Historical Significance or Value
This is a very early (c.1843) building of outstanding historical significance. Its connection with the French settlement at Akaroa is a factor in its special historical relevance.
The French Navy played a crucial role in provision of food and support for the new settlers, struggling to become established in what was initially envisaged as being a new and expanding French colony. This building is a unique reminder of the naval participation in a remarkable chapter of New Zealand's history. It is the only building remaining from this early period of French presence in Akaroa Harbour outside the township of Akaroa,
It is also one of the oldest surviving buildings in the South Island and indeed the country. It almost certainly predates the Langlois-Eteveneaux House in Akaroa (pre 1845) and may be earlier than Deans' Cottage (1843) to make it the oldest Canterbury building.
French Farm has been occupied by Europeans longer than any other bay on the west side of Akaroa Harbour. The site was occupied as early as August 1840 by the first French escort ship L'Aube under Captain Lavaud, who arranged for the site to be cleared for pasture and gardens. Captain Berard of the second escort ship Le Rhin (1843-46) further developed the area while supervising scientific research from this locale.
Although there is no precise confirmation of this building's origins, the experts who have been studying its history are convinced that it is of French Naval construction. This is because of its position on the site; its French style, construction and measurements; its equation to contemporary descriptions and the archaeological evidence of the environs.
The building's architectural character can be seen to reflect French structures, though apart from its proportions, at first sight it is not significantly different from other colonial housing in New Zealand. An unusual feature of the construction system is the wall studs extending into the ground to form the foundation piles. It is the fact of its French origins which sets this house apart and gives it special significance. The building's survival for more than 160 years with minimal maintenance is testimony to the qualities of its construction and of the totara timber
The house's environs have archaeological values where evidence of the historic use of the site can be discerned. The initial very brief and limited archaeological investigation, apart from the discovery of minor relics, revealed features like early drains, the sites of other buildings, tracks and fragments of a stone terrace. There are exciting prospects that further work will reveal information about the other buildings, the observatory, gardens, roads and so forth.
The house and its site represent an aspect of the earliest planned settlement in Canterbury and one of the earliest European settlements in New Zealand. In a strange land the French settlers had to face the immediate challenge of providing themselves with shelter and becoming self-sufficient, tasks in which they were greatly assisted by the French Navy. The establishment and development of this productive farm was a key element in the settlement's survival. In this house and the others, which have long gone, the sailors were able to enjoy more comfortable and spacious quarters than aboard their ship in the tranquil and beautiful part of Akaroa harbour.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The French Farm House reflects an important aspect of New Zealand's history, the failed attempt by the French Government to establish sovereignty over the southern part of New Zealand. This building is the sole remnant of the French Navy's participation in the establishment of a French settlement at Akaroa in 1840. The farm and research base here that functioned here from 1840 to 1846 was the only example of such a French Naval establishment on New Zealand territory.
The place has special significance as it dates from the earliest period of New Zealand's settlement and was linked to the first planned settlement in the South Island.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The French Farm House is associated with a special feature of New Zealand's early history, the French Government backed plan by the Nanto- Bordelaise Company to establish a French settlement on Banks Peninsula. This was seen as an initial step in French plans for a colony in the South Island though events rapidly led to the inevitable failure and abandonment of French ambitions.
Langlois, Lavaud and Berard, the French Naval crews and the early French settlers at Akaroa all contributed an initial French cultural perspective to the colonial development of the township.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
The environs of the French Farm House have potential to provide further knowledge of the site's history through archaeological investigation. This will be of wide interest because of the differing activities that were carried out here. In particular there is the knowledge that can be gained about this very early example of European settler farming. It has been recognised that this is a valuable project to be undertaken. The site has not yet been formally recorded by the New Zealand Archaeological Association.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place
Although there is only a growing public awareness of the significance of this property the efforts of the Akaroa Civic Trust demonstrate public recognition of the house's special heritage values. Several articles about its history have recently been published in the Akaroa Mail, widening public interest and appreciation..
(f) The potential of the place for public education
With the proposal that the French Farm House be conserved and made accessible to the public with provision of appropriate interpretation, there is considerable potential for the public to be well informed about this important aspect of Akaroa's history.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
There is technical significance in the way the building was constructed using metric measurements. An unusual aspect is the extension of the wall studs into the ground to form the foundations. Future investigations by Ian Bowman will reveal further features of the building's technical values.
