There are a surprising number of late 19th century houses still standing in various places around New Zealand. Many of these homes can be classed as mansions because of their sprawling size and numbers of rooms. Some come with large areas of land while others are found amongst the urban housing in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.


Alberton was built in 1863 in what is now the Auckland suburb of Mt. Albert as a large timber farmhouse for the Garlick family who were major figures in the local Methodist community.  In the 1870s Allan Taylor and his second wife 18 year old Sophia, purchased the modest farmhouse and transformed it into a truly grand Raj-themed mansion, inspired by the country of Allan’s birth. The impressive 18-room home hosted numerous glittering events for early Auckland’s fashionable set, where garden parties, mounted hunts and archery were enjoyed in a distinctly Victorian manner.

Formal social events held at the property included the first Mount Albert County Ball on 20th of September 1877. A party for the children of St. Luke’s Sunday school was an annual event, and meetings of the Pakuranga Hunting Club were also held at Alberton. The 1883 Citizen’s Ball, held for Governor William Jervois and his wife Lucy, was hosted at the property.


Allan was still a teenager when he spent part of his inherited fortune on a first block of land at Mt Albert, which was then on Auckland’s rural outskirts. He was the seventh child of William Taylor, a captain in the 39th Madras Native Infantry so spent his childhood years in India. Allan soon became a popular socialite in rapidly growing Auckland. He purchased land until it totalled 500 acres extending from the slopes of Mt Albert to almost the shores of the harbour.  In 1863, he had a farmhouse constructed on the property as a centre-point for his estate.

The young landowner gave the farmhouse a major makeover in the 1870s heavily influenced by his early life in India. Today, Indian colonial references are clearly evident in the ornate verandahs. Two exotic corner towers with ogee-shaped roofs stand either side of the verandah. Half-doors were designed to keep animals out while allowing the cooling breeze off the harbour to make humid summer days more bearable in a time before air conditioning. These unique doors are the only ones in New Zealand.  


Hundreds of family items came with the house when the last of Allan and Sophia’s 10 children gifted it to the nation in the 1970s. Many of these Victorian artifacts are now on display, including original furniture, pianos, fireplace mirrors, wrought iron beds, costumes, textiles, table settings, paintings and photographs. Sophia was involved in the political issues of the day and she and her daughters maintained a well-equipped sewing room. Original hand-cranked sewing machines are still in place there today and eloquently conveys the self-reliance of a 19th century household.

 In 1890, Allan Taylor died. Sophia continued to run the estate but as a woman landowner experienced many obstacles. However, she continued to live at Alberton until her death in 1930. In 1970, the government intended to purchase the land the house was on. The family prevented this happening by bequeathing the house to the National Historic Places Trust, who received the keys to the property in 1972. The Trust reopened Alberton to the public on 8th of December 1973.


Located in Otekaieke, 53km (32miles) from Oamaru in the Waitaki Valley, Campbell Park is laid out in the style of an old English estate, with ‘The Castle’ as its centrepiece. In1857, Otago runholder William Dansey purchased the sheep and cattle station now known as Campbell Park Estate. He built the first house there in 1861. The double storied ‘Dansey’s Hut’ is one of the first recorded buildings in North Otago and still remains there today. Dansey sold the property that same year to Robert Campbell from a wealthy Scottish family. Seven years later, newly married Robert decided ‘Dansey’s Hut’ was no longer catering to his needs, so he shipped over a large workforce of Scottish craftsmen along with materials from Scotland and Italy. He sent his new wife, Emma Hawdon temporarily back to his English home then began work on a 35-room limestone baronial mansion. Nicknamed “The Castle”, it was the first substantial home in New Zealand designed by a Kiwi architect (John Burnside). It was also the first time a model had been made of a building prior to it being built. It was sent to Australia for viewing and displayed at the Ballarat Industrial Exhibition and the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879.

‘The Castle’ (ODT)


With ‘The Castle’ and stables, an old jailhouse, fruit orchards and an extensive garden adjoining a 2800 acre working farm and 10 acre vineyard, a 200-seat restaurant, indoor gym, tennis courts, swimming pool, a grade-seven aero runway, a subterranean cave and its own village – it’s safe to say Campbell Park Estate is a very unique place.


Robert and his wife were great entertainers, renowned for a high level of hospitality in their large, grand home. Sadly in 1889, at the age of 47, Robert Campbell died and his widow died a year later. With no children to claim the property, the estate was sold to the New Zealand Education board and became Campbell Park School for boys in 1908. The school closed in 1987 and the estate passed into private ownership the following year.

In recent decades Campbell Park has featured in movies including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with the surrounding area featuring in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In November 2015, the property was again on the market, and drew further controversy when in February 2016 it was purchased by a Chinese-owned company, for an undisclosed sum. The owners caused more controversy when they auctioned 400 lots of historic chattels. Currently, the estate’s administration claims the property is undergoing renovations and would be ready “next March”. It’s hoped this unique piece of historic New Zealand real estate remains intact with the beautiful ‘castle’ once again alive with activities.

Ceidrik Heward

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