Historical Significance or Value
Jenkins’ Cottage and Outbuildings have historical significance because they represent the consolidation of this small settlement. Blacks No. 1 began as a ramshackle collection of structures typical of a gold rush settlement. By the 1870s following the survey of the township, renamed Ophir, the town settled into its role as a service centre for the farming and mining community. The cottage represents this early gold mining period, while the smithy represents the consolidation as a rural service centre. The subsequent adaptation into a permanent residence reflects the area’s resurgence in the early years of the twenty first century as a holiday destination.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Jenkins’ Cottage and Outbuildings sit on the main street of Ophir which is recognised for its aesthetic value. The aesthetic value of the township is based on its small scale intact nineteenth century streetscape. The Cottage and the Smithy are built to the street and form an integral part of the streetscape.
Architectural Significance or Value
The complex of buildings represents a range of nineteenth century building materials. Materials include imported Baltic Pine (reflecting the absence of timber in Central Otago), vernacular stacked schist construction, and the use of mud brick and rammed earth common in this dry area in the nineteenth century. The form of the buildings is architecturally significant; they are typical small scale dwellings of the goldfields period of Otago’s history.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The history of the cottage reflects the mining history of Central Otago and the establishment of mining townships such as Blacks/Ophir. The cottage in its simple form represents a typical primitive miner’s residence. The subsequent development into a blacksmiths shows the shift from temporary settlement to established town in the nineteenth century. Its twentieth century history shows the decline in the fortunes of Ophir, and the special character that has been maintained as a result. The cottage itself reflects that history in its fabric – through its nineteenth century forms, its long stasis in the twentieth century, and its rebirth as a permanent home at the close of the century.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
Author Lois Galer through the description of the lives of earlier inhabitants and her description of the cottage and the outbuildings in her book Time to Smell the Roses: A New Life in Ophir, provides an insight into the history of Ophir and of the house and outbuildings. As such it provides knowledge of New Zealand history.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Jenkins’ Cottage and Outbuildings form an integral part of the historical landscape of the Ophir township which is characterised by small scale nineteenth century commercial and residential buildings. The cottage and outbuildings are included within the registered Ophir Historic Area which encompasses numerous buildings along Swindon Street. Other notable buildings within this landscape include Pitches Store (Category 2), the Ophir Courthouse and the Ophir Post Office (Category 1) located at 45, 49 and 53 Swindon Street respectively.
The spectacular arid harsh area of Central Otago, blisteringly hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter, with its rocky outcrops and tussock covered ranges, was an area of food gathering (including moa processing), and silcrete quarry sites for Maori. The Manuherikia River runs close by Ophir. Its name recalls the catching of birds. It is traditionally known that moa were hunted in the many subsidiary valleys and catchments by Waitaha. The later arrivals Kati Mamoe and Kai Tahu are known to have hunted weka and many other waterfowl on the Maniototo and other Central Otago catchments. They also spent much time fishing for tuna (eel).
It was pastoral resources and gold that drew Europeans to this area of Otago. Gold was discovered in the area in 1863 on Charles and William Black’s sheep station. The gold rush town Blacks No.1 sat in the spectacular rocky arid back country close to the Manuherikia River. Provincial superintendent James Macandrew renamed the town in 1875 recalling the biblical Ophir from where gold was brought to the Temple at Jerusalem when it was being built by King Solomon. The settlement had its heyday in the bustling gold mining period in the mid to late nineteenth century. Swindon Street, the main street, was a busy cluster of businesses, government buildings and residences. The survey of Ophir township was approved by the Waste Lands Board in April 1871. Town sections were auctioned in December 1874.
The first title to the sections on which the buildings now stand was issued to John Pitches in 1875. Being a gold mining settlement which was not surveyed until 1870, there were many sites occupied prior to survey which do not match the surveyed alignment of the sections. The first survey shows some of the existing building footprints. An 1871 survey plan (SO 14701) shows a structure on Section 11 Block I or on the adjoining road reserve.
It is unclear whether the cottage had been built by 1870. Owner and author (and former Regional Officer for New Zealand Historic Places Trust) Lois Galer’s imagining of the situation – based on the information she had gleaned from locals is:
‘Gold-seeker of some means comes to goldfields and erects a small cottage in imported timbers, quite likely from kitset….He marries, and his wife hankers for a proper kitchen. One weekend he and a few mates knock up a crude lean-to of local stone found lying about, supplemented by a few mud-bricks. They later build a wash-house of rammed earth and, adjoining it, a schist stone bunkroom. The gold runs out and he sells the property to a blacksmith, who in turn builds a stone workshop across the yard and opening onto the main street. Behind the forge the smith builds a small two-stall stable….He has five children and there is now a need to accommodate his ageing parents. An extra room is added in mud-brick….’
