Shag Valley Station Buildings

2353 Dunback-Morrisons Road (State Highway 85), Morrisons

  • Shag Valley Station Buildings, Morrisons. Homestead 2004.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Angela Middleton.
  • Shag Valley Station Buildings, Morrisons. Shearers Quarters 2004.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Angela Middleton.
  • Shag Valley Station Buildings, Morrisons. Woolshed 2004.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Angela Middleton.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7616 Date Entered 24th June 2005 Date of Effect 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 20 Blk VII, Waihemo SD and part of the land described as Pt Sec 22 Blk IV, Waihemo SD (RT 17258), Otago Land District, and the buildings known as Shag Valley Station Buildings thereon, comprising the Men’s Quarters and Cookshop, Stable, Homestead, Woolshed and Shearers’ Quarters. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 7 March 2019.

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 20 Blk VII and Pt Sec 22 Blk IV, Waihemo SD (RT 17258), Otago Land District.

Location description

Shag Valley Station is between Dunback and Green Valley on the Pig Root. The turn off is the last left before Happy Valley Creek bridge travelling from Palmerston.


In the early 1860s Sir Francis Dillon Bell purchased the nucleus of the land that formed the Shag Valley Station from Johnny Jones, an early land magnate in the Otago area. Following this purchase, Bell set about establishing the infrastructure necessary for the day-to-day functioning of a great station, when a large number of workers were required to be housed, as well as the horses and oxen needed to carry out daily work prior to mechanisation. Some structures were already standing prior to Bell's purchase, such as the stables, a small cottage, a woolshed and mens quarters. Bell replaced the woolshed with the large structure that still functions today, and by 1868 had constructed the first four rooms of the homestead, around which subsequent extensions were added in the nineteenth century, and the garden said to be designed by a prominent Melbourne botanist Baron von Mueller. The shearers quarters and the cookshop and mens quarters date from around the same time.

Together, this complex of buildings stretching across the original homestead block provides evidence of the functioning of this important nineteenth century sheep station. Comparison with the 1862 Survey Office Plan, and the story told through the remaining structures, and their changes in form and function over time provide special insight into the operation of the Station.

Shag Valley Station has outstanding significance in its association with both Johnny Jones, a central player in the early history of European settlement in Otago, and with the Dillon Bell Family, which continues today. Francis Dillon Bell was an important figure in nineteenth century political life. That link continued through Shag Valley Stations associations with the scientific accomplishments of two later generations of the Bell family, the work of Alfred Bell, who was a Fellow of both the Royal Astronomical and Royal Microscopical Societies, and his son and daughter, Frank and Brenda Bell, who made the first radio contact between New Zealand and London in October 1924. Their equipment is retained in a small museum on the station.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The story of Shag Valley Station has special significance to the history of Otago - particularly in relation the station's history as a large pastoral run, and its association with two significant figures in local and national history: Johnny Jones, who figures largely in the history of Waikouaiti and Dunedin, and Sir Francis Dillon Bell, a man of national importance as Land Claims Commissioner and subsequent local and national politician in the 1860s and 1870s. The Shag Valley Station has had remarkable continuity of ownership as it still remains in the ownership of the Bell family today.

At least one of these buildings is known to date from the ownership of Jones. The station buildings are worthy of special significance due to their association with both Johnny Jones and Sir Francis Dillon Bell. The majority of the structures were constructed during the years of Bell's ownership of the station.

The farm building structures are architecturally significant for their vernacular style, the range of materials they are constructed from, and their association with the first European settlement of the area. These structures form a unique complex associated with the early methods of pastoral farming, when large numbers of workers were employed on the station as well as additional seasonal workers such as shearers, in the years prior to mechanisation. Some of the buildings are of solid stone and their expression of regional vernacular style and materials are significant.

The station has the potential to inform us about the archaeology of pastoralism. The buildings all date from the mid to late nineteenth century, from the ownership of Johnny Jones and subsequent ownership and occupation of Francis Dillon Bell, when he formed the infrastructure of a great station. Early survey plans note the location of features no longer standing, and with the potential to reveal further detail about the operation of the station. The structures form a unique historic complex that provides significant insight into the way that one of New Zealand's well-known pioneer families ordered their lives.

