Telford Farm Training Institute Administration Block

498 Owaka Highway, Otanomomo, Balclutha

  • Telford Farm Training Institute Administration Block.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 28/11/2002.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Melanie Lovell-Smith. Date: 28/11/2002.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2127 Date Entered 13th December 1990 Date of Effect 13th December 1990


City/District Council

Clutha District


Otago Region

Legal description

Secs 5 and 7 Blk XXI Clutha SD (RT OT18A/824)


This Georgian-style stone house situated at what is now the Telford Rural Polytechnic, was originally built for William Telford (1817-1888). Born in Cumberland, England, Telford immigrated to Australia in the 1840s, working his passage as a ship's carpenter. After farming in Australia for a number of years, he visited South Otago with his father-in-law in 1860 and by 1861 the family had settled in the area. Telford established both the Clifton and Otanomomo estates, while his brother Robert (?-1898) ran the hotel at Waiwera South and his father-in-law, Adam Borthwick developed the farm of Carterhope. Telford became one of the largest land owners in the area and was well known for his flock of Romney Marsh sheep and for the large-scale drainage he undertook in the area. From 1,708 sheep in 1861 Telford developed his flock to more than 18,000 by the time he died in 1888. He established his Romney Marsh stud in 1874 after purchasing 52 ewes and one ram from the estate of Mr Ludlam of Hutt, who had imported the first of the breed into New Zealand in 1853.

Although originally based at Clifton, Telford moved to Otanomomo in 1867. His house, now the Administration Block for the Telford Rural Polytechnic, was erected two years later - the year of construction is carved into the keystone above the front door. It was built by David Hunter and a Mr Goodfellow. These men are variously referred to as Dunedin builders or a firm of Dunedin architects. The external walls of Telford's house were clad with basalt, quarried from Borthwick's Carterhope estate with surrounds of Oamaru stone. This combination of local basalt and Oamaru stone is common to Otago and Southland, although the Georgian style of Telford, with its hipped roof and symmetrical facades, is less so. While early Georgian-influenced houses are found dating from the early years of Pakeha settlement, such as the Treaty House at Waitangi, it was rare for them to be built in New Zealand during the nineteenth century. However, stone Georgian-style farmhouses were common in Telford's former home county, Cumberland, and it is likely his ideas of an appropriate style influenced the design of the house.

Inside four rooms on the ground floor are symmetrically arranged on both sides of a central corridor with two smaller rooms located in a lean-to structure at the rear. This rear room may have been designed for use as a kitchen. However, descendant Don Telford, who stayed at the house during the 1930s remembers it being used as a classroom for the children, while the cooking was done in a separate building. At the time of his visits the verandah was partly covered in. Upstairs there are four main rooms arranged as on the ground floor and a smaller room situated above the entrance hall. A landing between the ground and upper floors provides access to a bathroom above the lean-to. All the upstairs rooms were used as bedrooms, as was one on the southwest side of the ground floor. The other three rooms downstairs were a lounge, drawing room, and dining room. The total cost of the house was said to be £3,000, and this included the use of mahogany and cedar in the interior.

After Telford's death his younger son, Thomas (1863-1927), took over Otanomomo while his eldest, William (1857-1919), inherited Clifton. Thomas's son, also William (1894-1947) inherited Otanomomo in 1927. William had no children and when he died in 1947 he left the farm in trust for the purpose of improving the breeding of Romney sheep and Hereford cattle, with any additional income to go towards medical research. The government of the time declined to accept the estate on those grounds. Otanomomo continued to be run as a farm under William's trustees, but gradually declined.

However, from the 1950s the local community campaigned for an agricultural training institute to be established in their area and this had a major influence on the subsequent history of Otanomomo. It was felt that a mid-way training institute was needed to provide further education for boys (exclusively at first) who wished to work on farms or to take up farms of their own, and who needed a more detailed agricultural education than they received at school, but who did not wish to take a degree at either Lincoln or Massey Universities. Improved farming conditions after the Second World War and the increased involvement of science in the process of farming, led to a call for more farm workers, and moreover, farm workers with a higher level of education. In South Otago a committee, the South Otago Agricultural Education Committee (SOAEC) was formed in 1952 to push for such an institute. SOAEC approached William's surviving sisters, Jane and Doris, about using Otanomomo for such a purpose. The sisters agreed to gift the land, stock and plant to such an institute in exchange for an annual annuity of £1,500 each. The SOAEC cause was taken up by the local Member for Parliament, J.B. (Peter) Gordon who put a Private Members Bill to Parliament in 1963. In 1964 the Telford Farm Training Institute Act was passed by Parliament and the Telford Farm Training Institute was established on the former Otanmomo estate.

