Vallance Cottage

2 Samson Street, Alexandra

  • Vallance Cottage, Alexandra.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 14/10/2019.
  • Vallance Cottage, Alexandra.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 14/10/2019.
  • Vallance Cottage, Alexandra.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 14/10/2019.
  • Vallance Cottage, Alexandra. Hallway.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 28/02/2017.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 9712 Date Entered 2nd November 2017 Date of Effect 27th November 2017


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Part Town Belt Town of Alexandra Section 1 SO 535436 (RT 837117, Vallance Cottage Reserve, NZ Gazette, 27 May 2019), Otago Land District and part of the land described as Legal Road, Otago Land District and the buildings associated with Vallance Cottage thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the List entry report for further information).

City/District Council

Central Otago District


Otago Region

Legal description

Part Town Belt Town of Alexandra Section 1 SO 535436 (RT 837117, Vallance Cottage Reserve, NZ Gazette, 27 May 2019), Otago Land District.


Vallance Cottage, a miner’s residence built around 1897 with additions in later years, is a mud brick cottage that provides insight into family life in late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Built of mudbrick, it is a good representative example of the vernacular style of modest nineteenth century miner’s residences in form, additions and materials, with a high degree of authenticity. The cottage has aesthetic, archaeological, architectural, cultural, historical and social significance.

Like many mining families in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, William and Jane Vallance made their first home in this small cottage. William used affordable local materials, making the mud bricks himself and drying them in the sun. The cottage, a typical small ‘but and ben’ (two-roomed) cottage, was extended over the years to meet the needs of their growing family. The family records and photographs provide a touching insight into family life and changes to the building. The couple’s daughter Hazel lived in the cottage until her death in the 1970s; the other family members visiting regularly, making use of the place as a holiday spot. The Vallance family gifted the lease of the cottage to Central Otago District Council in the 1980s, and since then the cottage has been restored.

The cottage is situated on a high, level terrace above the Manuherikia River valley, which slopes away from the rear (south) of the cottage. Historically, the cottage site had a close relationship with the nearby gold diggings of Tucker Hill that lay immediately southwards, on the far side of the river. The cottage is on a grassy reserve adjoining the Alexandra Holiday Park and close to the Otago Central Rail Trail. It is a single storey colonial cottage of a form typical from the 1860s – symmetrical façade with a central front door flanked by multi-pane double hung sash windows and a lean-to gable at the rear. Vallance Cottage has been extended to the rear as required.

The 1990s restoration team for the cottage recycled existing bricks, and made their own mud bricks in the repair of the internal walls of the cottage, which demonstrates a continuity of construction method and material not always found in other restoration projects. In 2017, Vallance Cottage is owned by Central Otago District Council, who opens the cottage to visitors by appointment.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The historic significance of Vallance Cottage lies in the fact that it provides a largely original and therefore valuable example of a late nineteenth century, vernacular domestic home. The materials, plan form and natural site development all combine to provide authentic and historic insights into the construction and everyday living experiences for first and second generation pioneer families in the postgold rush era of Central Otago. Another facet of the cottage’s historic significance is the in-depth and highly personal family history that is intertwined with the cottage building, its development and use over the 20th century.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

Vallance Cottage has a picturesque quality situated well back from the main Highway 85, and set in front of a rocky backdrop formed by the ridge of Tucker Hill. The cottage site is very much part of the Alexandra townscape, in spite of being located at the edge of the town on the town belt. In a way, this location emphasises the cottage’s isolation and privacy although even when it was built, there were neighbouring houses to the south and north. In the present, the cottage is a landscape ‘marker’, signifying the transition from Alexandra Township to the Galloway area further north.

Archaeological Significance or Value

Vallance Cottage as a building is an archaeological site - the core of the building being built before 1900. Through buildings archaeology, the cottage has the potential to provide valuable evidence about the construction methods and materials used in its initial form in the 1890s, and then the expansion of the building in the early 1900s.

Architectural Significance or Value

Vallance Cottage displays a high degree of historic authenticity in its construction materials and form. As a rare survivor of an intact late nineteenth century, and later, mud brick structure, it is valuable for the example it contributes to both understanding the use and production of mud brick as a building material, and the construction methods used to build with it.

