Historical Significance or Value
Springhead has historical significance as a place that demonstrates the changing residential needs of a developing town through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The residence is a multiphase structure, a portion of which is part of the earliest surviving residence at Whangārei, and is a rare example of residences from that period. The place also incorporates a large 1900s extension and some later alterations and these changes in the composition of the structure reflect the expectations of the owners regarding the appearance of their residence as well as provision of amenities such as kitchens, bathrooms, and plumbing. The place also reflects the diverse backgrounds of settlers in Whangārei, having been originally constructed for a baronet before becoming primarily a farmers’ residence from the later nineteenth century.
Archaeological Significance or Value
Springhead has archaeological significance as a place which incorporates part of a c.1856 structure which, as the oldest surviving residence in Whangārei, has the potential to provide information about early settlement the area. The residence also has the potential to provide information about construction techniques used in its original 1850s construction as well as methods used in the renovation of the residence in 1902-8.
Architectural Significance or Value
Springhead has architectural significance as an example of the use of villa architecture to renovate and extend an early cottage style residence demonstrating how places were adapted over time. The predominant appearance of the place is as a Regency Revival influenced villa although the structure incorporates both an 1850s cottage with a 1900s extension. The internal renovation of the house extended decorative villa features into the public spaces of the earlier building creating a cohesive interior.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 2 historic place. It was assessed against all criteria, and found to qualify under the following: a, b, c, and i.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The place reflects the development of Whangārei, an important settlement in the Northland region. The place incorporates part of the oldest surviving residence in the settlement and the alterations to the place are associated with the expansion of the town during the late nineteenth century into the twentieth century.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
Springhead is associated with Sir Samuel Osborne Gibbes, an important local figure in Whangārei who actively contributed to the local and national affairs as a member of the legislative council, highway board, justice of the peace, and coroner. Osborne Gibbes was also a prominent figure in the establishment of freemasonry in New Zealand as a founding member of the Waitemata Lodge.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
Springhead incorporates a portion of a c.1856 residence, identified as the earliest surviving residence in Whangārei. The place has the potential to provide knowledge about the construction of early residences through the preservation of original fabric, as well as the methods used in the addition in 1902-8 and conversion of the residence into a single level structure.
(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from an early period of New Zealand settlement
The place was created in c.1856 and was one of a number of residences built for settlers in the early years of Pākehā settlement at Whangārei. Part of the original residence was retained with intact internal flooring, windows, and walls, when a substantial extension was built in the early twentieth century, and that c.1856 portion remains the earliest surviving residence in Whangārei.
The future site of Springhead was on the eastern edge of Pukenui Forest, also known as the Western Hills, which lies to the west of Whangārei Harbour. The coastal area of the Whangārei Harbour were long occupied by Māori, evidenced by a range of features including pits, terraces, shell middens, cultivation sites, burials and pā. South of Springhead are a number of recorded archaeological features associated with Kauika Pā and the pā of Te Parawhau including pā, pits, midden, ditches, terraces, and firecracked rock. The current Town Basin area and inland to Kamo, Ketenikau and Parahaki, was the territory of the Ngāti Kahu People. Tīpene had his village at Pihoi on the high land next to the present Town Basin and extending along the north side of the harbour.
The first permanent European settler in Whangārei was William Carruth, a Scottish settler, who purchased just over 390 hectares from Ngāti Kahu in 1839, encompassing much of the future commercial area of Whangārei. Carruth sold portions of this property to other settlers as they moved to Whangārei including a 279 acre section in the western hills, northwest of the present town centre, to Sir Samuel Osborne Gibbes, 2nd Baronet of Springhead, Barbados in 1856.
Creation of Springhead
Shortly after purchasing the land Osborne Gibbes built a large house for his family on the eastern side of the property overlooking the town towards Whangārei Harbour. The builder was Henry Charles Holman, another early settler in the Whangārei area who built a number of other houses at the settlement. It was a large two-level, nearly square building, possibly in a double box cottage style which was commonly used by early settlers. It was described by the next owner as having a wide entrance passage or hall and containing ‘a good sized study, large dining and drawing room, 2 bedrooms and a pantry on the ground floor, five bedrooms upstairs and a storeroom’ as well as a granary which could be accessed by an external ladder. Its timber construction used Australian hardwood for the framing as well as other pit sawn kauri timbers from local sources. It was clad in vertical board and batten style with double-hung window with six pane sashes and likely had a steep pitched shingle roof. A lean-to was located on the south side of the cottage and the front door was likely in the centre on the north side. The house had ‘every convenience’ for the time and was approached via a bridge. The site incorporated several outbuildings including a kitchen and cow sheds. Osborne Gibbes named his estate Springhead, very likely after his baronetcy although there was also a spring in a gully behind the residence. At the time of construction Springhead was one of a number of early European residences in Whangārei. Since its construction many of these other residences have been demolished and Springhead remains the oldest surviving residence at the settlement.