The Telford Farming Institute formally opened on 24 May 1965 with 11 students. Its objectives were to provide a basic training in the arts and skills of farming, as well as research into agriculture and horticulture. Telford's former homestead initially housed the first principal, Rod Snell, and his family, who cleared the surrounding garden and re-established the rose garden. From 1966 the house was transformed into a hostel for the students and by January 1967 it was full to capacity with 30 students and a warden. Bathroom and toilet facilities were built on the south side of the homestead and the former shearers' kitchen at the rear of the house was transformed into a kitchen/dining room. In 1969 a dormitory block, with space for over 60 students, was purchased from Taieri Airport and from the beginning of 1970 Telford's former homestead became the administration block of the Institute.

Today the house stands on a small rise and faces a formal garden encircled by a driveway, which complements the symmetry of the building's main façade. In 1983 a further administration block to the rear was erected. This is linked to the main house by a corridor. The house is also associated with the large brick woolshed and stables, built in bricks made and fired on the property, which is also registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taonga as a Category II historic place. The woolshed and stables building was first converted into a workshop for the Telford Institute and then to a library in 1995.

Telford Training Institute was initially administered by a Board with no assistance from the government. However, in 1967 Telford received a government grant for $12,000 per year for three years and in 1974 the Institute entered into a formal partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF). MAF (formerly the Department of Agriculture) had been involved with agriculture training since 1920. In 1989 MAF was replaced by the Ministry of Education as part of the Labour government reforms of the 1980s and in 1991 Telford became Telford Rural Polytechnic. Today it farms 698 hectares (around 1,725 acres) divided into three units, sheep, dairy and deer, and provides training in agriculture, forestry, apiculture and more recently, the equine industry.

The Telford Farm Training Institute Administration Block is a prominent landmark on the main road between Balclutha and Owaka. It was erected for a major landowner, Telford, who made a substantial contribution to the local agricultural development. The Georgian style of Telford's former homestead is particularly unusual for the era in New Zealand. The building reflects the substantial and solid place that the Telfords occupied within the local community. Since 1965 the house fulfilled various roles as part of the Telford Farm Training Institute (now Telford Rural Polytechnic), which has provided education in all aspects of farming to many New Zealanders. It is closely linked through its original owner and its subsequent history to the agricultural history of South Otago.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The former Otanomomo homestead is associated with one of the leading pioneer families of South Otago and was occupied by members of the Telford family for ninety-five years. Its present use as the administrative centre of the Telford Farm Training Institute serves as a reminder of the Telford family's contribution to farming in the province and to their generous support of agricultural education.


Built in 1869 and yet designed in a style which had been in vogue fifty years earlier, the Otanomomo homestead is something of an architectural anomaly in New Zealand, especially in the South Island where Victorian architecture was the model for colonial builders and architects. This may suggest that William Telford was seeking to imitate the Georgian houses he had known in England and Australia, and/or that David Hunter was not aware of 'modern' trends in building style. Despite the old-fashioned appearance of the homestead, however, the building is a well-proportioned structure which uses local building stones to good effect.


Overlooking a formal garden which complements the restrained symmetry of the building's facade, the former Otanomomo homestead, prominently sited close to State Highway 92 south of Balclutha, is a major landmark in South Otago.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Otanomomo homestead was built for William Telford by David Hunter, a Dunedin builder, in collaboration with a Mr Goodfellow. The basalt for the exterior cladding of the house was quarried at Carterhope, a nearby property owned by Telford's father-in-law, whilst the Oamaru stone and necessary timber was shipped to Port Molyneux at the mouth of the Clutha River and then punted up the Puerua River to the site. The building was used as a private home until 1964 when the property was taken over by the Telford Farm Training Institute which was established according to the wishes of William Telford's grandchildren.

William Telford (1817-88) was born in England and worked his way out to Australia as a ship's carpenter before settling in South Australia where he married Mary Ann Borthwick in 1851. After farming in Australia for several years Telford and his father-in-law Adam Borthwick visited New Zealand in 1860 and in the following year the two families settled in South Otago. Borthwick subsequently established the Carterhope estate whilst Telford developed Clifton and Otanomomo. Telford was known for the stud flock of Romney Marsh sheep he established in 1874 and for the large-scale drainage programme which he initiated in the district. Upon his death in 1888 his sons William and Thomas took over the running of Clifton and Otanomomo respectively, and it was Thomas' children who prompted the establishment of the Telford Farm Training Institute.

