Riccarton House and Bush

16 Kahu Road And 19 Ngahere Street, Riccarton, Christchurch

  • Riccarton House and Bush.
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: pseudoparax. Date: 2/02/2008.
  • Riccarton House and Bush. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Bernard Spragg – volvob12b. Taken By: Bernard Spragg – volvob12b. Date: 11/08/2010.
  • Riccarton House and Bush.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 1/09/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 1868 Date Entered 25th June 1992 Date of Effect 25th June 1992


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 44967 (RT CB27K/477), Canterbury Land District and part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 14082 (RT CB636/65), Canterbury Land District, and the building known as Riccarton House thereon and Riccarton Bush. Extent also includes the mature trees and grounds associated with Riccarton House on Lot 1 DP 14082 (RT CB636/65), Canterbury Land District. Refer to the map tabled at the Board meeting on 31 October 2013.

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 44967 (RT CB27K/477) and Lot 1 DP 14082 (RT CB636/65), Canterbury Land District


The following text was prepared as part of an upgrade project and was completed 09 December 2001:

Riccarton House was the centre of Canterbury society for many years. The house was built in three stages. The first dates from 1856 and was built for Jane Deans (1823-1911), the widow of John Deans (1820-1854), one of the earliest permanent Pakeha settlers in Canterbury.

John Deans and his brother William (1817?-1851) arrived from Scotland and first attempted to settle in Nelson [and Wellington respectively]. In 1843 they moved to Canterbury and became, along with their farmworkers, the Gebbie and Manson families, the first Pakeha to settle permanently on the Canterbury Plains. (A small group, led by James Herriot, had attempted to settle at Putaringamotu in 1840 but this settlement had failed and was abandoned by 1841.)

With the arrival of the Canterbury Association colonists in 1850 the isolation of the Deans brothers changed. Many of the settlers came to stay with the Deans. Jane Deans recalled that 'the newcomers flocked to it [Riccarton] in troops...All required to be fed and some lodged for the night' and that her husband and brother-in-law 'literally kept open house'.

John Deans died from tuberculosis in 1854 and his wife was left with a small son, John Dean II (1853-1902), and the Deans estate to manage. (William had drowned in 1851). Three of Jane's half-brothers came out to New Zealand in the following years to assist her and her cousin, Douglas Graham, to manage the Riccarton farm from 1854. In 1855 construction of the first part of Riccarton House began, using timber cut from Riccarton Bush. Jane moved into it in March 1856, although it was another month before the house was complete.

Riccarton House was extended in 1874 to accommodate the guests who came to Riccarton to celebrate John Deans II's coming of age. Of this Jane said, 'The building was not so satisfactory as I had wished it to be; the wood was not well seasoned and the workmanship rough'.

In 1900 further additions were made by the England Brothers giving the house its current character. The England Brothers, one of the foremost architectural firms in Christchurch, was established by Robert William England in 1886. His brother Edward joined him in 1906 and the firm became well known for both domestic work, such as McLean's Mansion, and commercial buildings, such as the former D.I.C. building in Cashel Street.

To Riccarton House the England Brothers added a large entrance hall, drawing room and first floor bedroom, as well as a bedroom wing and service rooms to the south of the earlier building. In doing so, a large portion of the 1856 house was removed. Ornate late Victorian verandahs and gables added by the England Brothers give the exterior of the house its distinctive appearance.

Riccarton House was occupied by the Deans family until 1947 when it was purchased by the Christchurch City Council. It is now administered by the Riccarton Bush Board of Trustees and open to the public. While the vegetable and flower gardens and the orchards of earlier times have disappeared, the mature trees surrounding the house remain. Also associated with the house is the adjoining remnant of native bush, gifted to Christchurch City by the Deans family in 1914. Riccarton Bush is the only surviving stand of wetlands podocarp forest in Christchurch, and is dominated by kahikatea.

Riccarton House is significant as a historic homestead built in three distinct stages. In conjunction with Riccarton Bush and Deans' Cottage it illustrates the history of the area, from the bush that existed prior to Pakeha settlement, through to the first cottages of the settlers and the later houses built by the successful immigrants.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Riccarton House illustrates the evolution of the homestead, albeit in a suburban setting, over the first fifty years of Canterbury settlement. The building's three stages of development offer physical evidence of the Deans family's rising fortunes and of their more leisured lifestyle as a result.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


Although Riccarton House was erected in three stages the building achieves a unified appearance because the largest section, erected in 1900, is sympathetic to the two earlier wings in its construction, style and internal layout. In recent years alterations have been made to make the building suitable for public use but few structural changes have occurred since 1900 and the house is therefore "remarkable for its integrity". (P Wilson, Suggested Additions to Draft Management Plan, 1990).

