The Men behind the Manor
Land Owners & Provenance
Situated in Rangitikei, which is centrally located between Wellington and Lake Taupo, this grand beauty was constructed on 23 hectares near the areas largest town, Marton.
Last century, esteemed British New Zealand architect and quantity surveyor, Charles Natusch, was engaged by William Swainson Marshall Esq to design Maungaraupi Country Estate for him and his wife.
WS Marshall (known as Will) was the son of Rangitikei pioneer Major John Williams Marshall of the 65th Regiment, who was the son of the well-known early New Zealand naturalist, William Swainson who first acquired the land in 1852.
Like his grandfather, Will Marshall was interested in natural history and ethnology and was a founder-member of the Polynesian Society. Established 1892 it was one of the oldest learned societies in the Southern Hemisphere.
Before settling at Maungaraupi – which is named after the neighbouring stream – he farmed for many years at Te Hekenga, 50kms further up the river. Travel between the two properties in the 1870s was by horseback, involving 41 river crossings. Will and his brother made the trip many times with mobs of cattle, often involving hunting down wayward cattle out of dense bush along the way. At the time, much of the landscape was a thick forest.
During one countryside exploration further north in 1875, Will and his party reportedly had a close encounter with local tribes and narrowly escaped with their lives. On encountering the Pakeha explorers, at first local Maori debated killing them, but Will’s knowledge of Te Reo (Maori language) and local custom served him well, and the party were permitted to pass through.
In 1892, Will married a local girl, Elizabeth Hilda Addie Swainson. The couple went on to have eight children. William died in 1926, survived by Elizabeth until 1953. The couple is both buried in Marton.
Maungaraupi remained in original family line ownership until the 1980s.
The Men behind the Manor
A National Treasure from Noted Architect
Maungaraupi Country Estate (1906) is a fine example of the work of one of New Zealand’s most well-known architects, Charles Natusch.
Born on the October 4th 1859, Lewis Tilleard Natusch (commonly known as Charles) finished his architectural studies in England in 1882. He then spent a year in the United States and Canada to further his architectural observations and study. In March of 1883, Charles married Ada Spencer at the Parish Church of Kelvedon in Essex. The couple went on to have ten children. Later that year, Natusch become involved in the town planning and development of Southend-on-Sea in England, designing a five-story hotel called Westward Ho. This was his last British work before leaving for a new life in New Zealand.
Together with his wife and two young sons, the family left England and sailed for New Zealand on the clipper Canterbury, arriving in Wellington on 13th September 1886. Working with the architectural firm of Atkins and Clere, he prepared a schedule of quantities to establish the losses resulting from a fire that swept Lambton Quay. This work helped establish Natusch as an expert quantity surveyor, as well as an architect. He went on to established his practice in Wellington as both.
During the 1880s depression, the Natusch family moved to the growing community of Masterton. Their first home burnt down in 1892, killing their 22-month old daughter. Sadly another infant daughter died three months later. The family then moved to Pahiatua, where Charles was engaged in commercial work designing retail shops. In 1895 the family finally settled in Napier, where Charles bought the architectural practice of Robert Lamb. Just over a decade later, the family returned to Wellington in 1906. Natusch and three of his sons kept the office in Napier and opened branches in both Gisborne (1900) and Palmerston North (1908). This alliance was known as CT Natusch & Sons from 1911.
The firm received many domestic commissions from the farming community for stately homes, including wealthy landowning families such as the Pharazyns, Riddifords, and Williamses. Natusch is perhaps best remembered for his legacy of these fine houses. In addition to Maungaraupi, well-known properties include Bushy Park (Kai Iwi), Gwavas (Tikokino), Matapiro (Napier), Erewhon in Taihape (1898), and Wharerata (Massey University).
Natusch was also noted as being innovative in designs for commercial and industrial. In the Wellington Stock Exchange (1906) he used reinforced concrete for it’s increased resistance to earthquakes, for example. He also improved lighting in wool stores by introducing the use of sawtooth roof structures which shield workers from direct glaring sunlight but still lets in an abundance of natural light.
Following several changes of name and three generations of Natusch architects, the family practice was continued by grandson, Guy Natusch, until his retirement in 1997. Charles was a member and fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects. He is remembered as a somewhat restless and outspoken character who didn’t suffer fools, he never accepted poor workmanship. Nevertheless, Natusch was reported as a kindly family man who was loyally supported by his wife, Ada, a warm-hearted woman who ensured that the family homes in Napier and Belmont lived up to their name of Whare Puare (the house with an open door). He died in 1951 at age 92.
This homestead is an enduring example of the most notable works of this celebrated domestic architect.
A Grand Sight
The distinctive style of architect Charles Natusch is stamped everywhere on Maungaraupi. Built in solid rimu, matai and totara for 3000 pounds, immense effort and attention to detail went into design and construction, for example, the timber was seasoned for three years. The magnificent home was built in 1906 for William and Elizabeth by Marton local, James McChesney. The result is spectacular.
Sitting over 23 hectares of farmland, the property was designed in the popular Tudor and Elizabethian style Natusch favoured, with characteristics of Arts and Crafts’ growing influence. There is particular reference to Elizabethian styling in the pronounced gables, external timbering and tall chimney stacks. The ground floor exterior is weatherboard, with the upper story half-timbered – the ‘board and batten’ method Natush often used. Upstairs also features gabled balconies jutting out over the ground floor.
The homestead is a spacious 836 square metres. Inside on the lower floor, there is a beautifully panelled staircase hall, complete with formal entrance hall with inglenook. Other main rooms included a stately dining room, drawing room cum library, smoking and billiards room, schoolroom, dairy kitchen and knives and boots room, with a single-story store and service wing, off to the southern side. Two verandahs and two separate toilets finish off the downstairs amenities.
The upper floor was bedrooms, servants quarters, bathrooms and loft area and two balconies. In typical Natusch fashion, much of the interior was oiled rimu floors, walls, doors and panelled ceilings.
At the rear of the house is an observation tower, or turret, with views of Kapiti Island and surrounding farmland. This observation tower has been called curious, a surprising addition to the design not typical of the time. At one time, there was also a windmill adjacent to the home.
Sympathetically restored in the 80s and reroofed 2013, the homestead has kept all the character of generations gone by – except the original red paint as the only exterior colour choice of the day. Now decorated in an attractive cream and forest green external scheme, complete with the beautiful native NZ timbers throughout, polished floors, old pull-handle toilets, open fireplaces and even a cosy woodburning stove in the kitchen, it oozes yesteryear. These and many other features are a lasting testament to one of Natusch’s great works.
With a lifetime of varied use, the estate has seen days as a working farm, iconic farm stay, private function centre and community centrepoint. One of New Zealand’s earliest female modernist painters, Edith Collier, painted several scenes and farm landscapes depicting Maungaraupi between 1927 and 1940. Only properly recognised posthumously, some of the Whanganui artist’s works showing the property are included in the Whanganui Sargent Art Gallery collection.
The New Zealand Heritage List (Rārangi Kōrero) identifies New Zealand’s significant and valued historical and cultural heritage places. In 1987, Maungaraupi Homestead was recognised as a Category 1 Historic Place.