Cultural Significance or Value

The most significant value that Vallance Cottage holds is the information and understanding it provides about how some families’ lives were lived in rural areas of Otago in the early twentieth century. The ability of the cottage, through its history, constructed form and Vallance family memories that have been recorded, to offer a glimpse of a past way of life is both special and important for our broader understanding of the lives of both later colonial settlers and first generation New Zealanders. This in turn is significant for both present and future generations to learn about the challenges their ancestors’ faced in settling in a new country and society, and in understanding the role such experiences had in forming the identity of New Zealand in the twentieth century.

Social Significance or Value

Vallance Cottage provides a very poignant and accessible example of the values of “place” in a community shown by the community support for its restoration and retention not just for the Vallance family, but all those people who have been involved in the various restoration projects, fundraising events, and regular cottage maintenance duties.

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

Vallance Cottage represents small-town family life in nineteenth and twentieth century New Zealand. At a local scale, the Vallance family were an integral part of the Alexandra community from the 1890s onwards and today, the cottage is part of the cultural heritage fabric of Alexandra both as a physical reminder of its gold mining and colonial past, and as a historic place recognised by the Central Otago District Council.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

Vallance Cottage’s community heritage significance has been recognised through the efforts of the 1994 restoration committee, which garnered considerable local and wider support for its restoration aims and has spent much effort on maintaining that interest into the present. This esteem continues to be recognised by the ongoing efforts of the local community through the various fundraising and awareness events they have engaged with in recent years to keep the cottage open for visitors and schools, and to conserve the fabric of the cottage.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The cottage is also significant for the learning experience opportunities it has provided, and continues to provide to local schools and visitors about a now-vanished way of life in their locality.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Vallance, William

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early history

The Clutha River/Mata-au was an important route for early Polynesian settlers into Central Otago who utilised it both for its freshwater resources and as a means of transport and communication between the east and west coastal areas of the South Island from the 12th century onwards. The closest recorded Māori site to Alexandra was found approximately midway between Alexandra and Clyde, between the Clutha/Mata-au and State Highway 8, and comprised ‘fairly extensive middens containing ashes, flints and bones.

The earliest European settlers included sheep farmers, establishing sheep runs along the mountains ranges on either side of the Clutha River/Mata-au valley (initially christened the Molyneux by the earliest surveyors) and then developing extensive sheep stations.

Gold is discovered

With the discovery of the first payable gold deposits near Lawrence in May 1861 by Gabriel Read, miners and people keen to make a living from the gold prospects began to arrive in increasing numbers into Central Otago. With further gold deposits found in the Clutha River/Mata-au in the Cromwell Gorge by Hartley and Reilly in 1862, the flood of people, equipment and the services needed to supply them increased dramatically, creating the ‘Dunstan rush’. All along the river valley, small communities of miners and services established themselves; early settlements such as Cromwell, Clyde, Alexandra and Roxburgh survived to become towns and service centres. By 1864 a number of substantial claims were being worked along and in the Manuherikia down to its junction with the Clutha/Mata-au.

As the miners’ tents were replaced with more permanent buildings, and the supplies brought from Dunedin and the eastern coast expanded, Alexandra took on an air of permanency, becoming a borough in 1867 and, by 1900, a well-established town.

Vallance Cottage is located on the original Alexandra town belt, on what was a mining reserve and later surveyed as a ‘hospital reserve’ although the hospital was never built. Both sides of the river valley at this point were mining reserve land in the 1860s and 1870s. A chair crossing over the river was also located further upstream from the cottage site, so that by the early 1900s, the Vallance family at the cottage had access to the south side of the Manuherikia gold workings.

William and Jean Vallance

William Vallance was born in New Cumnock, Ayshire, Scotland in 1864; one of twelve children. Prior to sailing to New Zealand in 1888, William had worked as a shepherd like his father and also spent some time in his youth in the Scottish coal mines. He sailed on the ship Tainui, arriving in Dunedin in 1888 and soon made the journey into Central Otago. For the next ten or so years, William moved around the Alexandra area, working in farming at Bald Hill Flat (Fruitlands), goldmining in the Ida Valley, rabbiting at the Ida Valley Station and then returning to Bald Hill Flat to work a sluicing claim for a number of years. By 1896-7 he had settled in Alexandra and was probably working as a dayman for the borough council.

On 5 May 1897 William married Jane Hyland at the Falconer’s Hotel in Bald Hill Flat. The marriage celebrations were held in the local schoolhouse. Jane Hyland, who was known as Jean for most of her life, was born in Dunedin in 1876 to Maurice and Elizabeth Hyland. Jane worked as a domestic for her uncle and aunt (Mr James and Catherine (nee Courtney) Falconer) at their hotel, where she likely met William Vallance.

