by Claire Bibby

Between 1850 and 1905, the curve of hills surrounding present day Mavis Street in southern Dunedin sheltered a beautiful garden and orchard. Heritage Gardener Claire Bibby tells the garden history through three eras of care.

Jeffreys, Ellen Penelope, 1827-1904 (née Valpy), Dunedin 1850. View taken from Forbury Hill above Allandale, 1850, Hocken Library Accession No: 7,764

In May 1850, Wiliam Valpy, reputed to be New Zealand’s wealthiest resident on his arrival to the colony in 1849, hosted a harvest home for his friends and workers on his farm at Forbury, Dunedin. Forty people sat down to an old English-style meal of roast beef and plum pudding. A toast was made, the Reverend Burns acknowledging that “the land was well fitted to reward any toil and labour bestowed upon it.” The Valpy’s daughter, Ellen, painted the harvest scene (above).

Wiliam Valpy (http://www.toituosm.com/collections/smith-gallery/wall-1/william-valpy)

William and Caroline Valpy hosted a second harvest home in 1851.

“A large tent was erected on a sheltered part of the grounds for the occasion; and under the canopy two of the beautiful fern trees so peculiar to New Zealand, spread their graceful foliage over the happy company,” reported the Otago Witness. The guests visited the fields and gardens and a new dwelling house under construction built “of beautiful stone …eliciting the admiration of all.”

An early settler reminisced about the occasion in the Otago Witness in 1872.  “Forbury House was then in course of erection by Mr David Calder, and its proportions and surroundings being quite baronial when compared with, even the most pretentious mansion that had yet been raised, it was the object of much wondering interest.”

The situation was described as bleak but romantic. “We pictured the extensive swamp stretching from before the house to the north-west point of the Peninsula, covered with the richest cultivation— fields of waving golden grain seen beyond the ample parks and spreading lawn.”

Mr Valpy died in 1852 before the house was complete. He was buried on his property, remaining there until his reinternment in Dunedin’s Southern Cemetery in 1890.

In 1861, Thomas and Wilhelmina Allan of Scotland arrived in Dunedin. Mr Allan was a nurseryman and florist and by 1866 had established the Exhibition Nursery on Cumberland Street and a Seed Shop at The Cutting.

Miniature of Thomas Allan and Wilhelmina Allan enclosed in a brooch fashioned with gold mined by Thomas Allan in the Dunstan gold rush.

In 1870, a visitor to his nursery wrote in the Otago Daily Times, “He has a fine property at Forbury, which he is transforming into nursery gardens and pleasure grounds, and where he intends to grow his nursery stock, as the city becomes too closely built up. There he will find ample scope, having 16 acres of fine, rich, and well sheltered ground. The fruit trees, which were planted there by the late Mr Valpy, are literally hanging to the ground with the weight of fruit which shows that in sheltered positions fruit will succeed in Otago!”  It was noted the gardens had twenty-two hives of bees.

The visitor returned in August 1871, writing for the Otago Witness.

“Several winding walks are being made through the bush, and these, when completed, and the banks planted with ornamental trees and shrubs, according to the plans shewn us, will no doubt make the place very attractive.”

The splendid views of the Forbury Race Course, the Ocean Beach, and along the bay to Dunedin were admired.

“The Forbury House is a massive structure of Caversham sand-stone and is in so dilapidated condition as to remind one of an old castle of centuries ago,” the writer continued. “There were at one time a fine garden and orchard attached to the house, but they had been neglected for years previous to coming into Mr Allan’s possession; so that these improvements have been of little advantage to the present occupant, who is preparing ground for the planting of an orchard of a thousand trees — chiefly plums, cherries, pears, and apples.”

It’s likely the original orchard and gardens were planted by Mr Valpy’s estate manager, John Anderson. Mr Anderson had been trained as a gardener on large estate in Scotland and employed in gardens before sailing to New Zealand. He was a founding member of the Dunedin Horticultural Society, of which Mr Allan was to later become secretary.

Mr John Anderson (http://www.toituosm.com/collections/smith-gallery/wall-1/mr-john-anderson)

Mr Allan began restoring and enlarging the Valpy’s Forbury House, renaming it Allandale House and Gardens. There were beautiful green terraces in front of the house, suitable for games. He offered the site for garden parties, fetes and picnics, the earliest of these recorded in 1873.

