Devcich Farm

764C Kauaeranga Valley Road, Kauaeranga

  • Devcich Farm, Kauaeranga. Southern part of farmyard, looking west.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 12/04/2011.
  • Devcich Farm, Kauaeranga. General view of Devcich Farm, looking east.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 12/04/2011.
  • Devcich Farm, Kauaeranga. Wine vat, ladles and table in wine shed, looking south.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 12/04/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 9497 Date Entered 23rd June 2011 Date of Effect 23rd June 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Kahe Blk (RT SA42D/302), South Auckland Land District, and the structures known as Devcich Farm thereon, and their fittings and fixtures and the following chattels: kitchen table; chaise longue; boots x 3 pairs; camp oven; linseed oil barrel (Thomas Hubbuck & Son Ltd., London); metal tins, pots and pans; anvil; large weighing scales (Ashworth Son & Co. Ltd, Dewsbury and London) with weights; hand trolley; hessian sacks with gum; wooden chute; large wooden wine barrel; barrel table; ladles x 5; large circular wooden lid; rectangular kauri tub; washing table in washroom; half barrels x 2; Golden Valley Wines sign; Wine, Women and Song signs x 2; pitsaw; crosscut saws x 3; circular saw blades x 2; timber jack; axe heads; wheeled jiggers x 2 in sawmill; horse saddles and collars; harness; timber yoke; wool press; fleece table; circular stencil. Extent also includes mature plantings, including vines and fruit trees (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Thames-Coromandel District


Waikato Region

Legal description

Pt Kahe Blk (RT SA42D/302), South Auckland Land District

Location description

On the eastern side of Kauaeranga Valley Road, approximately 2.5 km to the north of its junction with Mangotahi Road. The Old Farm House now operates as a Bed and Breakfast. The property is viewable by appointment only.


The Devcich Farm is an exceptionally well-preserved early twentieth-century farmstead in the Kauaeranga Valley, near Thames. Situated on a low rise beside the Kauaeranga River, it was predominantly created in the 1920s by the Devcich family who were first generation migrants from Dalmatia. The place is of very considerable importance for reflecting significant developments in Dalmatian settlement in early twentieth-century New Zealand, including an increasing shift from temporary to permanent migration, and a change of emphasis from short-term work to family-based settlement organised around agricultural activity. The farm and its wide range of buildings demonstrate notable attitudes and preferences linked with Dalmatian cultural origin, including an engagement in mixed agriculture, winemaking, the gum trade, family-based production, and broader cooperative networks. The place is also notable for the range and significance of its associated chattels.

Prior to European arrival, the Kauaeranga Valley was an important place of settlement for Ngati Maru. For approximately half a century from the 1870s onwards, it became a significant centre for the kauri logging and gumdigging industries, which were major contributors to the economy of northern New Zealand. The site is located on the Kahe Block, which was sold by its Maori owners in 1878. Successive purchasers included local body politician James Kilgour, and farmer Joze Machado who evidently ran sheep and occupied a house and woolshed on the land. It is possible that Machado struggled to make a living, and in 1915 the block was bought by three immigrant brothers from Dalmatia: Marian Anton, Simun and Nikola Devcich.

After arriving in New Zealand, the Devcich brothers had worked their way from gumdigging to storekeeping and trading, before purchasing farms at Puriri, Hikutaia and then Kauaeranga. Dalmatian immigration from the 1880s onwards was primarily fuelled by economic hardship, caused in part by the fragmentation of land tenure. Most initial arrivals were single young men who intended to stay only temporarily in New Zealand. By 1916, however, there was a shift among some to obtain land with a view to more permanent settlement. Farms created by such migrants generally engaged in mixed agriculture using family labour, following traditional practices in Dalmatia.

In circa 1918-19, the Kauri Timber Company (KTC) built a tramline through the Devcich Brothers’ property to assist with the extraction of the last major stands of kauri in the valley. Coinciding with this becoming fully operational, Simun Devcich and his wife Matija are believed to have moved to the farm in 1920 with six young children. After initially living in a small cottage, a homestead was erected, both located immediately beside the KTC tramline. Single-storey timber and corrugated iron buildings also developed around a farmyard to the rear including a workshop, smithy, killing shed and provision store. The buildings are believed to have been made largely using local materials, including timber from the farm. A sawpit was in existence in 1927-8, and by 1936 or earlier a mechanised sawmill was built using family labour.

A dairy herd was established, together with hayfields, an orchard and a flourishing vineyard. Provisions from the farm store may have been sold to timber workers living in bush camps. After the Kauri Timber Company withdrew its operations in 1927-8, the timber workers were replaced by gumdiggers, many of whom were of Dalmatian origin. Until the decline of the gum trade in circa 1935, the farm became a provision and accommodation stop for such workers on their way to and from the gumfields. The family’s eldest children also took supplies by packhorse to the camps and would return with gum, which was then processed in a one-and-a-half storey gum-sorting shed, which was of unusual tea tree or manuka framing. Gum formed an economic mainstay during the Great Depression. Stabling, and a shed for carriage, tack and feed were also erected in the yard.

