The History of Reyburn House Art gallery opens in 1840 with William Carruth, Whangarei’s first European settler. Carruth made a point of recording his experiences.
“When we arrived at Whangarei, I found that a large raupo whare, but made of bulrushes, had been erected for me, so taking possession, I was duly installed as the pakeha of Whangarei. My house was where that of Mr Reyburn now stands.”
In 1846, a year after the sacking of Whangarei, Carruth sold 242 acres of his land to a newly immigrated, George Pettingale. Pettingale enclosed seven acres and started an orchard, thus establishing the north as a growing area comparable with Nelson and Wanganui.
In 1859 he sold 42 acres of his waterfront land to Robert Reyburn Snr who had arrived from England with his wife and two of his sons. Robert’s eldest son, James, sailed to New Zealand from England to join them in 1867. He took up residence in Eglington, one of several houses the family built along the waterfront at a time when Cameron Street, Whangarei’s main street, was little more than a dusty track lined with blue gum trees.
Eglington, James Reyburn’s original house, is the one which stands today, although now somewhat altered. In 1965 The Northland Regional Committee Historic Places Trust received a report urgently recommending that photos be taken of Reyburn House before it was lost to living memory. When the other Reyburn homes were about to be demolished in 1966, the Harbour Board offered the Northland Society of Arts (NSA) the use of the present building. The house was then in poor condition and the gardens had long since been abandoned. After an enthusiastic renovation, the new Reyburn House Art Gallery was opened on 18 November 1966 in time for the Society’s Spring Exhibition.
With increasing vehicle traffic around the Town Basin, Reyburn House was re-sited further back on the property to accommodate wider roads in 1972. By 1986 land values had increased enormously resulting in the Harbour Board offering ownership of Reyburn House to the NSA conditional on their paying re-siting costs. The Society accepted the offer and had the house moved to its present riverside garden site.
NSA artist member, Kap Pothan, was then commissioned to create a sculpture for the grounds. Over a period of two years, he sculpted in-situ at Reyburn House, the now famous, Lotte. Lotte was James Reyburn’s youngest daughter, the first born in Reyburn House (1874). She died of unknown causes at 18.
Lotte, the sculpture, was chiseled from laminated sandstone sourced from Paradise Quarry in Portland. The commission was completed in 1990 and weighs three tonnes, plus another three tones for the base on which she sits.
Space allows for only a brief history here but for those interested in more in-depth information, the 1965 report to the Historic Places Trust makes fascinating reading. It’s available at the gallery, along with a comprehensive collection of early photographs dating back to 1865 which show the development of Reyburn House and the Whangarei Town Basin.
Today the Reyburn House Art Gallery exhibits afresh every month. Its permanent collection now includes some 250+ works of well-known Northland or Northland-connected artists from Kitty Arini-Vane to Lois White, Yvonne Rust, Len Satherly, Thomas Drummond and others. The NSA maintains artist studios on the property, and offers workshops from time to time. If you find yourself in Whangarei, don’t miss the opportunity to see whatever exhibition is on at Reyburn house, have a little nosey in their small, but fabulous gift shop, and perambulate the colonial style gardens.