The House





The History

In June 1850, sawyers arrived at Pakaraka to cut timber for a house for Henry and Marianne Williams. It was another 18 months before there was visible progress, and not until Janauary 1853 that they gradually moved in. It was much like any move into a newly constructed house- tradespeople coming and going, last minute plastering and painting, and a gradual occupation of rooms as they became available. Furniture and personal possessions were carried from the nearby house of Henry Junior and Jane Williams, where the old couple had been residing since May, 1850. On the 19th January, 1853 – their wedding anniversary – they dined in the new house for the first time.


This was the fourth house they had inhabited since arriving in New Zealand. The first, a raupo hut, they shared with the Fairburn family at Paihia, in 1823. It was manifestly inadequate, but its numerous deficiencies were borne with a stoicism that can only be explained by their devotion to the mission above all else. A more solid house was built in 1824-25 although it too had problems. Their move to a more substantial house in 1830, reflected a growing family and the role of the house as a centre of activities beyond the merely domestic. Henry Williams had always envisaged a retirement to Pakaraka, but it came sooner rather than later as relations with the Church Missionary Society in London deteriorated. His ultimate dismissal left him with no choice other than to leave Paihia with his family on 31 May, 1850. He had purchased land at Pakaraka many years before, and his sons were now farming there. Friends and followers, Pakeha and Maori, would not be far away.


Building a house at Pakaraka was secondary to maintaining a congregation, so that building a church took precedence. This took almost a year, and pastoral duties continued to occupy much of his time while their house slowly took shape. As Henry remarked earlier: ‘building is no trifling matter here’.[1] The plan for the house was relatively simple, with a living room, two bedrooms, and a kitchen/dining room at its core. Each had a fireplace. There was a wrap-round verandah and a hipped roof, the style emulating earlier mission houses with their Georgian influences, and similar to the house of Henry Jn and Jane Williams nearby. Two other small rooms were part of the original house: Henry’s study that was a closed-off portion of the eastern verandah, and a central store room at the rear of the house which doubled as a bathroom, and may well have served for Marianne’s midwifery practice.


It was not long before their needs changed and additions and alterations were called for. In this case it was Marianne’s domain that required extensive upgrading. Marianne’s teaching and midwifery roles, and her voluminous correspondence required a study for herself. Also, the house was seldom without visiting friends or family, and the existing kitchen-cum-dining area was inadequate for catering and entertaining. In March 1856 a new stove arrived, followed a month later by timber for ‘the new kitchen’. It was not finished until the end of November – in spite of the use of tradesmen and Henry himself doing some of the glazing, plastering, and bricklaying for the chimney. There is no sign of this kitchen today. At some point it was replaced by a surplus farm-worker’s cottage, dragged on a dray from nearby, and butted against the house. A possible explanation is that a kitchen fire or chimney collapse damaged the original, although if and when this happened is not clear. The replacement kitchen is clearly a much older structure than the main house.[2] The last addition, in their lifetimes, was a conservatory built along the western side. It is also possible that they built-in part of the rear verandah for a washhouse. Toilet facilities – in reality a “long drop” - were separate from the main house, near a totara tree.


Something is known of the materials and labour that went into the Retreat. Floors, joists and weatherboards were kauri; puriri was used for foundation blocks and framing, and kahikatea for framing and laths for the walls and ceilings, which were plastered. Timber boards were brought rough-sawn to the site, and planed in the nearby barn. The roof was made of wooden shingles, although eventually replaced with galvanized iron. Bricks for the fireplaces and chimneys were fired locally, but glass was most likely imported from Sydney. Lime for the mortar was made by burning shells with wood. Many hands helped with the building: Henry and Marianne’s sons, and local tradespeople – including Maori – who did carpentry, painting and plastering, although Henry himself was involved in bricklaying, glazing, and plastering. Ceilings and chimneys were plastered and walls wallpapered. The garden appears to have been largely Henry’s domain as he organized the plantings – trees, shrubs, and the large vegetable garden.


After Henry’s death in 1867, Marianne stayed on in the house until she died in 1879. So far we do not have a clear idea of who occupied the house for the next 29 years, until 1907 when the house passed into the care of the General Trust Board of the Auckland Diocese, and some records kept. Then followed a succession of tenants, and a period where a minimum of maintenance was carried out, just sufficient to keep the house in a habitable state. The garden, infested with weeds and overgrown, was an ongoing problem. By 1910 the house was declared ‘uninhabitable’ a reflection of its age and construction of native timbers susceptible to damp, rot, and borer. In spite of periodic repairs by the Diocese and –sometimes – by the tenants themselves, the last tenant left at the end of 1949, with the house in a sorry state.


