Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Coteles of Upper Symond Street

In a comment to an earlier post on the Pierce Building on Symond Street, "M" wrote:
Hi I've become quite a fan of your site and have noticed you've written a few pieces about the upper Symonds Street area. I happen to live in the area and love it and have heard a few things about the history of the empty lot on the opposite block to 'Symonds Court' at the end on the corner with Basque Road. I wondered if you were open to the challenge of finding out the building history of that (recently sold) empty lot. Also why 'Basque' Road and 'Basque' Park?
As it turns out, I took a photo of the site in June when I was out on the fairly bleak day up on the ridge, getting images of the buildings in the area. I already knew what had once been there -- and I've wanted to do something on it for years.

What was there once was a house dating back to c.1902 named "Cotele" -- actually, the second Cotele House on the site. The first dates right back to 1849, when David Burn purchased land here in January 1849 from William Smellie Graham, who in turn bought from the Crown in December 1848.

David Burn (c.1799-1875) is an interesting character. The State Library of Tasmania notes:
David Burn was born in Scotland c.1799 and after a short career in the navy he arrived in Tasmania for the first time in 1826. In 1842 Burn accompanied Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin on their soujourn to the west coast of Tasmania writing the Narrative of the Overland Journey from Hobart Town to Macquarie Harbour. He was also a playwright and wrote Fugitive Pieces in Verse (Hobart Town, 1842) among others. In 1847 Burn migrated to Auckland where he edited the Maori Messenger and the New Zealand Herald. He retired in 1865 and died on 14 June 1875 at Auckland, aged 76.
He married Catherine Fenton at New Norfolk, Tasmania, 6 November 1832 (Hobart Town Courier 9 November 1832), left Tasmania for England in 1835 (Hobart Town Courier 1 May 1835), only to return in 1841, doing a tour of all the penal facilities in the Australian colonies. I wonder just how involved he was in the penal system, judging by his own comments in a letter later published in New Zealand.
“As a Tasmanian landholder … and, for several years, myself a component portion of the prison discipline machinery, so ably and efficiently worked by Sir George Arthur …

“I visited and closely inspected all its prison machinery, from its principal depot of trebly refined crime at Port Arthur , to its scarce less infamous probation barracks, at the Seven Mile Creek, near Marlborough.””
New Zealander 31 March 1849

This seems to have been, somehow, in response to a pamphlet he published in England on the convict transportation system and whether it increased vice and corruption in Australia or not (he reckoned it didn't) and a dispute over the issue he had with the Bishop of Dublin. Burn definitely merits closer study at some stage.

He appears to have arrived in Auckland from Sydney on the Hyderabad, 17 April 1848. He edited the New Zealander for John Williamson until he was dismissed in July 1849 -- in favour, according to him, of a Wesleyan summoned from England. But he was then in the process of building Cotele. In his diary enrtry for 1 May 1850, he refers to it as “a very airey mansion at present.” References seem to indicate that it was relatively new. “Met Sir George and Lady Grey … Having made some remarks on my house, I invited him to call and see it. He said he would be most happy to do so.” A raupo whare apparently preceded the house. On 4 May 1850: "“Kitty has two Maories [sic] pulling down the raupo house.” May 9: “The horrid raupo warre [sic], otherwise “Buckingham Palace” thrown down at last. It is a great relief, and has unmasked a pretty view.”

In The Lively Capital (1971), Una Platts noted that Burn and his wife walked home to Cotele from Col. Wynyard's fancy dress ball, which was also the first of its kind in New Zealand, according to the Southern Cross of 19 July 1850.

Southern Cross 24 February 1852

Why Cotele? Dr. J B W Roberton commented to Donald Rae, author of "Cotele: Dr Ernest Roberton's House in Upper Symonds Street, Auckland", Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal, September 1988, p. 5, that the family believed "Cotele" to mean "cottage on the hill."
The highest point of the hill would have been directly across the road where there was a reservoir and a firebell.It would fall slightly to the east through St Sepulchre's and the vicarage and large garden across the road (Burleigh Street). One went a little up the hill from Khyber Pass to the church.
I'm not too sure about that derivation, but there doesn't appear to be anything else more likely to replace it. Burn's background in the navy doesn't throw up any alternatives.  Nor is there a Cotele in Scotland. There is Cotehele in Cornwall, and an old family of Cottle/Cotele which goes back to William the Conqueror, but nothing seems to link in with a house and estate in Auckland, NZ, mid 19th century. Perhaps, even, something to with the word in French: "côtelé" means ribbed, as in cloth. Who knows.

