Mansion House, Kawau Island
PHOTO: Monique Retter ©

Introduction

Mansion House on Kawau Island was originally the residence for the mine superintendent on the island. In 1862 the island and home were purchased by Sir George Grey, one of New Zealand’s most influential and controversial political figures.

Kawau Island was purchased by Sir George Grey in 1862. He spent a fortune developing Kawau as his island home with many exotic and native species. He also converted the former residence of the mine superintendent into his home.

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 neglect. It has been furnished with a valuable collection of antique furnishings largely donated or loaned to DOC, and is open to the public.

Mansion House Valley

The Mansion House gardens and immediate reserve/lawn area are known as the Mansion House Valley.

Sir George Grey was an enthusiastic collector of plants and animals in the tradition of wealthy Victorian gentlemen. He planted hundreds of different trees and plants in Mansion House Valley, developed orchards and a 13-acre olive grove, introduced many exotic and native animal species, and planted the slopes with conifers to create a setting for his house and gardens.

The pines and other exotic tree species, peacocks, wekas and wallabies seen in Mansion House Valley today are all legacies of Sir George Grey.

History of the house

Kawau Island was purchased by Sir George Grey at the time he was serving his second term as Governor.

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.

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.

Historic significance

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 work

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.


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