The cottage

Family accounts indicate that the cottage was built sometime around 1896/97, before the couple married. However, an article in the Dunstan Times in May 1900 mentions the meeting of the Alexandra Borough Council and an application: ‘From Mr William Vallance, asking permission to build on the town belt opposite Mr R. Finlay’s residence – Permission granted during the pleasure of the Council.’

The reference to the town belt suggests this is the location of the present cottage on Samson Street (William is not known to have owned any other properties), which raises the question of whether William Vallance was asking for retrospective permission to build (i.e. his cottage was already erected) or the traditional date given for the cottage is slightly earlier than the actual date. An alternative explanation may also be that this referred to the later extension to the cottage, although that would appear to be slightly too early according to family records.

The cottage was hand-built by William from sun-dried mud brick. Its original plan was a two-roomed cottage with a central front (north) entrance doorway and passage. This type of two-roomed arrangement is a development of a very traditional form of Scottish domestic architecture referred to in Scottish vernacular as a ‘But an Ben’. In its earliest form the external door led directly into the kitchen and living area (the’ but’) and then leading off the ‘but’ was the ‘ben’ or bedroom. As cottages with a centrally-placed external door between the two rooms became more common, the terms ‘but’ and ‘ben’ became confused, but the principal of the two distinct spaces remained the same.

It is probable that the east room was the bedroom and the west room was the kitchen and living area. William and Jean’s first four children would likely have shared these two rooms with their parents until William extended the cottage. The family history records that, with the birth of Irene in 1908, it appears that the family had finally outgrown their original home.

Family Life

William and Jean moved into their two-roomed cottage in Samson Street, Alexandra after their marriage in 1897 and two years later in 1899, William (Jnr), the first of their eight children was born. The children were William, (Rosina) May, Jessie, Douglas, Irene, Florence (Floss), Hazel and Ernest. Irene, Ernest and Douglas died before reaching fifty; William was seventy-five when he passed away, and Hazel, May, Jessie and Floss all reached well into their eighties and nineties.

After they settled and began to raise their family in Alexandra, William Snr found work excavating the railway cuttings for the new Otago Central Railway line from Ranfurly, and later worked on the Chatto Creek section to Alexandra that was completed in 1906. William also continued his mining interests by working on some of the gold dredges in the river and on the gold diggings opposite the cottage at the Tucker Hill claim on the south bank of the Manuherikia River.

The early family life of William and Jean would have been very basic with no services such as gas or piped water. Jean was remembered as doing her washing under a tree with water boiled in a copper outside the house prior to the construction of the wash house sometime before 1909. With its construction, a piped water supply was added and the copper moved inside; a bath and basin were built in and the whole doubled as the coal store as well. Fresh food such as milk and meat were kept in a food safe hung up in a nearby tree. With the birth of their slightly later children (there was a three year gap after Douglas was born in 1905), more room was needed.

Family accounts suggest that the next three rooms to the south were added on by William sometime around 1909 (a 1955 extract refers to two of his children, Jessie and Douglas, helping to puddle clay and straw with their bare feet ready for William to make the bricks; Douglas is quoted as being four years old and was born in 1905). These rooms were a kitchen/parlour, a pantry/scullery and a second bedroom; all contained under a lean-to roof and similarly constructed of mud brick. The kitchen contained a Shacklock coal range with an integral boiler on the side. Hot and cold water was carried into the house from the cold pipe and copper in the wash house. Hazel Vallance recalls the cottage as being painted white (or whitewashed) in her childhood.

A wash house was also built either prior to the extension or presumably soon after on the south side of the cottage. The wash house contained a traditional copper for heating water (for washing and bathing) and had a bath and basin; it had the only (cold) water supply to the house site. A separate, unpainted small WC shed was also constructed; this was presumably a long drop as the only water supply on the site was to the wash house. The WC is said to have nearly been destroyed in a storm during the 1950s.

At an unknown date, a timber shed sleep-out was constructed by William on the east side of the cottage to provide more sleeping space for the children. This was still present in family holiday photos taken in the 1970s/1980s. Anne Lee notes that the wooden sleep-out was later 'lent' to a film crew but was never returned.