Then, at the beginning of 1950, the house was sold to Cicely Poore, and in 1951 extensively renovated by her family: Roger, Philip and Eleanor Poore.[3] Among the changes were: the removal of the dividing wall between the sitting and dining rooms, a two bedroom wing added to the southeast corner (entailing the removal of the remains of Henry’s study), a bathroom in the closed off area of the back porch, some changes to the ‘store’ that held the shower bath, and the addition of a flush toilet and laundry at the back of the house. While these represented significant changes, without the intervention of the Poore family the house would almost certainly have been lost.

Subsequent owners- the Clarkes followed by Menna Salisbury and Philip Civil- made some further, relatively minor, changes. For a period the Clarkes ran a tearoom from the bedroom wing where they installed a kitchenette. This, more or less, is the house that we see today. Despite the alterations, much of the original character remains. A photo taken in the mid 1860s of the front of the house is easily recognizable today – only the conservatory and Henry’s study are missing from that view. An unfortunate development was the realignment of State Highway 1 which now runs between the house and the church, severing a long standing visual connection, and altering the approach to the house.


Donations from Williams family members, starting in the 1960s, enabled the purchase of the land, and eventually the leasehold of the house in 2007, in the name of the Henry and William Williams Memorial Museum Trust. In 1968 R W Langley – an architectural student – prepared a set of drawings of the Retreat as a project for his degree. The Trust has since commissioned a conservation report and a scoping exercise that evaluates the Retreat’s future role as a Museum. Restoration is progressing, and in 2014 a pavilion was erected in the garden to house Henry Williams’ gravestone.[4] An ASB Community Trust, and Williams Trusts grants have enabled further exterior restoration work to be carried out. We now require funding for interior restoration. The house is #70 on the Heritage New Zealand list.


Sources: the history of the building of the Retreat was established through the letters and journals of Henry and Marianne Williams held in the Williams Collection, Auckland Museum Library, MS 91/75. Additional material came from the Alexander Turnbull Library, MS Micro 0209. Maintenance and tenancy records from 1907 are held in the archives of the Auckland Diocese, Parnell. ‘The Retreat Pakaraka – a Conservation Plan and Condition Assessment’ prepared by Dave Pearson Architects Ltd, 2007, is a valuable reference. Research and writing for this section  by John R H Andrews. Photos by Camilla Hope-Simcock.

Map showing location of the Retreat and Holy Trinity Church.

Sketch of Pakaraka, by Henry Williams, 1854, showing the Retreat at left and Henry and Jane’s house at right. The steeple of Holy Trinity is at the centre.

Auckland Museum Library.

Sketch by Henry Williams of Pakaraka, 1854, showing the woolshed and workers cottages.  One of these cottages may have been used to replace the Retreat kitchen.  Auckland Museum Library.

Photo of the Retreat, 1866, Henry Williams (at left) greeting the postman. Marianne is on the verandah. The conservatory attached to the corner of the house is seen at left.

Photo of the Retreat taken in 1950, before the restoration by the Poore family.

Ref: 1/2-039565-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Sketch of The Retreat by Octavius Hadfield, shortly after completion in 1853.

Ref: A-123-013. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Exterior Photos
House Layout
Interior Photos



[1] Rogers, L M, 1973. Te Wiremu, A Biography of Henry Williams. Pegasus, Christchurch. P. 76.


[2] A conservation plan prepared by Dave Pearson Architects in 2007, p.21, notes that the NZ Historic Places Trust (Now Heritage New Zealand) thought that the kitchen replacement may have occurred when the Auckland Diocese took it over in 1907. While this is possible, there is no record in the Diocesan Archives of it taking place at this time.


[3] We can be grateful that it was a family from England, where there existed a more developed and longstanding view of the value of heritage, that stepped in to rescue the house at this time. The Historic Places Act was not passed until 1954, followed by the formation of the National Historic Places Trust. The Retreat was not registered as a Category 1 Historic Place until 1990.


[4] Designed by Geoff Pickles, an architect and current tenant, the pavilion houses the original gravestone which, having become  weathered, was replaced by a facsimile in the graveyard of the Holy Trinity Church, where he is buried. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage funded the removal and fixing of the stone in its new site. The plaques from the Henry Williams memorial in St Pauls churchyard at Paihia became weathered  and were replaced by facsimiles. The originals are now mounted in the Retreat pavilion next to the gravestone.

​© 2013 H & W Williams Memorial Museum Trust.  All rights reserved.


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