The Waitaki area is traditionally associated with the Kāhui-tipua, Te Rapuwai, Waitaha and Kāti Māmoe peoples. The Waitaki River was an ara tawhito (traditional travel route) for Kāi Tahu into the interior of Te Wai Pounamu and there are many kāika nohoka (seasonal settlements) and kāika mahika kai (food gathering sites) along the river. The land around the Waitaki River mouth shows evidence of extensive settlement, while Moeraki was one of the early cradles of knowledge for Waitaha and Kāti Māmoe histories. Key coastal settlements were at Moeraki, Shag Point, Waikouaiti, and Huriawa (the Karitane Peninsula). Kāi Tahu’s presence is shown through a range of archaeological sites from middens, ovens and urupā, to rock art. The Takiroa Historic Area (List No.7769), Maerewhenua Historic Area (List No.7770), Awamoko Rock Art Site (List No.5670) are some of the sites that are listed on the southern boundary of the Waitaki. Kāi Tahu named the area in the lee of the cape, Ōamaru or the place of Maru, making use of the resources of the area.
Birth of a new town
In 1858, the town was surveyed, and the first sections were opened up for sale the following year. These sections were between Tyne and Tees Streets (see Figure 8). Here, some of Ōamaru's earliest European buildings were erected among the first being H.C. Hertslet's accommodation house, Trail, Roxby and Company’s store, and the Northern Hotel. From the 1860s, as the town grew, serving the rich hinterland with its grain and wool, these buildings were replaced by the stone structures that survive today. The scale and elaborate design of the buildings in the area reflect the vigorous nature of the town’s economy during the rapid growth of the wider Otago region in the 1860s-1870s. In these very early days of settlement in Ōamaru, the local limestone had not yet been extensively exploited. The earliest mention of quarrying is from 1860. So, the fact that a house as large as Casa Nova was built using local limestone in 1861 is significant. In 1864 it was noted that approximately 12,000 cubic feet (340 cubic metres) of stone had been quarried for use in the district.
William H. Clayton, Colonial Architect, praised the limestone of the area in 1871, saying, ‘the stone from the best Kakanui quarries is superior to any other building stone I have met with in the Colonies during a practice of twenty years.’ By 1875 the quarrying of limestone had become an industry, aided by the development of shipping and rail, and supply routes were established. “The town of Oamaru is chiefly supplied from Cave Valley, and Dunedin and other southern districts from Kakaunui [sic]. The trade to Dunedin alone is sufficient to keep one or two vessels constantly trading to Moeraki.” Mr Perry’s famous Totara Tree Stone Company which was renowned for the ‘outstanding’ quality of its stone, wouldn’t be formed until the 1880s. In 1875 it was noted that 90% of the buildings were constructed using Ōamaru stone, and a few notable homes are mentioned, “In Oamaru, nine-tenths of the buildings are of this material, and several of them, such as the National Bank and the Star and Garter Hotel, are worthy of a place with the architecture of the old world. The private residences in that district can also be classed along with the country houses of England, notably Windsor Park, Elderslie, Moa, and Totara.” Those residences were part of large estate and post-dated Casa Nova by over a decade which may explain its absence from this list of notable homes.
By 1860, sheep runs were the ‘economic backbone of the colony’ with nearly all the land in Canterbury and Otago having been claimed for pastoral use and the main product being wool for the international market. This was the time of the Squatters, those cashed-up enough to occupy large tracts of Crown land to graze livestock. Known as the Squattocracy, this social class had more land, money, and beasts. Many were publicly educated and well connected within their class, and relied on the labour of a new working class. The owner of Casa Nova, Mark Noble, certainly fitted comfortably within this class.
Mark Noble Builds Casa Nova
English-born Mark Noble (1834-1868) was from Danett Hall in Leicester, England the only son of Joseph William Noble. His entry in the Cambridge alumni collection indicates he was born in 1834, educated at Brighton Collegiate, and Caius at Cambridge. He matriculated at Magdalen Hall in March 1855, six months after his wife’s death. He was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1859. The following year he graduated with an M.A. (Oxford). Noble is recorded as having arrived in Auckland from London, via Melbourne on the Mermaid on 22 November 1860.
Mark Noble applied for rural land in Block I Ōamaru District in April 1861 and in December that year, applied for land in Block V. Roberts records Mark Noble as building Casa Nova that same year after having purchased the fourth house (the first built by an experienced carpenter, Robert Allen, for Dr Knowles King) in Ōamaru. The property on which Casa Nova was built came with 100 acres laid down in grass, and was (at that time) situated just north of the town boundary. It would have had unimpeded views across the plans to the sea in the east.