(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement
The house dates from the early 1840s and represents a very early era New Zealand's colonial history. It is the only building remaining from the early period of French presence in Akaroa Harbour, is the oldest related to the French settlement and probably the oldest in Canterbury. It is among the oldest surviving buildings in the South Island.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
There are few surviving buildings that date from the beginnings of the French Settlement at Akaroa. This one is a unique remnant of the French Naval settlement, the only building remaining at French Farm which dates from the early period of French occupation of the western side of Akaroa Harbour.
The building is also rare in New Zealand as an example of nineteenth century French building conventions.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The house which remains on what was the French Farm for the Akaroa settlers, is a special feature of the historical and cultural landscape around the Akaroa Harbour. It is the earliest surviving building associated with the French attempt to establish a foothold in New Zealand and it accompanies the many other aspects of Maori and European activities that contribute to Akaroa Harbour's distinctive history.
With its surrounding bush-clad hills and picturesque valleys the first European settlers saw the harbour as a place of great beauty while they also recognised its potential as a productive living environment. Over the years much of the timber was milled and the land cleared for farming, but the landscape still evokes among present day visitors a similar reaction to that of those who originally sailed into the harbour. Because the French Farm House's site is slightly elevated, views from the place are expansive, extending across to Onawe Peninsula and beyond. These vistas allow full appreciation of both the scenic qualities and historic values of the area.
The French Farm house stands alone in a prominent position not far from the shore with pastureland around it. Its further environs include evidence of rural activities as the land rises to the hilltops. Grape vines were planted in the garden here in the early 1840s and today vines are under cultivation again. The French Farm Winery, a little further up the valley from the house, is a well-known and much visited attraction.
The French Farm House is a unique building which is not only of very special importance in Canterbury's history but also represents a significant feature of New Zealand's past, the failed attempt by the French to establish a colony here.
Dating from c.1843 it is one of a small group of early buildings in the South Island constructed before 1850. Even in the wider New Zealand context its age adds to its significance. It is probably the oldest in Canterbury and is certainly the oldest of the French buildings associated with the Akaroa settlement of 1840. This house provided sailors' accommodation and is the only building that represents the major role played by the French Navy in supporting, aiding and protecting the poorly equipped French settlers. They set up a successful farm providing food as the settlers strove to set themselves up in their new and strange environment. The farm house has added historic value as it is associated with several of the men who were key figures in the Akaroa settlement project.
Just as Akaroa itself, with its surviving French character, is a place that has an outstanding historical status, so too has the French Farm House across the harbour.
French Farm Bay on the western side of Akaroa Harbour was known to Māori as Te Rautahi. Akaroa means 'long harbour' and Te Rautahi was named after an ancestress. Akaroa harbour was occupied first by Waitaha, then Ngati Mamoe, and later Ngai Tahu. The warm climate made the area attractive for growing kumara. The harbour was traditionally of great significance as a mahinga kai, its waters providing not only the primary sustenance for Māori living within the harbour but additionally, kai moana provided a ready currency for trade with other hapu in nearby settlements such as Wairewa and Koukourarata.
The rim of hills and peaks that look down upon Akaroa's waters evoke many important histories. On the ridgeline to the south of Te Rautahi is the distinctive peak, Tuhiraki (Mt. Bossu) that is said to have been formed when the Ngai Tahu explorer Rakaihautu thrust his ko (digging stick) into Horomaka (Banks Peninsula) after using it to dig out all the principal lakes of Te Wai Pounamu including nearby Te Roto o Wairewa (Lake Forsyth) and Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere). A track crossing the ridge above Te Rautahi provided access to the neighbouring kainga at Wairewa.
Onawe, the distinctive whale shaped peninsula that juts out into the harbour near Te Rautahi resonates with great sadness for Ngai Tahu. It was the site of an infamous battle between Ngai Tahu and Te Rauparaha in 1832 that resulted in an overwhelming loss of lives. An equally devastating event had occurred across the harbour in 1830 when Te Rauparaha sacked the Ngai Tahu settlement at Takapuneke, just south of Akaroa.