Wine was produced at the farm from at least 1927, at a time when Dalmatian migrants fostered the survival of a winemaking tradition in New Zealand. Although early production may have occurred in the basement beneath the homestead, a wine shed was erected in 1931. After Simun Devcich became the sole owner in 1939, there was a general shift in emphasis from dairying to sheep farming. A woolshed was built at the northern end of the complex, and an adjoining bunkhouse on sleds may have housed seasonal shearers. Social activities included music - most of the children were in a band - and involvement in horse racing. The farm was taken over by the eldest and youngest sons, Sam and Stan Devcich, in 1964, after which comparatively few modifications were carried out. A very large number of early chattels were retained, including items linked with the home, storekeeping, winemaking, gum sorting and timber milling. The farm remains in private hands.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The place has historical significance for its connections with logging in the Kauaeranga Valley by the Kauri Timber Company, one of the last major operations of its type in relation to the kauri trade. It has strong associations with subsequent gum-digging activities, which formed an important source of income during the Great Depression. The place is historically significant for its association with winemaking in early twentieth-century New Zealand, when Dalmatian winemakers were instrumental in fostering the industry. It reflects the development of agricultural activity in the wake of logging, including sheep-farming in the 1940s and 1950s. It has connections with attempts by the local community to create a primary overland route to the eastern Coromandel via the Kauaeranga Valley.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

The Devcich Farm has aesthetic significance for its visual setting in the Kauaeranga Valley, and for its ability to evoke a strong sense of the past due to its exceptionally well-preserved group of buildings; the comparative lack of modern intrusion in its setting; and the survival of a large number of associated chattels.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

The place has archaeological significance for the extent to which its physical fabric - including its buildings and chattels - can provide information about a variety of early twentieth-century farm-based activities, including storekeeping, smithing, gum sorting, winemaking and stabling. The site is likely to contain the archaeological remnants of a tramline, constructed in circa 1918-19 to service timber felling in the Kauaeranga Valley, and the remains of a 1920s sawpit.

Architectural Significance or Value:

The place has architectural significance as an unusually well-preserved collection of early twentieth-century farm buildings. Their layout, construction and appearance contribute to an understanding of rural vernacular architecture in northern New Zealand. The gum-sorting shed demonstrates a form of construction that differs from standard stud-frame architecture. Other structures, such as the store, wine shed, and bunk house can also be considered unusual or very unusual surviving types in a rural vernacular context.

Cultural Significance or Value:

The place has strong cultural significance for its connections with Dalmatian settlement in New Zealand, and the efforts of migrant families to become established during the early twentieth century. Dalmatians formed a significant non-British immigrant community in New Zealand from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries onwards. The place has particular importance for reflecting an emphasis within the Dalmatian community in early twentieth-century New Zealand from temporary migration to long-term residency based largely on farming and other agricultural employment. It is also especially notable for reflecting the shift from migration by young single males to permanent, family-based settlement.

The place is culturally important for its strong associations with a variety of attitudes and preferences linked with Dalmatian cultural origin, including an engagement in mixed agriculture, winemaking, the gum trade, family-based production, and broader cooperative networks. It demonstrates notable and characteristic economic survival strategies among early twentieth-century Dalmatian migrants, involving combining agricultural production with the generation of additional income from alternative sources while marginal land is being improved.

It has enhanced significance as a focal point for the Dalmatian community in the Kauaeranga Valley, particularly at a time when many migrants were engaged in gum digging during the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Social Significance or Value:

The place has social significance for its connections with the use of family networks among migrant communities, and for expressing the importance of self-sufficiency and economic improvement among such groups. It has social value as a place of combined living and working, which demonstrates the existence of a wide variety of farm-based activities. It incorporates working areas that were traditionally the domain of men in the early twentieth century, and domestic spaces that were more traditionally associated with women. It has social value as a focal point for workers on their way to the Kauaeranga gumfields in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and as a place of employment for shearing gangs in the mid twentieth century and later. It is significant for its links with social activities such as band music, athletics and horseracing.

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

The place has special significance for the extent to which it reflects important aspects in the development of Dalmatian settlement in early twentieth-century New Zealand through its surviving buildings, landscape, chattels and documents. These aspects include a shifting emphasis from temporary migration to permanent residency in this country, and from single young men engaged primarily in gumdigging to family-based settlement linked increasingly with agricultural activity. The place has special significance for the extent to which it demonstrates notable attitudes and preferences linked to Dalmatian cultural origin. These encompass an engagement in mixed agriculture, winemaking, the gum trade, family-based production, and broader cooperative networks.

The place has special significance for the extent to which it reflects the interrelationship between farming life, trading, and the kauri timber and gum industries in northern New Zealand during the early twentieth century. Kauri timber and gum were both major exports in northern New Zealand, and were eventually surpassed in economic importance by farming. The gum trade was an economic mainstay for many during the Great Depression of the early 1930s.

The place is significant for the extent to which it reflects landscape transformation from kauri forest to agricultural land in northern New Zealand.

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

The place is significant for its connections with the operations of the Kauri Timber Company (KTC), the largest timber concern in New Zealand in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The place is linked with one of the last major kauri-felling operations undertaken by the KTC in New Zealand, at a time when kauri was a dwindling resource.

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

The place has special significance for the extent to which it can provide information about farming activities, gum-trading and the lives of Dalmatian migrants in rural New Zealand. This is due to the exceptionally well-preserved and varied physical fabric of the place, including its buildings and chattels. Its potential is enhanced by the existence of associated documentary records that chronicle varied aspects of farm and family life.

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

The place has potential for public education for its connections with, and proximity to a large network of publicly-accessible sites linked with the timber industry. The valley is a popular destination for local and overseas visitors. The owner has expressed interest in allowing access.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

The place is significant for encompassing a well-preserved collection of vernacular buildings, erected using local materials such as timber prepared on the site. One of the buildings is of unusual construction, employing unmilled tea tree or manuka for its framing.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

The place encompasses memorials to members of the Devcich family, and has some commemorative value for its associations with the achievements of first-generation Dalmatian immigrants in the Kauaeranga Valley.

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

The place has special significance as an exceptionally well-preserved element within a historical and cultural landscape of importance. The Kauaeranga Valley is notable for its ability to demonstrate aspects of the exploitation of the New Zealand landscape in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including through the activities of the kauri timber industry, gumdigging and agriculture. The valley incorporates the remains of driving dams, water races, tramlines and other features linked with the timber industry, and elements that reflect other aspects of life including the former Kauaeranga Valley School.