Sir Samuel Osborne Gibbes
Osborne Gibbes was a well-respected and influential figure in early Whangārei. The Gibbes family had made their fortune from their sugar plantations in Barbados, which were named Springhead and Taitts. Osborne Gibbes’ grandfather was made the first Baronet of Springhead in 1774. The abolition of slavery in 1834 led Osborne Gibbes to sell the Barbados estates and move his family first back to England, then to Sydney in 1850 and finally to New Zealand in 1855. Osborne Gibbes was a minor member of the British nobility who as young man had served as page of honour to the future King George IV. He also had connections to the colonial government through his cousin John George Gibbes, customs collector of New South Wales, who he had joined in Sydney. In Whangārei Osborne Gibbes took on a leading role in civic affairs. He was the local representative on the New Zealand Legislative Council between 1855 and 1863, a member of the Road Board and also acted as the local Coroner and Justice of the Peace. In the latter role he often mediated disputes between his fellow settlers. Osborne Gibbes also took on a military leadership role in the small settlement. He had been a member of the British army in his youth and he served as an aide-de-campe to the Governor of Nova Scotia. In 1863 he wrote to the government offering to form a volunteer militia in Whangārei. Though it is unclear whether his offer was accepted there are reports of being settlers enrolled as soldiers under him during the 1860s. He was also a prominent Freemason in Australia and New Zealand having been made the Provincial Grandmaster of New South Wales while residing in Sydney. He was also a founding member of the Waitemata Lodge in 1855 and at the time of death was noted as being ‘one of the highest masons in the colony’.
Osborne Gibbes resided at Springhead for a decade. He appears to have had money difficulties and the property was sold against his wishes in 1864 to Reverend Henry Wyatt Cottle in a mortgagee sale. After the sale Osborne Gibbes and his wife built and moved into a new property named Osborne House closer to the centre of Whangārei where they lived until his death in 1872.
Subsequent Ownership of Springhead
Cottle was an Anglican minister who had recently arrived from England and moved to Whangārei to take up the vacant position at the Anglican Church. He was in delicate health and required a position that wasn’t physically exerting. He brought his wife and 10 children with him to live at Springhead which the family operated as a functional farm where they kept pigs, cattle, turkeys, cocks and hens, horses, cats, dogs, ducks, and sheep and also grew and sold vegetables. Cottle died in 1871 and his family remained at Springhead for a time before moving down to Auckland during the following decade. Cottle’s will was probated in 1879 and Springhead was put up for auction in August that year. The estate was described as containing a dwelling house, outbuildings, an orchard, and with a considerable portion being laid out in paddocks. Charles Herbert Reid purchased Springhead in 1881. Reid was a founding Board member of Whangarei High School which opened the same year he moved to Springhead. Reid remained at the property for a decade and sold Springhead in 1892 to William Alphonso Smith.
Smith had served in the British militia during the Waikato Wars before taking up land at Ruatangata as a farmer. At Springhead he continued farming and also took up civic positions during his years in Whangārei. He was the first rate-collector appointed by the Whangarei Council, worked as a land agent selling Crown land in the wider district, and was a returning officer for the Kensington Road Board. During the late 1890s the Whangarei Council was considering the future water needs of the town and looking for a water source. One of the sources considered was the spring at Springhead, a scheme which had been first proposed in 1886. Smith wrote to the council in 1900 offering the spring for this purpose, but the council decided to use another source as assessment of the spring found the quantity of water needed for the growing town was more than could be supplied by Springhead alone. Smith sold the property to Benjamin George Hall, a farmer from the Waikato in 1902.