French settlement of the Akaroa area in the 1840s and the later claiming of the land by the English had devastating consequences for Ngāi Tahu who were already significantly weakened by internal warring and the conflict with Te Rauparaha. The introduction of European disease and alcohol and the mass appropriation of Ngāi Tahu lands removed their ability to cultivate food and thus to trade. Local Māori had no option but to take jobs working for the newly arrived European settlers who were establishing farms in the area. In the 1850s Native Reserves were set aside at Onuku (south of Akaroa township) and Opukutahi, to the south of Te Rautahi by way of compensation, though these were poor reparation for the extensive losses endured by Ngāi Tahu. Today, Wairewa Rūnanga and Ōnuku Rūnanga have a shared interest in the guardianship of the Akaroa harbour area including Te Rautahi, French Farm Bay.
French Naval Settlement - Duc Decazes Bay (La Baie du Duc Decazes)
European whaling ships began visiting the Akaroa area regularly from the mid-1830s. In 1838 a French whaling ship commander, Jean Francois Langlois, negotiated the 'purchase' of Peninsula land from some local Ngai Tahu chiefs, with the intention of establishing a French colony in the South Island. Langlois returned to France and the Nanto-Bordelaise Company was set up in 1839 by a group of leading businessmen (headed by Duke Decazes, a prosperous industrialist and former Prime Minister of France) to found the proposed Akaroa settlement.
The French government, concerned at British expansionism in the Pacific and ambitious to have colonies here, agreed to give the Nanto-Bordelaise Company political and financial backing. In 1840 Charles Francois Lavaud was appointed Captain of the French Naval vessel, L'Aube, and instructed to sail to New Zealand and secure the sale of Banks Peninsula from local Maori. L'Aube was closely followed by the Comte de Paris carrying a group of 59 French and German colonists.
However, by the time Lavaud arrived in New Zealand, British sovereignty had already been declared over New Zealand including the whole of the South Island and the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed by a number of South Island chiefs including Iwikau and Tikao at Akaroa. When the French arrived at Akaroa on 19 August 1840 they were greeted by the Union Jack flying at Green's Point, near the present day Akaroa township. The French settlers nevertheless set up camp at Akaroa and began to build homes and establish gardens and farms there. The Germans opted to settle in the neighbouring bay, called 'German Bay' until World War I, now known as Takamatua.
The French naval presence was here to secure the safety of the settlers and support their establishment as well as doing research projects. The township of Akaroa was laid out under French Law. The streets, which retain their original French names, are twelve metres in width and shore boundaries extend to low water springs with no Queen's chain as is found elsewhere in New Zealand. All the stock that had been transported with the settlers had perished on the journey and though they had brought rations for seventeen months it was essential that settlers become self-sufficient. The initial step was the provision of a vegetable garden in the Akaroa township.
Te Rautahi was also commandeered by the French Navy as a farm site. The bay was fairly close to the settlement and the only one in the harbour which opened into a relatively flat, spacious and potentially fertile valley. The French renamed the bay La Baie du Duc Decazes (Duc Decazes Bay) after Duke Decazes, of the Nanto-Bordelaise Company. The crew of L'Aube, under the command of Lavaud, quickly cleared the land of tussocks and established a flourishing garden there of just over two hectares, later increased to four.
The fertile soil, kindly climate, protected valley and helpful rainfall were an immediate benefit. The cultivated area contained cabbages, potatoes and beetroot and also came to be used as a nursery for growing trees and vines for the French settlement. Some of the first grape vines in the region were planted there. Farming commenced in October 1840 and by 1843 Duc Decazes Bay was well established with roads, a jetty and several buildings (including the French Farm House) that were intended as the nucleus of a small village. Timber was felled on the hills at the head of the valley and slid down to the flat where it was pit-sawn. The marks from where the timber was slid down the hillside are still discernable.
Lavaud was recalled to France in January 1843 and replaced by Captain Auguste Berard of Le Rhin. Berard employed his sailors busily in extending facilities in Akaroa and expanding the gardening operation at Duc Decazes Bay. It may be that it was during this burst of activity led by Berard that the French Farm House was built. His men built a narrow road right round the head of the harbour past Duc Decazes Bay to Petit Carenage Bay with side tracks to Pigeon Bay and up to the Wainui saddle overlooking Wairewa. They also erected a jetty in Duc Decazes Bay. By this date the naval settlement at the farm had a greater population than Akaroa, with about 150 naval officers engaged in scientific research and working the observatory they had constructed in the bay.