The Shag Valley Station has scientific significance as the location of the first radio contact made from New Zealand to Australia, Europe and the USA, as well as the earlier scientific work carried out by Alfred Dillon Bell. Scientific equipment used by Alfred Bell and Frank and Brenda Bell is displayed in the former cookshop and mens quarters.

The Shag Valley Station buildings have aesthetic significance. The landscape setting of the buildings, set in a well-treed valley amidst the rugged inland Otago landscape, and the design of the grounds gives aesthetic significance to the complex of buildings.

The Shag Valley Station buildings are culturally significant as they date from the first years of European occupation of this area of Otago, and they are one of the few remaining examples of the complex of buildings associated with early pastoralism in the region.

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

Shag Valley Station is representative of the history of pastoralism in Otago. It is one of the earliest runs in this area, and through its association and history intermeshed with the lives of both Johnny Jones and Francis Dillon Bell, a nationally significant figure, it provides special insight into both local and national history.

In particular its long association with the Dillon Bell family, the changes over time in both tenure and size provide insight into the history of pastoralism in New Zealand, and the way in which such Stations were run. The buildings are representative of the components of the infrastructure required to run a large station.

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

Shag Valley Station is associated with Johnny Jones, an important figure in the history of Otago, and with Francis Dillon Bell, an important nineteenth century politician. The station remains in the ownership of Bell's descendants today.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

Shag Valley Station provides knowledge of New Zealand's history, through its demonstration of the structures related to the early years of pastoralism, its association with Sir Francis Dillon Bell and his descendants, and the scientific work carried out by Alfred, Frank and Brenda Bell.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

Although not open to the public, Shag Valley Station does have the potential for public education. The complex of buildings listed in this registration proposal is associated with methods of pastoral farming from the nineteenth century, long since out of use. The scale of the buildings and their layout within the farm demonstrates the organization and lifestyle of an early New Zealand farming family and the infrastructure associated with this. The station also retains the scientific equipment used by Alfred Bell and his children, Frank and Brenda Bell.

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

The Shag Valley Station buildings date from the first years of European occupation of this area. Some of the farm buildings were constructed during the Johnny Jones' ownership of the land, and others, in particular the homestead, date to the subsequent 1860s ownership of Francis Dillon Bell.

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

The Shag Valley Station buildings form one of a c.7 station complexes still standing in the Central Otago region, all dating to the first years of pastoralism. They are a rare historic resource. As farm technologies change, such intact sites become increasingly valuable examples of past farming practices, histories and building types.

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

Shag Valley Station forms a significant component of the extant inland Otago historic and cultural landscape. This is one of a small number of remaining complexes dating from the first years of pastoralism in the region, and shares with other such buildings similar building materials and a vernacular design. Amongst such buildings, the Shag Valley Station complex are outstanding for their vernacular architectural integrity, the early date of construction and the intact state of the structures, the important buildings still remaining as part of the station infrastructure.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The history of large sheep runs such as Shag Valley dates to the early years of European settlement of Otago. Following the establishment of Dunedin in 1848 the Waste Lands Board was set up in 1853 to allocate pastoral runs in the country outside the original Otago Block. Many of these blocks were located in inland Otago, with those exploring this new country often applying for the first leases. After the leases were granted, freehold title to a homestead block, known as a pre-emptive right, was also granted. Most run holders stocked their land with sheep, although a few also ran cattle. Sheep were brought into Southland and Otago ports from 1853 onwards; others drove flocks south from Nelson, Marlborough and Canterbury although this was a difficult trek through country with many rivers and no bridges. Poisonous tutu and wild dogs also took a heavy toll on flocks with numbers much reduced by the time they reached their destinations. While the Shag Valley Station land was first obtained by a Crown Grant, the station acreage was added to with more leasehold land.