(Update 25 January 2012: My friend Margaret Edgcumbe wrote in November 2011 that "there was a Mr Henry Edgcumbe/Edgecumbe at Deloraine in Tasmania, who decided to call his extensive property Cotehele ... Henry apparently selected ithe block in in 1841, about the time that David Burn's mum was dying at her selection, Ellangowan. I have no idea whether these two farms were anywhere near each other but they appeared on the same pages of the Tasmanian newspapers." So, there's another option. Thanks, Margaret.)

Mr and Mrs Burn lived there only until 1857. They moved Emily Place by September that year, and leased Cotele to Francis Braithwaite.

Southern Cross 15 January 1861

Then, in 1861, came the first and largest sale of Burn's Newton/Eden Terrace land -- 150 allotments in South Newton. This sale was followed by that of the Cotele Estate. the following year.

Southern Cross 7 January 1862

New roads appeared: Basque, Dundonald and Exmouth. Basque Road, seems to be most likely connected with an 1809 Napoleonic Wars sea battle, The Battle of the Basque Roads. Dundonald Street could be in honour of another piece of British naval history, Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, a naval captain during the Napoleonic Wars. Exmouth Street could also be part of the Napoleonic Wars pattern -- David Burn, who grew up during that period, may have been a fan of that historic period in naval history -- for we have Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth, who served in the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War, and the war against Napoleon.

Approximate footprint (black) of the first Cotele House, taken from image ref NZ Map 4495-11, map of the 1862 Cotele sale, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. The underlying map is Deed 1333, LINZ Crown copyright, date unknown but shows 1862 Cotele sale allotments and streets. See also NZ Map 4164

Real Estate.—On Wednesday Messrs. Connell and Ridings sold the suburban estate of Cotele, the property of Mr. D. Burn, in forty-six allotments, for £3,076. There were about 12 acres disposed of.
Southern Cross 28 March 1862

"Cotele" became, for some time after the sale, a readily-identifiable district. It seems it even had a cricket team named after it.

On Saturday afternoon the return match between these two elevens was played in the Domain, wickets being pitched at 2.30 p.m., and as will be seen by the subjoined scores the Cotele won the game after a close contest by one run. The rain coming on about 5.30 p m. prevented the game being finished, which was consequently decided by the first innings. We believe a match between the same elevens will be played next Saturday, at the same time and place.
Southern Cross 15 December 1873

When Burn died, over on the North Shore, whatever controversies he attracted in life, at least his obituaries were kindly compiled.
Mr. David Burn, of the North Shore, expired on Monday, June 14. Mr. Burn had been connected with the fortunes of Auckland for about 30 years, during which time he had filled many honourable positions. For many years he had editorial charge of the New Zealander in its palmy days, afterwards he was for some time editor of the Southern Cross, from which position he again, returned to the editorial chair of the New Zealander. When the New Zealand Herald was started Mr. Burn acted as editor for some time. For several years he has lived a retired life at the North Shore, upon the well earned fruits of a successful career as a colonist. He was always of a cheerful and kindly disposition, and had the pleasing art of successfully making friends. He leaves a widow to mourn her loss.
Southern Cross 8 July 1875

Mr David Burn, of the North Shore, died last night at half-past nine o'clock. Mr Burn was a very old colonist, was formerly an officer of an English ship, and devoted much time in early life to literature and dramatic compositions. He was formerly connected with Auckland press, and was engaged upon the New Zealander; and subsequently on the Southern Cross and New Zealand Herald. Mr Burn had always been of an economical turn of mind, and consequently amassed a considerable fortune. He leaves a widow well provided for, and numbers of friends at the North Shore, who will cherish his memory with respect.
Auckland Star 15 June 1875
After David Burn, came John Roberton (c.1829-1894), a merchant who purchased the house along with just over an acre of land in 1862 for £840 12s 6d, bounded by Symonds, Basque and Dundonald Streets. 

There's an Avondale link to the Cotele story. Sometime from 1866 to the early 1870s, Henry Walton decided to retire and leave the colony to return to England in retirement. He resigned from the Legislative Council in 1866, but still retained land holdings which would have needed a New Zealand resident agent to manage on his behalf. Walton appointed John Roberton as his attorney, and part of the land Roberton was tasked to administer was the Walton Estate in Avondale, today's Roberton area (the street and the area named for John Roberton). After John Roberton died, Henry Walton's family appointed Roberton's son Dr Ernest Roberton attorney for the estate of the now deceased Walton.

