Wednesday, September 12, 2012


On 11 August, I attended this year's regional gathering of historical societies in Auckland, hosted by the Mangere Historical Society. Part of the wonderfully-organised proceedings (it was a great day all round, all credit to MHS) was a quick bus tour around Mangere district. I say "quick" only because while it was around two hours in duration, it could have been twice that. Mangere district is worthy of quite detailed exploration.

One of the areas we were shown, and were able to get off the bus on arrival, was the new "Abbeville Estate", off Nixon Road, off what is today George Bolt Drive leading to Auckland Airport.

The airport company took over the property in 1991 (NA 56B/945), from Abbeville Farms Limited, a company incorporated in August 1960 (Companies Office database) until c1993 when it was struck off (Companies Office/Archway). The directors were Phillip and Miriam Collinson. So the new estate gets its name from the company, which in turn probably got the name from the Abbeville jersey cattle stud operated here from c1938 to 1960 by the Roussel-Cossey/de Guise Roussel family. More on them, later.

The Abbeville Estate is marketed as "The Common", with "fabulous heritage buildings" (two of which, the Westney Homestead and Westney Road Methodist Church, were relocated here between July 2010 and March 2012), and "The heritage-listed buildings and landscaped grounds that make up Abbeville Estate are over 150 years old and have been meticulously restored and contemporised for the needs of today."

It's a nice place -- but as soon as I saw they were bringing Lt.-Colonel Marmaduke Nixon into this, associated with the building in the image above -- I got that funny feeling in the back of my head which says, "check things out."

Heritage building number 1: the Westney Homestead, shifted from the other side of George Bolt Drive and up near Ihumatao Road due to proposed airport runway extensions.

Image from interpretive sign outside homestead, showing 1920s addition now removed from the relocated homestead.

There is an archaeological report online by Matthew Campbell and Louise Furey which confirms, through the date of items found around the original site of the house, that dating the homestead back to c1854 is fairly sound. Mind you, comparing what it looked like just before restoration and now -- visitors to the estate are now looking at primarily new materials. It was definitely in a sad state.

Heritage building number 2: the former Westney Road Methodist Church. Westney Road is now George Bolt Drive, and both the church and its cemetery had to go. Again, a very good archaeological report has been done, this time for the cemetery, which fairly well confirms the 1856 date for at least the oldest parts of the church building.

Fellow blogger Writer of the Purple Sage wrote about the church building in March last year, and the estate itself in April this year. The stained glass window above is a restoration.

Historic building number 3: the barn. Here's where the promotional historic narrative starts to come adrift.

In June 2012, Jaden Harris' archaeological report on Abbeville was published. An archaeological study of the area around the barn structure, said by commentators and the Abbeville Estate marketing team to be from Lt.-Colonel Nixon's time (therefore, 1850s) and one of the oldest remaining barns in the region -- found no traces of anything earlier than the 1880s. This despite the story (related by the Mangere Historical Society in their publication Mangere Chronicles (1990): "Part of the old barn (where the cavalry officers are said to have met to discuss defence plans of the area) has survived and is still in use."

This same finding goes for the house as well.

The report casts real doubt that the barn, and the associated house (below) were those built by or for Colonel Nixon not only in terms of the lack of supporting archaeology, but also contemporary documents such as a simplified subdivision map found in the Alexander Turnbull Library which shows no buildings on the site (yet most likely dates from the period just after Nixon's death in 1864) and comparisons between the description and dimensions described by Nixon himself of a kitset house he purchased from Otahuhu for his use on the farm, and the two-room core of the Abbeville Homestead (yes, most of what visitors see are later additions around the original cottage). Harris puts forward the theory that the original small building could well have been simply a farm worker's residence.

Back in 2009, I posted about the saga of Nixon's memorial, a controversy back in the 1860s. It looks like now, there's another controversy around associations with him, for this century. (Image of Nixon from Alexander Turnbull Library.)

From Deeds Index A2.474

In August 1854, Nixon acquired the Crown Grant to Allotments 60 to 63. Allotment 60 he transferred to the Westney family, and the southern part of 63 to Thomas Shipherd immediately.

The "Abbeville Homestead" is marked approximately in red -- but the two sites showing buildings on the farm as at the mid 1860s are in yellow (see page 4 of the Harris report).

