The wonderful Colonial Cottage Museum in Wellington is classified by Heritage New Zealand in the highest category of outstanding cultural and historical significance. Found within walking distance of the city centre at 68 Nairn Street, Mount Cook, the Colonial Cottage was Wellington’s first ‘house’ museum. Opened to the public in 1980, this charming cottage was built in 1858 by a man called William Wallace who had arrived in New Zealand with his new wife a year earlier after seventeen weeks of journey time on board a ship.
The cottage – late-Georgian styled which was typical for this period – was a family home built almost entirely from wood, a natural choice of material at the time thanks to an abundance of many native timbers. The cottage was built entirely by hand by William himself, a skilled craftsman, and his tool chest remains to this day in the cottage among other original family possessions.
The Colonial Cottage is essentially the story of the Wallace family, descendants of which remained here until the 1970s. However, on a broader level it allows visitors a glimpse into the lives of the early pioneers and settlers. The museum has been so well presented and so much of the original features have been preserved including furniture and wallpaper, that even the imagination challenged may find themselves easily transported back to a bygone era once they step through the door. Most of what you will find here dates from 1850 to 1880 and the Wallace’s possessions are added to from donations or loans acquired from the descendants of other early settlers’ families. The strong and evocative effect is such it’s almost as if William and family have just popped out for the day and are expected back any minute. Particularly fine examples in the cottage are the iron-framed bedstead in which some of the children slept and the rimu and kauri dresser of William and his wife which showcases William’s highly competent craftsmanship with wood.
Amazingly, the Colonial Cottage almost didn’t make it beyond the 1970s when it was earmarked for demolition and, had it not been for the determination of one lady, the house would have lived on in nothing more than memory. Catherine Wallis, one of house-builder William’s granddaughters, fought the destruction and with some much needed support from the Colonial Cottage Museum Society managed to ensure her grandfather’s former home remained for all to enjoy and to glimpse what the day to day living conditions of this earlier, pioneering generation were like.
Guided tours around this significant site are available four times daily during opening hours while the heritage garden complete with wild fruits and chickens is always open for a stroll and explore. For mor information please contact us at What to do in Wellington (Jerry Bridge lives just one street away and would be happy to take you there personally.)
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