Plan to restore stately Marinoto

Marinoto House today. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Marinoto House today. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Marinoto House was a popular venue for garden parties in 1906.
Marinoto House was a popular venue for garden parties in 1906.

One of Dunedin's grandest old homes is in line for restoration work designed to return it to its former glory.

Marinoto House, in the grounds of Mercy Hospital, was once the home of the wealthy Sargood family. While the house is in sound condition, it has been much altered since it was built in the 1870s.

Chairman of the hospital's board of directors, Trevor Scott, said a conservation architect had been engaged to find out what would be involved in returning the granite and Oamaru stone building to its original state.

The restoration would include furnishing the building "in character" and the total cost could be $2 million, Mr Scott said.

In the 1960s and '70s, the house's big rooms were subdivided and its ornamental light fittings were removed. Some parts have been used for accommodating Sisters of Mercy and other areas as meeting rooms.

The building originally had turrets, a conservatory and a slate roof and Mr Scott compared it to Olveston but said there was no intention of opening it to the public.

"It's really just to preserve something for the future and, at the same time, make it capable of being used."

The house was begun by John McGregor who, according to Jane Smallfield and Brian Heenan in their book Above the Belt: A History of the Suburb of Maori Hill, ran out of money about the time the first floor was completed.

Melbourne-born Sir Percy and Hawkes Bay-born Lady Lucy Sargood bought the house in 1902. The Sargoods' business interests in New Zealand included warehouses and a boot factory.

Sir Percy was closely involved in the administration of many organisations in Dunedin during World War 1 and during the Depression. He also bought Wanaka Station in 1912.

Enthusiastic collectors of objets d'art and paintings, the Sargoods donated work to the Dunedin and National Art Galleries and, as a memorial to their only son, Cedric, killed at Gallipoli, added the Sargood Wing to the Dunedin Art Gallery at Logan Park.

The Sargoods' granddaughter, Jill Blennerhassett (75), of Wanaka, recalls living next door and spending many hours playing in the grounds with her brother, the late Rolf Mills, of Wanaka, and in the house's belfry, museum and entrance hall which contained "the Sargood marbles".

"We used to climb up and down them, which is dreadful - seraphs and things with wings and hands held out. As kids, we were climbing up and down them."

Sir Percy died in 1940, when she was 8.

Mrs Blennerhassett said the house lay dormant for several years.

"It was pretty hard for my mother [Guielma Sargood], because it just went to rack and ruin, the garden and what have you, just across the road from us."

During the Sargood years, five gardeners were employed, as well as a cook, two parlour maids, several cleaning women, a nanny, a groomsman, a coachman and later a chauffeur.

It was a popular place for fundraising garden parties and balls.


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