Topic: Brain Watkins House, Tauranga

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"High cultural significance", "unique", and "intact" are some of the words used by conservation architects to describe the Brain Watkins House. This Victorian square villa, built in the 1880s, stands in a prominent positon on the corner of Cameron Road and Elizabeth Street. It is one of six surviving single-family homes in New Zealand with the original contents predominantly intact, that functions as a house museum where the people, objects, and events associated with the house are in no way less important than the house itself. Story by Jinty Rorke.

Looking strange? see an archived version here


Brain-Watkins House, 233 Cameron Road

The plan of the house is identical to those advertised in the catalogue of Guthrie & Larnach's Dunedin Iron & Woodware Company of 1880.  The verandah shows the typical woodwork of the time with the turned balusters, and decorative brackets on the posts.  The fence and front gate are of the similar period. 

Joseph and Kate Bain

Before the survey in 1851 the land had been part of the Church Missionary Society farm. Joseph Brain, a ship builder who had moved from Auckland to Tauranga, bought the property in the early 1880s.  He also bought the shipyard at the north end of the Strand from Charles Wood.  The house was built from a shipment of kauri he received in 1881.  Two girls were born in Tauranga (Bessie and Elva), bringing the number of Brain daughters to five. 

Joseph Brain not only built and repaired boats but also operated a local shipping business with the "Ventnor" and the "Vectis". He was a major contractor in the district building bridges, the Strand sea wall, the Durham Street fire station, the first Mount wharf, and was the major contractor for the Memorial Gates at the Tauranga Domain.  He died in 1924, and his wife Kate lived in the house until she died in 1933.  

The Brain sisters

Elva, the youngest daughter, lived in the house until her death in 1979, ending nearly one hundred years occupancy by the one family.  Elva Brain had married William George Watkins when she was 72 years old and outlived him.  She was a keen member of the Tauranga Historical Society Incorporated and left the Society the house and land in her will. 

The majority of the contents of the house remain as they were in the Brain family days. They illustrate the everyday objects that were in most middle class New Zealand homes and include items covering the one hundred years of occupancy. Of special interest are the marbled fireplace in the parlour and the grained finish to the kauri doors giving the appearance of oak. Hats, clothes and other textiles are displayed along with photographs and paintings. 

The Tauranga Historical Society see themselves as not just the owners, but the guardians of this property that is unique to Tauranga and the district, and welcome interested visitors.  The house is open on Sundays from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm.  There is a small entrance charge. 

Further information is available through the Tauranga City Libraries’ New Zealand Room.

This page was archived at Perma cc January 2017

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