Pilot's House

926 Wairau Bar Road, Spring Creek

  • Pilot’s House from the north west elevation.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Imelda Bargas. Date: 22/08/2007.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7748 Date Entered 14th May 2008


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the easternmost part of the land described as Sec 5 Sq 28 North Boulder Bank Registration District (CT MB5D/986), Marlborough Land District, (bounded on the west by the owners' driveway, north by Wairau Bar Road, and south and east by the Wairau River) and the building known as Pilot's House thereon, and its fittings and fixtures, but excludes other buildings on the land. (Refer to maps in Appendix 1 of the Registration Report for further information).

City/District Council

Marlborough District


Marlborough Region

Legal description

Sec 5 Sq 28 North Boulder Bank Registration District (CT MB5D/986), Marlborough Land District

Location description

The building is situated on the north bank of the Wairau River, at the river's mouth, on a property containing other buildings. It is the building to the far east of the property, nearest the bank of the Wairau River.


The Pilot's House is the main surviving structure of the Pilot's Station at the Wairau Bar, Marlborough. Home to Government-appointed marine pilot James Bulliff and his family from 1868 to c.1886, the Pilot's House is a valuable reminder of a period in New Zealand's maritime history when pilots were stationed at many harbours, but is one of the few remaining examples of such buildings.

European settlement of the Wairau Valley area from 1847 onwards prompted the need for an efficient means of transport to convey goods and supplies to and from the fertile plains, in order to establish a successful pastoral industry. In the years before the railway came to Blenheim in 1880, the district was almost wholly dependent on trading by river and sea. The treacherous Wairau Bar at the convergence of the Opawa and Wairau river mouths was successfully charted and crossed in 1848. The burgeoning shipping trade between the Wairau and its export markets over the next decades necessitated the employment of a local navigation expert to guide vessels across the dangerously shifting channel.

The first official Pilot at the Wairau Bar was employed in 1860, but the position was disestablished in 1862 as a cost-cutting measure by the local provincial Government. However, increased shipping and the continual danger of the waters led to a Pilot Station again being instituted at the Wairau Bar in 1868, on land that was previously reserved as a memorial to the victims of the nearby 1843 Wairau Incident. The simple timber gabled cottage with lean-to most likely dates from around this time. It housed pilot James Bulliff and his family for the next 18 years, until its state of disrepair prompted the Marine Department to build a new residence for the Pilot in 1886. Due to Bulliff's death the same year it was his successors who lived in this new building, which was erected on a newly-created Pilot Station reserve next door to the site of the original Pilot's House. This second house was demolished in 2004. The original Pilot's House was bought by its next owner, William Samuel Aldridge, in 1893, and has remained in the hands of Aldridge's descendants ever since. Aldridge and his family used the house as their residence while running one of Marlborough's first commercial poultry farms from the property.

Although modified and repaired during the early stages of its history, the house retains many characteristic features of early colonial timber-based residences. Today the location of the well-preserved Pilot's House amongst other surviving remnants of the Pilot Station increases its contextual value as a piece of New Zealand maritime history.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Pilot's House is one of the few surviving pilots' houses from pre-1900 in New Zealand, and is even rarer in that it survives in its original location. Its historical value is further enhanced by other remnants of the old Pilot Station that remain visible in the area surrounding the house, and is made more remarkable by the fact it has outlasted the later (1886) residence for the Wairau Bar pilots, due to the 2004 demolition of this second house. The Pilot Station played an important part in facilitating the establishment of the successful Marlborough pastoral industry by housing the Government-appointed marine navigation expert essential for guiding trading vessels over the Wairau Bar, a stretch of water known to be treacherous. The pilot's services were crucial in order to enable transport of produce and supplies between the fertile Wairau Valley and its burgeoning export markets. The Pilot's House at the Wairau Bar is therefore significant as a historical reminder of the establishment of New Zealand's successful wool export industry, as well as past maritime administration and the importance of these minor ports to their local communities. The historical significance of the Pilot's House is further enhanced by its location in an area rich with other historical and archaeological features, both contemporaneous with the building (the Boulder Bank settlement and early colonial sites) and from earlier periods (e.g. the 'Moa Hunter' burial and occupation sites, Te Rauparaha's stockade and pa sites.) The Pilot's House is also associated with perhaps the most infamous colonial incident to have occurred in the area, the Wairau Incident of 1843, by virtue of its location on land initially reserved as a memorial to those who perished in the massacre.

Architectural Significance or Value

The Pilot's House has architectural value as a rare surviving example of a representative pre-1900 dwelling. Although the building has been repaired and modified, much of its original fabric remains in the form of the layout and simple gabled design, steeply pitched roof, internal wall linings and joinery. The repairs and modifications are old rather than modern, and are representative of their time in telling how people used and adapted these older buildings in a series of typical design forms. These repairs and modifications also have their own significance in having assisted this building to outlast its nearby successor pilot's residence.

