Family history comes alive as cottage restored

A chance meeting about 10 years ago gave rise to a mammoth project for a Dalefield couple, who last weekend celebrated the history of the family who once lived in the building they used to use as a woolshed.

Descendants of Alexander and Mary-Jane Brown (nee Wilson) gathered at Lower Shotover Rd for a Scottish-themed evening, reminiscing about the family and the history of the now restored cottage, built in 1889.

Owners Chris and Ted Cassidy bought the former Islay Farm at Lower Shotover, which included the historic cottage, in 1990 and built a home on a hill behind it, using the cottage as a woolshed.

Mr Cassidy said he had been working overseas, in Borneo, when his brother noticed an elderly man standing at the property's gate.

"He had tears in his eyes and said he used to live in the cottage," Mr Cassidy said.

The man was the late Ian Brown, the grandson of Alexander Brown.

"I got home and that started the whole thing," Mr Cassidy said.

"We thought it would be a shame to lose it forever."

The Cassidys tracked down Alexander Brown's great-grandchildren Isla Trapski, of Hamilton, and Warren Brown, of Te Anau, who provided information on the history of the family and the cottage.

Alexander Brown, an assisted immigrant who was from Islay, arrived in Bluff with his sister Jessie, also known as Janet.

"She's still a mystery," Kirsten Smith, Alexander's great-great-granddaughter, of Gore, said.

Alexander made his way to Queenstown, where he met and married Mary-Jane.

The couple's only surviving child of four, John Brown, later married Annie Brown and their son, Ian, was the one who set the the restoration in motion.

The cottage had been built as a home, but was moved to a neighbouring section and then back, eventually becoming a woolshed.

Mr Cassidy said the couple began lodging resource consent applications in 2004 and a resource consent hearing in the Environment Court in 2005 finally enabled the project to proceed.

Although the cottage was not listed with the Historic Places Trust, the Cassidys had worked closely with conservation architects John Gray, of conservation architects Oakley Gray Architects in Dunedin, and Maurice Orr Architecture in Arrowtown, largely from exterior photographs of the original house.

George Page, of Page Construction, in Arrowtown, was responsible for the rebuilding, and stonemason Dougal Penetito recreated the original stone fence.

Mrs Trapski said there were "no words" to describe the end result of the restoration.

"It's just amazing. My only sorrow is my mother [Ellie-May Brown] and my uncle could not be here to see it."