Nairn Street Cottage
History and museums
Nairn Street Cottage is Wellington's oldest original cottage. The Wallis family lived in the cottage for three generations. Tours are available to hear about these early European settlers and their descendants, and the heritage garden is open daily during daylight hours.
Nairn Street Cottage is classified as a "Category 1" ("places of 'special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value'") historic place by Heritage New Zealand.
The cottage was built in 1858 and is located on Nairn Street in the suburb of Mount Cook, Wellington. The Cottage was built in a late Georgian style and is similar to other houses built from that time through to about 1870. The Cottage was built by William Wallis who arrived in New Zealand in September 1857 with his wife Catherine.
William and Catherine were newly-weds who undertook an arduous seventeen week journey by ship to arrive in New Zealand. Like many immigrants they came in search of a better life. Unlike many immigrants, Wallis purchased the Nairn Street site only after he viewed it. He chose the location specifically because there was a stream at the bottom of his town-acre site. Wallis was aware of the necessity of a safe water supply after the 1855 Wairarapa earthquake had created tidal waves that swamped Wellington town's water supply leading to several deaths from typhoid.
William had been apprenticed as a carpenter on The Crystal Palace in London. He also built hospitals in the Crimean War, which allowed him the skills and capital necessary to emigrate to the comparatively new colony. The cottage is almost entirely built of native New Zealand timber and was built by hand. His original tool chest remains in the cottage collection.
The Wallis family had 10 children altogether, but after their seventh child the family relocated to a larger house, which William also built, next door.
Descendants of the Wallis family remained in the cottage until the late seventies when the Wellington City Council earmarked the cottage for demolition so that council flats could be built in its place. The Council took the building under the Public Works Act in 1974 from Winifred Turner, a granddaughter of William and Catherine and the last person to live in the cottage. Only the tenacity of Winifred Turner saved the cottage and ensured that its historical value was recognised.
The Colonial Cottage Museum Society campaigned to save the cottage from demolition, and established the cottage as an educational museum in 1980.
Nairn Street Cottage offers guided tours of the house and gardens. Each tour begins with a run through of the Wallis family's history and the significant events that occurred around the world during the 127 years that the Wallis family lived in Nairn Street Cottage.
All of the items within the cottage, with some exceptions, date from between 1850 to 1880. Several items belonged to the family, others were donated from other settler families, while others have been loaned or purchased.
Tours, group tours, and education visits are available at the museum.