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

The Pilot's House is representative of a period in New Zealand's maritime his-tory when marine administration systems were instituted in order to facili-tate the country's growing export industry, and pilots were typically em-ployed at harbours around the country. The Government-appointed Pilot at the treacherous Wairau Bar was essential to the successful establishment of the shipping trade between the fertile Wairau Valley and its export markets. The location of the well-preserved building amongst other surviving remnants of the Pilot Station increases its contextual value as a piece of New Zealand marine history.

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

It is the only known place to be associated with Captain James Bulliff, who was repeatedly mentioned in newspapers of the time in relation to his activities as Pilot.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

The Pilot's House is held in very high esteem by the local community, who have formed the Wairau Bar Project Group in order to protect it and other heri-tage sites in the area, prompted by the demolition of the second pilot's resi-dence.

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

The Pilot's House is important as a surviving aspect of early New Zealand colonial history. Before the development of the railway network, ports like Wairau were essential nodes for communication and the economic survival of their often isolated communities.

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

The Pilot's House is significant as a surviving, in situ example of a stage in New Zealand's maritime history when pilots were employed in many harbours around the country, (it has been estimated that there were over 100 small ports, plus the larger harbours at established settlements). However, although once numerous, hardly any pilots' residences from the pre-1900s remain today. The in situ location of the Pilot's House increases its rarity value, as other former pilot residences are known to have been moved off-site.

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

The Pilot's House is an integral part of a very significant wider historical and cultural landscape. Occupational history of the area dates back to early Polynesian 'Moa hunter' settlers of 800 years ago, and archaeological evidence of Te Rauparaha's Ngati Toa pa and the mid-nineteenth century European settlement remains in a number of sites around the Wairau River mouth. The wider area is also infamous as the scene of the 1843 Wairau Incident; the Pilot's House has connections to this incident due to its location on land reserved in memory of the victims of this massacre. As the best preserved structure associated with the Pilot Station (especially as a consequence of the 2004 demolition of the later pilot's residence) the Pilot's House is a vital part of this wider historical and cultural landscape. The Pilot's House is now also the only remaining pre-1900s building to survive in the Wairau Bar area.


The Pilot's House is of outstanding significance as a rare yet representative example of a pre-1900s building with many particularly noteworthy historical and cultural associations. It is architecturally special as a representative example of a pre-1870s timber house, retaining much of its original fabric and design, and also featuring modifications dating from the earlier stages of its history which tell of the common evolution of New Zealand timber house design. It is of exceptional historical significance as part of the Wairau Bar Pilot Station, which played a crucial part in the establishment and growth of the successful Marlborough pastoral industry, and is one of the few pilot's residences to survive when once they were numerous. The location of the Pilot's House, on its original site and surrounded by remains of other structures associated with the Pilot Station, enhances its contextual value as a piece of maritime history. It also is an integral part of the cultural and historical landscape of the wider area, as one of the best preserved structures in an area with many very significant archaeological, historical and cultural associations, including the 800-year-old 'Moa hunter' archaeological remains, extensive Maori occupational history, Te Rauparaha's 1828 Ngati Toa land invasions, and New Zealand's colonial history as exemplified by the 'Wairau Incident' and the mid-19th century European Boulder Bank settlement.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Pilot's House, built in approximately 1868, is situated just inside the mouth of the Wairau River, on the north bank of the convergence of the Wairau and Opawa rivers, Cloudy Bay, Marlborough, in an area of great historical significance. It is across the river from the Wairau Bar Boulder Bank and famous 13th century 'Moa hunter' burial site, and is associated with the nearby mid 19th century European settlement of hotels and a bullock terminal. The Wairau Pilot Station (of which the Pilot's House is the main surviving feature), played an important part in facilitating the establishment of the successful Marlborough pastoral industry as a base for the Pilot, a marine navigation expert essential for guiding trading vessels over the treacherous Wairau Bar. The simple timber gabled cottage with lean-to was home to the family of James Bulliff, the official pilot of the Wairau Bar from 1868 until c.1886, and since then has been owned by the descendants of its next occupant, William Samuel Aldridge, who ran one of Marlborough's first commercial poultry farms from the property for 50 years.

Pre-European history and early settler contact

The Wairau district was first settled about 800 years ago. The earliest evidence of human settlement has come from excavations at archaeological site P28/21, the Moa Hunter burial site. The Pilot's House is located directly across the river from the 'Moa hunter' burial site. This is one of the richest early archaeological sites in New Zealand and arguably one of the most significant, reflecting cultural attributes closely relating to eastern Polynesia and access to moa and rich natural resources.