The imposing style of the house was thought to be inspired by that of Danett Hall, where Noble was raised, which had been demolished in 1861. A later newspaper article recalled that Noble built stables and men’s quarters on the site, followed by a ‘large square mansion in rough brown stone.’ The house was designed by Thomas Glass and Michael Grenfell, and was the town’s most substantial residence at that time. The stone is believed to have been transported by bullock teams from the Totara and Kakanui quarries where it was cut by hand. The house is built of bolstered (split) limestone in Georgian style, emphasising grace and formality.
An image (Figure 9), probably from the 1860s, shows the rear of the house, with the extensive gardens and outbuildings. The house overlooks the coast in what is a rural area, with only a couple of houses nearby. Brocklebank describes “Noble’s limestone, Baltic pine and kauri-built mansion, built in 1861, was certainly the first grand style whitestone dwelling in Oamaru.”
Even amongst the other early run holder’s estates, Casa Nova was a standout piece of architecture. While Dansey’s Hut (List No.2419) and the Otekaike Station Cookshop and Men’s Quarters (List No.2426) date from a similar time and are built of Ōamaru stone, they are humble dwellings compared with grandeur of Casa Nova. Filleul’s Windsor Park Estate Homestead (List No.2437) is similarly impressive but of an altogether different design.
Noble took on Run 99 when E.F. Rich dropped out of the partnership with his cousin W.H Teschmaker. He was involved in the beginnings of the horse racing industry, and was frequently reported as a steward at the Waitaki Races in the Otago Witness. Throughout 1862, Noble was advertised to be one of the stewards at “The First New Zealand Champion Race”, to be held in Dunedin in March 1863. His pursuits extended to billiards, winning a game worth £1000. The Champion Race was to be for 1000 sovereigns, with a sweepstake of 100 sovereigns. It was to be a grand affair and hope to attract owners of horses from Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania to enter. Noble was involved in racing his horses as well. McDonald notes this period was “dominated by horses” – racing becoming a popular pastime, and notes the Oamaru Cup was won by Vension, ridden by Mark Noble. Breeding Clydesdales was a further pursuit of Noble’s and frequent advertisements in the papers speak to the availability of his Clydesdale horse, Champion, for the duration of the 1862 - 1865 seasons. Champion was reputed to be “one of the Purest Cart Stallions in the Colony.” Noble must have had many staff to manage his run and horse breeding as he appears to have spent 1863-1865 serving as Corporal in the 70th Surrey Regiment. He received the New Zealand Medal and served at: Waireka (28 March 1860) Warea pā, Waikato Campaign, Rangiaohia (21 Feb 1864), Ōrakau Campaign (30 March 1864), Taranaki and Wanganui Campaigns.
Noble did not spend much time at his new Ōamaru residence. On 24th August 1864 Noble advertised his furnished, “substantial two-storey stone house”, Casa Nova to let for 18 months. The house was advertised to let and was described as a,
substantial two-storey stone house, furnished, containing on the ground floor, drawing-room, dining-room, hall, kitchen, larder and bedroom. On the first floor there are five bedrooms and dressing room; also a bathroom. There are also a detached washhouse, wooden stables for 8 horses, coach-house were also on the property which included 1000 acres of land; 5 in lawn and vegetable gardens, two paddocks of 10 acres each in permanent English pasture; and 15 acres in crop. There is a permanent supply of water in the two paddocks. Also an excellent stock paddock of 60 acres, well watered and sheltered.
In early 1865 Noble was selling off his sheep and could be contacted at the Otago Club in Dunedin, perhaps indicating Casa Nova had, by this stage, been let. In May 1865 Noble’s extensive Kakanui property, sheep, dairy cows, bullocks and horses for sale by auction prior to his “departure for England”. A couple of months later his stock and implements were for sale including his celebrated Clydesale draught stallion, Champion.
Noble left New Zealand later in 1865. The reason why is uncertain as no discharge records exist. However, the Surrey Regiment was required for alternating home and abroad service between the years of 1865 and 1877. According to his will, he next resided at 13 Robertson Terrace, Hastings in the County of Sussex. Noble died in Malta on 5th April 1868. He may have been in Malta with his regiment which was stationed there at the time. He is buried at the cemetery in Bagni di Lucca in Italy with his wife Elizabeth Martha Baynes Noble (1834-1854).
Run holder Charles Fenwick (1808-1875) and his family were tenants around 1868-1870. Originally from Denmark, the Fenwicks were a noble family with generations holding consular positions. They were significant in Otago’s history; the Fenwick brothers (William, Fairfax and Charles) were partners in pastoral concerns, including Otepopo and Kuriheka. Charles was Hanoverian consul in Elsinore until 1862. That same year he was allocated a Crown land grant in New Zealand.
