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Peter & the Elderslie Mansion
Bev and Peter Rodwell are today’s guardians of the Elderslie Estate. They live in the old coach house and carefully tend the organic gardens, which are remnants of a John Reid’s Victoria masterpiece. In 1864, John came over to New Zealand from Elderslies in Scotland and he began to acquire his 35,000 acres while working for the New Zealand Company.

The original Elderslie mansion was completed 1874 and became the home of the Reid family and their seventy servants. The prized gardens were landscaped and planted over two years before the house was built. These grew to include sunken, herb, vegetable and rose gardens, and a 100 metre long hot house. A number of old world trees were planted by international dignitaries, and Peter with his ride on lawn mower has added his own touch by creating a labyrinth.

The homestead was the entertainment hub of Oamaru’s high society. The ballroom had a sprung floor, the dining room table could seat 24 people, and the banquets were legendary. Distinguished guests included Governor Grey, and Lord Kitchenr. Perhaps the most famous gathering was the 1876 garden party for over 3,000 people. This was held in celebration of the first rail expedition reached the Waiareka Valley.

The estate was also the birthplace of Phar Lap, and Peter has photos of Night Raid (sire) and Entreaty (dam) amongst his memorabilia collection. The stables are still standing (just), and the coach house is not only Bev and Peter’s home, it is also the pack house for organic walnuts and other goodies.

The original Eldeslie mansion was destroyed by fire in 1957. In a roundabout way, the buildings demise occurred because of alcohol, or lack of it. In the 1950’s Oamaru was caught up in prohibition and the owners of the estate decided to create a ‘Cabaret’ in the main homestead. This would allow the white-collar workers of Oamaru to drink while they recreated. In the rush to refurbish the original copper wiring from 1939 was not replaced. It is thought that the fire was caused by electrical arching.

Photographs of the blaze suggest that a mountain of marshmallows could have been toasted that evening. Especially since the fire brigade did not believe that the building, which was supposedly made of stone could burn down. It turned out that after an earthquake in 1882, the original stone in the front part of the building was replaced with wood made to look like carved stone. A timely reminder to check your wiring!

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The Original Homestead
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The Head Gardeners House