Riccarton House serves as a visible reminder of the England brothers' contribution to Canterbury domestic architecture and of their popularity with wealthy clients seeking to express that wealth in the architectural character of their homes.


Riccarton House is the focal point of Deans Bush where its proximity to Deans Cottage (1843-4) enhances the historic significance of both buildings. Brick farm buildings erected for the Deans family still stand on the present site of Christchurch Boys' High School were they serve as a reminder of the land's former use as a family farm. These buildings were purchased in 1924 by the school (along with the land on which they stand).

Deans Bush is unique in Canterbury as it contains the last remaining stand of lowland Kahikatea forest. Acting as an attractive backdrop to the house and cottage on the site, the forest is complemented by the grounds close to the house which feature a large number of imported trees, many of which were planted by Jane Deans last century. Among them are three 1849 oaks grown from acorns given to William and John Deans by Sir George Grey.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

England, Robert William & Edward Herbert

Robert William England (1863-1908) was born at Lyttelton, the son of a timber merchant. Educated in Christchurch, he chose to go to England for his architectural training and began practicing as an architect in Christchurch around the age of twenty-three. In 1906 he took his younger brother Edward (1875 - c.1953) into practice with him.

Among the notable residential designs the England Brothers were responsible for are McLean's Mansion, (1899 - 1902), and the third stage of Riccarton House (1900). Robert was more concerned with the final effect achieved than stylistic fidelity and drew on a variety of styles including the English Arts and Crafts movement. Some of their more well-known public works include the former D.I.C building in Cashel Street (1908), the A.J White building on the corner of Tuam and High Streets (c.1904-1910) and the Kaiapoi Woollen Mills building in Manchester Street (now demolished). They were also involved in designing a number of churches around Christchurch, including Knox Church in Bealey Avenue and St Albans Methodist Church.

The firm continued after Robert's death in 1908 until 1941, although it is generally considered Edward was a more conservative architect than his brother and the firm's most notable commissions occurred before Robert's death.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The following text was prepared as part of an upgrade project and was completed 09 December 2001:

They had been allowed to select 400 acres at Riccarton in exchange for the land they had purchased in Manawatu and Nelson. They also rented, from Ngai Tahu, all the land that lay within six miles from their freehold property, which included the site selected by the Canterbury Association for the settlement of Christchurch. After much negotiation with the Canterbury Association the Deans relinquished this land in exchange for Run 41, 'Homebush', also registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taonga.By 1844 John and William had planted cabbages, peas, potatoes, onions and leeks. They also planted fruit trees and other exotics, such as hawthorne (for hedging) and oaks.Jane Deans expanded the garden and planted many exotic conifers and other trees. By 1874 she could say that over 100 varieties of forest trees had been planted at Riccarton. In 1876 she developed a vast kitchen garden, with borders of flowers for cutting, on the opposite side of the river from the house. When her daughter-in-law, Catherine Edith, who married John Deans II in 1879, took over the flower gardens they developed into informal mixed borders contained rhododendrons, roses and many perennials.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


Canterbury's first colonial settlers were the Deans brothers, William and John, who arrived in the province in 1843. In that year the brothers settled in Riccarton, called Putaringamotu by local Maori who used the bush in pre-European times, where they built a slab hut and then Deans' Cottage which is the oldest extant building in Canterbury. Both William and John Deans died suddenly in the early 1850s but John's widow Jane (1823-1911) continued to develop the Riccarton estate and she was also responsible for building the 1856 and 1874 wings of Riccarton House. The latter was erected to accommodate the guests who assembled to celebrate John Deans II's coming of age in that year. John Deans II erected the largest section of the house in 1900 by which time he undoubtedly needed more room to house his twelve children.

As early as 1850 half of the fifty-five acres of forest at Riccarton had been given by the Deans to the Canterbury settlers and in 1914 John Deans III gifted the remainder of Riccarton Bush to the people of Christchurch. Family members continued to live in Riccarton House until 1947 and today they still play an active role in the property's administration. Riccarton House is currently used as a community function centre and future plans for the building provide for greater public access after sympathetic restoration of the building.

Physical Description

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.