Family recollections note that the garden area had a large apricot tree outside the front (north) door and large plum, apricot and nectarine trees in the orchard east of the cottage. Early photographs of the cottage show it with a series of small beds along the front with a large hedge along the southern boundary and bushes and trees scattered along the eastern side, which opened out onto a paddock with trees and possibly other fruit trees. The cottage also had a very open, timber scantling fence to the front (as seen in one early image).

Later Years

Hazel was widowed at twenty-eight and returned to live with, and take care of her ageing parents whilst raising her only son, Teone. Many of William and Jean’s twenty-four grandchildren spent time holidaying at the cottage (Teone being the only grandchild to actually live there) and recall its basic but homely character. Family photographs from the 1970s and 80s show family members camping around the cottage, which for many was known simply as ‘Aunty Hazel’s’.

Hazel Wesley looked after her aging parents (Jean would have been about 64 and William 76) until her mother’s death in 1954/5 and William’s in 1963. Hazel recalled that during the late 1940s or early 50s, a burst tap during winter caused part of the wash house walls to collapse, suggesting that like the cottage, the wash house walls were built of mud bricks. Mr Mussan, a neighbour and builder, repaired the wall. Also during another 1950s winter, a further wall to the wash house collapsed “inside” and was rebuilt by a bricklayer. About three years later, another wall was close to collapse so the wall (and possibly the whole wash house) was replaced in brick masonry.

Hazel lived alone in the cottage until sometime in the early-mid 1970s, at which point she moved into a pensioner’s cottage in Alexandra. The cottage and its garden were thereafter used as a family holiday location. By the 1980s, the cottage was in danger of collapse due to its gradual decline and increasing structural issues which included the bowing out of the original west wall, water ingress through the leaking iron roof and general decay of the earth walls and overall interior condition.

In the early 1980s, the Vallance family gifted the lease of the cottage to Central Otago District Council with the intention that the Council would preserve the building and garden, providing a significant example of an early settler’s home demonstrating the pared-down way of life for many Alexandra mining families at the turn of the 20th century. The cottage fell into further decline and by 1993-4 was under a demolition order by the Council, having been subject to bouts of vandalism which had damaged the interior fabric of the building.

Descendent Jill Grant recalls how just before Easter 1994 she had a call from the Community Board chair to say that they were about to demolish the cottage as it had been vandalised and wrecked. She went over to the cottage wondering whether there was something the Museum could resurrect, but the interior walls had been damaged, the floors were rotten and had collapsed, the roof leaked and the contents of the cottage had been stolen.

The Vallance family and local supporters of the cottage started a campaign to save the building, and in April 1994 the Vallance Cottage Restoration Committee was established to raise funds and supporters for its repair. The restoration project began in November 1994 and used volunteers to strip out the damaged and decayed building fabric.

The mud brick wash house at the rear of the cottage no longer existed and with the remaining funds from the restoration, the Committee hired two retired carpenters to undertake a rebuild of it. There were growing numbers of visitors and school groups and the site needed a toilet and washing facility. The builders did a great job of creating an authentic appearance of the former wash house, but the project ran out of money and, accordingly, plumbing and drainage was never installed. The repairs were completed in 1996 and Vallance Cottage opened to weekend visitors and school groups by appointment on 6 October 1996. The opening day was marked by a gathering of the Vallance family including two of William and Jean’s children, Florence (Floss) and Hazel. The cottage site was initially managed by the Alexandra Historical Society followed by the Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery, but due to issues with the condition of the kitchen floor and, once again, decaying timberwork on the exterior and parts of the interior, the cottage was closed to visitors in 2009. An open-day was held on 18th January 2015 to highlight the need for a new group of guardians to maintain and care for the cottage. In 2014-15 funds were raised to undertake the repairs and these were completed in June 2015. In 2017, Vallance Cottage remains in the ownership of the Central Otago District Council who opens the cottage to visitors by appointment.

Physical Description

Current Description

The cottage is situated on a high, level terrace above the Manuherikia River valley, which slopes away from the rear (south) of the cottage. Historically, the cottage site had a close relationship with the nearby gold diggings of Tucker Hill that lay immediately southwards, on the far side of the river. The cottage is on a grassy reserve adjoining the Alexandra Holiday Park and close to the Otago Central Rail Trail.

This is a single storey colonial cottage of a form typical from the 1860s – symmetrical façade with a central front door flanked by multi-pane double hung sash windows and a lean-to at the rear. Conservation architect Jeremy Salmond describes the typical early cottage as being two small rooms under a gable roof, with a lean-to at the rear. Vallance Cottage has been extended to the rear as required.