Hall raised several breeds of chickens for their eggs at Springhead which became known as the Springhead Poultry Yards. The estate was used in May 1906 to paddock the Marsden Mounted Rifles’ horses while they were encamped at the bottom of the western hills in Kensington Park. Later that year Hall sold part of the wider property, reducing the land around the residence to 33 acres which he continued to occupy until 1908. That year he sold the property to Arthur Duncan Lambly, a farmer from the Bay of Islands who also worked as a contracting builder while he lived at Whangārei. The property was described at that time as including the residence, outbuildings, a small orchard and vineyard and enclosed fowl runs. Lambly lived at Springhead with his family for over a decade before selling the property in 1922.
Alterations at Springhead (1902-1915)
By the early twentieth century the residence had purportedly become rundown. Hall reportedly found the house too large and made substantial changes to the residence between 1902-8, converting the 1855 two-level building into a single storey villa. Some changes were additionally made to the rear portion of the building in 1915 by Lambly.
By the late 1910s the second level of the building had been removed, possibly in order to lower the pitch of the roof and a villa-style extension added to the east side of the house, creating a ten room residence with a Regency Revival influenced villa appearance. The main entrance to the residence was now from the extension which had two wide bay windows as well as a full length verandah with bullnose roof. A return verandah was added around the original cottage on the north and west sides with a gable above the west wall. Internally, villa door and window architraves were used in both the new structure and added around the doors and windows in the now middle rooms which had been part of the 1855 structure. The kitchen was probably relocated from the outbuilding into the rearmost room of the residence during this period. Indoor plumbing was installed using water from the spring and also for the garden. It is possible that the alterations made by Lambly include the enclosing of portions of the verandah on the west and south sides.
Subdivision of Springhead
Lambly sold the property to his neighbour James Edmund Holmes who, in 1906, had purchased the surrounding land from Hall and now owned the original section. Holmes was a farmer who entered Whangārei local politics in 1912 when he was elected to the Borough Council and the Marsden Licensing Committee and to the Harbour Board in 1913. He later became Whangārei mayor between 1925 and 1927 and was a prominent freemason. Holmes was one of the largest property owners in Whangārei and purchased Springhead to further his plans for a large residential subdivision in the western hills where the property was situated. Holmes had the land surveyed in 1922 which laid out new roads in the eastern part of the wider property and, while generally maintaining Springhead’s 1906 boundary, created seven residential lots between Springhead and the newly formed Russell Road. The new lots cut off the existing nineteenth century approach to Springhead from the southeast and a new entrance had to be formed which approached the building from the north side instead. The spring was set aside as a water reserve and the land associated with the residence was reduced to 24 acres following the subdivision. To fund the subdivision Holmes borrowed money in 1924 from Mabel Annie Money. She still held the mortgage over Springhead when Holmes died in 1934. At the time that Holmes began purchasing land for this subdivision the Northland economy was booming from the success of the kauri timber and gum digging industries however by the 1920s these industries were in decline. Holmes does not appear to have continued his subdivision plans during the late 1920s, possibly reflecting the decline of the wider economy and the subsequent global depression, and by 1927 the Springhead residence was being rented by Edwin Stanton Green, a carrier. Aerial imagery from 1942 shows only one residence had been built on the new lots although the Springhead boundary was marked by a number of mature trees and four outbuildings were still present to the west of the residence. After Holmes’ death Springhead was rented for another decade and a half before Money exercised the right of mortgagee sale in 1950.
Springhead from mid-twentieth century
Springhead was purchased by Ronald Merrie Bird, a civil servant from Christchurch who kept a flock of sheep on the property in the 1960s after he retired and, among other things, used the spring water to make tea for visitors. By 1970 the remaining lots in the Holmes subdivision all had residences built on them and in 1971 Springhead was purchased from Bird by Barry Maxwell Atkins and Pamela Phoebe Atkins. They undertook some restoration work on the house and modernised the kitchen and bathroom. They also added a garage to the southwest corner and an in-ground swimming pool on the south side. Three of the outbuildings behind the house were removed leaving only the western-most cowshed that had been visible in 1942. Atkins sold the property in 1985 to Malcolm Innes Finlayson. Shortly after purchasing Springhead, Finlayson had new surveys completed to further subdivide the property. While his initial plans were opposed, in 1988 the current lot boundaries were approved creating a 2384m2 property which incorporated the residence but not the cowshed. The property was sold several times between 1991 and 2014. Other physical changes to the place that were made during the twentieth century include replacing the kitchen windows on the northern wall with four casement windows, the relocation of a window to the centre front room beside the French doors, addition of a small bay inspired window to the south end of rearmost room, addition of three rounded archways in the interior and relining of many internal walls. In recent years further work has been undertaken by the owners including re-piling, fixing timbers, uncovering the board and batten bathroom ceiling, as well as adding insulation and adding an open porch area on the southern end of the garage. In 2020 the place remains a private residence.