James Johnson (1856)

Mr Marley (1874)

Robert England, Architect (1900)


James Johnson was the builder who was responsible for the earliest part of Riccarton House and a Mr Marley was the architect engaged by Jane Deans to design the 1874 addition (Notes for Riccarton House Guides, 1990). Evidently while Johnson took great care in his work, Marley's addition was not very satisfactory, particularly as he did not allow sufficient space for the stairs and a gap had to be cut in the ceiling for headroom (Ibid).

The dominant architectural character of Riccarton House is, however, created by the third stage of the building which was designed by the R W England. Robert William England (1863-1908) was one of Canterbury's foremost architects around the turn of the century. Son of a well-known local builder and timber merchant, England set up practice in 1886, having recently received his architectural training in England. He subsequently formed a partnership with his younger brother, Edward Herbert (1875-c.1953), which was known especially for its domestic work. In addition to a number of commercial buildings and the substantial alterations made to Cridland's St Andrew's Presbyterian Church (1889-91), the England brothers also designed Holly Lea (1899-1902) and several large houses on Christchurch's Bealey Avenue.


Riccarton House is a large two-storeyed building which was built in three stages between 1856 and 1900. Resting upon concrete foundations the house is clad in lapped weatherboards over a light timber frame with Western Red Cedar shingles on the roof. In plan the house is basically rectangular with the 1856 and 1874 wings projecting from the east wall of the main section and the former chauffeur's quarters and the curator's garage projecting from the west. The principal facade is north facing and combines within it the humble appearance of the 1856 wing and the late Victorian exuberance of the latest section. The latter forms the largest part of the house and establishes its architectural character; bringing together elements of Queen Anne domestic architecture with the late Victorian villa style. Gabled roof forms crown individual bays and wings, creating a picturesque roofline which helps to reconcile the different stages of the building's construction.

Decorative timberwork is the principal feature of the 1900 section of the facade but elsewhere the building is quite restrained in its exterior massing. Sash windows light the rooms within which are grouped around a large entrance hall which features wood panelling cut from oak trees grown on the property. The front half of the house which contains the major living areas, on the ground floor, and bedrooms above, is used to host function and to accommodate various clubs. Part of the rear section of the building houses the curators' quarters on the ground floor and is unused on the first floor.


1874 - Two storeyed addition made to original building. Bay window ground floor and dormer window first floor added to original section.

1900 - North-west wing added to house. Verandah added to north side of 1874 addition.

Post 1911 - Roof of 1856 section raised to full height and dormer window therein replaced by a triple casement. Plain window in north end of 1856 wing replaced by a bow window and a small window installed in east elevation of the same wing (both these alterations made at first floor level).

Notable Features

The garden and adjacent bush were always a significant part of the Deans' settlement at Riccarton. The success of the Deans' vegetable gardens and fruit trees influenced the siting of Christchurch, as it reassured the Canterbury Association that colonists would be able to grow food easily. After Riccarton House and grounds passed to the City of Christchurch, the garden areas were gradually reduced. Now the grounds mainly consist of mature trees and lawn.

Riccarton Bush was one of the few stands of indigenous forest visible on the Canterbury Plains when the Deans arrived. They retained it as part of their settlement with the Canterbury Association and in 1914 an Act of Parliament established the Riccarton Bush Trust, set up to protect and maintain the 16 acres of indigenous bush that surround the house, which the family had donated to the city. Riccarton Bush is the only surviving stand of wetlands podocarp forest in Christchurch, and is dominated by kahikatea.

The elaborate panelling and timberwork of the entrance hall are some of the most outstanding features of this prominent Canterbury building.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1855 - 1856
First house

1874 -
Extensions for John Deans II coming of age

1899 - 1900
Commissioned 1899. Major extensions designed by the England Brothers

Construction Details

Native timber and oak grown on the property, concrete, cedar shingles and brick chimneys.

Completion Date

9th December 2001

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Acland, 1975

L.G.D. Acland, The Early Canterbury Runs, 4th ed., Christchurch, 1975


Deans, 1995

Jane Deans, Letters to my grandchildren, 3rd edn, Christchurch, 1995

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Graham M. Miller and John M. Park, 'Deans, Jane, 1823-1911', vol I, 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990, p.102.

Graham M. Miller, 'Deans, John 1820-1854 and Deans, William, 1817?-1851', vol I, 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990, pp.102-103.

New Zealand Historic Places

New Zealand Historic Places

Stephen Cashmore, 'New Life for an Old House' in , 52, March 1995, pp.11-13; Thelma Strongman, 'The Garden at Riccarton', 52, March 1995, pp.14-16

Rice, 1999

Geoffrey W. Rice, Christchurch Changing: An Illustrated History, Christchurch, 1999

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.