Summary of Significance or Values:

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, c, f, g, h and k.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place because of the extent to which it reflects important aspects in the development of Dalmatian settlement in early twentieth-century New Zealand, including a shifting emphasis from temporary migration to permanent residency, and from single young men engaged primarily in gumdigging to family-based settlement linked increasingly with agricultural activity. It has special significance for the extent to which it demonstrates notable attitudes and preferences linked to Dalmatian cultural origin, including engagement in mixed agriculture, winemaking, the gum trade, family-based production, and broader cooperative networks. It also has special significance for the extent to which it reflects a range of important economic activities in early twentieth-century New Zealand, notably farming, trading, and the kauri timber and gum industries. It is further considered to qualify as a Category I historic place because of its potential to provide further knowledge about these aspects of New Zealand history; and as an exceptionally well-preserved element within a broader historical and cultural landscape of importance in the Kauaeranga Valley.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early history of the site:

Prior to European colonisation, much of the Kauaeranga Valley was occupied by Ngati Maru. Ngati Maru had obtained control of the Thames area following their conquest of Ngati Huarere and Ngati Hako, probably by the late seventeenth century. Recorded archaeological sites in the valley indicate activity along the lower banks of the Kauaeranga (or Waiwhakauranga) River, perhaps associated with unidentified gardening settlements. Pa and pit, or terrace, sites have also been noted on higher ground on the southern side of the valley. Burial sites of ancestors are also known.

Ngati Maru briefly abandoned the area in the 1820s following incursions by Ngapuhi during the so-called Musket Wars. They returned to witness significant Pakeha settlement after formal colonisation in 1840. The settler population expanded rapidly after gold was discovered in the Coromandel in the late 1860s, and although Maori cultivation in the Kauaeranga Valley continued into the 1870s it was superseded by the introduction of activities such as large-scale timber exploitation. For the next 50 years, the valley was an important source of kauri for Auckland’s timber trade, a major contributor to the national and regional economies. In 1878-79, two contracts alone allowed for the combined felling of 60 million feet of timber in the Kauaeranga over a period of 14 years.

Sale of Maori land in the valley occurred as demand for logging and European-style farming grew. In 1873, the site on which the Devcich Farm was later created was registered by the Native Land Court as the 620 acre Kahe Block. Located in the upper part of the valley, the block encompassed flat ground beside the river as well as more hilly terrain to the east. In 1877, a court case ruled that the block should be shared between claimants descended from both Taiparoro and Hei, children of Matau.

In the following year, the land was sold to commission agent Gerald O’Halloran, before being transferred to surgeon James Kilgour (1812-1897) in early 1879. Scottish-born Kilgour had leased a large station in Victoria before moving to New Zealand and ultimately Thames in 1869, where he held the positions of mayor (1877-8), coroner, justice of the peace and chairman of quarter sessions. He was also the first president of the Thames School of Mines. In March 1879, Kilgour offered the Kahe Block to let.

Creation of a farm:

The block may have been advertised for sale as an ‘unimproved farm of 620 acres’ in late 1901. In 1903, the land was transferred to Joze Machado, described as being ‘of Kauaeranga Creek, Farmer’. Machado may have struggled to make a living on the land, as he was subsequently granted an extension to the mortgage that he took out at the time of his purchase. He either inherited or created buildings, and was evidently engaged in sheep farming. Plantings included a fig tree, a lemon tree and a vine. These were grown on a rise overlooking the river, now occupied by the Devcich Farm.

In 1912, Machado was the subject of a separation order from his wife and family, after which he was committed by government authorities to a mental institution. His stock was sold by the Public Trustee at the farm in May 1913 when it consisted of approximately 190 ewes and lambs, a cow and calf, two pigs, three horses, a spring cart and harness, and farmers’ implements. In October 1913, a sale notice for the 620-acre Kahe Block described it as being ‘mostly in grass and undulating’. The property also contained a four-roomed house and a woolshed.

Purchase by the Devcich Brothers (1915):

In 1915, the farm was bought by three brothers from Podgora on the Dalmatian coast: Marian Anton, Nikola and Simun Devcich. Dalmatians formed a significant non-British immigrant community in New Zealand from the late nineteenth century onwards, and by the later twentieth century - together with others from the former Yugoslavia - made up the second largest group of settlers in the country originating from mainland Europe. During the early twentieth century, there was a shift in emphasis in Dalmatian migration from temporary residence to more permanent settlement based predominantly on farming and other agricultural employment. The purchase and subsequent use of the Kauaeranga property by the Devcich brothers was connected to this development, and was also to reflect notable attitudes and preferences linked to Dalmatian cultural origin, including an engagement in mixed agriculture, winemaking, the gum trade, family-based production, and broader cooperative networks.

Marian Anton had been the first of the Devcich brothers to migrate from Dalmatia, where economic problems beset a society that was traditionally engaged in subsistence agriculture. In the late nineteenth century, hardships in the region were exacerbated by a fragmentation of land tenure that had its origins in the inheritance laws of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which Dalmatia formed a part. Vine disease also affected the winemaking industry - a major feature of Dalmatian life - and an increasing breakdown in a system of extended family cooperation known as the zadruga additionally fuelled a desire in many peasant families for self-sufficiency and independent landholder status, for which income from overseas or the overseas purchase of land offered a solution. Between 1880 and 1920, large-scale emigration to New Zealand and other New World countries occurred.

Most Dalmatian migrants to New Zealand initially obtained work in the northern part of the country. In 1921, more than 90 percent of 1585 recorded immigrants of Dalmatian or other Yugoslav origin lived north of the Bay of Plenty. Of this percentage, approximately half resided in Northland, and the other half in Auckland and areas further south, including the Thames district. In 1901, Thames County contained the second highest number of Dalmatians in the colony.

