.

The studs/posts are typically found only at primary locations: at corners and at either side of door and window openings. Corner studs and those at the fireplace and chimneys are made from poles. Studs at door and window openings are hand dressed square and smooth. Studs in intermediate locations in walls are a combination of poles and pit sawn timber usually 4 by 4 inch, with exposed faces adzed and hand planed smooth. The walls are diagonally braced.

There is remnant evidence of a small, possibly later lean-to addition on the north gable end wall and an internal partition of indeterminate period in the rear lean-to, both of which have been removed.


The house, including the chimneys, is clad with vertical batten and board, all with pit sawn exposed faces. The battens are fully pit sawn, about 2½ inches wide by ⅝ inch thick. The boards are typically 12 inches wide. They are either fully pit sawn on both sides and edges, and about one and one half inches thick; or flitches (part round slabs of timber from a tree trunk) with a pit sawn exposed face, with the boards trenched on the rough back surface over nogs (horizontal framing timber), so as to bring boards true to line on the exposed outer face.

Cladding above what was the front veranda consists of 4-7 inch wide pit sawn boards fixed horizontally with flush face, and bevelled top and bottom to shed water. Remnants of a galvanised iron apron-flashing to the former veranda roof are still in situ under the bottom board.

The roof and the side walls of the dormers are clad split totara shingles in the order of 3 inches wide by 16 inches long, fixed to 3 inch x 15/16th inch pit sawn battens at 5 inch centres.

Interior: Materials and Finishes


The two interior passage walls to upstairs landing feature hand-planed vertical boards with hand-planed battens fixed to the landing side. Wall framing consists of a single 3 by 2 inch stud either side of the doors with a 2 by 2 inch whaler set at about mid wall height. Framing is exposed within the bedrooms and has been wall papered over.

The interior wall to the lean-to is of similar but slightly heavier construction in that studs are c. 4 by 3 and 4 by 4 inch. Batten and boards are un-planed with the battens fixed to the inside of the larger room.

There is evidence of there having been another timber frame wall partitioning the rear lean-to into three rooms.


In both of the gable-section downstairs rooms wallpaper has been applied over the mud walls. In both of the upstairs bedrooms wallpaper has been applied over the timber partition walls to the upstairs landing.

Timber ceiling boards throughout the building and timber wall panelling to the upstairs dormers and landing have been stained and appear to be shellacked. Timber wall panelling to the rear lean-to partition wall has been white-washed.

Mud wall surfaces to the downstairs passage and stairs landing, the rear lean-to and the mud walls to the two attic rooms have not been papered. There is some evidence of lime wash to fair face mud surfaces.

There are timber ceiling boards throughout the building. Timber wall panelling in the upstairs dormers and landing have been stained and appear to be shellacked.


The house has two fireplaces with their structure incorporated into the end gable walls. The bases below floor level are constructed of roughly stacked rock. Round wood poles sit at the four corners of each chimney, with strake and mud infill forming the c.4 inch thick fireplace walls up to the first floor level.

There have been fireplace fittings added to the original structure: the living room (south) fireplace has had a brick infill and cast iron register added, while the north room has had a coal range fitted. The fire surrounds and mantle pieces of both fire places have square dressed timber, with the sides shaped out of the large corner posts.


The floorboards on the ground floor of the gable section are 6 by 1 inch pit sawn tongue and grooved boards, laid on c.4 by 3 inch joists on c.4 by 3 inch bearers and bottom wall plates. The bearers are set on Totara round wood piles set at 3 ft. 6inch to 4 ft. centres. The upper storey floor boards are pit sawn 6 by 1¼ inch tongue and grooved boards on 10 by 2 inch joists. The underside of upper floor and the exposed surfaces of joists are hand planed and whitewashed.

Ceiling Linings

The ceilings are lined with 6 by ¾ inch TG and V machine-dressed boards. The ceiling linings are fixed with wire nails, and appear to have been fitted after the original construction of the house. They have been fitted to:

the undersides of the ceiling joists in both the ground floor rooms and the passage;

the undersides of the rafters and collar ties and dormers to the two upstairs rooms and passage; and

the undersides of the rafters and ceiling joists to the north section of the rear lean-to.

Windows and Doors

All windows have been removed from the building. There is clear evidence from the planted stops still in place, that all windows were double sliding sashes, fitted without frames, directly to the wall framing. Top sashes appear to have been fixed, with bottom sashes opening upwards.