Later tenants of Casa Nova included Frederick Every (1836-1892), probably later owner John Borton’s brother-in-law.
It was not until 1875 that Noble’s estate offered the property for sale. The sale notice describes the house as a ‘substantial stone mansion, with ten rooms, large entrance hall, pantry, and out-offices.’ It stood in ‘well laid-out grounds, with a large Kitchen Garden, well stocked with fruit trees. Forty acres had been subdivided off the holding.
In 1875 Casa Nova was sold to prominent Maerewhenua run holder John Borton (c.1826-1916). Borton, son of William Borton of Cottenham House near Banbury, trained as a civil engineer and surveyor, had arrived in Port Chalmers in 1849, before following gold to Victoria before settling in Otago. He built Ferntree Lodge in Halfway Bush (List No. 368, Category 1). Borton took up the 15,000 acre Maerewhenua run with Julian Jeffreys, later taking up additional land, acquiring some quarter of a million acres. Borton later went into partnership with Alexander McMaster, under the style of Borton and McMaster – one of the ‘best known and most prominent pastoral partnerships in New Zealand’ which, ‘apart from its success as a private business, it rendered valuable service to the colony by importing and breeding stock of the best quality, especially merino sheep.’ Borton and McMaster free-holded huge estates and were wealthy society figures. Borton and McMaster both lived in big Ōamaru houses – Borton at Casa Nova and McMaster at Waikaura (burnt down in 1904). In 1911 Borton sold the property to David Dunn. Borton died in 1916.
David Dunn, a former Mayor of Ōamaru, was a prominent citizen – a vice-chair of the Harbour Board and a board member of the Waitaki High Schools Board. The property was further subdivided in the 1920s. A 1924 plan shows part of the Casa Nova estate with its associated stable and a plantation and garden around the house. A timber addition was added to the rear around the turn of the century. Dunn and his family lived at Casa Nova until 1926.
In 1926, the house was bought by a Mr Parker, who sold it again in the 1930s to James (a goldminer working in Queenstown) and Helen McMullan, who lived there with their eight children until 1961.
The house was vacant for some years during which time its condition deteriorated. Christine and Dave Graham bought the property in 1966. The Grahams altered the house, including removing an interior stone wall to create a large reception room, opening the house as a reception venue. They turned the lounge and smoking room into a dining room to seat 80 people and built a new kitchen to cater for functions and weddings. By this time, an acre of land remained with the house. In the 1980s Brent and Lynn Twaddle carried on the catering and function business, the venue being a popular destination.
In 2000, Casa Nova was bought by ex-British Airways chief chef David Taylor who converted the premises to a restaurant and home, restoring many of the interior features and installing a commercial kitchen. The restaurant and lounge occupied the ground floor, the lounge being utilised for pre and post dinner drinks. The restaurant operated until 2007, closing when the property was sold (and apparently the most expensive property in Ōamaru at that time). Anabel Rea reported that Casa Nova was, “… one of the South Island’s few true fine dining restaurants … The height of chic at the time, the establishment was famous for waiting staff who wore white gloves and served meals on bone china dishes, with polished silver cutlery arranged on starched table cloths.” Taylor won an individual gold medal at the International Culinary Olympics, Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung (IKA), Berlin.
The house sold again in July 2019 and the current owners are undertaking repairs and plan to continue to make the home a place of accommodation and hospitality.
Originally a large rural property, Casa Nova is now part of a closely built suburban area in Ōamaru North. The surrounding houses are modest single storey dwellings with small gardens. To the north-west of the house are mature trees, now on an adjoining property. Casa Nova is now set on just under half a hectare of mature gardens. The property is now exquisitely maintained with clipped decorative hedges and specimen trees, and a sweeping lawn in front of the house and a row of yew trees lining the left side of the drive way as you enter the property. To the eastern side of the house can be found vegetable gardens, paving and a small metal hand gate which separates the front and rear gardens (see Figure 11). The ornamental gate is reminiscent of those made by the Cyclone Woven Wire Fence & Gate Company est. 1903. This gate may date to c.1900-1915 based on comparisons with gates in advertising material.
Casa Nova House – east elevation
The house (see Figure 12) is two-storey Neo-Georgian style house built of golden Ōamaru limestone laid in course with lime mortar made from local sand. A finial tops each east facing gable end faced with undecorated barge boards. The house faces east and presents two gables with a recessed entrance way between. Large angled bay windows still roofed with the original lead flank the entrance which is a broad arch, the rustic bolstered voussoirs contrast against the surrounding wall. A four panelled door is flanked by side panels with round topped windows in a dimpled green glass. A broad arched fanlight window sits above this grouping (see Figure 12).