A notable feature of initial Dalmatian translocation to New Zealand was its emphasis on temporary migration by single young men. After arriving in New Zealand, Marian Anton found work digging for kauri gum in the Thames area, together with many other migrants of similar background. Gumdigging was a major source of employment for temporary Dalmatian immigrants, who were considered to be particularly successful at this activity due to a capacity for hard work and cooperation with each other. Kauri gum was used as a high grade varnish and for the manufacture of linoleum, and was - like timber - one of Auckland’s main export commodities. In 1903 Marian Anton was joined by his brother Simun, at a time when more than a hundred Dalmatian gumdiggers were working in Coroglen (then known as Gumtown), and approximately fifty Dalmatians and Maori were similarly operating in the Kauaeranga Valley. After the arrival of Nikola Devcich, all three brothers opened a store at Puriri in circa 1907, running packhorses to the digging camps to provide supplies and purchase gum.

The brothers bought their property at Kauaeranga after obtaining two smaller farms at Puriri (33 acres) and Hikutaia (105 acres), where they kept cattle and dairy cows. The purchase of land by the brothers reflected a new pattern of settlement within elements of the Dalmatian community, whereby ‘small, relatively stable clusters of farms were established in the midst of mobile temporary immigrants (engaged in gumdigging) who still formed the bulk of the Dalmatian population.’ This process has been linked with a move to increasing permanent settlement within the community.

As Trlin has noted:

‘an increasing number of temporary migrants gradually opted for permanent settlement. Some found their way into jobs and businesses in the towns but the majority (until the late 1920s) turned to the land as scrub cutters, drainage contractors and rural labourers or used traditional skills in viticulture, fruit-growing or general farming... Savings accumulated on the gumfields were used to purchase cheap, marginal land which could be transformed by the owner’s tireless devotion. But sometimes the ruthless sacrifice of muscle, intellect and leisure time was insufficient. Additional income, either until the land was productive or to improve the holding was necessary…Settlement was seen as a gradual process by men possessing little or no capital who were prepared to invest the fruits of their gumfield labour in their holdings, eventually becoming independent.’

In 1916, some sixteen percent of Dalmatians - or just under three hundred individuals - recorded in a Register of Aliens were involved in agriculture, suggesting a still relatively small number of Dalmatian farms at this time. The purchase of land requiring considerable improvement, as at Kauaeranga, required ongoing involvement with alternative forms of income beside agriculture, such as gumdigging or trading.

The Devcich Farm and construction of the Kauri Timber Company tramline (1915-1920):

Although the Kauaeranga property was obtained by the brothers as the gum business went into decline during the First World War (1914-18), its purchase coincided with opportunities for income from other sources. After being granted rights to log an area containing an estimated 50 million feet of timber in 1912, the Kauri Timber Company (KTC) sought to improve the efficiency of tree-felling operations in the Kauaeranga by constructing a tramline between the valley mouth and large stands of kauri at the head of the valley. Logs had previously been transported for milling in Thames by being washed down the Kauaeranga River, resulting in damage to farms in the lower valley. The KTC had been founded in 1888 as the largest timber concern in New Zealand, and by the early twentieth century was involved in exploiting what was a dwindling economic resource. Planned construction of the tramway reflected the shifting balance from logging to farming in the valley, and potentially greater care over the harvesting of kauri as it became scarcer.

The tramline was projected to run through the Devcich property, which was located approximately midway between booms in the upper valley - where logs were to be loaded - and the mouth of the Kauaeranga River, from where they were to be rafted to Auckland for milling at the KTC factory in Fanshawe Street. The brothers received a mortgage from the KTC at the time of their purchase, and simultaneously granted the company certain timber rights and the ability to construct and use a tramline. Work on the line had been started by W.J. McCormick in 1914, but was suspended during the First World War. It was not completed until 1920. A network of sidelines was also built, including the Mangakirikiri (1918), Billygoat (1921), Hihi (1922) and Piraunui (1923). The Kauaeranga was one of the last major sources of exploitable kauri in the country, and many aspects of industry in the valley - including the lives of bush workers - were recorded in some detail by contemporary photographers such as Tudor Collins.

During the period until the tramline’s completion, the Devcich brothers ran shorthorn steers on the farm. In November 1918, approximately 100 cattle were present. Letters refer to one of the brothers being at the farm shortly before the 1918 influenza pandemic, when many family members were taken ill. Full-time occupation of the farm appears to have occurred at the same time as the main KTC tramline was completed, which may have offered opportunities for additional income through trading or other means. One of the contracts issued by the KTC was for felling one and a half million feet of timber in the Shag Stream Valley. Shag Stream marked the northern boundary of the Devcich property.

Development of the Devcich Farm (1920-1939):

According to family tradition, Simun and his wife Matija Devcich (nee Mercep) moved to the farm in 1920 with six children, aged six and under. Matija had arrived from Dalmatia for an arranged betrothal but, not liking her intended husband, married Simun in 1913.

Female migration from Dalmatia at this time was unusual. Before 1920, most Dalmatian immigrants were young men, intending their stay in New Zealand to be temporary as they sought economic improvement. A decision to settle abroad was often accompanied by marriage. Out of 1332 estimated permanent arrivals from the former Yugoslavia in 1910-14, only 82 were female. Over the broader period to 1920, just three percent of Dalmatian migrants were women. Establishment of the Devcich Farm pre-dates a change in immigration policy in 1926, after which ‘many Croatian gumdiggers used their savings to buy a small farm, bring a wife over from Dalmatia and make a new beginning.’ The Devcich property therefore appears likely to have been an early example of a family farm incorporating a Dalmatian-born wife, and children.

After moving to the farm, the couple initially lived in a small cottage (since demolished) where the children slept in bunks made out of chaff sacks. This was superseded by a larger timber house with a gabled roof, which contained a front room, three bedrooms, a large rear kitchen, a scullery and basement. Footings for the central fireplace were erected out of boulders from the nearby river. After Marian Devcich relinquished his share of the farm in 1922, Nikola and his wife are said to have joined the family, occupying a separate dwelling. A reliance on family labour and family-based production formed a feature of most early Dalmatian farms in New Zealand.