Johnny Jones, an iconic figure in the early history of Otago, took up the first pastoral leases for the runs that later made up Shag Valley Station. This land was part of that Jones purchased prior to British annexation of New Zealand in 1840; the Old Land Claims Commission granted him 11,060 acres freehold after their investigation of the extensive earlier purchases. This is confirmed by Land Information New Zealand records of the station that begin with a "pre-emptive right" plan (Run no. 255) granted to John Jones, dated 1862. This consisted of 92 acres with buildings marked: woolshed, men's house, house, sheep yards and the outline of one paddock. The woolshed and men's quarters are the original buildings, noted for this registration, and the stables evidently also date to this period. The house drawn on the plan is likely to be the earlier cottage that was replaced in 1868 with the beginnings of the still-standing homestead. Johnny Jones' sons took up other leasehold land surrounding the Shag River and its hinterland, from Waihemo to the Horse Range. According to Robert Pinney these runs were collectively known as Coal Creek at that time and were probably sublet from 1859-1863 to W.A. Low, of the Galloway run. After Low gave up his sub-lease of Coal Creek in 1863, it was purchased by Francis Dillon Bell. In the early 1860s, when he leased the Shag Valley Station, Low used this property as a staging area when droving stock inland to Galloway Station, as did William Gilbert Rees when he had 3,000 Australian-bought sheep driven to his Lake Wakatipu run.

Francis Dillon Bell, born in 1821, was raised in France and at the age of seventeen became assistant secretary in England for the New Zealand Company. In 1843 he travelled to New Zealand in the Company's service, and acted as its agent, negotiating for and/or buying land in Auckland, the Wairarapa, Nelson and New Plymouth. Bell became involved in colonial politics and was Minister in Charge of the Treasury, Customs and Native Affairs in the Domett Ministry from 1862, but on the fall of this government the following year moved to Dunedin to enter business. There, he was involved in provincial and city politics and entered national politics again in 1871. He was Speaker of the General Assembly from 1871 until 1875 and in 1877 was called to the Legislative Council. He was knighted in 1873. Bell was Agent General for New Zealand in London from 1881 to 1891. In 1896 he returned to Shag Valley, where he remained until his death in 1898. His wife, Lady Margaret Bell, died in London in 1892.

In 1851 Bell was appointed to deal with the still unsettled claims of the Old Land Claims Commission. In this role he dealt with the claimant Johnny Jones and the two became good friends. Bell's first land purchase was in the Ida Valley, Runs 261 and 306, in 1858. Bell's land purchases in the Shag Valley, making up the components of the Shag Valley Station evidently date from some time after this period. The Bell family records note that "our first guaranteed record of having bought Shag Valley" dates to 1864. According to Pinney, Bell purchased part of the land from Johnny Jones' son William in 1865; he purchased another run in Waihemo in the same year, and in 1869 the main aggregation of Shag Valley leasehold land, across the Waikouaiti River, making a total of 138,089 acres (Moore however states, giving no dates, that the total acreage at its highest point was 400,000 acres carrying 70,000 sheep ). Francis Dillon Bell's name first appears on a deposited plan dated 1871. This plan, totalling 193 acres includes the earlier "pre-emptive run 255" and shows the homestead ("house") in its current location, slightly east of the "sheep yards" in the 1862 plan.

By 1870 the name of the station was changed from Coal Creek to Shag Valley. It appears from this point on the station size was reduced as leases expired, with one increase, run 217C, added in 1889. In 1895 the total leasehold land consisted of 15,110 acres, with leases falling due in 1899; the 1895 Pastoral Tenants Relief Act combined the leases and extended them until March 1917. In 1884 the greatest number of sheep was recorded, 42,899, but after 1887 there were never over 40,000. Eighty years later, by 1975 the leasehold land was reduced to 5,100 acres with 8,300 freehold acres worked from the homestead. At this time there were 9,500 sheep and 1,000 head of cattle.

Francis Dillon Bell was a busy politician, not a farmer, although he took an interest in the station and often rode to visit it from Dunedin. Bell established the infrastructure of a great station, adding to the already-standing complex of buildings that included the stables and men's quarters and cookshop. He replaced the early cottage (which then became the manager's residence ) with the first four rooms and subsequent additions of the homestead that was known as "government house", and according to Pinney replaced Jones' earlier woolshed. It is not clear whether the shearers' quarters, standing alongside the woolshed, are those on the 1862 plan or whether they post-date this building. Several early managers ran the station until Bell's second son, Alfred Dillon Bell, left Otago Boys' High School in 1868 to work as bookkeeper and jackaroo, a kind of apprenticeship until he took over as manager. Bell's eldest son, Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell, qualified as a lawyer and subsequently followed his father's interests into the world of politics, where he became Attorney General and was the country's first New Zealand born Prime Minister for a short term of two weeks.

