Building a house 150 years ago was simple. Settlers chose the best site on their property and either erected their own dwelling or hired an expert to do it. In 1865, the Rev Edwin Stanley Brookes arrived in New Zealand with his family, staying temporarily in Parnell. Three of his sons were already here living in simple homes on their land in Wharehine.
When Brookes Snr visited them, it was obvious there wasn’t enough room for everyone to be comfortable, so a large homestead was planned. Edwin Jnr wrote to his Papa in April 1868: “Be sure and send me how you are for you fared badly when up but I hope the next time you come up you will have a better place to come to. Mr Buckton has commenced the house.”
Also in 1868, Brookes Snr wrote that the contract for building had been let and during the year it had progressed to a stage where the family could move in. Among our archives is an unsigned, hand-written document which begins:
Contract for Erecting a House. Takapau. July 17th 1867, Takapau, Oruawharo
“I hereby contract this day to build a house for Edwin Stanley Brookes Jnr for Twenty-two Pounds (or in part payment to take cattle at a fair valuation). – The house to be twenty-two feet long, fourteen feet wide and twelve feet studs, with two floors, and verandah three sides.”
This was no farm cottage but a substantial two-storied homestead built of kauri timber from Nicholson’s Mill at Port Albert. Joseph Isherwood Buckton, Market Street, Port Albert, was the builder. The contract gave detailed instructions to go with plans, which unfortunately seem to be lost. For example:
“1st Room, 1st Floor. The sides and ceiling to be tongued and grooved, dressed and beaded, the studs and crosspiece to be beaded. Mouldings and putting in of two windows, and one door paneled, and one French, also a skirting round the room six inches broad with Moulding on the top, the room to be fourteen feet wide and ten feet long and eight and a half feet high all according to plans (No 1,2,3,4,5).”
The Contract concludes:
The whole of which is to be completed within the space of four months commencing from this day. The whole of which to bear inspection and in a most workmanlike manner completed which if not finished by the time specified to lose (£5) five pounds providing there is no delay in the materials.
We can safely assume everything went to plan because, although over the years there have been repairs and alterations, Minniesdale House (Heritage Cat 2) still stands on a lovely spot by the Oruawharo River.
Lyn Johnston, Albertland Museum