Work on expanding the potential for farming involved felling trees on the hills, clearing and burning bush, and sowing grass seed by hand. Timber was employed for constructing farm buildings, or sold. A dairy herd was built up, amounting to 63 cows by the late 1920s. Family members, including the children, took it in turns to separate milk by hand. Domestic activity was focused on the kitchen, which had a cooking range. Initially, washing was taken down to the river’s edge to be carried out.

Orchards and vines were planted close to the house, reflecting a mixed type of farming that accorded with Dalmatian agricultural tradition. Timber farm buildings were erected to the rear of the initial cottage and subsequent house, around a yard beside the KTC tramline. The construction and variety of use of these structures reflected further aspects of self-reliance and economic diversity within the farm operations. Structures included a pentice-roofed structure of one-and-a-half storeys with an unusual cross-braced frame of unmilled tea tree or manuka. Of significantly different construction to the other buildings, it may have initially incorporated a loft. Other structures nearer the cottage included a small store, a killing shed, a workshop and smithy. Smithies were essential for shoeing horses, and for mending and producing tools.

Income from farming was evidently supplemented by engagement in trading. One account states that the store was initially used to supply men engaged in the kauri felling, who lived in bush camps further up the valley. In the early 1920s, mushrooms are recorded as having been picked up from the property by the assistant cook of the Whangaiterenga camp, who caught the KTC locomotive to and from the farm. Two trams ran immediately past the house and farmyard twice each day, transporting an estimated 77 million feet of kauri from the valley until operations ceased in 1927-8.

The KTC subsequently dismantled the tramline in spite of requests by local residents for its retention. In March 1928, two groups including one led by the Minister of Public Works and future Prime Minister Gordon Coates (1878-1943), passed through the farm while investigating the possibility of retaining the line and constructing a road through the valley to the eastern Coromandel. Guides for the Minister included the Devcich brothers.

After the end of KTC activities, the Devcich Brothers operated as ‘general storekeepers and gum buyers’. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, they regularly transported supplies by packhorse to up to 75 gum diggers, who replaced the timber workers in bush camps further up the valley. Many were fellow Dalmatians, and the Devcich Farm became a focal point for such individuals travelling to and from the camps. They would be accommodated in the main house or in adjoining cottages and provided with the necessary equipment and provisions. A credit system operated, whereby payment was made when gum was supplied from the workings. Dalmatian gumdigging was noted for its cooperative approach, which frequently relied on ties of friendship or common origin within Dalmatia for its efficiency.

Gum was sorted, bagged and weighed at the farmstead before being sent to Auckland. The farm was the main receiving centre and supply point for gum digging in the valley. Processing took place on raised sorting platforms in the one-and-a-half storey building. During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, kauri gum proved to be a mainstay for the farm and its operations.

Other activities undertaken in this period included timber milling and wine production. A sawpit is believed to have been in existence on the site by 1927-8, following the practice maintained by bush sawyers engaged in kauri felling. By 1936, and possibly earlier, a mechanical sawmill was erected by several family members. This was clad with palings packed from the bush and roofed using metal flumes from an 1870s water race in the valley, which had been used to supply the gold industry and domestic consumption in Thames. Milled kauri was sold to Thames Borough Council for maintaining the race. It was also sold to foundries in Thames for pattern-making. Many logs were washed downstream from the former KTC operations, and were hauled to the site using draught horses. Puriri and totara was cut for fencing.

Wine-production involved a similar self-sufficient approach, using grapes from the Devcich’s vineyard. In February 1927, Simun and Nikola Devcich held a license to produce 500 gallons, which could only be sold in quantities of not less than two gallons ‘from their premises at Kauaeranga’. Store receipts record sales of this amount, alongside foodstuffs such as butter, cabbage, bacon and steak. The wine is believed to have initially been produced in the basement of the main house, although a building used as a wine shed was erected by January 1931, as indicated by a date inscribed in its concrete floor.

Winemaking has been described as ‘the traditional expression of Dalmatian cultural identity’ and formed a notable feature of Dalmatian activity in New Zealand at a time when it was not generally in vogue within wider society. Dalmatian migrants were instrumental in the development of winemaking in New Zealand during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and subsequently fostered its survival in the face of opposition from prohibition groups and others.

The Devcich Brothers stated that their winemaking business was established in 1903, which may reflect either the year that Simun Devcich arrived in New Zealand, or the date at which the first vines on their Kauaeranga property were believed to have been planted. They had half an acre under cultivation at Puriri in 1913, when they were one of 25 recorded groups or individuals of Dalmatian origin growing outdoor vines for winemaking in New Zealand. In 1915, they were selling ‘grape vines, ready to bear’. Their operations at Kauaeranga were underway at a time when winemaking was an unusual activity: in 1923, there were just 179 acres under vines in the country. In 1928, they were liaising with the Department of Agriculture in Wellington about the quality of their wine, describing the 300 gallons produced as ‘fairly good this season so far’. Other Dalmatian residents in the valley also produced wine.

During the 1930s, the size of the local Dalmatian community was such that children at the nearby Kauaeranga Valley School are said to have been mainly Yugoslavs. The Devcich family retained strong links with their cultural origins, including corresponding in their native language, and attended annual picnics for the Yugoslav community that were held in Auckland.

Following the end of the Depression and the election of the first Labour Government in 1935, most of the gumdiggers left to take up better-paid employment. During debates in the late 1930s about whether to create a state forest in the Kauaeranga Valley, Nikola and Simun Devcich argued for an extension of farming, stating that they had created pasture on which they ran 55 milking cows, 60 heifers, 5 steers, 7 bulls, 16 horses, 25 ewes, 210 hoggets and 20 pigs. The latter were housed in a large paddock, immediately to the east of the wine shed and house. Other structures erected in the farmyard included a stables building close to the workshop and smithy, and a large single-storey addition to the gum-sorting shed, projecting into the centre of the yard.