Springhead is located in Whangārei, a city which was originally a service centre for the surrounding district and developed into Northland’s only city during the twentieth century. The place is located northwest of the present commercial centre of the city in the suburb of Kensington. The site is situated in the hills in the western part of the suburb on the boundary of the rural and residential areas with housing that was mainly constructed since the mid twentieth century on the eastern side and generally undeveloped forestry land to the west.
The site is located at the top of a curved driveway from the road, behind houses that were built between 1942 and 1970 on the east side and a steep predominantly grassed hill on the west.
Springhead is an irregularly shaped lot which is broadly rectangular with a roughly curved north boundary. There is a striking multiphase residence near the approximate centre of the site with a garage to the southwest and a pool directly south of the building. The driveway runs from the northwest corner to the garage. There are garden beds north of the building and a garden west of the garage with a retaining wall which were created by recent owners. The site slopes down from the north and east side of the residence. The remainder of the lot is generally in grass with a number of large trees including a more than 110 year old magnolia on the eastern boundary. A former path from the front entrance can be identified running south-east down the slope which may relate to the early twentieth century approach to the residence before subdivision. To the south of the residence in front garden there is also a flagpole beside the pool fence. Most of the boundary is fenced with a wooden four rail fence around the east, north and part of the west side and a wooden privacy fence around the pool. A brick patio lies in the space between the residence, garage and pool. Much of the landscaping appears to be related to the alterations made in the 1970s.
Residence (c.1856 building, 1902-8 villa extension)
The residence is a multiphase structure which incorporates parts of a c.1856 house with lean-to and a 1902-8 villa extension. These portions differ chronologically and in some of their visual elements but form a unified whole. The building is single storied and the extension has the general appearance of a square-fronted villa which shows regency revival influences in its design with bay windows and prominent verandah. The building has an asymmetric T-shaped form with the extension forming the top of the T and the rear portion extending back at 90 degrees with a lean to on the south side and a return verandah on the north and west sides. The building is primarily clad with horizontal plain weatherboards while the west wall has some vertical board and batten cladding. The windows are mostly double hung sash windows with some having early six-pane sashes and others two-pane sashes. The roof is comprised of two ridges, a north south hipped roof on the front extension, and an east-west ridge with gable end of the rear section. There is also a continuous verandah and lean-to roof on the north, west and south sides. The lean-to roof on the south side is wider than the verandah on the north and west sides. The foundations of the residence reflect the multiple stages of construction with timber on stone piles under the earlier part and timber piles under the extension.
Exterior – East Elevation
This elevation is part of the 1902-8 villa extension and was the new front entrance to the residence following the renovations. A full length verandah is the most prominent feature of this elevation with paired columns and a bullnose roof, decorated with ornate timber fretwork friezes and brackets. The balustrade does not appear to be contemporary to the rest of the decoration indicating it may have been a later addition and it is higher than would generally be expected. This elevation is generally asymmetric with wide bay windows at either end, the front door beside the southern bay, then a pair of French doors and a double hung window with single-pane sashes beside the northern bay, all covered by the verandah roof. The bay windows appear to be constructed from three standard width double hung windows with two-pane sashes rather than being bespoke designed bay windows. The front door is a four-panel door with glass upper panels and is surrounded by stained glass side lights and clear glass fan lights. The doors are all hinged with decorative pressed metal hinges. The architrave of the window with single pane sashes abuts the French doors and is likely to have been moved from elsewhere in the house during the twentieth century. A brick chimney is located in the northern part of the roof.
