Athenree Homestead (1900)

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Athenree Homestead (1900).

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Athenree Homestead (built 1878) is where George Vesey Stewart’s younger brother Hugh and his wife Adela made their home. Hugh and Adela had arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, with their seven-year-old son Mervyn on board the Lady Jocelyn in 1878. The family were allocated 300 acres at Katikati which they named Athenree after family property in Ireland. After living in an iron building at Bowentown they built stables at Athenree and moved in. Later, Hugh and Adela decided to build rougher stables and convert their existing ones into a proper home. The original stables were moved 50 yards to a better site, and a drawing room with a large bay window added. Renovations were completed by the end of 1881.

As the couple aged, farming became more difficult, and after 28 years they sold Athenree to Henry Watterson of Blenheim in 1906 and returned to Ireland. Adela complained that Watterson sold “every movable thing on the property.” Less than a year later Athenree was sold to Reverend Walter Lawry and Annie Maria Dovey Salter (1907-1912). It was then sold to John Alexander Vallance (1912-1918), back to Annie Salter (1918-1921), then to Arthur Wallace Rapley (1921-1946). It was bought by Leslie Hill Larner (1946-1952), then Roger Nathaniel and Edward Hardy Smith (1952-1968).

The house was still lived in and in good repair until 1952. Unfortunately the new owners allowed it to deteriorate, later using it as a hayshed. In 1968 John Grower and Colleen Lilian Rapley re-purchased the land that had been owned by John’s family. For many years Maurice Browne (Snow), John Rapley, Wayne and Ellen McCormack and others quietly worked away at the site. There were many years of ruin and decay to be disposed of.  The house was full of rotten hay, wire, junk and bones of all shapes and sizes. 

In 1994 the homestead and approximately five acres were subdivided off and an approach made to the Western Bay District Council to purchase the property. On 3 May 1995 Athenree Homestead along with 2.5 hectares were purchased by the Western Bay of Plenty District Council as a Local Purpose Reserve [Historic Homestead] and the Athenree Homestead Trust formed. Restoration on the historic Athenree Homestead, one of the oldest remaining homesteads from Katikati’s pioneering era, continues today.

Emily Surtees Photographic Collection. Photographer: Emily Surtees (nee Stewart) (eldest child of George Vesey and Margaret Stewart). Courtesy of Elizabeth Smith and Ellen McCormack. Text by Debbie McCauley. Tauranga City Libraries Image Number: 16-320  (Ref: Page 43, 002).

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