By 1878, Allandale House and Gardens were flourishing. The house had been enlarged to 16 rooms with an airy hall. There was a stable, coach house and greenhouse. An artificial pond had been formed in the grounds. In December that year, a full account of the garden plantings was published in the Otago Witness.

“The gardens and Allandale House, formerly Forbury, lie in a bight or valley surrounded with hills clothed with native bush.”  

There was a fine collection of hybrid rhododendrons “…comprising about 50 varieties and hundreds of plants.”

“Allandale gardens have long been noted for the fine roses grown there, and they were, at the time of our visit, just coming into bloom. The collection comprises nearly 150 varieties, including, many, of the newest and finest in cultivation.”

The writer listed conifers and deciduous trees by variety and described the shelter hedges in detail. There was also a fine collection of heaths, fuchsias and pelargoniums.

Allandale was gutted by fire in May 1879, caused by a log rolling out of a hearth. Mr Allan had not insured it fully, and he had taken out a mortgage against his properties in April with Joseph Morgan Massey, the Dunedin Town Clerk. Mr Massey foreclosed and within a year the sections of Allandale township were being sold by Mr Massey. There followed a sensational series of Court trials which ended in 1883, when Mr Massey was imprisoned for fraud in a Council case.

The Allandale nursery land, and presumably the orchard, had been acquired by Robert Macquaid, the George Street fruiterer.  In 1898 a visitor to Macquaid’s orchard, writing in the Otago Daily Times, said the property was a beauty spot, describing a similar outlook to when it was in the possession of Mr Valpy, nearly 50 years earlier and Mr Allan, 20 years previously.

It was “ideally situated for an orchard, benefitting from a northerly exposure, and sheltered from southerlies by a high hill at the rear…views of the ocean stretching away to the right, the bay in front and the sylvan glades of the Peninsula”.

The orchard had apples of Hawthornden, Stirling Castle, Codlin, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Gloria Mundi, Prince Bismark, Nonsuch and more. There were Jargonelle and Bon Chrétien pears, groves of gooseberries and currents and a choice selection of plums, apricots and peaches. Mr Macquaid said he had harvested 800 lbs of Sir Joseph Paton strawberries that season. The article closed with a description of “Leafy groves, soft walks, laden boughs, cool shades and a glorious prospect.”

One can only imagine what Thomas Allan thought on reading this.

At the turn of the century the Allan’s moved north and Mr Allan established himself as a nurseryman at Avondale, Auckland. He developed a 400-tree orchard and sold seed, flowers and fruit, and Pohutukawa trees, for honey. He died in 1926, aged 91, and was buried beside his wife in the Waikaraka cemetery, Onehunga.

Robert Macquaid died in 1907 at the age of 81 and is buried in Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery, where his wife Mary was buried in 1903. Between their deaths, the Macquaids “well-known orchard” was surveyed and in 1905 the sections were advertised for sale, for building on.

The beautiful gardens and orchards first established in 1850 on the finest land in Dunedin, with the best of views and shelter, are now residential housing along the roads and streets of Valpy, Motu, Mavis and Allandale.

Further reading

Heritage Roses NZ Inc. Journal Volume 49, Issue 2, February 2022.

Heritage Gardeners 1871-1872 Thomas Allan Catalogue https://www.glenside.org.nz/1871-catalogue.html

For the garden and nursery descriptions, see the following articles in Papers Past:

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume IX, Issue 427, 11 May 1850

Otago Witness, Issue 5, 5 April 1851, Page 2

Otago Witness, Issue 1091, 26 October 1872, Page 2

Otago Daily Times, Issue 2491, 29 January 1870, Page 5 (Supplement)

Otago Witness, Issue 1414, 28 December 1878, Page 5

Otago Daily Times, Issue 11035, 12 February 1898, Page 3

2 thoughts on “A Dunedin garden and orchard from 1850-1905

  1. An interesting article I lived in Motu Street in the 1970s with my parents
    We had an elderly neighbour by the name of Miss MacQuaid
    Gordon and Stella Mills lived in Valpy Street after they sold Glenfalloch and Eleanor Leckie a relation of Rev Burns lived in Motu Street

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an amazing story and so wonderful to have all the supporting pictures, it sounds like it was a most beautiful place and I am sure those fortunate enough to live there now will be fascinated to learn of the history of their area. I am sure the new householders who are green-fingered will appreciate the fine soil too!

    Liked by 1 person

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