Kekerengu Station Buildings (Former)

Kekerengu Road, Kekerengu, Kaikoura

  • Kekerengu Station Buildings (Former). East elevation, former Manager’s Residence.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Pam Wilson. Date: 1/06/1993.
  • Kekerengu Station Buildings (Former). West elevation, former Men's Quarters.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: P Wilson. Date: 1/06/1993.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7713 Date Entered 22nd June 2007


Extent of List Entry

The registration comprises the former men's quarters and the former station manager's residence, their fittings and fixtures and part of the land on CT MB3B/1434 (Marlborough Land District). See Registration Report Appendix 1, Fig. 3 for boundary of the extent of registration.

City/District Council

Kaikoura District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP5521 (CT MB3B/1434), Marlborough Land District


The Kekerengu Station Buildings Complex (Former) consists of two cob structures that originally provided accommodation for the workers of the former Kekerengu Station. The buildings, a former men's quarters and a former station manager's residence, were built during the tenure of pastoralist and politician John Dresser Tetley. Tetley founded a sizeable station community at Kekerengu, but his aspirations exceeded his income, and when his affairs unravelled in 1868, he scandalously absconded to escape his debts.

The two long narrow cob buildings were probably constructed by builder Jack Eves in c1865. The larger building, the men's quarters consists of a dormitory, a dining room and six small bedrooms, and was in regular use until the 1930s. The smaller manager's residence has three rooms. It has served a multiplicity of purposes, including cookhouse, henhouse and museum. Both buildings are unused today.

Together the buildings have significance for their cob construction, and for the manner in which they highlight both the amount of labour required to work a nineteenth century pastoral station, and the spartan conditions in which these men lived.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Kekerengu Station Buildings (Former) have historical significance for their connection with aspirant politician and local squire John Dresser Tetley, and his ill-fated plan to rapidly create a large pastoral realm with an English-style village at its core. The buildings are also a good example of the vernacular station buildings produced during the first wave of extensive pastoralism in the South Island, for the large workforce of itinerant labour that it required.

The Kekerengu Station Buildings (Former) have architectural significance as examples of vernacular construction, utilising the locally available materials of cob, ngaio timber and (probably) station labour to fufill a practical requirement for staff facilities at a remote station. There are few surviving examples of cob staff accommodation. The plan of the men's quarters, with its top-lit dormitory back-to-back with a row of six small bedrooms, is also unusual.

The Kekerengu Station Buildings (Former) have social significance for the manner in which they both indicate the quantity of labour required for the operation of a mid-nineteenth century pastoral station, and illustrate the spartan living conditions of many of these workers.

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

The place represents the early extensive pastoral era in New Zealand, the agricultural mode which effectively launched the South Island's economy in the mid nineteenth century.

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

The place has associations with John Dresser Tetley: local dignitary, local and national politician, and bankrupt absconder. It also has associations with prominent South Island pastoralists, the Rutherford family.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The place provides knowledge of the living conditions of the many (usually single male) settlers who began their lives in the colony as part of a large peripatetic workforce of pastoral station labour.

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

The cob construction of these buildings distinguishes this place from the majority of farm buildings. In addition, the former men's quarters is of an unusual design, with a number of separate cells as well as the more common large communal bunkroom.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The place commemorates the large station community that worked and dwelt in and around these buildings in the nineteenth century. The cob buildings are all that remains of this settlement.

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

The place is an early example of the living quarters of pastoral station workers.

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

A rare type of historic place as intact cob buildings of the 1860s. The dry treeless east coast of the South Island was a centre of cob construction in New Zealand; and of those few cob structures which remain, a significant number are in Marlborough.


The Kekerengu Station Buildings (Former) may be assigned Category II status as intact and original early examples of station buildings; as interesting examples of vernacular design and construction; for their connection with the infamous John Dresser Tetley; and for their demonstration of the large amount of labour required by extensive pastoralism, and the spartan living conditions of these workers.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The former Kekerengu Station Men's Quarters, and Manager's Residence were built of cob in 1865-1866 for the first owner of Kekerengu Station, John Dresser Tetley. Originally forming part of a sizable station village, the buildings demonstrate vernacular building design and techniques, and illuminate the spartan living conditions frequently experienced by the large amount of labour required to operate a pastoral station in colonial New Zealand.