That narrative seems quite a good summary: Pitches sold the land to miner Robert Jenkins in September 1878. Jenkins purchased the rear section as well with the title issued in 1881. By 1881 Robert Jenkins’ occupation on the electoral roll was described as ‘blacksmith.’ It is probable, therefore, that the smithy and stable (now known as the ‘barn’) date from the late 1870s or early 1880s when Jenkins established himself as a blacksmith.
Agnes and Robert Jenkins’ home life seems to have been turbulent. Agnes Jenkins sued her husband for maintenance in November 1885. She pleaded in court that Robert had beaten her and ordered her from their house and she had had to move in with her father. She and her husband had quarrelled over a young woman who was staying with them who her husband wanted to marry. Mr Jenkins was ordered to pay 20s a week. Perhaps his £5-£6 pound a week earnings were insufficient because the Colonial Bank forced the sale of Section 11 in 1886. Jenkins filed for bankruptcy in May 1886.
The advertisement for the sale of Jenkins’ estate gives a good picture of his property. Auctioneer George Fache advertised Sections 11 and 22 Block 1 in Ophir
‘together with all the buildings and other improvements thereon, including blacksmith’s shop and stable substantially built of stone and roofed with iron, six-roomed dwelling house partly constructed of stone and part of wood.’
As a separate lot a full kit of blacksmith’s tools was also under the hammer including
‘bellows and anvil, patent drilling machine, vyce, tiring plate and tire bender, about half a ton of iron, horseshoes, shoeing nails, three sets taps and dies, wheel boxes, nuts and bolts and the complete and perfect outfit of a country blacksmith’s shop.’
From the description of the house in the advertisement it would seem that the mud brick addition may have already been in place (judging by the number of rooms). Lois Galer indicates that the six rooms had to include with the basic cottage either the outbuildings, or the two rooms in the wooden section, the two in the lean-to, a scullery (no longer there) and the mud-brick addition.
Fache described the property as ‘undoubtedly a good one, and should command the attention of the trade and to parties looking for a busines[s] this opportunity for a good one should not be neglected.’
Members of the trade did take up the opportunity – the land was sold to William and David Hanger in 1886. William and David Hanger were blacksmiths, following their Tasmanian-born father into the trade. The Hanger family were also hotel keepers in St Bathans where they built the first Vulcan Hotel. William and Samuel appear to have been business partners. Stone’s Directory identifies the Hanger Bros. as blacksmiths in both Ophir and Blackstone Hill. The Hangers held the land until 1893.
In 1893 the property was bought by another blacksmith William Waldron. Mary Ellen Spain and Willliam Waldron had been married in 1891. The couple went on to have eight children. On Waldron’s death in 1912 the land passed to William Jelley and James Goodger.
In the early years of the twentieth century the Central Otago railway bypassed Ophir, and in the process created the new town of Omakau built around the railway. Many businesses transferred their premises to the new town two kilometres to the east, but a loyal population remained, though largely residential. The town became a quiet backwater, relatively unchanged throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century.
Jelley and Goodger sold the land to Ophir blacksmith John McKnight in 1924. John McKnight was listed in the Stone’s Directory as a coach builder in 1902, and was prominent in local affairs – being a Vincent County councillor, funeral director and builder (responsible for the construction of the Peace Memorial Hall. He transferred the title to his wife Eliza McKnight in 1937. On her death it was transferred back to John McKnight. After John died the property was transferred to his daughter Ruby Jean Craw.
In the 1960s and 1970s there were several changes of ownership. In 1960 the property was transferred to Omakau farmer Donald Maclean, and in 1971 the property was transferred to Reginald Wills of Bluff. Professor of Music Donald Byars bought the property in 1974 and on his death in 1989 it passed to his wife Jean Byars.
In 1990 Lois and Bill Galer bought the property. The story of their move from busy lives in Dunedin to their ‘bolt hole’ in Ophir is told in journalist and former New Zealand Historic Places Trust regional officer Lois Galer’s book Time to Smell the Roses: A New Life in Ophir. The book tells of life in Ophir, and is a biography of the cottage itself and its careful transformation into a permanent residence. The book brings to life in Ophir through all its spectacular seasons. Galer describes being able to see daylight around the window frames, the wooden cottage section ‘leaning drunkenly’ and the end wall of the mud brick addition leaning away from the roof. The book details the repairs and alterations to the cottage, giving insight and history into the lives of earlier inhabitants as well as its most recent occupants.
By the late 1990s Ophir was becoming recognised as an attraction in its own right, with property prices indicating the new value associated with a holiday home in Central Otago, a new golden story for the region.