In 1843 a letter written by an officer from Le Rhin described the farm settlement. He wrote:
Our farm has been set up on the other side of the harbour, in an unoccupied bay. It will become a village one day. Apart from two big huts for housing the crew and the observatory, there are eight to ten little houses belonging to the officers and petty officers. We set ourselves up some distance from the sea to avoid the swampy land which must get flooded in the rainy season. Opposite us is a big bank of oysters, which is easy to get at. Fishing is very productive and we especially get lots of lobsters. At the moment, there are loads of pigeons and the men are really enjoying themselves.
When the French Navy eventually departed in November 1846, the farm at Duc Decazes Bay, then known as 'Station Farm', comprising 16 acres ( c.6.15 hectares) of cleared land, four houses, two donkeys and various garden implements, was entrusted to an original French colonist, Emeri de Malmanche who installed a resident caretaker. By the time the Canterbury Association's first immigrant ships arrived in 1850, the French inhabitants of the harbour were greatly outnumbered by British and much of the land once 'owned' by the Nanto-Bordelaise Company was now actually owned by the Canterbury Association.
About 1850, a 100-acre block of land at French Farm, including the existing Station Farm, was sold by the Canterbury Association to an Irish immigrant, Joseph Dicken. Malmanche disputed the sale but was powerless to do anything about it. He reluctantly gave up the land which Dicken then developed as a dairy farm. In the mid-1850s the farm fell on hard times, and when Dicken disappeared mysteriously in July 1857, there were accusations of foul play levelled against some of the French settlers. The French Farm property was then leased by Mary Dicken (Joseph's sister) to Captain Hawtry who built a ten room two storeyed house there.
Between 1857 and 1860 timber felling became a major industry in the bay. George Tribe and Alfred Silk rented the bush behind French Farm from the Dickens and employed a large gang of men there to pitsaw it into timber for the Provincial Government buildings in Christchurch and for other buildings in Christchurch and Lyttelton. Further blocks were leased out by Mary Dicken for use as dairy farms. Portions of the Dicken estate were later sold to various buyers for dairying and cocksfoot pasture.
Thomas Southey Baker bought 83 hectares of the Dicken estate in 1876 (including the French Farm House). He added a schoolroom and dormitory alongside the house built by Hawtry, establishing a private preparatory boarding school for boys which attracted pupils from many parts of the country and from a range of prominent families. The school flourished there from 1876 to 1890. After he closed the school in 1890, Baker's property was leased for a while, then purchased in 1901 by Lucien Brocherie. Brocherie had emigrated to New Zealand from France in 1865. The property has remained in the ownership of members of the Brocherie family since this time.
French Farm House
The French Farm House, situated about 400 metres from the shore, is thought to be one of the four houses existing when the French Navy departed in 1846. It is, therefore, one of the oldest surviving buildings in the South Island. Built to metric measurements from local totara, the house has an interesting internal structure comprising a number of small rooms with lined walls indicating that the building was probably used for accommodation. On the ground floor a larger space suggests communal use. Members of the working parties from the naval ships stationed at Akaroa may have slept there.
The quality of the building's construction which has ensured the house's survival and continued use suggest that it may have been intended to accomodate the naval officers. Exact details of the use of the building both during and after the departure of the French Navy however, remain unclear. The extent to which later owners used the property is also uncertain. The house, which has been unoccupied for at least the last 100 years, is now dilapidated but remains sound and essentially intact. Until c.2005 it was used as a hay barn. The paddock on which the house stands has not been cultivated since 1901, allowing conservation of archaeological evidence of French use.
The current owners, Owen and Veronica Brocherie, are committed to retaining the setting of the building intact. Both Owen and his father Terence who farmed the property before him, are committed to the conservation of the building, and have been working with the Akaroa Civic Trust to this end.
The Akaroa Civic Trust, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of the beauty and history of Akaroa and its surrounding area, has had an involvement in the project since 2001. Individual members of the Trust, with particular interests and skills in heritage conservation, formed a working party to assist the property owner with the considerable conservation issues relating to the building. In recent years, Civic Trust working parties have assisted with clearing hay from the building, propping the back (west) wall of the lean to part of the building to prevent its collapse and making the building weatherproof.
