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Wyllie Cottage is the oldest European house still standing in the Gisborne area and also a popular tourist attraction. It is open to the public, having been recently refurbished to better reflect the stories of the people who lived in the cottage, and the times they were confronted with. Features of the cottage include; a walk-in wardrobe showing various women’s formal attire of the day, a three-dimensional topographic map featuring significant points of interest within the Gisborne region, photographic and interpretative panels, walk-in room viewing, and original display objects.
The cottage was built by John Forbes for James Ralston Wyllie and his wife, Kate, daughter of one of the Bay's earliest settlers, and of Maori descent on her mother’s side. The cottage has seen a number of changes over the years and was once nearly condemned for demolition.
After being closed for repair and renovation Wyllie Cottage re-opened on the 23rd February 2017.
Passers-by will have already noticed the distinctive three colour paint scheme used on the exterior. However the inside is relatively monochromatic. Before the colour was chosen Tracey Hartley of Salmond Reed Architects took paint samples in all the rooms. The colour she selected is as true as possible to the lighter creams and browns found in the earlier layers of paint.
In keeping with established conservation principles the preference has been to repair rather than replace. When it was not possible to make repairs, the replacement timber used came from Scott Bothwell’s store of materials which have been salvaged over the years from local demolitions. It is this kind of attention to detail that has ensured that the cottage is now structurally as close to the appearance of the 1886 renovation as we can get it.
Another change is that people will be able to go into the rooms. This is a great way to appreciate the scale of the building and really imagine what it might have been like to live in it.
Each refurbishment has provided us with an opportunity to tell different stories which have the cottage at their heart. This time we have chosen to try and talk about all the families – a surprising number – who have, however briefly, called the cottage “home”. This approach would not have been possible without the generosity of those who were willing to share their family stories and photographs.
We now know a lot more about the inhabitants and their lives than we did previously, but the story of the cottage is far from complete. The fact that the cottage has re-opened does not mean that we are no longer collecting information – on the contrary, we hope that the new displays will encourage visitors to share more stories with us.
-Christine Page, Wyllie Cottage project curator