The station passed into the hands of Alfred Dillon Bell after his father's death, although the certificate of title is dated January 1906, some eight years later. Alfred reduced the extensive landholdings of the station in order to decrease the large mortgages that had enabled his father to take up so much land and employed a manager to deal with the day-to-day running of the station, allowing him to follow his pursuits in science and writing. Alfred Bell was a Fellow of both the Royal Astronomical and Royal Microscopical Societies. He laid what is said to be the first telephone line in New Zealand between the homestead and his brother's house.

Alfred died in 1933, and the station has remained in the Bell family's ownership since, passing to his son Frank Dillon Bell (who was also known as Francis Wigman Dillon Bell) and daughters Gertrude Elizabeth and Margaret Brenda in 1934. Frank Bell continued his father's interests in scientific matters, making the first radio contact from New Zealand to Australia, Europe and the USA. On 18 October 1924, along with his sister Brenda Bell, he made the first trans-world communication from the Shag Valley homestead when he made radio contact with London. Prior to this there had been no two-way communication by radio by either commercial or amateur operators. A collection of scientific instruments used for radio transmission and Alfred Bell's telescope are now housed in the former cookshop and men's quarters. Frank Bell died in 1987, but title to the station passed to his son, Alfred Dillon Bell and Alfred's wife Louise four years earlier in 1983. Their son Jonathan Dillon Bell and his wife Tanya now run the Shag Valley Station.

Physical Description

The Shag Valley Station buildings stretch over a wide area. Entering the station from the Pig Root, the woolshed and shearers quarters are the first buildings encountered in a wide valley running approximately parallel with the road. From the woolshed and shearers quarters, the farm road leads up to a rise to the south of the valley. The homestead and gardens sit on this rise, looking over the valley. The farm road leads past an old wooden barn, now used as a garage, to the other earlier farm buildings that lie to the south again of the homestead. About half a kilometre past the homestead the men's quarters can be found, situated on another small rise. The stables dating from Johnny Jones' days are located close to the men's quarters in a broad valley.

Homestead and gardens

The original house consisted of a square bungalow of four rooms, built c. 1868. This replaced an earlier cottage and was known by the family as "government house". Extensive additions followed to the east (of limestone), west (of wood) and south, including an observatory. These extensions were added in the 1870s and 1880s.

Baron von Mueller, a Melbourne botanist, apparently laid out the fifteen acres of grounds. Much of the original plan of formal rose garden, lake and lawns still remains.


The woolshed is a large T-shaped building. The T is formed by two single-gabled wings. The wool room is in the "leg" of the T; and the board and pens are in the "cross stroke" of the T.

The wool room wing has a raised single-gabled tower for the old screw press, a feature of early Central Otago woolsheds.

The shearing board and sheep pen wing has a lean-to wrapped around four sides in the form of a hipped roof. The shearing board has stands for about thirty-six blade shearers.

Thornton states that the woolshed, complete with drafting yards, was built to cope with the very large number of sheep that required shearing on the large stations. It was both a shearing shed and a structure for storing wool.

The design followed that common in Australia, with three basic areas; pens for holding sheep, the shearing board, where shearers cut the wool with hand blades, and the wool room where fleeces were sorted, classed and pressed into bales, then stored until they were carted to the nearest port. Floors in the sheep pens were built of slatted timber, about a metre from the ground to allow sheep droppings to fall through and the area to be cleaned out from time to time.

The Woolshed was originally clad with weatherboard. Since the 1980s this has been partially replaced with corrugated iron.

The Shag Valley Station structure predates other similar Category I woolsheds such as the Hakataramea, Highfield and Homebush Station woolsheds.

Shearers quarters

The shearers' quarters is a single-storey, twin-gabled building. It has two parallel gables, and is constructed of stone, random rubble brought to course, and has contrasting stone quoins and dressings on the windows. There is a brick chimney in the valley between the gables. One portion originally contained the cook shop and dining room, while the other small rooms with tiered bunks. The shearers' quarters was constructed to cater for and house shearing gangs employed in annual shearing.

The east elevation gable ends have central doors with a single-light over.

The south elevation has a symmetrical façade, with a central door flanked by two windows. A second door looks to have been added later (it does not have the contrasting stone dressings).

The north elevation also has a door flanked by two windows, but the façade is not symmetrical, and the windows are of uneven sizes.

The west elevation has a lean-to concrete block addition.

