Exterior Cottage of Ewelme Cottage at dusk

An introduction to Ewelme Cottage

Possessed of a magnificent beard and an even more arresting name, the Rev Vicesimus Lush commissioned Ewelme Cottage during his tenure as Vicar of Howick. Completed in 1864 it has - bar the odd early alteration - remained largely unchanged ever since.

Vicesimus’s descendants kept the house and maintained the family collection right up until they sold it to the Auckland City Council in the late 1960s, meaning that when you visit Ewelme you are very tangibly transported into the domestic life of a middle class Victorian clerical family. Books, bibles, sheet music, furniture and furnishings, artwork, textiles, toys, games, family photos – more than 80 per cent of what you’ll find in the Parnell cottage is from the Lush collection, making Ewelme one of the richest and most immersive experiences of any property managed by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. 

Vicesimus – the name is Latin for ‘20th’, reflecting his birth order – had Ewelme built of kauri, with five rooms in the main structure, plus a lean-to that may have housed a woodshed and scullery. Here, he and wife Blanche raised a large family (they had nine children, though three died young), although Vicesimus was frequently away for long periods after being appointed ‘Visiting Clergyman to the Inner Waikato’. The family decamped for several years in the 1870s after he took on the role of Vicar of Thames.

The cottage is open on Sundays from 10.30am to 4.30pm for self-guided tours. One thing that will immediately strike a visitor as odd is the layout, with the ground floor rooms arranged along the axial length rather than from front to rear. There’s some speculation that Vicesimus was influenced by a school of Ecclesiological thought popular at the time in England that sought to incorporate aspects of medieval architecture into contemporary building. In any case, it adds to the appeal of a cottage already awash with charm and atmosphere.

In the study and throughout the house, you’ll find a collection of more than 2500 pamphlets, bibles, novels, non-fiction books, poetry and journals, reflecting the wide-ranging reading interests of one family over time. Assessed by a specialist book cataloguer as being of exceptional national significance, the highlights include a copy of the Whole Duty of Man inscribed by successive generations of female family members who owned it between 1712 and 1968. In the kitchen, the interest lies with all the utensils and accoutrements involved in feeding a large Victorian family, the rolling pins, pots and pans, crockery, fireplace and coal range. Elsewhere, there’s a crank-handled timber table that would have been extended when the Vicar had unexpected dining guests, plenty of homely original furniture and portraits of family members. On display under the stairs are several small treasures, including a 17th Century gold metal and coral teething rattle and whistle, and a china dolls teaset.  

Step out onto the verandah, used in Jane Campion’s film The Piano, and into the garden, which includes a Ponytail Palm grown by Blanche from a pot plant that flowers only every 10 to 15 years. After perusing the collection, head along to the Parnell Rose Gardens (also known as the Dove-Myer Robinson Park) on Gladstone Rd, home to more than 5000 roses, and adjacent Nancy Steen Garden, where the focus is on heritage varieties. Then wander down the hill to the historic Parnell Baths for a retro-flavoured saltwater dip.