Maori oral traditions assert that the first occupants were the Waitaha people. It is thought that the abundance of natural resources ultimately led to the demise of the Waitaha's occupation, with traditions stating that it was Waitaha gifts of preserved foods from their lands that incited Ngati Mamoe to invade in the late 16th or early 17th century. Ngati Mamoe were in turn defeated by Rangitane and Ngati Kuri among other groups; eventually Rangitane ousted all other challengers and became the dominant iwi of the Wairau Valley area.

Rangitane's position was weakened by the outbreak of disease, and in 1827 they succumbed to invading tribes from the North Island, led by the Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha. To consolidate Ngati Toa's position, Te Rauparaha built a pa just inside the entrance to the Wairau River on the north bank, very close to the position of the future Pilot's House. In October 1839 it was therefore with Ngati Toa that William Wakefield negotiated to purchase upper South Island and lower North Island land on behalf of the New Zealand Company. Te Rauparaha signed on other Cloudy Bay chiefs' behalf, thereby completing the alienation of their land interests in the area (other than certain reserves set aside) to the New Zealand Company.

Colonisation of the Wairau Valley and establishment of Boulder Bank settlement

In 1841, following the establishment of its first colony at Wellington, the New Zealand Company began planning a second colony at Tasman Bay, named Nelson. But the land allotment plans drawn up and sold in England were soon proven to have been too ambitious for the local conditions. It became apparent that there was not enough arable rural land available in the immediate Nelson area, and the colonists looked further afield.

The New Zealand Company surveyors' discovery of the 200,000 fertile acres of the Wairau Valley in 1842 provided a solution to this problem. However, ownership and possession of the land was already under dispute: Ngati Toa chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata asserted that they were the rightful owners of the Valley and that it had not been included in their earlier sale of South Island lands to William Wakefield in October 1839, whilst disenfranchised local iwi argued that Te Rauparaha had no just claim to the ownership and sale of their land. This conflict and general unrest led to the infamous event known as the 'Wairau Incident', a skirmish between Ngati Toa and New Zealand Company surveyors in June 1843 that resulted in the deaths of over 25 people. Te Rangihaeata's wife Te Rongo, and Captain Arthur Wakefield, Resident Agent of the New Zealand Company, were amongst the victims.

Shockwaves from this tragedy were felt locally and nationally, and no more attempts to secure the Wairau Valley were made until 1847, after Commissioner Spain's inquiry into the land claims of the Nelson area found that the Wairau District had not been included in the original 1839 sale. By various ‘illegal, devious and underhand devices' possession of the Wairau was finally wrested from Ngati Toa for the sum of £3000, and the valley was divided into allotments to include a certain amount of acres as a Native Reserve. Whilst one of these Reserves was along the north bank of the Wairau River, the map accompanying the Deed of Sale shows a one mile strip of land stretching west along the coast of Cloudy Bay from the mouth of the river to the Tuamarina Stream, which was set aside as Government land apparently in commemoration of the Company men killed in the 1843 Wairau Incident. The future Pilot's House would be situated on this strip of land.

Pilotage and the Pilot Station at the Wairau Bar

With the official European settlement of the fertile Wairau Valley from 1847 onwards, the employment of the Wairau River as a port was vital to the establishment of a successful pastoral industry. Prior to the utilisation of the river, early farmers were required to use bullock drays to transport their wool and meat products to the coast for transferral to waiting sea vessels for export. A means to convey goods and supplies inland to the settlers was also needed.

According to family historian Celia Manson, it was three enterprising ex-whalers, Captain's Daniel Dougherty, George Jackson and Samuel Bowler, from nearby Port Underwood who pushed to establish the Wairau river trade. The depth of the Bar was lowered by an earthquake in October 1848, making this plan more feasible. Experienced American seafarer Daniel Dougherty was particularly confident the Bar could be charted, and he applied for a sheep and cattle run sited in a prime position for the project: right on the north bank of the mouth of the Wairau River, close to the site of Te Rauparaha's stockade, on the strip of Government land reserved as a memorial to the victims of the Wairau Incident. It has been suggested that Dougherty was the builder of the timber Pilot's House, which is also on or very near to this site, but the diary of his wife records that he constructed a thatched reed cottage for the family. Nonetheless, Dougherty is a significant figure in the story of the Pilot's House, as the initiator of pilotage at the Wairau Bar.

The Doughertys moved to their new cottage in early November 1848, and added to the small settlement of hotels that had developed around the mouth of the Wairau River during the late 1840s, mainly on the Boulder Bank side surrounding the necessary bullock terminal. An ex-whaler named James Wynen had in 1847 also established a small accommodation and storehouse on the north bank. In the grounds of the extant timber Pilot's House, eight metres to the east of the building, the foundations of an earlier cob cottage remain visible; it is unclear who inhabited this but it is likely to have been either Wynen's or Dougherty's dwelling, as both are reported to have been on or near to this site.