On the second storey, above each bay window, is a single sash window above which is a delicate stonework hood mould which highlights the blockwork surrounding each window; each rock faced stone has a clear margin to distinguish it from the rest of the wall while connecting it to the same treatment on the quoins. Above the entrance door is a recently restored balcony which spans the recess between the gables. The balcony is accessed via French doors. An arched fanlight window sits above the doors. The house is surmounted by a corrugated iron roof which would originally have been slate.
While the majority of the stonework is bolstered, there are a variety of stone finishes including sparrow pecking and chisel marks (Figure 13), and drafted margins.
The north elevation is not symmetrical – the ground floor has two pairs of French doors to the left of the centre line, and one single door with an arched frame to the right. This would presumably have been a service entrance in the past as the original formal approach to the house was from the south east; note the door bell (Figure 15). A double hung sash window is situated above each door on the second storey, still with their original glazing bars.
The west elevation was originally symmetrical in design (see Figure 9) and today is altered by a timber and stonework addition as well as adaptions to the original stonework. This is particularly evident in what had been a centrally placed round topped window which spanned the first and second storeys indicating it served to illuminate a stairwell. The repair to the stonework is clear in Figure 16 where the later infill is apparent. It appears as though there may have been a window sill at one point but this has since been lost.
A two-storey rusticated timber addition to the west and south elevations is thought to date from around 1900. The ground floor of the L-shaped addition provides entry into the rear hallway. On the storey above, the three round topped windows facing north are blind windows. The internal stairwell occupies the adjacent section with the lancet window. This etched window depicting an urn of tulips was believed to have come originally from the Oamaru mortuary. The double doors with a divided semi-circular window above it was a garage in the 1960s and is now a bathroom, laundry and entrance to the commercial kitchen which was installed in the 1990s.
The south elevation provides evidence of an addition and interesting variations in stonework. The date of the extension is not known but may be earlier than or contemporaneous with the timber addition of c.1900. Most noticeable is the connection between the original building and the stone extension; the original part is a bolstered finish and the extension has a higher proportion of sparrow pecking. The window design is similar across the original and the extension. On the ground floor there is a pair of slim double sash windows with a mullion separating the panes.
The house has been extensively altered since the 1860s, and very little of the original interior fabric remains. The broad entry hall has painted panelling up to the picture rail with replica Victorian tiling on the floor. This leads to the dining room (left) and the lounge (right). The present dining room was created in the late 1960s with the removal of a two-storey stone wall between what was the smoking room and ballroom, and the four original fireplaces. A concrete floor was poured at the time and rubble from the dining room was placed into the floor of the lounge. The lounge is the only room that remains relatively untouched, it maintains its elaborate marble fireplace (Figure 20) and two pairs of French doors lead out to the northerly garden. The plaster ceilings and cornices throughout the house feature Art Deco motifs.
Grand double doors echo the entranceway with its round topped windows in the doors and side lights with similar green dimpled glass. The door furniture which was recently restored is believed to be the original door furniture. The internal French doors segregate the public part of the house from the stairwell (not original) and commercial kitchen at the rear which has replaced the service rooms and hallway to the right. This hall leads to two bathrooms, these are accessed through an arch with decorative brackets. The door at the end of the hall has original door furniture and bell.
The timber staircase (thought to be kauri) is of generous proportions and while not original, it is likely to date to the time of the timber and stone extension c1900. A large lancet window thought to have come from the Ōamaru mortuary fills the broad stairwell with light and draws the viewer upwards to a gallery which opens up beneath a Moroccan arch.
The ceiling in the gallery is plain, more Victorian in style. The sitting room is situated in the north east corner and contains an original fire surround which is believed to have been relocated from one of the two rooms that now comprise the dining room. There are three original double sash windows in this room facing north and east.
The east facing central bedroom has the repaired original French doors leading out to the Juliet balcony which has also recently been repaired, the balusters designed to match the internal staircase.
The south east corner room has little remaining of the ceiling or wall linings. This allows access to view the construction of the building; the lath and mortar packing of stone, the battens that the roof slates would have been nailed to, some of the original lath and plaster ceiling remains. There is also evidence of original window architraves and window furniture.
Opposite this room is a small kitchen and dining room which was installed in the 1990s by the Taylors. To the south and west are two bedrooms and a large bathroom.
Casa Nova is one of the earliest grand mansions in Ōamaru and demonstrates a formative use of the quarried limestone that would later become ubiquitous in Ōamaru and sought after around New Zealand and overseas.