Subsequent development and use (1939 onwards):

In January 1939, Nikola’s share was transferred to Simun Devcich, after which the farm business appears to have become known as Devcich and Sons. The family contributed to the social life of the valley and beyond, with several of the children forming their own band known as Rippling Rhythms and playing at local dances such as a military ball at the Majestic Ballroom in Thames at the beginning of the Second World War (1939-45). Two of the sons, Ivan and Joe, were also accomplished athletes, competing at national events. Simun Devcich had a strong interest in horseracing, training winners that included Cricket Ball at an Auckland Racing Club meeting at Ellerslie in the 1940s. The horses were stabled and trained at the farm.

Within this period, the main focus of Dalmatian settlement in New Zealand shifted from rural activities such as agriculture to urban employment, so that by 1945 central Auckland contained half of the immigrant population, a percentage that was to further increase in subsequent years.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the focus of the farm shifted from dairy production to sheep. In March 1942, seventeen bales of wool were delivered to the Farmers Auctioneering Company. By the 1970s, the herd had grown to 2300 head and the property expanded in size. A woolshed was added at the northern end of the farmyard. Construction evidently pre-dated 1953. Shearers and rousers commonly added their names to the building interior. A sled house next to the woolshed held a double bunk, and may have provided temporary accommodation during the shearing season. Other structures, including a hen coop, fuel store and shelter for preparing dog food were in existence before the late 1950s. The sawmill was also evidently modified prior to this time.

Wine continued to be made at the farm for sale in Auckland and elsewhere until 1975. This was marketed as Golden Valley Wines, and included sherry, sherry brandy and port. Mains electricity was not provided to the homestead until the late 1950s or early 1960s. In 1964, the farm was passed on to Sam and Stan Devcich, the eldest and youngest sons of Simun and Matija, although the latter lived on the farm until their deaths in 1971 and 1977, respectively. The farm was occupied by Sam Devcich until his death in 2008.

Comparatively few modifications were made to the homestead and farm buildings in the late twentieth century. A rear extension was added to the main homestead in the 1980s, and a killing shed and early cottage were demolished. In 1997, Sam and Ivan Devcich repaired the small shelter in which food was prepared for the many farm dogs on the site. A family memorial containing the ashes of the two brothers has been erected to the north of the farmstead. A large number of the earlier family and farm chattels have been kept. The vineyard and orchard have also been retained.

The farm remains in private hands.

Physical Description


The Devcich Farm is located in the Kauaeranga Valley, to the southeast of Thames. The valley is bisected by the Kauaeranga River, and contains a mixture of farmland and native bush. The valley is notable for remnant features of the kauri industry, including dams, booms and tramlines. Other surviving elements of the historic landscape include sites linked to earlier Maori occupation, parts of an 1870s water race, and the former Kauaeranga Valley School (Record no.9278, Category II historic place), which was built in 1902. A large kauri tree known as the Devcich Kauri, which survived logging in the valley, exists to the north.

The Devcich farmstead lies on the left bank of the Kauaeranga River, on a low rise overlooking the flood plain. It is located on the opposite side of the river to the Kauaeranga Valley Road, which forms the main route through the valley. Access from the road is by a concrete causeway across the river, or via a pedestrian swing bridge. The farmstead is surrounded by fields and open pasture. The latter extends up a steep hillside to the east.

Site layout:

The site comprises a number of structures that collectively form the main farmstead. It also encompasses areas of orchard and pasture to the west and north, which border the Kauaeranga River. Part of a former tramline which ran through the complex, close to the east boundary of the site, is included.

The farmstead contains domestic structures at its southern end, including the main homestead, a cottage and the site of a former cottage. The main house lies within a fenced garden. The site of the former cottage is marked by the terminus of a concrete path from the rear of the house. Vines in the garden extend westwards as part of a larger vineyard. The surviving cottage lies at a short distance to the east, beside the former tramline that ran through the complex. A small concrete-revetted platform exists to the east of the former tramline.

The farmyard lies directly to the north of thee buildings, accessed by a track that runs between the main house and the cottage. It contains a number of single-storey structures around its edges and a larger, centrally located building. The structures closest to the homestead comprise a store, a workshop and smithy, and a wine shed. The larger structure is a former gum-sorting shed, and has additions used for carriage, tack and feed storage. Stables are located slightly further away, along with other structures such as a corn crib, fuel store, chicken coop, dog kennels, and a shelter for dog food preparation. Larger buildings at the northern end of the complex comprise a sawmill and woolshed. The latter is associated with stock pens, and a small bunkhouse to its north.

An area of lower-lying pasture to the north of the complex contains a well-preserved length of the former tramline, now used as a farm track, and other elements including a culvert covered with river boulders which possibly marks the position of a former track. It also contains mature trees and a memorial to members of the Devcich family.

Another lower-lying area to the west of the complex contains further stock pens, fenced pasture, an orchard and a vineyard. Revetment walls marking the western edge of the farmyard complex are constructed of river boulders.


The homestead is a single-storey timber building of comparatively simple design. Its walls are clad with horizontal overlapping weatherboards, and it has a gabled, corrugated iron roof. The structure has concrete footings and incorporates an extensive basement. The main elevation of the original structure faces southwest towards the lower valley and towards an access track from the opposite side of the river.

The house is broadly rectangular in plan, with an offset extension at the side and rear. A former porch at the front is now enclosed. The building interior incorporates a front room with a corner fireplace, and flanking spaces employed as bedrooms. A kitchen at the rear formed the focal space within the original layout, and retains its fireplace surround and built-in cupboards. Access to smaller service rooms in the eastern part of the building was from the kitchen. The rear extension takes the form of the sun lounge and now forms the main access. Visible early ceilings in the main rooms are of plain board and batten type.

The large basement incorporates a central chimney base of substantial dimensions made from river boulders.