Exterior – North Elevation
This elevation demonstrates the multiple phases of the construction of the residence being comprised of part of the villa extension, part of the c.1856 house, and later alterations. The extension has a small cantilevered canopy with bullnose roof which appears to be contemporary to the front verandah although the timber fretwork frieze is a comparatively simple design. The canopy is cantilevered with metal brackets that appear to be later additions and may have replaced an earlier post arrangement, and covers a small wooden deck, also a later addition. A pair of French doors and a double hung window with two-pane sashes are also used on this side of the extension. To the west of the extension is part of the original structure with an early double-hung window with six pane sashes alongside another set of French doors which are likely in the location of the original front door. To the west of the doors are four-casement windows which were added during the twentieth century. This may be where the additional window on the east elevation was moved from. A verandah runs along the side of the original house, part of which has been enclosed since the 1902-8 renovation as evidenced by the intersection of the enclosed wall over part of the window architrave. A low brick path is located under the verandah. The 1850s chimney is present on this elevation and has likely been lowered and has a concrete cladding.
Exterior – West Elevation
The verandah and path continue onto this elevation on which the visible portions of the original house are prominent features. There is another double-hung window with six pane sashes and a final pair of French doors. Below the verandah roof the cladding differs with vertical board and batten timbers that have some faintly visible marks indicating the timbers are pit-sawn kauri. The horizontal weatherboard cladding has been used in the gable above the verandah. The gable has narrow bargeboards and is decorated with a finial. Other decoration on this elevation includes additional use of the simple fretwork from the canopy along the edge of the verandah roof. At the southern end of the verandah another portion has been enclosed and has a double-hung window with two pane sashes.
Exterior – South Elevation
This elevation is comprised of the nineteenth century lean-to and 1902-8 extension. There are a number of windows including two double-hung window with two pane sashes, one of which is located in the centre of the lean-to section and is likely in the position of the original backdoor. To the east side of that window is a double-hung window with six pane sashes that was likely part of the early structure. A small, modern, multi-pane window is located in the western part of the lean-to beside the door into the kitchen. A small shed is positioned in front of the extension and is also clad with horizontal weatherboards.
The inside of the residence is comprised of a central hallway leading from the front door to the kitchen in the rearmost portion of the earlier structure. Also in the earlier structure is a bathroom, which may be part of the original hallway, a bedroom, and a study. In the extension are a sitting room, two additional bedrooms, and a fourth bedroom which has been converted into a wardrobe and ensuite bathroom. Internally the residence has the general appearance of an early twentieth villa with board and batten ceilings with ceiling roses, moulded door and window architraves, high skirting boards, and four-panel doors. The kitchen and dining room and the bathroom differ from the other rooms. The ceiling in the kitchen is a plain board tongue and groove ceiling and while the bathroom also has a board and batten ceiling, the battens are plain compared to the rest of the house and may relate to the earlier 1850s configuration when the space was likely to have formed part of the hallway. The 1902-8 extension is carpeted and the kitchen space is covered with a flooring tile. In the middle portion which comprised part of the 1850s residence, there are wide floorboards in the original structure and narrower floorboards in the lean-to which may indicate that the lean-to was built onto the residence after original construction. The skirting and architraves in the kitchen are simple timber strips. There are four fireplaces, two in the 1850s portion and two in the extension. The fireplaces in the extension have similar carved wooden surrounds and mantels which differ from those in the earlier portion. The large kitchen fireplace has been remodelled and the study fireplace, located beside a built-in cupboard, has an ornate carved timber surround and mantle that was likely added in the decades after the residence was first constructed. Within the hallway are several rounded archways which do not appear to be contemporary with the villa conversion and may relate to alterations in the mid to late twentieth century.
The 1970s garage is a rectangular timber building at the south west corner of the property. It is also clad with horizontal timber weather boards and has a corrugated iron roof. The interior has been converted from a garage into a living space with vertical timbers to dado height and plastered walls above. The ceiling is open to roof height with visible rafters and joists.
1902 - 1908
Addition and Alteration - Villa extension on east side; original residence height lowered; kitchen brought into main residence, bathroom in portion of original hall
Alteration – to rear of residence, possibly enclosure of portions of the rear verandah
Alteration - added balustrade to front verandah, relocation of window, addition of window, archways added in hall
Alteration – Modernised kitchen and bathroom
Additions – Garage, Swimming Pool
Garage converted into living space
Repairs, repiling, removing bathroom ceiling, adding insulation
Timber – Australian hardwood and kauri
Timber and stone piles
Public NZAA Number
12th June 2020
Report Written By
Bartlett, J & Edwards, T 1982
Jenny Bartlett and Tim Edwards, Cobwebs and Gables: A Study of Historic Buildings, Places & Objects in Whangarei, Whangarei, 1982
A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Northern Area Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.
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.