News was received by cable, from Sydney last night, of the death of Mr John Roberton, a gentleman whose name has been long and honourably associated with the commerce of this city. Mr Roberton was born in Glasgow 65 years ago, and first went to Sydney. He came over to Auckland in 1846 to his brother-in-law, Mr Wright, of Wright and Graham, merchants, Fort-street. Afterwards he was the Auckland partner of Bain, Graham and Co. Subsequently Mr Roberton was in business on his own account for many years in Queen-street, next the Bank of New South Wales, and was one of the largest and most prosperous merchants here in those days, and took a keen interest in all matters connected with the welfare of Auckland. When his premises .in Queen-street were burned down, Mr Roberton transferred his business to Durham-street, and in 1872 he sold out and went to England. While at Home the purchaser went out of the business which was carried on by Mr J. Potter until Mr Roberton returned, when it was arranged to continue in partnership which lasted until a few years ago, when Mr Roberton finally retired from business. 

He was for some years Chairman of directors of the Taupiri Coal Company, but resigned that position last October. Ever anxious for the progress of the city of his adoption Mr Roberton was one of the foremost men in obtaining the San Francisco mail service. He was formerly president of the Chamber of Commerce, and was one of the small knot of gentlemen who started St. Sepulchre's Church in Symonds-street, being for many years a church warden. During his lengthy residence in this city Mr Roberton in all his transactions acted so as to leave behind him an irreproachable character, while in his private life he made numerous friends who will sincerely mourn his loss. As a business man, he was successful in accumulating enough of this world's goods to enable him to pass his later years in ease. Some time ago, by the death of a relative, he had property left him in Sydney, and it was in connection with this that Mr Roberbon went to reside in New South Wales with his wife. Latterly he had been in a weak state of health, but the cable sent last night by Mrs Roberton to her son, Dr. E. Roberton, did not state the actual cause of death. In the earlier years of his life, Mr Roberton was an active member of the Masonic fraternity. He leaves behind to mourn his death, the partner of 35 years' married life, and also four sons, Dr. E. Roberton, Mr A. B. Roberton, Mr B. H. Roberton and Mr E. B. Roberton, and three daughters, Mrs G. Chamberlain, Mrs D. Wilkie and Mrs H. D. Heather. 

Auckland Star 20 July 1894

But, John Roberton and his family had vacated Cotele by 1884, letting it out to a Mr J Ballard in that year (letter from Ballard giving Cotele House as an address, Waikato Times, 26 January 1884), and Dr. Lawry in 1886.
Dr. Lawry, writing from Cotele House, Symonds-street, states that his name appeared by mistake as one who took part in the fancy dress ball on Wednesday last. He adds :—" As the statement is likely to do me considerable harm, please correct it. I have neither the time nor inclination to indulge in such frivolities."
Auckland Star 11 August 1886

According to Donald Rae in the Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal, the Robertson's son Dr. Ernest Robertson was the next owner of Cotele House, taking over in 1888. Dr Robertson, however, apparently didn't return to Auckland from Europe until 1891.

Photo supplied by Donald Rae to Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal, September 1988

The view above is captioned from the Journal as being an image of the Old Cotele during Dr. Robertson's occupancy. It doesn't seem to quite fit the 1862 footprint pattern for the house, though.

In 1902, though, he demolished the old house, and built a new Cotele. Land just to the south, according to Rae, was transferred to Selina Robertson for a block of shops.

Second Cotele, c.1905. Photo supplied by Donald Rae to Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal, September 1988

Dr Ernest Roberton (1862-1949) was educated at Auckland Grammar, and Edinburgh and Vienna Universities. He was honorary physician to Auckland Hospital 1891-1924, then served as honorary consulting physician. He was president of the New Zealand branch of the Medical Association in 1905. Dr Roberton was one of the founders of the Diocesan School for Girls, a member of the Auckland Grammar School Board of Governors in 1896, and chairman of that board for a number of terms. He was first chairman of the Auckland Orphanages Advisory Council, and was appointed a serving brother of the Order of St John in 1928. He was twice president of the Auckland Institute and Museum, in 1898 and 1905, and served overseas during World War I, 1916-1919, in the New Zealand Medical Corps. A few years before he died, he and his wife went to live in Christchurch (obituary, NZ Herald, Obituary Scrapbooks, Auckland Central Library.)

