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History of the house
Kawau Island was purchased by Sir George Grey in 1862. At the time he was serving his second term as Governor.
Kawau Island Mansion House
Grey had a keen interest in the natural sciences and in horticulture, and was an enthusiastic collector of plants and animals from around the world. Between 1862 and 1888 he spent a fortune developing Kawau as his island home, planting hundreds of different plant species and introducing many exotic and native animals including wallabies, kookaburras, weka, peacocks, zebras and monkeys.
Sir George Grey enlarged and remodelled the former residence of the mine superintendent, which was built between 1845 and 1847 as his Kawau home. Sir Frederick Thatcher (architect, cleric, and Grey’s private secretary) was responsible for the design.
Known today as Mansion House, it has been in public ownership since 1967 and was extensively restored to its former appearance in 1977–80 after many years of varied ownership and neglect. Much conservation and restoration work is still being done by DOC.
Mansion House has been furnished with a valuable collection of antique furnishings largely donated or loaned to the Department. It is primarily presented to the public as the residence of its best known inhabitant, Sir George Grey. Mansion House is open to the public.
Mansion House gardens
Mansion House is set amongst a mixed backdrop of exotic conifers established by Sir George Grey.
Sir Grey was an enthusiastic collector of plants and animals from around the world, communicating ideas with notable scientists like Charles Darwin and exchanging plants with an international network of botanists and plant collectors. The Italianate gardens developed by Grey were the focus for his experiments with the acclimatisation of plants, particularly those of potential economic value. Plant material from Kawau was distributed throughout the country.
While many of the plant species introduced by Grey have not survived, much is known about the original layout of gardens and there are plans to progressively restore some areas with help from volunteers.
Mansion House jetty
Built for Sir George Grey in 1875, to replace the existing jetty which dated from 1844, the Mansion House jetty is thought to be the oldest surviving jetty in New Zealand. It features unusual masonry piers built from blocks of slag, a waste product from the smelting process carried out during the mining era. The jetty piers have been restored by the Department of Conservation.
Inside Mansion House, Kawau Island
Mansion House and its setting survive today as relics of one of New Zealand's most influential early statesmen-Sir George Grey. It was a calling place for many notable persons, including royalty and local and national politicians.
Mansion House is a registered Category 1 Historic Place. The property has additional significance because the dwelling has been preserved along with its original setting, and the jetty built for Grey in 1875. The jetty, thought to be the oldest in New Zealand, has been proposed for Category 1 registration. Many original elements of Grey’s gardens remain, including a notable collection of trees and shrubs.
The coppermine engine house and smelting house are also of high heritage value and have Category 1 registration.
Conservation plans for Mansion House and the jetty identify remedial work needed to arrest causes of deterioration. The work has been prioritised and is progressively being implemented. Where possible, the house is being returned to its appearance at about 1890, soon after Sir George Grey sold the island.
A similar plan has been prepared for the gardens. Restoration of the gardens represents a significant opportunity to enhance the experience of visitors. A conservation plan has also been prepared for the smelting house, whose stabilisation and repairs have been carried out by DOC.
Visiting Mansion House
Outside these hours, the house may be opened by prior arrangement with the ranger for groups of 8 or more. Please contact the ranger at least 7 days before you plan to visit on firstname.lastname@example.org or +64 9 422 8882 or use the online booking form.
Winter: 30 June to 5 September 2014
- Closed over winter
- The Kawau Island Historic Reserve will remain open over winter
Summer: 6 September 2014 to 31 May 2015
- Monday to Friday 12:00 noon to 2:00 pm
- Saturday, Sunday and public holidays 12:00 noon to 3:30 pm
- Closed on Christmas Day
- Adults $4
- Children (5–15 years) $2
- Under 5 free
Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Please note that there are no eftpos or credit card facilities at Mansion House.
Help look after Mansion House
- Please remove muddy footwear before entering Mansion House.
- No food or drinks are allowed inside Mansion House.
- Photography is not permitted inside the house.
Guide to Mansion House
Guide to Mansion House (PDF, 1,698K)
Your journey through Mansion House begins in the drawing room, part of the Grey extensions, completed in 1868.
From the drawing room, you enter the rooms comprising the ground floor of the copper mine manager's house, being the morning room, dining room, kitchen and scullery. The bay window in the dining room, and in the bedroom above it, were added in Grey's time.
The door at the seaward end of the hallway was originally the main entrance to the mine manager's house. At the courtyard end of the hallway, you will find the cellar, which kept the meat and wine cool. Beyond the cellar, you will enter the courtyard, which was also added as part of the Grey extensions.
The small rooms on the right of the courtyard as you enter it were used as a pantry and wet larder, the estate manager's office, and for household storage and service. On the left of the courtyard you will see into Grey's strongroom. At the rear of the courtyard are the current custodian's quarters, probably originally the servant's hall and work rooms. Most servants lived in the many cottages which then lined the Coach Road leading from Mansion House up into the valley.
From the courtyard, reenter the hallway, and take the stairs to the upper floor.
At the top of the staircase you enter the upper floor of the mine manager's house. The first room on the right is presented as Grey's library. The room opposite, now the stack room for items not on current display, probably contained many of Grey's extensive collection of books.
At the other end of the hallway are the Thorne George bedroom, and sitting room. Annie Thorne George, born Annie Matthews, was Grey's niece. She married Grey's estate manager, Seymour Thorne George.
From the hallway you enter the courtyard verandah, which leads you to the upper hall of the Grey extensions, and to that part of the house comprising Grey's bedroom and the guest room, both on the left as you enter through the French door.
The verandah opening of the guest room was added after Grey's occupation.
Return along the upper staircase to the wing at the back of the house, known as the nursery wing, added at a latter stage by Grey, probably following Annie's marriage, to accommodate some of the nine children who were born to Annie and Seymour. The back stairway in the nursery leads down the staircase to the servants' hall, now the custodian's residence.
From the nursery wing, the stairs take you back to reception.