Earth Construction

Buildings of earth construction have a long tradition in the district as earth is a very practical building material where the climate is generally dry and timber is relatively scarce. The benefits of earth walls were well-appreciated by nineteenth century settlers in Central Otago and were the subject of a number of newspaper reports. One report noted that experienced builders ‘favour sun-dried bricks as being the quickest to erect (after the bricks are made), better in appearance, and stronger on account of non-liability to crack if properly bonded. At times when damp air and frosts will cause moisture to sweat through a stone wall, so that it can be wiped off inside with the hand, sun-dried brick walls are found to be quite dry.’


Vallance Cottage is a simple single-storey single-gable cottage that has been extended to the rear to meet the changing needs of the family, using similar methods to the original construction.

The roof slopes are clad with recycled corrugated iron and long-run galvanised corrugated steel sheets (to the front roof slope and rear scullery). The roof frames cannot be seen, but the presence of old/original tongue and groove ceiling linings internally suggests that a good deal of the original timber roof/ceiling framing survives.

The front elevation has an attractive ogee-pattern historic gutter and round downpipe. Rainwater fittings elsewhere are modern ‘quad’ replacements. Windows and doors are either original to the cottage or are ‘in-keeping’ replacements. Roof level joinery was replaced in the 1994-96 repairs; to the front wall it can be seen that there remains an earlier fascia board behind. Window sills have been lined (probably as part of the 1994-96 repairs) to help them shed water and earlier timber sills may remain below.

The earth walls to the cottage measure between 215mm and 230mm in thickness, excluding the external cement rough-cast plaster/render. It is not known when the rough-cast was applied to the walls; the photograph in Figure 12 shows a similar looking render on the rear of the cottage in the early 1970s and photographs of the 1994-96 renovations do not show substantial works being done to the render then. The render has been finished with modern, white masonry paint.

The original earth walls are finished internally with a 2-5mm earth plaster skim. This helps to provide a uniform surface and to conceal the joints in the walls. All the historical research indicates that the cottage is built of individual mud bricks, but it is also not uncommon to find other earth construction techniques in the district, such as walls built of rammed earth.


The cottage, as extended, comprises a small, single-storey building comprising six rooms: central hall with front door, two bedrooms, kitchen/dining room and scullery.

Ceilings in the main rooms are clad with painted tongue and groove timber boards. There are some remaining sections of scotia mouldings to the perimeter of ceilings. The boards in the rear bedroom are stained. The scullery has a painted board and batten skillion ceiling.

There are three internal partition walls as follows: a timber walls dividing the hall from the front bedroom. This is lined on the east side with painted ply and boarded joints and painted, horizontal tongue and groove timber boards on the west face; a timber wall between the hall and living room lined both sides with ply and boarded joints; and a timber wall between the bedroom and kitchen is lined on the east side with painted ply and on the west with painted, horizontal tongue and groove timber boards.

The original timber floors have been replaced with concrete slabs, which appear to have been poured within each room during repairs in the mid-1990s. The exception is a repaired timber floor in the kitchen with ventilation grilles around the perimeter, as the cottage does not appear to have had external subfloor vents.. The floor in the kitchen was replaced with sanded and varnished tongue and groove timber flooring.

Where the base of the earth walls can be seen internally, there are no signs of the walls having a stone or concrete plinth suggesting that the earth bears directly onto the ground. The mud bricks used in the 1994-96 repairs for replacing the section of the wall between the kitchen/rear bedroom and scullery are quite easily distinguished from the earlier cottage walls by being much thicker and by their shape being much more pronounced.

Internal joinery is limited to a braced and ledged painted timber plank door between the hall and living room; skirtings to internal partitions; the mantelpieces; and shelving in the scullery.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
- 1897

- 1909
Three rooms added and wash house built

1994 - 1996
Repairs and restoration

1996 -
Cottage opened to visitors in October 1996

Construction Details

Mud brick, timber, corrugated iron

Completion Date

27th June 2017

Report Written By

Abridged from Origin Consultants Conservation Plan by Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen

Original Consultants, 2016

Origin Consultants, ‘Vallance Cottage Alexandra: Conservation Plan July 2016,’ Copy held Heritage New Zealand, Otago/Southland Area Office, Dunedin

Other Information

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from Otago/Southland Area Office of Heritage New Zealand.

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.