The building is in the form of a simple oblong, with the attic section covered by a pitched roof broken by a central gable on the frontage. The back section of the building has a cat-slide roof. Built to metric measurements from local totara, the one and a half storey house has an interesting internal structure comprising a number of small rooms with lined walls. (See ground floor plan drawn by archaeologist Chris Jacomb, Appendix 2 of the registration report.) The attic floorboards and the sarking are pit sawn. There are the remains of a chimney for a double fireplace to provide for cooking on one side and heating for the larger living area. Newspaper lining one of the lower level walls the early 1860s. There is a simple, ladder style stairway leading up to the two rooms in the loft.
The building has a shingled roof that has been covered over with corrugated iron and the cladding is pit-sawn weatherboard. There are two external doors, one in the north side and one in the east side, the front of the building. (It is assumed that the door was formerly in the centre of this facade.) There is evidence of a third door on the south side, now boarded in. No windows or sashes survive in the window apertures. Much of the original west wall is missing. The building has been altered but its structural metric outlines remain.
While it can be said the no specific 'French' character is apparent, the French Farm House's simple form is consistent with timber buildings in France and shows similarities to the buildings that were first constructed by the navy in Akaroa.
The paddocks surrounding the house have not been ploughed since 1901 and still exhibit evidence of field drains, banks and early cultivation marks. The archaeological investigation in December, 2001 revealed considerable information about the farming history of the site and clearly, further investigation would be valuable.
The French Farm House has a special place in New Zealand history as a building that reflects French involvement in the colonial period. In the North Island Pompallier House is the prime example of French missionary activities, while in the South Island Akaroa is the sole instance of a French settlement, the founding of which was supported by the navy and the farm they established in what is now known as French Farm Bay. This now somewhat derelict house is the only structure that remains from the significant participation of the French Navy in the nation's past and the Akaroa settlement.
The building's form and design has similarities to the French Magazine, a store of timber construction built by carpenters from L'Aube in the first months after their arrival Akaroa. Drawings of this building are held at the Akaroa Museum.
There are several buildings in the South Island surviving from the 1840s. They include Ferntree Lodge (Category 1 Reg. No. 368) in Dunedin, Ackers Cottage (Category I Reg. No. 396) on Stewart Island, the Mt Gladstone cob cottage (Category II Reg. No. 2936) in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, the farm buildings at Matanaka (Reg Nos.51, 52 & 333, all Category I) in Otago and Deans Cottage (Reg. No 3679 Category I) at Riccarton, Christchurch. The oldest is Howell's Cottage (Caegory I Reg, No. 2540) in Riverton, dating from 1837.
In Akaroa several dwellings retain some elements of their very early French beginnings with the Langlois- Eteveneaux house (Cat.I), a feature of the Akaroa Museum, the oldest and most intact example. Its precise date is uncertain but it is known to be before 1845 . It has a particularly 'French' appearance with elegant detailing, quite unlike the unrefined rural house constructed on the farm for utilitarian purposes. There is some indication that the exterior was refurbished by the original owner's son in the French Style in the 1890s.
Local mountain totara used for framing and cladding, roof of corrugated iron over shingles.
The building has an unusual sub-floor design. There are no piles as such, but the 150x150 mm pit sawn wall studs extend into the ground and serve as both wall supports and foundation piles.
9th May 2007
Report Written By
TL Buick. (1980) The French in Akaroa: An adventure in colonisation. Christchurch: Capper Press. [
Facsimile reprint of edition published: Wellington: New Zealand Book Depot, 1928.].
Te Wai Pounamu, The Greenstone Island, Wellington, Aoraki Press
Magasin pittoresque, X1, 47 (November 1843) 'Les Europeans a la Nouvelle Zelande', pp. 373-376
G. Ogilvie, Banks Peninsula; the Cradle of Canterbury, GP Books, 1990
P.Tremewan, French Akaroa: An attempt to colonise southern New Zealand. Christchurch,1990 [University of Canterbury Press, with the Historical Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs]
A fully referenced registration report on French Farm House 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.