Dougherty got straight to work charting the Wairau Bar. Over a period of two months in late 1848 he observed the tides and effects of the weather on the channel, took depth soundings and mapped snags and hidden shoals under the water. Dougherty was qualified for this task, as he claimed to have earlier been the first man to chart Wellington Harbour (also apparently admitting that he had later given this valuable chart away in a fit of drunken generosity). On December 2nd Dougherty reported his encouraging observations on the navigability of the Bar, along with a warning that

as the channel shifts no vessel should enter without sounding with a boat or if I am living there and any vessel coming off the bar and hoisting a signal I will go out with a boat and bring her in or buy [sic] the channel off so that she may run in in safety.

With this statement, Dougherty offered his services as the first (unofficial) pilot of the Wairau Bar, and joined a profession as old as seafaring itself, and one which would be established at similar harbours around New Zealand. Not counting the principal ports at the larger settlements, maritime historian John Ross estimates there were at one time or another over 100 minor seaports in the country, amongst which Wairau was included. In the years before the expansion of the railway network (which reached Blenheim in 1880), these ports were vital as nodes of communication and trading points in an age when shipping was prepared to seek cargo where it lay. Pilots had long been used to guide ships in to port through treacherous coastal waters; at some stage it was realised that employing the detailed knowledge of a resident local pilot, familiar with the features of his home harbour, was preferable to the previous practice where a general pilot travelled with the vessel. Pilotage was a skilled and valued profession: pilotage expert Roger Clancy states that ‘this inshore ship handling is the most exacting part of all marine navigation.' Accordingly, the Nelson Examiner of 30 December 1848 reported Dougherty's favourable observations, along with the news that on 25 November, under Dougherty's guidance, Captain Sam Bowler had successfully crossed the Wairau Bar in his schooner Triumph and proceeded twelve miles up the river. River trade with the Wairau Valley, and the history of pilotage at Wairau Harbour, had begun.

However, Daniel Dougherty was not around to benefit from this. By the time the article in the Nelson Examiner was published, Dougherty had already moved his family away from the area and had taken up a position as Pilot of Wellington Harbour - seemingly abandoning his application for the land on which his cottage stood. From this point it becomes unclear as to who took over his tasks at the Wairau Bar. Wynen continued to run his accommodation house and stores for the increasing amount of goods being offloaded and collected at the trading post just inside the Bar, but seems to have acted more as a publican and harbour master than marine pilot, although the large gum trees that still survive today were said to have been planted in the area around his house at some stage in the late 1840s/early 1850s, in order to mark the river entrance for ships out at sea. Samuel Bowler seems a likely candidate for pilotage duties, and in 1855 he and George Jackson purchased Wynen's business, and took over the accommodation house, stores, wool sheds and whale boats. Wynen sold up and moved up the Opawa River to the area known as ‘The Beaver' (later named Blenheim), where he established another store and became widely credited as a founder of the town. Samuel Bowler too was to become a prominent citizen of the Lower Wairau, buying up numerous properties and business interests in the area, and serving as a member of the Provincial Council from 1862-1864.

Another earthquake in January 1855 further lowered the depth of the Opawa River, allowing vessels of greater size to pass. Prior to this, ships had unloaded their goods at a point just inside the Wairau Bar, but now were able to travel further inland. This moved the focus of trade away from the Boulder Bank settlement and towards Blenheim, and the Boulder Bank township declined from this point onwards. However, the need for a pilot station at the Wairau Bar was just as, if not more so, important to facilitate the expanding shipping business and help convey the valuable cargo across the dangerous Bar. By 1857, it was reported that the steamers Old Jack, Rapid, Mary, Necromancer and Gipsy were regular traders between the Beaver Station and Nelson or Port Underwood, taking Wairau Valley wool and other produce to these ports for export. On January 1st 1859, Governor Thomas Gore Browne officially established the Port of Wairau at Blenheim, at the same time licensing it as a ‘Warehousing Port' for the importation of tobacco. Crossing the Bar to get to the port was still a risky business and a number of vessels had foundered in the waters, but even so, in response to calls for an official pilot station to be established at the river mouth, in April 1859 it was reported that ‘it was not at present the intention of the Government to station a pilot at the mouth of the Wairau River.'

Whatever the tipping point was, it was then reported in October 1860 that the Provincial Council had acquiesced and that ‘Mr F. Macdonald has been appointed pilot at the mouth of the Wairau River.' This, according to Holdaway, was Francis (Frank) Macdonald, the founder of the long-established inn on the Boulder Bank side of the river, an establishment of dubious repute in a township with a wild and unruly reputation. The reputation of the inn had also extended to the publican: in 1857 Macdonald had been found guilty of the assault of local shoemaker Richard Burke (who consequently died), and served three years with hard labour. While Macdonald was serving his term in prison, some of his interests were taken over by Samuel Bowler (for example, Bowler purchased Macdonald's woolstore.) It is unclear whether Macdonald had also lost ownership of the inn during this time, or if his appointment as the pilot was a result of a decision to turn over a new leaf on his release.

