House bones belonging to the Southland whalers stand with enviable view


Near the bank of the Aparima Estuary and the Pourakino River, with an enviable view of the river and the settlement of Riverton, is a dilapidated stone house known as the Kintail.

Built around 1860 in an area now known as The Narrows, the stone house has fallen into disrepair, keeping a watchful eye over what was once known as Jacob’s River, and is one of the most old remaining structures of the Southland.

The mouth of the Aparima was the site of a permanent settlement, with an associated urupā (cemetery) nearby, which contains the memories, traditions and stories of Ngāi Tahu whānui.

The river is an area of ​​statutory recognition under the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. It was an important food source, with crustaceans, mussels, paua, tuna, and whitebait available to be caught.

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The rivers were an integral part of a network of trails used to ensure the safest journey. The network has incorporated locations along the way that have been identified for activities such as overnight camping and kai picking.

Knowledge of these paths continues to be held by whānau and hapū and is considered taonga.

For over 150 years the house was occupied by the extended Watson-White family and, according to Heritage New Zealand, is a reminder of the area’s first agricultural settlers and the establishment of a permanent settlement.

Born in London, Stephen Watson followed his older brothers to sea from an early age, working on whalers and merchant ships in Sydney, New Zealand and the Pacific.

After arriving in Aparima from Sydney, he began working for Johnny Jones at his newly established whaling station on the banks of the river.

He worked a single season at Aparima Station, captaining one of three open-cockpit whalers manned by Captain John Howell (whose former home is also one of the oldest remaining structures in Southland).

The four bedroom house was built with stone hauled from Isla Bank.

New Zealand heritage

The four bedroom house was built with stone hauled from Isla Bank.

These craft worked in the Strait of Foveaux, pursuing the southern right whale during the whaling season from April to October.

Watson briefly returned to Sydney in 1839 but soon returned to Riverton with his wife of 24 years, Bridget (née Mullins). According to Heritage New Zealand’s grading notes, she would have been the first European woman to permanently settle in southern Murihiku.

She joined about 20 English settlers and Maori families living in the nearby kaik.

The couple then settled in Tall’s Point in South Riverton, living in a clay-lined fern hut with a single roof.

During the 1840s, Watson built a store near his house, buying sealskins from hunters. He also developed an extensive garden, growing produce and selling any surplus to whalers and passing ships. He became one of the first merchants in the colony, buying liquor in bulk and selling it in smaller quantities to whalers.

New Zealand Company surveyor Frederick Tuckett, who visited the Watsons’ home in 1844 and noted that the couple “kept a good fire and a clean and comfortable house”, is thought to have suggested to Watson the merits of move to The Narrows, opposite. Riverton across the Aparima River.

At the time, this area was known as the Wild Bush and as a hog hunting ground. As such, Watson also began to turn to salting pork for sale to whalers and sailors.

The downturn in whaling and sealing meant that settlers needed a new means of subsistence, and agriculture became increasingly important.

In 1845 Watson bought some cattle and moved his family upriver to The Narrows, where he built a bush wharf on the north bank of the Pourakino River, on land he called Cornpore after his salt pig business.

Here he continued to raise pigs and cattle to supply the whalers and the growing number of settlers.

Government census agent Walter Mantell visited the Watsons in January 1852.

The outer walls and porch of Kintail remain standing, with the gable walls mostly intact.

New Zealand heritage

The outer walls and porch of Kintail remain standing, with the gable walls mostly intact.

Mantell was responsible for negotiating the sale of 2.8 million hectares of Southland land to the Crown of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Māmoe for £2600 (NZ$4930) in 1853, known as the Murihiku Purchase.

He was given authority to set aside side reserves at Ngāi Tahu to provide for their present and future needs, but Mantell ignored this and only set aside 1972 ha.

Following the sale, Watson, along with several other European men from the area, applied for and obtained the first grazing licenses in Southland.

They covered five tracks along the Pourakino and Oretu rivers, with Watson taking track 85, which covered 8,000 ha.

The race was canceled in May 1857 because it was within the boundaries of Jacob’s Hundreds River, set aside to encourage the settlement of farmers and named after the “hundreds” – an old English unit of area.

It stretched from Center Bush just north of Winton to Scotts Gap in the east, between Ohai and Otautau.

Watson bought the freehold around his old station and raised cattle on his farm, which stretched from the shores of the Aparima Estuary north to Wild Bush.

As whaling declined and settlers turned to farming as a form of income, they traded punga huts and sawn timber houses for more permanent residence, such as Watson’s Kintail.

After Bridget’s death in 1858, Watson remarried Catherine Murchison, a newly arrived settler from Kintail, Scotland. While traveling to New Zealand, she gave birth to a daughter also named Catherine, who was seven weeks old when she arrived in Dunedin.

Catherine’s brother and nephew built a house for the new couple, using stones transported from Isla Bank.

The four-bedroom house was built near the banks of the Aparima River on a renowned Kintail property.

The couple then had a son together, Stephen Watson.

However, Catherine encountered hostility from Free Church settlers because her first child was conceived out of wedlock. They saw her as a mediocre figure and a reflection of Catholic morality in general in a predominantly Scottish Presbyterian colony.

Nevertheless, the family persevered.

The house remained in the family until the 1980s, when it was sold.

Today, the exterior walls and porch of the stone house still stand, with the gable walls mostly intact. It is believed that the kitchen was in a lean-to later added to the back of the house.

Sitting on private property among macrocarpa trees, the ruins of the house provide a poignant reminder of Aparima’s long history.

Before long whaling began to decline and the settlers and iwi turned to farming instead. While Kintail land was originally part of the Pastoral Grazing Licenses, it was declared part of the Jacobs River Hundred – an early government move to encourage agricultural settlements and small farmers.

Kintail is among the earliest small farm settlements in the Southland and is an important representative aspect of New Zealand history.

There are several recorded Maori archaeological sites close to Kintail and spread around the edge of the Jacobs River estuary, including dumps, kilns, working areas/chipping floors, find spots and a floor site of House.

Kintail is listed as a Category 2 Historic Place in the New Zealand Register of Historic Places.


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