Care brings cot­tage back from brink

The Leader (Tasman) - - NEWS - By SARAH DUNN

When for­mer builder Grant McAlpine and his wife Carol re­tired to Rich­mond from Master­ton, they had hoped to set­tle in at their new home qui­etly.

But the di­lap­i­dated pi­o­neer set­tler’s cot­tage at the back of the prop­erty de­manded their at­ten­tion. The McAlpines lived in a three-bed­room Ed­war­dian villa built in 1909, but be­hind the villa is a cot­tage thought to be the old­est res­i­den­tial home in the re­gion. It bears a plaque from the His­toric Places Trust.

Made out of rammed earth taken from the neigh­bour­ing pad­dock, Bon­ning­ton Cob Cot­tage is thought to have been built by early set­tler Joseph Bon­ning­ton.

Joseph’s son Ge­orge grew up in the cot­tage as one of nine chil­dren, in­vent­ing the pop­u­lar Ir­ish Moss cough syrup there be­fore man­u­fac­tur­ing it on a large scale in Christchurch.

Joseph bought more than 20ha of land and built the cot­tage in 1853 as a homestead for his fam­ily. Af­ter the prop­erty was sold to the Lusty fam­ily the late 19th cen­tury, the land was fur­ther sub­di­vided and the new own­ers built a grander main res­i­dence.

The His­toric Places reg­is­ter said the build­ing was a rare re­main­ing ex­am­ple of a type of house char­ac­ter­is­tic of New Zealand’s early Euro­pean set­tle­ment. It de­scribed the McAlpines’ restora­tion project as ‘‘in­ten­sive and ex­ten­sive’’.

The McAlpines bought the prop­erty in 1992, and em­barked on ma­jor ren­o­va­tions when they moved in four years later.

‘‘It was re­ally di­lap­i­dated,’’ said Grant, who ex­plained it had been used as a wood­shed.

‘‘Sev­eral of my col­leagues looked at the cot­tage and said, ‘ Oh, you’re mad to re­store it, just knock it down’, but it had the His­toric Places Trust sticker on it and we just couldn’t do it.’’

He said the un­treated earth walls had dried out and badly eroded, and some even had plants grow­ing in them. Lay­ers of shred­ded wall­pa­per and copies of the Isle of Man Times cov­ered sec­tions of wall, and the floorspace was filled with mouse and rat drop­pings. Most of the news­pa­pers dated from 1890.

‘‘It was pretty mucky get­ting rid of all the old stuff,’’ Grant said. ‘‘You’d get cov­ered in clay and old dust. We breathed in large quan- tities of it.’’

With the help of lo­cal ‘‘ mud sci­en­tist’’ Ralph Butcher, Grant filled the cracks in the walls and coated them with more than a ton of a spe­cial putty-like ‘‘mud’’ made from clay, lime and other chem­i­cals. This was cov­ered with a pro­tec­tive ‘‘skin’’ made of a sub­stance called isin­glas, which is de­rived from the dried swim blad­ders of fish.

The fi­nal step was a wa­ter­proof­ing coat of sil­i­cone com­pound on the walls, and a layer of new cedar tiles on the roof. Dormer win­dows were also added in­side the two small bed­rooms up­stairs.

Bay­leys Nel­son sales­man An­thony Carppe said the sale was a rare op­por­tu­nity to in­vest in a slice of his­tory. The own­ers are tak­ing of­fers above $975,000, and he said there had been plenty of in­ter­est.

His­tory re­stored: Grant McAlpine takes it easy at Rich­mond’s 160-yearold Bon­ning­ton Cot­tage which he and

his wife have re­stored.

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