Shortly after his arrival from England in November 1858, John Tetley sub-leased the 32, 000 acre Woodbank Run in southern Marlborough from first leaseholder F. W. Trolove - who was returning to England for a two year holiday. Before Trolove departed in 1859, Tetley purchased from him the freehold of 80 acres north of the Kekerengu River at what was picturesquely known as Madcaps Flat, and established a homestead. When Trolove returned from his sojourn in 1860, Tetley leased the northern 8,000 acres of Woodbank adjoining his homestead block to form Kekerengu Station. He secured the freehold of the entire 8,000 acres in 1867.

In addition to his large two-storey slab and clay homestead, Tetley also established a settlement at Kekerengu to house his many station staff and servants. Later in the century the run was recorded as employing as many as sixty hands on a regular basis, and an equal number of shearers for the 25-50,000 sheep. In 1868, Bishop Suter of Nelson passed through Kekerengu and commented:

This station of Mr Tetley's shows the advantage of gentlemen living on their stations; a little schoolhouse and chapel, neat cemetery and cottages, reproduce here, more than anywhere else, an English village with its squire and resident families.

By the end of the 1860s, the 'English village' also possessed a post and telegraph office, and a substantial station-owned public accommodation house that provided lodgings for both station workers, and travellers between Blenheim and Kaikoura.

The former Station Manager's Residence and the former Men's Quarters constituted a central part of this little settlement. It is thought that the Men's Quarters were built by Jack Hounsell Eves of Blenheim, using a pugmill situated on the terrace above. References in the diary of William Hawkins, tutor to the Tetley children, suggest the building was constructed during 1865-1866. Its original function was evidently a single men's accommodation block. This however does not preclude it from having fulfilled the other similar uses attributed to it. Thornton describes it as a place where swaggers could stay overnight without charge, whilst Loftus describes it as shearer's quarters. There is also a belief that it provided accommodation for travellers - perhaps as an adjunct to the formal accommodation house. Apparently the building was still providing refuge for swaggers as late as the depression of the 1930s.

It is presumed the former Station Manager's Residence was constructed at about the same time as its larger neighbour. This building has endured a greater diversity of use than the Men's Quarters, making an early transition from residence to cookhouse, bunkhouse, head shepherd's quarters and perhaps also a dining room. Later occupiers included a station museum and henhouse. Today the two cob buildings are the only structures remaining from the Tetley era.

During the decade that Tetley retained Kekerengu, he expanded the property substantially with interests in adjacent properties, whilst serving as a Justice of the Peace, a member of the Marlborough Provincial Council and a member of the Legislative Council. Despite his social and political success however, the falling wool prices that accompanied the economic downturn at the end of the 1860s impacted on the financially over-extended Tetley severely. In December 1868, as the scale of his debt was becoming evident, he left for England. Although promising to return to New Zealand to resolve the crisis, Tetley later fled to Uruguay - beyond the reach of extradition - leaving debts of £66, 000. The resolution of Tetley's tangled financial dealings and disappearance took years, and the last of his duped former business partners was not released from his obligations until 1873.

After Tetley's sudden departure, Kekerengu reverted to major creditor Nathaniel Levin of Wellington, who subsequently despatched the station to the manager of nearby Flaxbourne Station, George Lovegrove for £9,000. Lovegrove subdivided off 22,000 acres before selling the station to Nelson merchant John Symons in 1873 for £16, 000. Kekerengu was again enlarged significantly during the Symons family ownership, to stretch south for more than fifty miles and inland to the Clarence River.

Kekerengu was purchased from the Symons family in 1899 for £40,000 by Mrs Eve Rutherford, wife of Amuri sheep baron Duncan Rutherford (of Leslie Hills), and Duncan's younger brother Edmund. Edmund settled on the property with his family, but on-going problems with rabbits saw sheep numbers fall from 47, 000 in 1890, to fewer than 25, 000 by 1906. In the face of declining profitability, the Rutherford's offered the station to the government for closer settlement - but were turned down. Kekerengu was eventually sold to a syndicate in 1911. The syndicate subdivided the property, with the homestead block of 1,700 acres being repurchased by Edmund and renamed Kulnine, after a property the Rutherfords had once owned in Australia. Kulnine however excluded the former station buildings, which were incorporated into the eighty acre homestead block of a new Kekerengu Station.

