Tophouse Accommodation House

Korere Tophouse Road, St Arnaud

  • Tophouse Accommodation House.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Alison Dangerfield.
  • Tophouse Accommodation House. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 4/11/2014.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2969 Date Entered 13th December 1990 Date of Effect 13th December 1990


City/District Council

Tasman District


Tasman Region

Legal description

Secs 6 8 9 Blk X Motupiko SD

Location description

Postal Address: 68 Tophouse Road RD 2 Nelson 7072



The Tophouse or Wairau pass from Nelson to the Wairau Valley was discovered in 1842 and became the major inland route between Nelson and Canterbury. Accommodation houses such as Tophouse were built along this route.

The first 'Tophouse' dates from about 1846. A second building was burned down in 1887, following which the present Tophouse was built near the site of the telegraph station and the junction of the road to the West Coast. In 1894 the event referred to as the 'Tophouse tragedy' occurred when, as a result of jealousy over the governess and housekeeper of the owner, there was a double murder followed by a suicide by shooting. Bullet holes in the roof still serve as a reminder of this tragedy.

Tophouse had several owners from the turn of the century. Its licence lapsed in 1969. It was reopened as an accommodation house by its present owners in 1988.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Tophouse accommodation house is over 100 years old. It is a reminder of the importance of the inland route between Nelson and Canterbury from the earliest years of European settlement. Its recent rejuvenation as an accommodation house re-establishes its traditional function. The 1894 'tragedy' adds colour to its history.


Tophouse Accommodation House is a fine example of cob construction in the form of a low-lying bungalow. Now over 100 years of age it remains in sound condition. As a building material cob was widely used by nineteenth century South Island settlers.


The house is not prominent in the rolling landscape.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

James, Ned

Ned James came to Nelson as a young boy in 1842. He worked as a bosun in a whaling fleet and went on to become a blacksmith, ship's carpenter, rope maker and competent builder of houses. He built many cob buildings in the Waimea area, south of Nelson, including the Tophouse Accommodation House, and the homesteads at Rainbow, Tarndale (c.1860) and Manuka Island and many huts and whares in the Wairau Valley. James did not use boxing in the formation of cob walls. The walls were trimmed and plastered after they had been formed and dried.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The original cob building is L-shaped in plan and squat in appearance. It faces north, with the roofs hipped to the north and west. Prominent in the roof-line are two chimneys, one with corrugated iron and the other recently redone in cob.

The north facade has a verandah supported on chamfered posts. Double hung sash windows, each sash with two lights, come up to eaves level. A small timber-framed addition in the north-west corner houses a bar. A lean-to addition to the rear has board and batten cladding, and extending from this and housing the ablution facilities is a skillion clad with corrugated iron.

The interior was renovated in 1988. In addition to the bedrooms for twelve guests there is a dining room in the north wing with a large fireplace, and a living room in the east wing. Ceilings are only a little higher than the door and window heads.


1926: Addition of public bar

Date Unknown: Lean-to added on south wall

1988-90: Extensive renovation including:

- wooden framed ablution block

- re-cobbing of walls and one chimney

- replacing some wooden floors with rammed earth

- relining and plastering of ceilings

Notable Features

Cob construction and earth floors. Bullet holes in roof.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
Late 1880s

1926 -
Addition of public bar

Date Unknown - Lean-to added on south wall

1988 - 1990
Extensive renovation including: - wooden framed ablution block - re-cobbing of walls and one chimney - replacing some wooden floors with rammed earth - relining and plastering of ceilings

Construction Details

Cob walls, floors partly rammed earth, elsewhere in wood or concrete; timber framed roof with corrugated galvanised iron. Rear additions timber framed with corrugated iron.

Information Sources

Alexander Turnbull Library

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

Electoral Rolls for the District of Waimea, 1866/67-1876/77

- Wise's New Zealand Post Office Directories, 1878/79, 1883/84, 1885/86, 1898/99 - 1923

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

Wellington. Licensing Control Commission, 'Tophouse' Hotel, Tophouse, Nelson, 1950-69

Greymouth Evening Star

Greymouth Evening Star

17 November 1969

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

CT 13/170, CT 17/34, CT 1B/1313, Provisional Register 2/143, Warrant 118

Marlborough Express

Marlborough Express

4 February 1965

19 July 1965

21 October 1969

McNeish, 1984

James McNeish, Tavern in the Town, A.H. and A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1984 [first published 1957]

pp 168-175

Nelson Evening Mail

Nelson Evening Mail

16 July 1965

29 October 1969

30 October 1969

8 November 1969

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

5 November 1969

15 November 1969

Newport, 1966

J N W Newport, A short history of the Nelson Province, RW Stiles ad Co Ltd, Nelson, 1966


The Colonist

6 October 1894

Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies

Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies

Vol. 1, No. 3, November 1983

Horrocks, 1971

Shirley Horrocks, Historic Nelson, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1971

Newport, 1962

J N W Newport, Footprints, The Story of the Settlement and Development of the Nelson Back Country District, Whitcomb and Tombs Ltd, 1962

Newport, 1987

J N W Newport, More Footprints; Still Further Glimpses into the History of Nelson Province, J.N.W. Newport, Nelson, 1987

Newton, 1973

Peter Newton, Big Country of the South Island North of Rangitata, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1973

Tomlinson, 1968

J E Tomlinson, Remembered Trails, Timaru Herald Co Ltd, Timaru, 1968

Pacific Way

Pacific Way

February 1989, pp 47-48

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.