Local buildings contemporaneous with Casa Nova
There are no longer any comparable residential dwellings constructed of Ōamaru stone. The single storey villa of baker Andrew Meldrum on Ure Street and the dwelling constructed by Thomas Shalders (archaeological site J41/179) have been demolished. According to a report by Forster-Garbutt et al., there were strong parallels between Shalders’ building and Casa Nova; “The size and finishing techniques of the Ōamaru stone blocks used for the foundations and the walls of these structures, encompassing hand-hewn finishes, tooth-chiselled window surrounds and similar shaped window sills, show strong parallels with the Ōamaru stones of the dwelling constructed by Thomas Shalders.” Casa Nova is the sole representative of residential houses made of Ōamaru stone from this era, and so is of particular significance as the remaining example.
Contemporaneous Ōamaru stone buildings
The resident community of European settlers in Ōamaru was relatively small in the 1860s, with a small number of stone masons working in the area. Forster-Garbutt et al. note, “The use of Ōamaru stone as a building material was still in the experimental phases, similarities can be seen between the structures on Totara Estate buildings [(List No.7066 and 4367)] and Thomas Shalders’ dwelling (J41/179) showing a shared set of commonly used techniques.”
The Star and Garter Stables (Former) (List no. 4880) are believed to be the oldest Ōamaru stone building c.1861 and exhibit similar chisel marks on the inside walls of the stone to that in the second storey north east corner room in Casa Nova. The tool marks show a similar method for working the stone.
Comparisons can also be made with the stone work of Clark’s Mill (List No.346) which shows evidence of sparrow pecking on the interior rear wall.
Other early homes
Casa Nova can be compared with a number of other buildings that are representative of early residences in Otago using new or unusual building materials.
Ferntree Lodge (List No. 368, Category 1)
Ferntree Lodge was built by John Borton on his arrival in Dunedin c.1849 and is Dunedin’s oldest residence and was built of local materials, notably ponga (tree fern) logs from the nearby bush, plastered with clay. Coincidentally, John Borton later owned Casa Nova when he took on a run in Maerewhenua with Julian Jeffries. The two houses are comparable in that they made use of local materials. Timber for building was scarce in Waitaki, only being obtainable from Runs no’s. 11 and 12, while the local limestone had been identified as ‘fit for building’ and in ‘cleavable state’.
Dalgety, Rattray and Company Manager’s Cottage, (List No. 9701, Category 2)
Like Casa Nova, this is also one of the earliest surviving residences in Ōamaru. It was built for merchants Dalgety, Rattray and Company around 1861, the same year as Casa Nova. Although the date of construction is the same the buildings couldn’t be more different. Dalgety’s is a colonial cottage with a half dormer window, and Casa Nova is a Neo-Georgian mansion in permanent material.
Ōtepopo Presbyterian Manse (Former) (List No.5250, Category 2)
Located just to the north of Herbert, the Ōtepopo Presbyterian Manse (Former) was completed in 1867. Designed by noted Dunedin architect, R.A. Lawson, the Ōamaru stone residence is religious Gothic in style and has aesthetic and architectural significance. This was Lawson’s second commission using Ōamaru stone, the first was the St John’s Presbyterian Church (Former) (List No.2416, Category 2). Although different in style, like Casa Nova, the manse is built of bolstered stone, and possesses an angled bay window.
Totara Estate Homestead (List No.2434, Category 2)
Another grand home for a large and prosperous landowner, Totara Homestead was built c.1868 for John McPherson, manager of the New Zealand and Australian Land Company’s Totara Estate. It was built in a Victorian style of local stone with the main elevation notable for its faceted bay window, dentils and decorative quoins. Although their styles differ, like Casa Nova the house presents an angled bay with double sash windows, and provides a strong social statement for a gentleman owner.
Cumbria Homestead (List No.4888, Category 2)
Built between 1885-7, Cumbria Homestead originally known as Fortification is perhaps the closest in style to Casa Nova. Built for one of Otago’s early settlers, Frederick Collis, the stone was quarried from the property. It is a double storey with projecting bay windows on the ground floor, and a recessed entrance between. The finish of the stone is ashlar which means the quoins and arches are much more prominent in their rendering, being in higher relief than those of Casa Nova.
Timber and stone addition to the rear
Interior alterations including removal of two storey interior stone wall
Construction of rear porch, men’s and women’s toilets, car park, commercial kitchen
Ōamaru stone, timber, corrugated iron
Public NZAA Number
6th April 2020
Report Written By
Sarah Gallagher and Heather Bauchop
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.
Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.
A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Otago Southland Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.