The single-storey timber cottage is of small, rectangular, two-roomed design. It is clad with horizontal overlapping weatherboards, and has a low-pitched gabled roof covered with corrugated iron. The building’s main elevation faces west and incorporates a central door with small flanking windows.


The store consists of a small, single-storey timber building, rectangular in plan. It is clad with horizontal overlapping weatherboards, and has a moderately steep-pitched corrugated iron roof with narrow eaves. Its only door is located in the north wall, facing towards the farmyard. There are small, six-light windows on the north and east elevations, and a smaller two-light window that is centrally located in the west gable.

Some of the structural timber shows signs of having been pit-sawn. One of the sheets of corrugated roofing iron bears the trademark ‘BB’ inside a diamond. The interior contains a partition and counter to the west of the doorway, demarcating a serving area that is matchlined and extensively shelved. A more open area to the east of the doorway is unlined and contains low benches against its north and south walls, and occasional narrower shelving of rustic design.

It is unclear if any footings or other remnants survive of a killing shed that was located immediately to the west of the store.

Workshop and smithy:

The workshop is a rectangular, timber-frame structure clad with corrugated iron. Its corrugated iron roof is gabled. The building has a door towards the northern end of its east elevation, which faces towards the farmyard. A window also exists in the same elevation. A six-light window in the north wall has been covered over. The building has three wider windows in its west elevation, and a door in its south wall which now leads into the adjoining smithy.

Internally, the structure incorporates a small room at its north end, immediately to the north of the main door. This is unlined but contains several timber brackets on its south wall, possibly for holding horse saddles. It has a small loft above. The space that occupies the remainder of the building is unlined and contains home-made benches with drawers along its main walls. It also contains a small loft at its south end.

The smithy is housed in a small penticed extension at the southern end of the workshop. The timber frame structure is externally clad and roofed with corrugated iron. The structure is without windows or doors, but is open to the farmyard on its eastern side. Its interior contains a forge and American-made bellows, a metal anvil, and a large wooden coal bin.


The stable is a timber-frame building clad with horizontal overlapping weatherboards. It has a broad low-pitched roof clad with corrugated iron, and sits on concrete footings. Two loose boxes are accessed from doors in the south side of the building. Parts of these spaces are lined with horizontal boards, and at least one contains a feeding trough of triangular, corner design. A larger room occupying the northern half of the structure is unlined, and is accessed by a sliding door in the east wall. This space has small windows in its west and south walls.

Gum-sorting shed:

The gum-sorting shed is a one-and-a-half-storey structure, with a pentice roof that slopes down from west to east. It was erected as a free-standing building, with a light frame employing studs, plates and rafters of unmilled tea-tree or manuka. The walls are reinforced with cross-bracing made from the same materials. In some places, the frame retains vertical board cladding although most of the structure is now covered by corrugated iron. A door in its east wall appears to have been modified from an earlier arrangement. Surviving double-doors in the upper part of the west wall indicates access at loft level.

Internally, the structure encloses a single space. It contains two raised, timber platforms, each extending the full width of the building. These are arranged on either side of the main door. Internal walls are unlined.

Carriage, tack and feed shed:

A large, single-storey extension against the north and west sides of the gum-sorting shed is of timber frame construction. It sits on concrete footings and is clad with vertical planks. The structure has a broad, low-pitch roof covered with corrugated iron.

The building contains two main spaces. The northern space incorporates a large entrance in its west wall, now filled in with several four-panel doors. It also has a door in its north side, and small windows on the west, north and east elevations. The interior contains a set of six feed bins against its north wall, some labelled ‘bran’, ‘oats’ and ‘chaff’.

The southern space has a very large vehicle opening on its east side and is mostly unlined. It contains several saddle brackets constructed of timber on its north wall.

Wine shed:

The wine shed is a long rectangular building, with a small extension at its rear. It is of mixed, concrete and timber frame construction. The framing is clad with corrugated iron. The building’s main roof is gabled, and that of the rear extension is penticed.

The main elevation faces west, and contains two doors with hoods. The northern door provides access to a large room with a concrete floor bearing the date ‘Jan 31st 1931’. The room is lined, and lit by six-light windows in the upper part of its east and west walls. A further window in the north gable has been blocked. A large opening in the east wall provides access to the rear extension, which has two rooms. The smaller of these contains a rectangular kauri tub and other washing facilities. The larger room holds a metal tub with a grate, brick surround and chimney, and a large timber, wine-making vat on a slatted table.

The south door in the main elevation provides access to a separate space, which is also lined. There is a rectangular water vat of concrete construction and lined with iron outside the building, against its north elevation.


The building consists of a rectangular open-sided structure, with a gabled central section and penticed extensions to the north and south. The gabled roof is of low-pitch construction and is currently covered with long run steel, although previously it was clad with metal flumes from an 1870s water race. Much of the building’s framing consists of unmilled logs, including supporting posts.

The mill contains two saw benches. The east bench has a single circular saw. The west bench has a double circular saw for larger timbers. Belt mechanisms lie between the two. Both benches are associated with sets of rails that extend northwards.


The rectangular woolshed is a timber-frame structure with a gabled roof, corrugated iron cladding and concrete footings. It has a large, raised entrance and platform at its east end for loading wool. This provides access to a shearing floor in the east half of the building, which contains a wool press and a slatted sorting table. It is lit with several windows and contains graffiti, including tallies.

The west half holds four pens with slatted floors, accessed internally by low double doors with stencilled lettering on them, stating ‘Kahe Block’. The pen wall adjoining the shearing area also contains two spring-loaded doors, and below-chutes. The latter area contains two shearing stands.


A small timber building immediately adjacent to the woolshed is of rectangular floor plan with a low-pitch penticed roof. It sits on timber sleds and was used as a portable structure. Its walls are externally clad with vertical board and batten. It contains a small porch or verandah at its east end, incorporating an affixed table.