Rear view of second Cotele. Photo supplied by Donald Rae to Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal, September 1988

Dr. Robertson owned the house until 1912, when he sold it to John Fuller, the theatre proprietor. From that point on, however, it became a boarding house and a private hotel. From 1924, when Fullers built the block of brick shops still standing today next door to Cotele (see below), the older building became known as "Mount Royal". Fullers sold the property in the 1940s.

Cotele in 1986. Photo supplied by Donald Rae to Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal, September 1988

By the time this photograph was taken, the building was as I remember it -- retail, with accommodation at the rear. Sometime after 1996, the second and last Cotele House was demolished. (Edit, 12 July 2014 -- a commenter below has very kindly pointed out a video on YouTube showing the house fully ablaze c.1996-1998). Stills from Geoff Mackley's video.

David Burn's view, from where he watched the weather and the appearance of sails in the harbour in the 1850s, is now gone, blocked by development and factories. This photo is of the site of Cotele House as it was in June this year.  Redevelopment, and a new building facing Symonds Street, may not be far away, now the site has been sold.

Valuation field sheets, ACC 213/172c, Auckland Council Archives
NA 124/276,  403/87, Deed 1333, DP 3294, LINZ records
Auckland-Waikato Historical Journal (thanks to John Webster for advice on photo use)
The Lively Capital, Una Platts (1971)
David Burn diary, Library of NSW website (thanks for the heads up from Margaret Edgcumbe)
Auckland Research Centre, Central Library (thanks for sending me Dr Ermest Roberton's obituary)
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries
Auckland Council website, GIS viewer


  1. Wow! Bravo. As a relatively new Aucklander I've only ever known it as an empty lot. This was more than I was expecting. David Burn, as you say, sounds a very interesting man and deserves a bit more attention.

    Thank you indeed,


  2. Earnest Roberton was my great-grandfather, and my grandfather James Roberton used to talk about the farmland surrounding the house. I remember it in the 80's as Bungalow Bills! Was wonderful to read your article - thanks very much.

    Adrienne Werry

  3. My pleasure, Adrienne. Thanks for your comment! I think I remember seeing it as Bungalow Bills as well.

  4. I remember that old building - my father Wilfred White stayed there when it was a boarding house. I have a great interest in Basque Park and have some old photos of it when it was first built after the Second World War. Went to St Benedicts School from 1960 - 1975.

  5. Hi Anon,

    If there care any images of the park you'd like to share with us here at Timespanner, feel free to drop me a line at

    Basque Park is interesting. If I get around to it from amongst other detours of enquiry (and there are lots of those!), you may see a piece popping up here about it.


  6. John Roberton was my great-great grandfather, through his son Ernest and grandson Henry (my grandfather). I too remember as a child going in to Bungalow Bills to buy a pair of drum sticks! I seem to recall that there was a fire at some point that rendered the building unsafe. I drive past the empty lot from time to time and have wondered what would happen to the lot. Thanks for putting in the work and sharing. Cheers Tom Roberton.

  7. Thanks for that! Wonderful to hear from a Roberton descendant. :)

  8. Ernest Roberton was my Grandfather but died in Christchurch when I was 3 years of age. His wife, Elisa Annie ( Wilkie) lived until well into her 90's and we had a Family funeral for her in the lounge of our Papanui Rd house. This over 100 years old home sadly was demolished following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

    I vaguely remember Ernest despite being so young.

    On a visit to Sydney some years ago, my wife and I wanted to visit John Roberton's grave in Ryde, Sydney. However we were told by a rather rude Vicar that, following a fire, they had no record of where he wasa buried in the Anglican Church Cemetery.

    David Roberton- Auckland

  9. After reading your article I happened across this photo captioned as 'men laying tram lines in Mount Eden Road near the junction of New North Road'. - 1908
    I noticed Cotele House at top right:

  10. Another Roberton descendant here, via John's youngest son Basil. Thanks so much for capturing such an interest snippet of history. I'm delighted to see the influence and legacy of John Roberton being written of.

  11. very interesting indeed ............anyone with any information on house where f COLEMAN family [ name changed apparently from Kauffmann, ex Germany ] lived on Khyber Pass ?