In 1861 Macdonald apparently earned £100 pounds for his role as ‘Signalman and Pilot.' Pilots used an extensive language of signals (flags and beacons) to communicate the condition of the harbour to ships out at sea and indicate when to approach, and an 1860 survey plan commissioned by Samuel Bowler at his land on the north bank shows a building on the site of the present Pilot's House as well as the position of a flagpole or signal mast nearby, indicating that this property had continued from Dougherty's days as the site of the pilot station. However, Macdonald's appointment as an official pilot was not to last very long: in 1862 the Provincial Council of Marlborough abolished the pilot establishments at Wairau and also Picton, in an attempt to economise expenditure.

Harbour administration changed hands around this time. Originally looked after by the Harbour Master's Branch of the Colonial Secretariat and the Provincial Council, the 1862 Marine Board Act transferred these responsibilities to the Marine Board, until 1866 when the Marine Department was established. Two years later, in early 1868, an official Pilot Station at the Wairau Bar was again instituted, in the same area as Dougherty's and Wynen's original cob cottages (Sec 5 Square 28 North Boulder Bank Registration District) ¬ now officially Samuel Bowler's land. James Bulliff, a 26-year-old originally from Hobart but familiar with the navigation of the area from his time as captain of the schooner Falcon on the Wellington-Blenheim run, began his service as Pilot and Port Signalman, at a rate of £120 per year. The budget for this salary further indicates the economic viability of the trading business passing through the Wairau Bar, as elsewhere where the economics of a small port did not justify the employment of a full-time pilot the Marine Department would often enter into an ‘acting pilot' arrangement with a local fisherman. The Wairau Pilot Station was therefore justified and deemed necessary.

The timber Pilot's House appears to date from around this time and was Bulliff's residence, along with his wife Clara and children, for the next 18 years. While some physical features of the building suggest it could have been built even earlier than this there is no clear historical evidence to support this, making a date of the later 1860s the most likely, in accordance with the re-establishment of the official Pilot's Station and Bulliff's employment. An archival source from 1884 which mentions the age of the house to be ‘now over 15 years old', placing its construction around 1868/1869, supports this premise. A painting by W.M. Forster, dated c.1870, shows what appears to be the Pilot's House, although possibly without the lean-to addition. If the house was built earlier than this, it seems most plausible to have been around the time Sam Bowler was officially granted the land in 1861.

Bulliff's appointment was validated almost immediately after he took up residence at the Pilot Station, when his services were called upon in a dramatic sea rescue just outside the Wairau Bar. The Otago Witness relayed the story of the rescue of a Mr Aldridge of Port Underwood, along with his sons Henry and James and Charles Macdonald. In a very heavy sea they had nonetheless endeavoured to return to Ocean Bay with a boatload of timber, but after crossing the Bar their boat was capsized by the waves outside. Fortunately this capsize had been seen from the shore; however, the only individual who owned a boat of any considerable size ‘refused to put to sea, considering it would be madness.' Bulliff therefore took the rescue into his own hands: he stripped and battled the sea to get his ten-foot pilot vessel to where the party was clinging to the side of their upturned boat, and took the exhausted people on board. He then dropped them off on the shore of the Boulder Bank, before returning over the Bar himself. The article also gives us valuable information about the state of equipment a pilot of the time had to work with, commenting:

It is long since we have had the pleasure of relating such a piece of daring as this, but we cannot, while drawing public attention to Mr Bulliff's courage, refrain from remarking upon the absurdity of a pilot being only provided by the Government with a boat of such dimensions as ten feet long.

Reports indicate that Bulliff's service as a pilot continued more or less smoothly for the next 18 years, and although a few vessels were wrecked on or near the Bar, none were judged to have been as a result of his actions. He likely carried out the regular duties of a marine pilot and harbour master: charting depth soundings and regularly mapping and reporting on the channel, organising the removal of snags, and communicating with ships through a system of signals (coloured balls, flags, semaphore arms and lights) in order to convey the various procedures involved in pilotage. His family continued to grow, with wife Clara giving birth to at least seven children over the years, although their time at the Pilot Station was no doubt marred by the deaths of two of their children, Emma in 1872 and Walter Meech in 1885, who are buried on a ridge nearby.