Men's Quarters & Cookshop

Single mens quarters, often combined with a cookshop as is the case here, performed an essential function in the early days of large farm runs, housing the sometimes large numbers of men who worked on the stations. According to Thornton, "It was the custom for station staff to have their own quarters, sometimes located at a considerable distance from the homestead or 'big house'". These buildings, along with shearers' quarters, were usually located in separate blocks; sometimes there were separate cottages for the cook and married staff. In some cases conditions in the men's quarters could be rather rough and uncomfortable. Thornton points out that these often basic structures could at times house up to 100 men, who ate at plank tables running lengthwise, seated on forms. Basic rations were usually monotonous, consisting of mutton, potatoes, bread and tea.

This building has a T-shaped form with a secondary gable running parallel to the transecting gable. The south elevation has a lean-to addition and veranda. A large bell stands just outside the front door of the building, supported on two timber posts, rung at meal times and for the beginning and end of the working day.

Some of the windows appear to be the original six-light paired double-hung sash windows.

Some features appear to be later modifications, such as the more modern windows. There are a number of weatherboard sheds and lean-tos around the main structure.


Stables played an important role from the beginning of the development of pastoralism in the region, when horses were used for a number of essential tasks. In addition to ploughing they were necessary for mustering and also as a means of transport, both for riding and for drawing a number of different farm vehicles such as the buggy and carriage, as well as the hay wagon and farm dray. Horses such as shires and Clydesdales worked in teams of as many as eight horses drawing wagons, drays and other equipment; all these horses, as well as hacks and racing stock required suitable stabling, where they were fed, groomed, harnessed and sheltered.

The stable is a rectangular plan building with a central doorway flanked by two small square windows. The stable has lean-tos at one end and at the rear. The gable-end and rear walls are stone. The eaves and main front wall are clad in weatherboard. The stable has a corrugated iron roof.


This complex of farm station buildings compares very favourably with other Category I farm buildings in the region, such as those at Matanaka and Totara Estate, where sheep were processed for export as frozen carcasses. The buildings are of a comparable style and similar materials to those at Totara Estate, while the cookshop and men's quarters had a similar function. The Shag Valley Station functioned principally as a sheep station; hence it has a different group of structures including the large woolshed.

Johnny Jones' original farm buildings located at Matanaka near Waikouaiti, dating to the 1840s, are in the ownership of the NZHPT. Three of these buildings are Category I historic places.

Notable Features

Homestead and gardens, Woolshed, Shearers quarters, Stables, Men's quarters and cookshop.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1868 -

Original Construction
Woolshed, men's quarters, stables and cookhouse constructed.

Gardens are thought to be designed by Baron von Mueller, a Melbourne botanist.

1870 - 1890
Extensions added to the homestead.

Construction Details

Homestead: Limestone and wood, with a corrugated iron roof.

Woolshed: Timber framed gabled construction with weatherboard cladding (now partially reclad in corrugated iron) and a corrugated iron roof; it stands on schist piles.

Shearers quarters: Random rubble schist stone with contrasting quoins and dressings in limestone, with a corrugated iron roof.

Mens quarters & cookshop: Rough-hewn local limestone laid in regular courses, with a corrugated iron roof.

Stables: End and rear walls are of random rubble masonry; the front, gable ends and side lean-to are weatherboard. The roof is corrugated iron.

Public NZAA Number


Information Sources

Beattie, 1979

JH Beattie, The Southern Runs, Gore Historical Society, Invercargill, 1979

Dictionary of Australian Biography

Dictionary of Australian Biography

'Baron Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich Von Mueller,', 20/12/2004.

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Raewyn Dalziel, 'Bell, Francis Dillon 1822-1898', updated 16 December 2003 URL:; W. J. Gardener, 'Bell, Francis Henry Dillon 1851-1936', updated 16 December 2003 URL:

McLauchlan, 1989

G McLauchlan, 'The illustrated Encyclopedia of New Zealand', Auckland, 1989

Moore, 1958

C.W.S. Moore, 'Northern Approaches', Otago Centennial Historical Publications, 1958

Olssen, 1984

Erik Olssen, A History of Otago, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1984

Pinney, 1981

R. Pinney, Early Northern Otago Runs, Auckland, 1981

Thornton, 1986

Geoffrey Thornton, The New Zealand Heritage of Farm Buildings, Auckland, 1986

Porter, 1983

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

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern 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.