While Nixon probably did occupy his Tautauroa farm (yes, that's the name on the 1860s plan -- pity the present day estate didn't follow suit) from c1852, before formal Crown Grant came through, the NZ Herald in reporting his death, noted: 
He arrived in Auckland some time in 1852 or 1853, with the intention of proceeding South, a course from which he was dissuaded by the late Brigade-Major Greenwood, whose property at Mangarei, (in conjunction with Col. Haultain) ho took on lease, proving himself as indefatigable and intelligent as a settler, as he had previously done as a soldier.
(28 May 1864)

Indeed, Nixon's own diary (found down in partial state in Wellington) relates how he leased Greenwood's Ascot farm (further to the north, bounding on Tautauroa) from March 1857 with a right of purchase at the end of the lease -- so was he living at Tautauroa at all from that point, or simply providing some small buildings there for farm workers? The significance of any structures at Tautauroa do seem to be diminished, without documentary or archaeological evidence to back them up.

Southern Cross 25 November 1864

After Nixon, his partner Howard Hutton received the property at Tautauroa in return for 5 shillings. Hutton and remaining mortgagor John Logan Campbell sold Allotment 61 and the "Abbeville" part of 63 to Matthew Fleming of Onehunga in March 1865, then came Albert Robinson, a farmer in Mangere, April 1877 until August 1906. (Harris report, p. 5)

Robinson is the man who I would say more than likely constructed the barn, and enlarged any building already on site to start forming the homestead proper, going by the lack of any archaeological remains earlier than the 1880s. He arrived in 1865 with his brother from Lincolnshire, and settled down to farm at Mangere (while his brother, Edwin, served under Von Tempsky in the Taranaki War and was with the famous soldier when he was killed - Star, 4 December 1902). Robinson ran sheep in the district as at 1879 (Auckland Star 18 October 1879 p1), and unsuccessfully ran for election to the Mangere Road Board in 1897. His wife Betsy died in 1903; soon after this, the Robinson farm was up for sale. The extent of his tools of trade do further point in the direction of Robinson as the originator of the barn at Abbeville.

Auckland Star 25 July 1906

Next came Frederick Mariner of Onehunga (August 1906 to December 1910), then Charles Levet (1910 to February 1918 - Harris report).

One of the Albertland settlers who arrived from England in the ship Hanover with his parents in 1862, Mr. Charles Levet has died, aged 82 years. He was the second son of Mr. Charles Levet, of Wellsford, one of the first party of settlers to go to Albertland. Mr. Levet worked on his father's farm for several years, and when the first block of land was opened at Hoteo North, under the homestead system, he secured the first section in company with his older brother. They worked the farm but some years later Mr. Charles Levet sold his interest in the property to his brother and acquired land at Hairini in the Waikato. Later he was for 20 years farming at Mangere, retiring in 1926. Mr. Levet was an active member of the Church of England, and had been a chorister in Ely Cathedral ...

Obituary, Auckland Star 11 July 1929

After Levet came Mangere farmer James Thomas Paul through to 1922-23, when he started subdividing the farm (NA292/201) . William Joseph Brain of Mokauiti purchased 71 acres (including "Abbeville") in 1923, subdividing again in 1929 (NA 366/75). In that year, he sold the site to Mrs Mavis Hellaby (NA 496/170). By now, the farm was down to 66 acres. In 1939, Mrs Hellaby transferred the property to Mrs Maria Jane Rousell-Cossey.

Aerial image from interpretive panel, Abbeville Estate.

There is quite a bit which could be said about Maria Jane Roussel-Cossey, daughter of farmer Pierre Rousel, who claimed direct descent from the Dukes of Lorraine in France, her husband George Cossey officially changing his own name to Roussel-Cossey in December 1906 soon after marrying her. Maria Jane changed her name to Madame Maria Jane de Guise Roussel by 1940, and her grandson Andrew Hunter in the UK in turn changed his name to Prince Andre de Guise in the mid 1950s (and, at present, sells titles and honorifics).  The main thing is that Mme de Guise Roussel (living in Mt Albert and other places, not, apparently, Mangere) operated the Abbeville Jersey Stud at "The Farm", Nixon Road.

Auckland Star 4 May 1940

Another event worth noting for the "Abbeville" farm -- is that this was where the "Kotare" crashed in 1938.

