Rare Victorian era home on view

Debbie McCauley at Brain Watkins House. Photo: John Borren.

Brain Watkins House is a Victorian kauri villa completed by Joseph Brain in 1881 and occupied by the family for 98 years.

Located at 233 Cameron Rd, it is listed on the New Zealand Heritage List/ Rārangi Kōrero as a Category 2 historic place – and one of only a handful of surviving single-family occupancy homes in New Zealand with the original contents in situ.

'The significance of Brain Watkins House is its historical association with one of the early prominent residents of Tauranga and its continued ownership by one family for nearly 100 years,” says Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Lower Northern area manager Ben Pick.

The property is managed, conserved, and shared with the public by the Tauranga Historical Society. Established in 1952, the society aims to preserve and promote the historical and cultural heritage of the Western Bay of Plenty.

Important historical value

'The contents of Brain Watkins House are of important historical value due to the integrity of the property,” says Ben. 'Its furnishings and household items are a rare and intact example of everyday life in Tauranga.”

Author and Tauranga Historical Society committee member Debbie McCauley has written the text for the Historic Tauranga Ngā Tapuwae ki Te Papa | Footprints on Te Papa map and guide – which highlights 72 heritage buildings and locations from Sixth Avenue to Te Pari Taha | Sulphur Point.

'Joseph Brain's daughter Elva was determined that the family home would remain as part of the built history of Tauranga, and in 1979 gifted the property to the Society,” says Debbie. 'It is a taonga as it traces a local family's occupancy from 1881 to 1979, incorporating all of the eras during that time period.”

Debbie says many stories about the house include the terrified horse sheltered in the hallway during the 1886 Tarawera eruption.

Whimsical touches

'Elva's whimsical touches in the garden include the concrete swan crafted by Peter McTainsh who also constructed the first Humpty Dumpty figure at Tauranga's Memorial Park in 1959,” says Debbie.

Volunteer guides open the house museum to the public 2pm-4pm each Sunday. Admission is $5 per adult, children free with tours to groups, clubs, societies, and school groups available on request. People are welcome to visit the heritage garden at any time and the society encourages those in the area to eat their lunch in the inner-city green space. The hall behind the house is also available to hire for meetings at $30 per half-day and $50 full day.

The Weekend Sun is publishing a series of stories based on some of the locations in the Ngā Tapuwae ki Te Papa | Footprints on Te Papa map and guide, which is available from Tourism Bay of Plenty, Sun Media, Tauranga City Library and Tauranga i-Site.

Click to see more locations: www.footprintsontepapa.nz

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