The building encloses a small sleeping space, containing a built-in wooden bunk bed against its north wall and a board and batten ceiling.

Corn crib:

A small timber corn crib has slatted sides, horizontal weatherboard ends and a gabled, corrugated iron roof. It has a door in one end and sits on timber blocks.

Fuel store:

A small rectangular building used as a fuel store is of timber frame construction with corrugated iron cladding and a pentice roof. It has double doors in its main elevation and a hooded doorway in one of its side elevations. It sits on a metal frame connected to jigger wheels.

Other structures:

Other structures include several individual timber dog kennels, a shelter with a stone-built stove and metal chimney for preparing dog food, and a chicken coop. The coop has an attached shed with internal shelving. Other elements in the farmyard include two sets of stock pens with timber fencing, and the remnants of two gigs or carriages. A piped culvert for a small creek in the northern part of the site appears to have been covered by river boulders. A memorial wall bearing plaques commemorating members of the Devcich Family is also built out of river boulders, and is associated with benches of similar construction.


Traces of a straight tramline bisecting the property survive, most noticeably in the northern part of the site, and to the east of the main house.

Orchard and vineyard:

The orchard bounds a vineyard adjoining the homestead and contains a number of trees, including walnut, loquat, apple, pear, and citrus plantings. It contains a tractor shed of recent date. A small timber shelter to the south of the orchard is clad with vertical boards and incorporates two small spaces - one of which contains shelving.


Comparatively few farm complexes of nineteenth- or early twentieth-century date have been registered in northern New Zealand, possibly because survival rates are less high than in some other parts of the country. Most of those that are registered comprise a relatively limited number of buildings. Nineteenth-century examples include the Subritzky-Wagener House at Houhora (circa 1860-2; Record no. 80, Category I historic place) which has a smithy and also a gum shed of uncertain date. The Ruatuna Farmstead, Matakohe (1877; Record No. 7, Category I historic place) incorporates a farmhouse and an associated woolshed and stables of possibly earlier date, as well as several small outbuildings including a dairy, earth closet and washhouse. A small group of barns in Glenbervie built in the decades immediately before and after 1900 are each registered Category II (Record nos. 3925, 3929 and 3931). There are other individual Category II registrations at Waiaruhe Woolshed and Store-stable ‘Ludbrook’, both at Pakaraka (Record nos. 3846 and 3848).

There are very few registrations of farm buildings in the Auckland, Thames-Coromandel or Hauraki regions.

No farm complexes of Dalmatian origin are so far believed to have been registered in the above areas.

Comparatively few places that are closely linked to Dalmatian migration or activity in northern New Zealand have been recognised through registration. The Yugoslav Cultural Club at Kaitaia (Record no. 3892, Category II historic place) occupies a former council building which was not created specifically for or by the Dalmatian community. A Gum Diggers Hut at Dargaville Museum (Record no. 3856, Category II historic place) has been relocated to the site. A registered gum store formerly at Mangonui (Record no.3900, Category II historic place) appears to have been relocated and may have been demolished. Gumfield sites exist, but none have so far been recognised by registration.

Several of the buildings on the Devcich Farm site appear to be unusual or very unusual survivals. Apart from the gum-sorting shed, these include the sled bunkhouse; the farm trading store and the wine shed. Comparatively few other early twentieth-century wine sheds are currently known. In 1966, fifteen Dalmatian vineyards held licences in Northland, of which one was described as having an old wine shed. This vineyard, belonging to I. P. V. Markovich at Kerikeri, was established in 1935. Other surviving winemaking complexes from the early 1900s at Te Kauwhata Winery (Record no. 4174, Category I historic place) and Corbans Estate, Henderson are associated with government and Lebanese activity, respectively.

The survival of so many comparatively unmodified structures at Devcich Farm in their original positions and configuration can be regarded as highly unusual. The survival of this complex in association with its surrounding landscape, including vineyard, orchard, stockyards and paddocks can be considered exceptional. A considerable number of associated chattels, the most significant of which are listed below, also add greatly to the heritage value of the place.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
Homestead; cottage; store; workshop; smithy; gum-sorting shed; carriage, tack and feed shed; stables

Original Construction
1931 -
Wine shed

Original Construction

Original Construction

Hen coop; fuel store; shelter for preparing dog food; modifications to sawmill

Rear extension to homestead

Construction Details

Timber: stock pens

Timber with corrugated iron roof: cottage; store; gum-sorting shed; corn crib; chicken coop; bunkhouse; sawmill (long-run steel)

Timber with concrete footings and corrugated iron roof: homestead; stables; carriage, tack and feed shed; woolshed

Corrugated iron: workshop; smithy; wine shed extension

Concrete with corrugated iron: wine shed

Completion Date

10th June 2011

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Auck)

Archives New Zealand (Auckland)

Letter books, 1918, 1928, 1941-2, Wine-makers’ licences, 1927-37, Assorted photographs, ‘Sam Devcich, Kaueranga’, typescript of interview with Sam Devcich by Tom Jelicich, Rand, Gary, ‘”Frozen in Time”, Devcich Farm’, unpublished typescript, 1997, ‘Sam Devcich Remembers’, n.d., n.p.

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

PR 8/3, South Auckland Land District, CTs SA322/160; SA487/111

Thames Star

Thames Star

3 May 1913, p.1; 11 October 1913, p.1

Berry, 2007

Allan Berry, The Kauaeranga Valley: A Brief History of the Ngati Maru in the Valley and in the Immediate Area, and of the Pakeha Pioneers and Settlers, Thames, 2007

Wine Review

Wine Review

[1975], pp.11-13

Hayward, 1978

Bruce Hayward, Kauaeranga Kauri: A Pictorial History of the Kauri Timber Industry in the Kauaeranga Valley, Thames, Auckland, 1978

Other Information

A fully referenced Registration Report is available from the NZHPT Northern 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.