By 1884, the state of the Bulliff's dwelling was causing them trouble, however. Bulliff wrote to his landlords the Marine Department in June 1884, reporting that ‘during bad weather it is almost uninhabitable. It is built of white pine and is now a very old house - There is no possibility of the building lasting much longer as it is entirely rotten and worm eaten.' This letter sparked a paper trail within the Department as to the status of their occupation of the site of the Pilot Station.

The Pilot Station land had been initially leased by the Provincial Government in 1872 from owner Sam Bowler. Prior to this it appears that the Pilot Station's tenancy on Bowler's land was a more informal arrangement; this is supported by the official lease's documentation of the rent due to Bowler - £5 per year - a seemingly token amount relative to the £120 salary costs for the Pilot. In 1880 Bowler sold the property to Mr C. Chaytor of Tuamarina, who continued to lease the site to the Marine Department. In response to Bulliff's request for repairs to the Pilot's House, the Marine Department sent surveyors to ascertain the location of the house in relation to the adjacent Government land (Sec 30 & Sec 1 Blk XVII Cloudy Bay Sd), and engineers to assess the feasibility of moving the existing house onto this land. It was decided to make the Government land an official Reserve (granted 20 March 1885), but Resident Engineer M. Blackett's professional opinion argued against moving the existing Pilot House across the boundary onto this new Reserve:

The house itself is in very bad repair, and would hardly stand moving the piles are gone and the shingles rotten whilst the building itself is riddled with dry rot, I do not consider that it would be economical to remove it as it is now over 15 years old and is all of white pine.

Consequently, sometime between June 1885 and mid 1886 , a completely new dwelling for the Pilot and his family was built on the site of the new Pilot Station Reserve (at E 2598161 N 5966604), at a cost of £294 3s. 6d.

Later history of the Pilot's House

James Bulliff, however, died on January 7th 1886, and it was his successor, John Rodgers (who had been boatman at Hokitika for over nineteen years) who moved into this new building. The old Pilot's House building must have undergone extensive repairs at some stage after this, as a result of its reportedly poor condition, because in 1893 it was again sold and became the home to Mr William Samuel Aldridge and family, from Ngakuta Bay in Port Underwood. (It appears that these were not the same Aldridges who had been rescued from their capsized boat by Bulliff in 1868.) It seems likely that the Aldridges took possession of the repaired but original Pilot's House, rather than a newly constructed building, as the Pilot's House today retains design features characteristic of 1860s (or earlier) colonial timber house style. William Aldridge remained associated with the new Pilot Station through a series of correspondence relating his dissatisfaction with various activities undertaken by Mr Rodgers and his successors, but turned the focus of the old Pilot Station land towards a new business: poultry farming, along with sheep and cattle. Aldridge's commercial poultry farm is reputed to have been the first of its kind in the Marlborough region, and prospered for the next 50 years. The old Pilot's House building has remained in the hands of Aldridge's descendants, although hasn't been lived in since the 1970s.

A number of modifications have been made over the years; however the most significant of these were made in the early stages of the building's history, such as the main lean-to addition, added sometime between 1870 and 1900. Salmond notes that the addition of the lean-to to the original gabled structure creates a classic ‘saltbox' form, one of the typical adaptive house forms of the early colonial period, and therefore the Pilot's House is a representative example of the common evolution of New Zealand timber dwellings. Later modifications include the installation of a new kitchen in 1933, and various window, chimney and room use rearrangements at this time and in 1952, however the Pilot's house retains much of its original fabric (in the form of layout, internal wall linings and joinery), and the building is presently in a fair condition. Interestingly, although its state of disrepair prompted the construction of the second Pilot House in 1885/1886, it has outlived this newer building, which was demolished by the Department of Conservation in 2004 at which time they were under the mistaken impression it was a twentieth-century building. This demolition prompted the formation of the Wairau Bar Project Group, a collaboration between local residents (including the owners of the Pilot's House, Robin and Alison Orchard), Department of Conservation, the Marlborough District Council, Rangitane and Ngati Rarua, and the Marlborough Historical Society, in order to implement a plan for the securing the future management of the history of this area. The Pilot's House is now the only pre-1900 building to survive in the area around the river mouth: the hotels and cottages of the Boulder Bank settlement only survive as archaeological remains.