In line with her description of the earlier occupant’s motives, Galer writes:
‘A couple from the city buy the cottage for weekends and holidays. They later decide to live there permanently and so they add a timber bathroom behind the mud-brick room, and beyond that, reached by a short hall, a stone-clad living-dining area.’
In 1997 the addition (hall, bathroom, living/dining) was built – designed to be sympathetic in scale and materials with the nineteenth century structures. The addition was designed by conservation architect Jackie Gillies. The building clearly reads as old and new parts. Newspaper lining the timber cottage was dated August 1878, so the cottage dates from before that time. Building work indicated that the cottage was originally a single room probably lined with sacking, and that the hallway partition was added later. In the kitchen addition there was evidence that the room had formerly been partitioned into two rooms. The borer ridden floors of the mudbrick addition were replaced with a concrete floor at the same time.
In 2012 the cottage remains a private residence.
The cottage and the former smithy front Swindon Street, the main street of Ophir (Register No. 7268, Historic Area). The main street is characterised by a loose, scattered mix of nineteenth century commercial, government and residential buildings. Many buildings, like the cottage and smithy, as well as Pitches’ Store (Register No. 7282, Category 2) and the Post Office (Register No. 341, Category 1) are built to the edge of the footpath. Residential buildings and commercial buildings are all small in scale – single storey and diminutive.
The cottage and outbuildings are set in a lively garden, itself bordered by older plantings on the adjoining sections.
The cottage was built in four stages and with a mix of materials. Stage one is the wooden section – a simple single gable form cottage with two rooms and a narrow central hallway. The framing, cladding and floors are of Baltic Pine. The two rooms have wainscoting (panelling) below a dado level. The ceilings are also lined in timber. One room has a fireplace. The rooms are small and give a sense of the scale and reality of living in a modest gold miner’s cottage.
Stage two seems most likely to be the stone addition to the timber cottage, dating from before 1886. This addition is to the rear of the cottage and now houses a kitchen. The walls are thick and built of stacked schist. Information gleaned from repair work indicates that this room used to be partitioned into two spaces. This addition is three steps lower than the timber cottage. The scale remains small. The current owners have removed the 1940s-50s destructor and hot water cylinder from the kitchen, which had in turn replaced an earlier coal range. The destructor and cylinder have been replaced with a Shacklock Orion No. 1 coal range (the same model as the original) which fitted in the chimney breast.
The third stage appears to have been the mud brick addition on the eastern elevation of the timber cottage. The mud brick section is a single room which now houses the master bedroom. It has its own fireplace. There are windows to Swindon Street and Macdonald Street. The borer ridden timber floor has been replaced with concrete.
The fourth stage is the 1997 addition. A bathroom, living/dining and conservatory were added to the rear of the mud brick section and to the east of the stone section, providing a link with both. It is built of timber and stacked schist. Its scale and form is designed to be sympathetic with the existing structure.
The outbuildings consist of what were originally the washhouse/bathroom and bunkroom, and the smithy/stable.
The domestic outbuilding, located behind the cottage forms the third side of a courtyard with the cottage and 1997 addition. It is constructed in two sections – the washhouse and the bunkroom. The washhouse is constructed of rammed earth (and still houses the laundry and an outside toilet). It has an eight pane-cast-iron framed window. The bunkroom (now an office) is constructed of stone. The roof is corrugated iron.
The smithy and stable form a single building, though there is no access from one to the other. The smithy is a substantial single gabled building. It is built of stacked schist. It has double doors to Swindon Street (replacements for the original but similar in form), and double doors on the side into the garden. Internally it is a single space. The roof framing is light timber, in scissor truss form. It has a corrugated iron roof – the roof has a large section perforated with small holes designed to vent the smoke from the forge. The interior has not been altered, though the smithy tools are no longer there.
The two-stall stable is to the rear of the smithy. It is built of stacked stone and has a corrugated iron roof.
1860 - 1878
Interior of timber cottage was originally a single room, probably with an exterior chimney. Partitioned into two rooms and a hallway at a date unknown.
Stone addition to the cottage, mud brick addition?
Addition to cottage (Jackie Gillies - architect)
Baltic Pine, schist stone, mud brick, corrugated iron, timber, rammed earth
28th November 2012
Report Written By
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
25 Nov 1885, p.4; 24 May 1886, p.1.
22 Apr 1871, p.10.; 28 Nov 1874, p.12. ;16 Jul 1886, p.20
Lois Galer, Time to Smell the Roses: A New Life in Ophir, Longacre Press, Dunedin, 2005
A fully referenced registration report is available from the Otago/Southland Office of the NZHPT.
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.