Bartlett's Creek Cottage


Cob homes were a popular building type in the greater Marlborough area with well preserved examples such as Riverlands Cob Cottage and the Molesworth homestead. Tucked neatly away up the North-bank of the Wairau river sits another less recognisable cottage that was home to some of the early pioneers of Marlborough and Nelson alike.

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Bartletts Creek Cottage. Image supplied by author

Bartlett's Creek Cottage was built sometime between the late 1850's and the early 1860's, however, exact details of its build date are unknown. Built by the Bartlett family they called it home for around 100 years. It underwent restoration by the family in the 1980's in an effort to prevent the walls from falling out and to ensure that it stayed standing for another 100 years.

John Bartlett, born May 1802, came out from East Chinnock, Somerset, England with his wife Maria Furze and their five children. The family's eldest son, Thomas Bartlett (1826-1830), died some years before they left for New Zealand. The family left London on the brig "Olympus" on the 16th of June, 1842 and set sail for Nelson. Under Captain John Whyte the ship arrived on the 28th of October, the same year John's third son Thomas turned eleven.

While in the Nelson area the family lost one son, Robert, who was buried in Hallowell Cemetery. The family lived in the Maitai Valley for some years before taking the trek over the Wakamarina to the North Bank, where they found suitable farm land and settled there. While the cottage was being built the family lived in a cave in the hillside which would have been excruciatingly cold.

The cottage is believed to have been built by local miners who may have been paid with food and sleeping quarters, as it's unlikely they were paid with money. The home was small so there may have been barracks for the children. If the cottage was completed on the presumed date of 1864, this means that John Bartlett would have already been four years dead.1  John died while crossing the Wairau river and slipped under the current. He was found by his eldest son Joseph Henry and the Ferryman John Ward in a small calm part of the river, possibly at the mouth of Bartlett's creek.

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Bartletts Creek Cottage - abandoned. Image supplied by author

Three years after John's drowning both Joseph Henry and John Ward drowned at the same time in the same area, causing much grief in the household. John Ward had married John Bartlett's daughter Mary and had four children with her. Joseph Henry's wife Ann White had two children at the time of his passing and one was born the year after Joseph's death. It was also in that year that Ann married Joseph's brother, Thomas, and went on to have five children and also took ownership of the cob. Thomas and Ann lived in the cottage with Ann's eight children which she had with three different men.

The family was soon to be hit with another strike of grief when on the morning of the  February 2nd, 1878, one child noticed their uncle John Bartlett lying on his horse and riding up the valley. He was found in an unresponsive state and was helped down and into the house where he died of a presumed stroke. Thomas died on the 16th of June, 1907 and was buried in the family cemetery just south of the cottage. Ann followed two years later on the 31st of July, 1909 and is buried in the same place. There are five known burials in the cemetery, however, it's likely both John and Maria are buried in the grounds and possibly Joseph Henry and John Bartlett are buried there.

Today the cottage stands vacant with very little indication of its existence outside of the family. The late Brian Powell, a descendant of the Bartletts, has written extensive works on the family's history and helped to provide much information for this story.

2019. Updated August 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Return of the names of persons drowned in New Zealand from the 1st January, 1840: D46 (1870, January 1) Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives.

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