All doors have been removed. One original door remains in the house, but it is detached from its frame. All doors were hung without frames, directly off the door studs. There is clear evidence of original hinge and door catch/fastener positions for all doors. The remaining door is ledged and braced, constructed of 6 by 1 inch TG and V boards. The front door was a French door opening inwards. All other doors were single, hung as indicated on the drawings (See Appendix 2).


Mud and Timber Construction Methods

According to conservation architect Jeremy Salmond the combination of timber and mud is an ancient way of making shelter: small branches were easy to collect and cost nothing, and required little skill in construction. The technique had various names in the British Isles, including the most common wattle and daub; known as 'raddle and dab' in England; and 'stake and rice' in Scotland. There were related methods like 'split and dab' (plaster on lath) and 'mud and stud' where mud was packed between two rows of horizontal saplings fixed to a frame. Both methods were used in New Zealand.

Steerage passengers to New Zealand and Australia brought these techniques with them. According to Salmond there are in drier areas of Australia still timber-framed station buildings which have woven panels, and also 'sapling and mud' or 'half-timbered' buildings. In New Zealand the bush provided ample material for such constructions, including Manuka for uprights, Kaereao (supplejack) for the weave, and tussock for the pug mixture. In New Zealand any such timber and mud construction was loosely known as 'wattle and daub'.

Salmond notes that Otago had a particular variation on the mud and stud method, and quotes an 1848-1849 settler's letter describing:

a framework [of posts about three feet apart] being first put up, and a number of small poles tied horizontally both in the inside and outside of the posts, varying from 6 inches to 1 foot apart; the space is then filled up with wet clay by the hand, and smoothed inside and outside, so as to hide both poles and posts, or some fill the vacancies with dry pieces of clay or mould, and then plaster it smooth.

To deal with the heavy rain fall in Otago (which turned the earth walls back into mud) settlers lined the outside of the houses with planks. This practice was also seen in Akaroa. According to Salmond the last known building of wattle and daub construction in New Zealand was Jenkin's Cottage, built at Otaki in 1869, but which was bulldozed in 1985.

Timber Construction

Not all timber construction was from sawn timber. Sawing was laborious and required at least two men to cut timber into scantlings (framing timber) and boards. A builder on their own could more easily make a house from logs or slabs split from the felled tree. Slab houses were quite common. With logs spilt into pieces about 70mm thick using wedges.

Wall plates, squared from long straight poles, were fixed over corner posts, and bottom plates fixed between, at to these slabs were nailed. Rafters were cut from straight poles about 75mm in diameter and nailed in place. Split battens were then fixed over the rafters to support the roof shingles. Shingles were about 300mm long by 100mm wide.

Salmond notes that some of these houses survive from later periods of settlement, including the slab huts in the Scandinavian colony of Mauriceville in the Wairarapa, where slabs of Totara were used to face rammed earth walls.

Hand sawn timber had advantages. The saw could be taken to the log, and only the movable timber shifted. Pit sawing could be used for cutting floorboards and other small timbers such as studs, rafters and joists. "In New Zealand all the timber for a house was cut in this way at first, and there are many houses still standing with boards that bear the straight saw marks of the pit saw."

Local Building Technologies

Building Design and Fabric.

The building is original in form and predominantly in fabric with the only apparent changes being the two built in cupboards, and the red brick fire place liner in the south downstairs front room; the machine planed TG and B ceiling linings to the two front rooms, the attic rooms and landing over, and part of the rear lean-to; and some remnant wallpapers. It has not been established when these materials were added but it is possible that the ceilings, cupboards and papering was completed anywhere from within a few years of construction, to the turn of the century.

There are no modern services of any kind in the building, other than the Shacklock No. 2 coal range in the north downstairs front room.


While this basic design of timber framed and clad colonial residence is not uncommon, it is very unusual for such a dwelling to be in such an original and unmodified state. Timber residences from this era are typically significantly modified in terms of their basic fabric, design, layout and services since their initial construction. This is due to repair and maintenance over time with non original fabric and technologies, additions and alterations in response to inhabitants changing requirements, and additions and alterations in response to contemporary building code practices. Due to its originality of form, fabric and layout the Stewart house is considered to be a very rare example of its type.