Physical Description


The former homestead of the Otanomomo estate stands 6.5 kilometres south of Balclutha where it now serves as the administrative centre of the Telford Farm Training Institute. A two-storeyed building designed in a restrained Georgian style, the house is symmetrical in plan and elevation with the addition of a concave verandah along the east side of the building and a one-and-a-half storey lean-to at the rear. The exterior walls are clad in coursed squared basalt of varied sizes and finished with hand-sawn Oamaru stone quoins, and door and window surrounds. A hipped roof with a centre gutter reinforces the predominantly horizontal appearance of the facade which is further enhanced by the Oamaru stone string course which bisects this elevation. The building is lit by four-pane sash windows arranged in pairs within the principal elevation which faces north. The facade is symmetrical about a central entrance which is framed by a fanlight and sidelights and crowned by a lintel featuring a large keystone which bears the legend 'Erected 1869 For William Telford by David Hunter'.

Inside the building four large rooms open off the central hall on the ground floor. Directly opposite the main entrance, at the south end of the hall, is a dog-leg stair which rises to the first floor and so provides access to the five rooms arranged around the upper landing. Beside the foot of the stairs is a door which provides access to the former kitchen and scullery, now converted to office space, and to the back door which is set into the east end of the lean-to in which the former service rooms of the house were located. The south wall of the building which terminates the lean-to is windowless and clad in less regularly-shaped stones than on the other three walls. Access to the upper floor of the lean-to is provided by a door opening off the half-landing of the staircase and this space has been converted in recent times to serve as a self-contained flat for one of the students attending the Institute. Modifications have been made to the homestead to make it suitable for use as an office building but these have not greatly altered the structure or character of the house.


post 1964 - Fire stop door installed at the top of the stairs.

- Stone-clad dairy beside the lean-to section at the rear of the house converted to showers.

- Fireplaces removed, verandah closed off at north end.

- Door put through wall between south-east room and former kitchen.

- Oamaru stone chimney-stacks rebuilt.

- Steel bars inserted beneath some basalt lintels to prevent further cracking.

c.1983 - Conference centre built at rear of house.

- Covered link between the two buildings built to the back door of the house.

1990 - Dairy beside back door demolished.

- Verandah reinstated.

Construction Dates

Post - 1964 Oamaru stone chimney-stacks rebuilt. Door put through wall between south-east room and former kitchen. Steel bars inserted beneath some basalt lintels to prevent further cracking.

1983 -
Conference centre built at rear of house. Covered link between the two buildings built to the back door of the house.

Demolished - Other
1990 -
Dairy beside back door demolished.

1990 -
Verandah reinstated. Tiles replaced by iron.

Original Construction
1869 -

Post 1964 - Fire stop door installed at the top of the stairs. Stone-clad dairy beside the lean-to section at the rear of the house converted to showers. Fireplaces removed, verandah closed off at north end.

Construction Details

Brick walls with external cladding of Carterhope basalt and Oamaru stone resting upon concrete foundations; slate roof; heart totara framing with kauri, mahogany and cedar woodwork.

Completion Date

23rd May 2003

Report Written By

Melanie Lovell-Smith

Information Sources

Dougherty, 1999

Ian Dougherty, Bricklayers and Mortarboards: A History of New Zealand Polytechnics and Institutes of Technology, Palmerston North, 1999

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

Morrison, 1986

I Morrison, New Zealand Sheep and Their Wool, 4th edn, Wellington, 1986

Nightingale, 1992

Tony Nightingale, White Collars and Gumboots: A History of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries 1892-1992, Palmerston North, 1992

Thomson, 1990

A W Thomson, Telford Farm Training Institute: the first 25 years, Balclutha, 1990

Thomson, 1998

Jane Thomson, (ed)., Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago Southland Biography, Dunedin: Longacre Press/Dunedin City Council, 1998.


Porter, 1983

Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.

Griffiths, 1974

G J Griffiths (ed), The Advance Guard, Series 3, Otago Daily Times, Dunedin, 1974

Murray, A.M. 'William and Robert Telford', pp. 161-186;

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.