The new run consisted primarily of 6,500 acres of the Coverdale freehold, on the Lady and Sawtooth Ranges, some five kilometres distant from the new homestead block. W. J. M Hopkins, one of three parties in the syndicate, was the first to take up this rump Kekerengu Station, but sold it in 1920 to A. Todd. Todd sold the property to Kaikoura farmer John Rollason in 1927. The Rollason family retained the property for nearly forty years, selling it to John Latter in 1966. After subdivision in 1980, the Latter family sold the eighty acre homestead block to Andrew and Nancy Gilbert in 1988. The Gilberts renamed the property Balbarton Farm, after a family property in Scotland. During the Gilbert's tenure, a significant amount of repair work was carried out on the two cob buildings. The farm was purchased by the present owner in 1999, and given the name Kekerengu Valley Farm.

Physical Description

Physical Description

About 30 km north of the isolated east coast township of Kaikoura, the Kekerengu River emerges from the foothills of the Seaward Kaikoura Range to meet the sea. Two kilometres inland from the river mouth on narrow flats on the north bank of the river, are the Kekerengu Station Buildings (Former), situated adjacent to a modern dwelling.

The larger of the two buildings is the former Men's Quarters. The rear section of the building consists of a long room lit only by three dormer windows and two skylights. This was a dormitory, and originally contained 24 bunks - although none remain today. The front of the building is divided into six small bedrooms, each with two iron bedsteads. Each bedroom opens directly to the outside, and there are no internal linkages. The combination of both dormitory and bedroom accommodation is unusual. At one end of the building, the gambrel gable has been extended out to cover another large space. Known as the 'convivial room', this was the sitting and dining room. The other end of the roof has a hipped gable. With the removal of part of the east end wall, the long dormitory now serves as a garage.

The smaller building was originally built as the station manager's residence. A long narrow building with a hip at one end and a gable at the other, it consists of three rooms: a cookhouse, a private room with its own fireplace (formerly the head shepherd's room), and a bunkroom. The bunkroom was later converted into a henhouse. This building also contained a small station museum for a number of years.

Comparative Analysis

The construction of cob buildings in New Zealand was linked primarily to a shortage of alternative building materials, and tended therefore to be a product of early periods of settlement in the dryer eastern and central districts of the South Island. As these buildings were frequently superceded by timber or masonry structures at a comparatively early date, many of the survivors are unused and often in poor condition.

Geoffrey Thornton noted in The New Zealand Heritage of Farm Buildings that 'Cob farm buildings were quite widely spread, being not uncommon for living purposes a century of more ago'. Whilst it is true that a fair number of farm and station cottages and homesteads remain, there are fewer cob buildings relating to the operation of such properties. Cob farm or station buildings on the NZHPT Register include a complex at Fairview in the Timaru district (No.1977, 1978, 1979; all Cat. II), a barn at Poolburn (No. 5219, Cat. II) and a woolshed at Moutere Station (No. 340, Cat. 1) - both in Central Otago. There are however no examples of cob station or farm staff accommodation comparable with the Kekerengu Station Buildings.

Although there are a significant number of surviving cob buildings in the Marlborough region as a whole, it would appear that (in addition to the Kekerengu buildings), the only other surviving cob structures in the Kaikoura district are a cookhouse and oven on Clarence Reserve Station. The shortage of ready timber that necessitated the use of cob at Kekerengu in the 1860s, also encouraged the adoption of concrete construction in the district in the following decade. Consequently there is a noticeable concentration of early concrete (rather then cob) buildings in the Kaikoura area.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1865 - 1866
Men's Quarters and Manager's Residence.

1992 -
Cob repair by David Studholme and volunteers.

1999 -
Insertion of new timber garage doors and steel lintel/jambs in end wall of former Men's Quarters, to replace existing garage door. Also repairs to roof structure.

2000 -
Re-roofing of both buildings. Re-roofed again by 2005.

Construction Details

Cob with rough-hewn ngaio rafters and tin roofs.

Completion Date

15th May 2007

Report Written By

Gareth Wright

Information Sources

Holm, 1992

J. Holm, Nothing But Grass and Wind: The Rutherfords of Canterbury, Christchurch, 1992 [Hazard Press]

Loftus, 1987

H. Loftus, The Tetley Affair: Colonial Dreams and Nightmares Waikanae, 1987 [Heritage Press]

Sherrard, 1966

J. Sherrard, Kaikoura: A History of the District Kaikoura: Kaikoura County Council, 1966.

Thornton, 1986

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

Other Information

A fully referenced registration 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.