Building Technology

The building is a rare example of transitional technology between post and beam and balloon frame construction. Post and beam construction is evidenced by the use of relatively large dimensioned (4 by 4 inch) full wall height round wood poles and pit sawn studs located at primary points along walls (in corners and either sides of window and door openings) and at widely centres along longer un-interrupted sections of wall, all capped with a relatively heavy 4 by 4 inch top plate. The balloon frame construction is evidenced by the 4 by 3 inch combined bottom plates/bearers onto which all studs and poles appear to be founded and housed, and which are in turn set upon Totara piles. Heavy dimension noggings have been fitted between and checked into poles/studs to carry the first floor joists and fixings for the vertical batten and board cladding.

Balloon framing is seen in the closely spaced 4 by 2 inch intermediate stud framing about the dormer windows, and in the gable and lean-to roof construction.

The building is rare in its use of the combination of round wood and adzed to form poles, and the more processed and conventionally dimensioned pit sawn timbers.

Given the period in which these more elaborately designed residences were built and that they were designed with the expectation of construction in a balloon frame form, it is very unusual to for them to be found constructed in a stud and mud form out of what is essentially minimally processed materials.

All exterior walls to the Stewart House are "stud and mud" construction with pit sawn vertical board and batten cladding acting as the former and weather protection to the mud infill. The walls to the gable section ground floor are mud and stud, and all interior mud wall surfaces have been fair face finished flush with the stud framing.

General discussion

In style there appear to be links with Scotland (where builder Thomas Tolmie and owner Donald Stewart emigrated from). A contact with Highland Heritage in Scotland indicated that in style and layout "the house is just right for these parts and the mid nineteenth century." A local Otago study concluded that there were insufficient markers to indicate "Scottishness" in South Otago building style to 1920, but this did not take into account technology, nor did it approach Scottish heritage organisations directly. Examination of the Stewart house does support the conclusion however that adaptation to local conditions and materials was important factor in the development of a vernacular style. Technological links are still being investigated, with enquiries to both Scottish and English heritage organisations so far finding no precedents, although enquiries are continuing.

The use of mud as an infill panel and insulating material between round wood post and beam and later sawn stud and plate structures is not unusual in Anglo Saxon, English and Scottish building culture. In its simplest form it was expressed as "wattle and daub", in which round wood strakes were set vertically into the ground between the posts and trenched into or lashed to the beams over with thin saplings interlaced between the upright strakes to which the mud was applied. Comparative examples on the NZHPT Register are few, all illustrating variations in construction techniques:

Northern Region Subritsky-Wagener House (c.1860, No. 80, Cat I) The earliest part of the building was timber (later removed), with the remainder of the structure combining the use of local materials with a rubble version of mud and stud construction (using techniques found in mainland Europe as well as in mining regions of Northern England and Australia). This involved erecting a timber frame of kauri and nailing horizontal withies on either side of the studs and packing the interior of the walls with rubble, mud and a shell-based mortar. The house is nationally significant a rare example of its construction type, and is one of the best preserved domestic interiors of colonial date in the country, retaining many of its early fixtures and furnishings.

Central Region: Cottage (Cob and Rickers with Stone Add) (c.1854 Cottage, No. 1473, Cat. II)

Southern Region: Willowmeade (c.1857, No. 5178, Cat I) The first dwelling was constructed of "wattle and daub" - four rooms, two up and two down, with a ladder on the outside leading to the upper rooms. Willowmeade was constructed c.1857 of pit sawn timber mainly local Totara, was erected by William and Adam Sutherland. "The space between the outer weatherboarding and inner lining being filled with cob, tussock and clay" It was erected for Major (late Sir) John Larkins Cheese Richardson, Speaker in Provincial Council and member of House of Representatives, first Vice Chancellor of Otago University.

Conservation architects approached by the NZHPT staff consider that the house is has special significance particularly in its "illustration of those first generation cottages built from local materials, and all the more valuable for being largely untouched." Chris Cochran notes that while early buildings such as this, and others such as Robin Hood Bay Cottage (No. 1473, Cat. II) use similar techniques, the buildings are "unique because of their location, materials available, techniques employed, experience of the builder etc.; one can confidently say that there will be nothing quite like this cottage anywhere." He considers that for its building technology alone the house is "critically important." Jeremy Salmond considers that the building is "one of the first importance for New Zealand architectural a relic of early European settlement in South Otago" and one that is "a truly significant building for our understanding of New Zealand's early European settlement."