The Pilot Station at the mouth of the Wairau River continued to operate throughout the twentieth century, until gradual decline of the coastal shipping industry led to the Port of Wairau at Blenheim being disestablished in 1968. Although the area around the river mouth is scattered with reminders of this history - the remains of an old wharf and breakwater, possible pilot's post and signal mast, and the hulk of the Kennedy, a twin screw steamer retired to the site in 1929 to form part of the breakwater, are visible - the Pilot's House is the best preserved structural remnant of the past maritime occupation of the area, increasing its contextual value as a record of a period when small ports were more prolific and vital to the local and wider communities they served. It is also one of the few surviving pilots' houses from pre-1900 left in New Zealand today: there is only one other similar registered example in the Central Region (Reg. 1416 Pilot's Cottage (Former), Worser Bay, Wellington), and one other example in Tongaporutu, Taranaki is currently being researched for registration. The only other registered example in New Zealand, Reg. 7368 Pilot's Cottages Historic Area, Aramoana (which contains three pilots' cottages) dates from 1913, 45 years later than the Wairau Bar Pilot's House. Other former pilot's or signalman's houses have been identified yet require research to confirm this aspect of their history (there may be possible examples in Okarito, Mokau, Greymouth, Lyttleton and Timaru). Many of these appear to have been extensively modernised or moved from their original locations (for example, those formerly at Lyttleton Harbour), increasing the rarity value of the Wairau Bar Pilot's House.

Physical Description

General Location

The Wairau Bar Pilot's House is across the river from the Boulder Bank, a narrow strip of boulders, gravel, sand and silt extending 8-9km north west from the White Bluffs at the south eastern corner of the Wairau Plain, and enclosing a large wetland and lagoon system. The building is situated on the edge of the Wairau River estuary, near the mouth, within a grove of 7 to 8 mature gum trees - two thought to date from the late 1840s/early 1850s. It is approached by way of the owners' residence, some 35 m west of the cottage. A prior approach, presently discouraged by thick shrubbery, is via the road to the wharf which turns 40 - 50 metres to the east of the cottage. Ten metres to the south is the estuary; to the north by 50-60 m the Wairau Bar Rd. The site is generally level, although lightly sloping at the cottage, and the ground material is soil and shingle.

External Appearance

The house is a small timber building with lean-to. The simple steep gable is aligned east to west and the lean-to portions (main lean-to and extension) drop away to the south. The cottage floor is 20 cm above ground on the north side of the cottage and 50 cm on its south side. The 'front door' is through the north wall; the south back door is via the lean-to.

The main roof of the house is a gable of around 45 degrees, and is of corrugated (now corroded) iron in single lengths, flashed at ridge and barges. The rafters are not exposed however the galvanized spouting is mounted on brackets fixed to blocks, simulating rafter ends. There are no eaves. Bargeboards and overhangs are narrow and soffits are lined with timber boards.

The exterior walls of the gable are sheathed (in part) with square dressed, lapped 20 cm boards with circular saw markings. An early photograph suggests that these boards, on the north and west elevations, are pre 1900 boards. The east wall is lined with sharper, smoother boards indicating recent replacement. The boards are not scribed into corner cappings.

The north front door, with simple architraves, is hung over a concrete door step with a narrow timber door tread. To each side is a double-hung, 4 pane window with square-dressed architraves, scribers and large sill.

The west gable end has vertical weatherboards with a loft door, centrally mounted, in a simple frame on gate hinges. Below is a single casement window.

The back door is located in the lean-to porch resting against the south wall, off centre. A narrow door of vertical tongue & groove boards (t & g) is hung over the two steps up from the concrete porch floor. The first step is thick, deep and worn; the second step is a joist trimmer.

The main lean-to has a low angled, corrugated iron roof and galvanized spouting; no eave; similar weatherboards and detailing to the gable section. There is evidence of a chimney, now removed, on the west wall. Timber piles are visible where the baseboards are removed.

The lean-to extension roof, over the simple back porch, runs at the same angle. The south wall includes a concrete chimney, flashed to the exterior of the house with space for weatherboards to run clear behind. On the south wall are the exterior water tank, plumbing work (including wet-back) and a chimney rebuilt from used bricks. Walls of this section are crudely lined with corrugated iron.

At the porch, doors lead to the main lean-to living room and the kitchen. Beside the kitchen door are coat hooks and a wood box.


The house must be accessed from the back or kitchen doors at present as the front door is closed off. The back door opens directly into a living room of around 20m2 which has the longitudinal tongue and groove and vee (t g & v) lined skillion roof of the main lean-to.

Walls are lined similarly with t g & v boards, horizontal. Board matching is interrupted where the lean-to extension has been added with battens covering the joints. The room has two windows: a finely detailed double-hung 4 pane sash window with slender mullions, with a curved shallow sill, faces north; and a 4 pane square window of more recent origin with lever latches and a wide sill, faces west. A semi-circular scotia is almost continuous. Floor boards of 140 cm run east to west with no skirting. On the south wall a wide stone-aggregate, green concrete fire surround and hearth with a simple mantle and sheet board above. Architraves are finely molded.

From the room, a door (of t g & v) leads north to a short hall within the gable of the cottage. The rooms under the gable comprise the hall and two bedrooms, one each side of the hall. The hall with its front door at the end has t g & v boards to the ceiling, wallpapered match lining and a semi-circular arrised dado rail, simple door frames, no architraves and beveled skirtings. The front door has two long glazed panels (starburst patterned glass) and a simple curved beading over two timber panels.

