The tragic death of the homeowner of Elms Homestead in Kaikoura after the weekend’s earthquake prompted me to hunt out the history of the building, and I found on the Heritage New Zealand website that it was actually a very early example of New Zealand poured concrete construction, and was part of a particularly cohesive complex of such buildings, all probably designed by the same architect. The complex was built in the 1870s and consisted of a homestead, garage, stables, granary, gatehouse and the men’s quarters, all from poured concrete.
Geoffrey Thornton, the expert on the heritage of New Zealand concrete, noted that there are a remarkable collection of early concrete buildings in Kaikoura, particularly farm station buildings. Kaikoura also contains the earliest known example of concrete in New Zealand, which is a retaining wall at (the very special) Fyffe House.
As the Heritage New Zealand website mentions, the wider complex provides a window into the way in which a pastoral station functioned in the later nineteenth century, and the social relations between the people who lived there. The house also had historical significance for its associations with the entrepreneurial brothers, George and Frederick Bullen. The brothers had originally come to New Zealand to join the gold rushes, but made their money selling things to miners, rather than being miners themselves, and eventually acquired a large farming empire in the Kaikoura area, and built the Elms Homestead and its many associated buildings. They also ran the Bullendale mine in the Skippers area of Otago, at which they built the world’s first electrically driven stamping battery.
The brothers and their descendants retained the property until it was lost in the 1930s, probably as a result of the Great Depression. It was subdivided after the war, and the Edgar family have owned the homestead since 1952, and it was one of this family who tragically died there in the weekend.
Main image: CC BY-SA 3.0 Licence. Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.Copyright: Schwede66. Taken By: Schwede66 – Wikimedia Commons, taken 2012.
Sources: Geoffrey Thornton, Cast in Concrete: Concrete Construction in New Zealand 1850-1939, Auckland, 1996; Heritage New Zealand listing for Elms Farms Complex