Local historian Ethel McLaren mentions a number of similarly constructed houses in the Puerua area. Existing examples inspected during 2005, (though typically in collapsed state) include the following:

Gunn Cottage c.1850s

Walls constructed of round wood post and beams set directly into the ground with paired horizontal Manuka strakes nail fixed to both sides of the posts, with mud and tussock infill brought to a fair face finish covering the strakes on both sides of the wall. This building has had one gable end wall later fitted with horizontal whalers to carry vertical batten and boards (standing, but with partial collapse to a side and rear wall).

Archibald Cottage c.1852

Walls constructed of round wood post and beam set directly into ground. Possibly originally clad with pit sawn horizontal weatherboards. Split Manuka strakes tenoned into corner studs and nail fixed to faces of intermediate poles. Mud and tussock infill brought to fair face finish covering the strakes on the inside of walls (still in use as a studio).

Mutch Residence c.1850-60

Rear original portion of house appears to have been constructed using similar technique to Gunn cottage, but with vertical framing timbers added later to carry horizontal weatherboard cladding and extended to villa form over a number of years.

Underwood (Residence) c.1860

Large two storey balloon frame weatherboard residence with large rear kitchen walls fitted with split laths, walls in filled with mud and plastered over to fair face finish on inside. No evidence of other walls in building insulated and finished with mud. Underwood Estate (eastwards along the main inland road from the site of the Puerua store) Homestead "two storied, had six bedrooms, dormer windows upstairs and cob packed into the ground floor walls."

Puerua Manse c.1857

1857 Puerua Valley Manse for Jane (nee Burns, daughter of Rev. Thomas) and Rev. William Bannerman: weatherboard, with pit sawn timber and an upstairs. Erected by Thomas Tolmie and William Young who married a child of Donald Stewart). Clay lining to stop drafts (p.32.) Large two-storey pit-sawn balloon-frame weatherboard residence with mud and tussock infill between studs, in some cases expressed as fair face finished to inside of stud line in which case mud panels are retained by 1 inch square fillets fixed to stud faces. Mud also used as infill between studs behind "lathe and plaster" with mud finish render. More predominantly used as insulation infill between weatherboard cladding and interior match lining. In 2006 largely collapsed.

Rosemain (Residence) c.1857

This was the second residence built by Archibald and was originally of very similar design and dimension to the Stewart House. Construction technique differs in that it is typical balloon framing with horizontal weatherboards. All timbers were apparently pit sawn and walls were infilled with mud and tussock (still a residence but much altered).

Willowmeade (Residence) 1856 (mentioned above)

In respect to the above referred historical and local examples the "mud and stud" technology evidenced in the Stewart house appears to be a highly sophisticated and unique example of this type of construction, in that the round wood horizontal strakes have been tenoned into the posts and studs at c. 8 inch centres. Examination of the bored hole depths relative to the length of their respective strakes indicates that the strakes could not have been inserted after fabrication of the walls but were most likely inserted as the walls were assembled. This is shown by diagonal corner struts to the chimneys which display strake holes which were not required. With the evidence available to date it would appear that the strake system used in the wall construction of the Stewart House is unique.

Construction Dates

1863 -

Construction Details

Timber framing and cladding, with mud and tussock infill in the walls.

Completion Date

7th March 2006

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop and Guy Williams

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Dun)

Archives New Zealand (Dunedin)

DAAC 9073/D239/180 4488 Barbara Stewart - widow - Waitepeka

Wilson, 1912

John Wilson, Reminiscences of the Early Settlement of Dunedin and South Otago: Dealing in the main with Clutha and Neighbouring Districts. Compiled from Information Supplied to the Clutha Pioneers' Association by Early Settlers, and Matters Taken from Other Sources, J. Wilkie and Co, Dunedin, 1912

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

Deed Register 104.430

McLaren, 1996

Ethel U. McLaren, The Two Posts: Puerua and Waitepeka, Balclutha, 1996

Palmer, 1996 (2)

Rachel Palmer, 'Archaeology and ethnicity of settlement in nineteenth century South Otago' MA (Anthropology), University of Otago, Dunedin, 1996

Palmer, 2000

Rachel Palmer, 'The landscape archaeology of the Lower Clutha District.' PhD, University of Otago, Dunedin, 2000

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen

Waite, 1948

F. Waite, Pioneering in South Otago, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1948

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.