The two bedrooms are of similar size of around 10m2 with wallpapered match - lining to the walls, flat ceiling, small scotia trimming, and similar beveled skirting. The finely detailed sash window faces north in each. The west room has a small casement window while the east window has a fireplace in its east wall. The fireplace has a simple but high surround undecorated but with column pediments and an expressed skirting. The fireplace is closed off.

From the living room, to the right is the completely wallpapered bathroom fitted with bath, basin and cupboards. A four pane two sash double hung window faces east. Linoleum is laid on the floor.

Down two steps is the kitchen - a lean-to extension - of lower proportions with ceilings and walls lined with t g & v boards. One finely detailed 4 pane window faces south and a similar window faces west. Exterior weatherboards continue through and show where the extension was added. Further into the room the ceiling is lined with soft-board and a 12 pane two sash double hung window faces east; no sill, simple architrave. In the south wall a Champion coal range is set beneath a chimney behind a huge fire surround of curved breast, deep skirtings and mantle brackets. Early 20th century kitchen joinery and tap ware is fitted. Flooring is linoleum on concrete.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1868 -
House most likely to have been constructed around this time, possibly earlier c.1860

1870 - 1900
Lean-to addition added to south of house

1886 - 1900
Shingled roof replaced with corrugated iron, piles repaired, house extensively repaired

1900 -
Windows changed from 12-pane to 4-pane

1920 -
Original kitchen on west side of cottage extended out 137cm, chimney built on west wall.

1933 -
Present-day kitchen installed in lean-to section and original kitchen modified to a dining room.

1933 -
Floor-to-ceiling wallpaper modified in hallway and replaced with lino halfway up wall to wainscoting.

1933 -
Chimney on west wall removed and bricks from this reused in new kitchen chimney. Porch along SW corner of house likely reduced in length at this time.

1952 -
Timber on east exterior wall replaced, original chimney removed (fireplace left in bedroom but blocked off). Window installed on south wall where second chimney was.

Small window added to bedroom on west side of building.

East bedroom altered into a bathroom, front door replaced, two internal doors removed.

Construction Details

Timber framing sheathed with weatherboards and a corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

28th April 2008

Report Written By

Blyss Wagstaff & Alison Dangerfield

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

Annual Report of the Marine Department, 1885 Vol III, H-13, p.2, 28 May, 1885

Annual Report of the Marine Department, Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR), 1886 Vol III, H-24, p.2, 1 June 1886

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

Marine (M), series 1, record 3/9/34, part 1, Archives New Zealand

Lands and Survey (LS), box 1342, record 38709/4, 'Pilot Station, Wairau, Marlborough,' Archives New Zealand

Superintendent of the Southern Division (SSD), series 1, box 1, Archives New Zealand

New Zealand Customs Service (AALN), series 7234, access number W5217, box 38, record 123.020 Blenheim

Bagley, 2007

Steve Bagley, Wairau Bar and Boulder Bank: Survey of historic and archaeological sites and structures. Unpublished report for the Wairau Bar Project Group, May 2007.

Clancy, 1984

Roger Clancy, Ships, Ports and Pilots: a history of the piloting profession, McFarland, Jefferson, N.C., 1984.

Holdaway, 2005

B Holdaway, 'A Bullock Terminal: the Northern Tip of the Wairau Boulder Bank', Centred on Nelson 2005: The Conference Proceedings, Nelson, June 3-6, 2005, New Zealand Society of Genealogists Inc

pp. 88-94.

Mackay, 1873

Alexander Mackay, A compendium of official documents relative to native affairs in the South Island Vols. I-II, The Government of New Zealand, Wellington, 1872-1873

Manson, 1974

Manson, Celia, The Story of a New Zealand Family, Cape Catley Ltd, Whatamongo Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound, 1974

Marlborough Museum

Marlborough Museum

A M Hale Collection, Small box reference: Wairau Bar Aerial Photographs etc MHS Marker, Photos and Clipping 13/E/9 20D, Marlborough Museum.

McIntosh, 1940

A D McIntosh et al (eds), Marlborough: A Provincial History, Marlborough Historical Society, Blenheim, 1940

Mitchell, 2004

J and H Mitchell, Te Tau Ihu o te Waka - A History of Maori of Marlborough and Nelson, Wellington, 2004

Ross, 1977

John Ross, Pride in Their Ports: The Story of the Minor Ports. Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1977

Waitangi Tribunal

Waitangi Tribunal Report, www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz

Te Tau Ihu o te Waka a Maui : preliminary report on te tau ihu customary rights in the statutory Ngai Tahu takiwa.

Other Information

A fully referenced version of the registration report is available from the NZHPT Central 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.