Step back in time with Nairn Street Cottage

Wellington’s oldest original cottage and heritage gardens once housed three generations of the Wallis family


Cuba Precinct


68 Nairn Street
Mount Cook

Nairn Street Cottage offers a fascinating insight into life over three generations of the Wallis family, stories that are brought to life by tour guides like Judy.

She explains how from 1857 to the late 1970s four members of the Wallis family lived in the cottage – firstly Catherine and William, who built the house, then daughter Clara and her four children, and her daughter Winifred. It was Winifred who refused to vacate the cottage in 1972 for developers, resulting in its preservation as a museum under the Colonial Cottage Museum Society.

Today, the guided tours run through what life was like for these early British colonists and their descendants from both social and technological perspectives. Each room represents a different era and takes you on a journey through time–the 1860s nursery, for example still features the original English wallpaper. Upstairs are the boys’ and girls’ bedrooms where three children slept in one bed. In one room sits a toy church the children could only play with on Sundays and underneath the bed lies a chamber pot they used to avoid the long hike to the outhouse at the back of the section in the middle of the night.

In the lounge, then 13-year-old Clara’s original cross stitch still hangs on the wall, and in the kitchen, you’ll find all-the-mod-cons era of the 1970s, including a TV and dial telephone. Take a close look at the walls and you can still see the original pencilled numbering on the boards.

Outside in the ‘engine’ room is where Judy explains all of life’s jobs were done. You’ll find a coal range, a copper washing machine, a wringer where clothes were wrung out, mangle/clothes press and even an original hip bath.

Take a stroll to the bottom of the garden and you’ll find the outhouse, a fair trek from the upstairs rooms, and on the wall is a sign that talks about how a night-cartman made his way around Wellington neighbourhoods to collect human waste or ‘night soil’.

The cottage’s heritage garden is divided into sections - fruit trees, for growing fruit that was made into jams, the edible kitchen garden full of vegetables, the side garden planted in herbs and the floral front garden, which was designed to impress. There’s also a fowl house, complete with chickens, which would have provided the family with eggs.

The trip back in time is worth the steep, but short walk from the CBD and is good value for money at $8 adults, $4 children.

Nairn Street Cottage is open daily from 12-4pm with tours on the hour from January until March, and weekends only from April to December.

A Fresh Story

Come to Nairn Street Cottage to celebrate and explore the new interior fit-out! Uncover fresh stories of Wellington from 1857 to the late 1970s through four members of the Wallis family: Catherine, William, Clara and Win.

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