Evidence of further witnesses concerning the fatal crash of the Union Airways airliner Kotare at Mangere on Tuesday was heard today by Squadron-Leader Olson, Officer Commanding the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Hobsonville. The preliminary inquiry will be extended over the next two or three days, after which evidence will be collated by Squadron- Leader Olson in the form of a report to the Minister in Charge of the Air Department (the Hon. F. Jones). The wreckage of the Kotare was removed from the scene of the crash on the property of Mrs. Roussel and taken to Union Airways headquarters at Mangere ...
Evening Post 13 May 1938

According to the "New Zealand Herald," the Kotare was seen to be in difficulties from the moment it left the ground until it crashed on the property of Mrs. M. J. Roussel, in Nixon Road ... The horrified spectators watched her heading round towards tall trees on the property of Mrs. Roussel. The port wing struck one of the tallest trees and mapped it cleanly 40ft from the ground, and the monoplane plunged to the earth. Fire followed in an instant. Before they could run to where their motorcars were parked, those watching saw flame and smoke rising from the gully. Young pine trees began to blaze, and in a few seconds there was a dense column of smoke ... Farm labourers working in the vicinity were among the first to reach the wrecked monoplane, but the fierce heat drove them back. The machine was rapidly consumed by the flames, and those who had rushed to the spot had to stand by helplessly. Officials and other helpers who had travelled to the scene of the crash by motor-car from the aerodrome found that the Kotare had ploughed her way through the trees. The nose of the machine was near a creek which runs through the property, and the tail, almost completely intact, was half-suspended from the branches of one of the pine trees that was not burned. Cut cleanly off, the greater part of the port wing lay a short distance from the remainder of the wreckage. The other wing, bent and crumpled, was partly under the machine, and the fuselage, a mass of flames from end to end, was reduced to tangled, charred wreckage. In motor-cars, on foot, and in a lorry, helpers hurried to reinforce those who had first arrived. A fire extinguisher, rushed from the aerodrome, was useless against the fire. It was obvious that nothing could be done for the two occupants. 

Evening Post 11 May 1938

A plane crash, though, is probably not how the airport company would like the site to be remembered, I'd say. Best to stick, probably, with tenuous links with Maori Land War heroes. "Abbeville" as an aerodrome in France was bombed by the Allies during World War II.

Mme de Guise Roussel died in 1960, and the Abbeville Farm Limited later sold the site to the airport.

The changes to the Abbeville homestead were quite dramatic between the above aerial shot from 1959 (Auckland Council website) and below, in 2010, before the Westney Homestead and church were moved on. The homestead is topmost. If there was anything there truly "heritage" in terms of 19th century, little remains today.

But, the punters will believe what is served up to them by the estate's advertising and promotional material. Nothing can really be done about that - history is written these days not just by victors, but by owners. Heritage once again appears to have become blurred for commercial gain, and to create a pretty picture.


  1. What a great post! Interesting to see the Levets at one stage involved as well.

  2. Fantastic post Lisa!

    Louise Furey gave a good talk about the excavations at one of our collection management team meetings a few months back as she is now Curator of Archaeology at Auckland War Memorial Museum. What a fascinating experience to have been part of it.

    I feel sorry everytime i pass where the church was moved from and see the pool of water that seems to be there constantly since the removal of the building and graves.


  3. Thanks, both of you.

    I did wonder what became of the site the church was moved from, Sandy. That's sad -- progress just can't leave things be where they are, can it?

  4. Certainly can't Lisa... just look at Bolton Street cemetery, Wellington and Barbadoes Street Cemetery, Christchurch...even Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland....progession ay!


  5. Reckon! And we haven't reached the end of it ... spent the morning today photographing houses in Waterview which will be removed for the SH20 tunnel. Sad viewing the gardens which had meant a lot to the tenants and owners, soon to go. (sigh)

  6. :| sorta know that feeling too... with the houses being demolished in Christchurch at the moment, my own parents home [since 1964] probably before the end of the year. They move from the red zone in around 3 weeks.

    Great job though that you're taking the snaps!!!


  7. Aye, it's toughest on Christchurch folk. Next time our paths cross, I owe you a sympathy hug.

  8. Great read. As a descendant of Nixon I was excited to find this.