A family history blog

Houses of the Mathesons

The Matheson Brothers

The brothers Duncan and Angus Matheson came to Omaha in 1859 and built houses each side of the Koheroa creek at Matheson Bay. Duncan Matheson’s land was at the north end of the bay, lot 20 “Suburbs of Leigh”, his homestead built on the beachfront from rough sawn, unlined kauri. Duncan died tragically in a boat building accident in 1882, but his widow Catherine stayed on in the house until her death in 1914, and her son Roderick’s family lived there after that. The land stayed in the family until 1927 and the homestead is still standing, accessible off Grand View Road. It has been extensively modernised but restored to retain the character of the pioneer dwelling with bare kauri timber floors and ceilings and is now a luxury beachfront property.

Angus Matheson’s homestead did not fare so well over time. Angus Matheson died in 1887, but his widow Jessie may have continued to live in the house with her two youngest daughters Jessie and Annie until her death in 1900. Upon her death the house and adjoining land was bequeathed to these two daughters, but it’s not known where they lived after this (it would have been unusual for single ladies to live unchaperoned). Jessie was married in 1901 and Annie in 1905.

The house must have stood empty for many years as Roddy Matheson (Angus and Jessie’s grandson) recalled going with his father, Alexander, to Matheson Bay. They cut the top floor off the house and lowered the existing roof down onto the bottom story. “It had been leaking for years” he said. Also it was full of “junk”, wet and rotting.

Although the date that the top story was collapsed isn’t recorded, the following photo clearly shows the house with two levels. It seems likely that this photo was taken during an airmail run that flew directly over Leigh. This service only ran for three months during 1921 (four earlier trial runs were also completed from Auckland to Dargaville in 1919 and 1920, the first official airmail deliveries in the country), so house was standing intact at least into the 1920s.

Aerial Photo of Whangateau Harbour

The site of the house is lot 24 “Suburbs of Leigh”. The land remains undeveloped and is adjacent to housing at Matheson Bay, near The Spray memorial at the end of Matheson Bay Road. Jo Evans, a resident of Leigh, recently visited the site and determined the position of the house.

Showing position of Angus Matheson House


Aerial view showing the position of Angus Matheson's houseThere are several known photos of the house. This one was probably taken by John Smith, husband of Christina Matheson.

Angus Matheson's House

Another, which shows an almost identical view of the house but from a slightly different perspective, appears in Neil Robinson’s book “Lion of Scotland”. This photo was taken by Ben Smith (eldest child of John and Christina) and his two eldest daughters, Alma and Vera are visible in the foreground.  The caption from the book indicates it was taken “40 years ago” (the book was published in 1957), but the age of the girls would date it as the early 1920s. Given the similarity in the surrounding landscape between the two photos, this would also give an approximate date for John Smith’s photo above.

A third photo appears on the cover of the programme of the “Rally of Spray descendants and other Omaha Nova Scotian settlers at Whangateau”, 24th January 1959, captioned “View cf Matheson’s Bay, Leigh, about forty-five years ago, showing home of Duncan Matheson at left and that of Angus Matheson at right. Toward left of picture may be seen the remains of an old slipway where schooners were built by the Mathesons.” If the caption’s estimation of the age of the photo is correct then it was taken around 1914.

Angus Matheson House


Several years after the top story of the house was collapsed, it was dismantled and rafted around to Goat Island (Point Rodney) where it was rebuilt into a house for Alexander “Sandy” Matheson (son of Alexander Matheson) and his new wife Agnes Torkington, who were married in 1926. The house stood where the carpark for the Goat Island marine reserve is today. This photo shows Agnes and Sandy outside the house.

House at Goat Island

Sandy and Agnes only lived in this house for a few years, after which a succession of different families lived there. Val Stern (a daughter of Roddy Matheson) seems to recall that its eventual fate was to be burnt down as a training exercise for the Leigh Fire Brigade, but this story is unfortunately not corroborated by locals. Aerial photos of the area (see Retrolens) show that the house was either destroyed or dismantled somewhere between the years of 1987 and 1992.

Alex Matheson’s Homestead

Lot 59, Parish of Omaha was granted to Angus Matheson in 1864, one of several properties in the area that the family either purchased or obtained through crown grant. This Point Rodney property was directly opposite Goat Island. The house was lived in by Angus Matheson’s eldest son Alexander and was probably built around the time he married Mary Anne Haskell in 1893. Alex, Alec or Alik as he was variously known was the father of Roddy and Sandy, mentioned above.

Alexander Matheson died in April 1926, shortly before Sandy was married. Mary Anne, Roddy and an unmarried daughter Rosa  remained in the house, and when Roddy was married two years later he brought his bride, Eileen Torkington (sister of Sandy’s wife Agnes) to live with them there. Roddy and Eileen lived there for many years and raised their family of eight children in the house. In the 1950’s the couple built a new house a little to the west of the old one, and closer to the beach. The old house was still standing when the land was sold to the University of Auckland in the 1960s and it was used as quarters for temporary staff at the University of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory into the 1980s.

The photo below shows Mary Anne, Rosa, Ivy Wyatt, Christina Smith (Alex Matheson’s sister), her son Ben Smith and his family standing outside the house. This was taken around the time Alex died.

Family group in front of house


This one is taken from the back of the house with a good view of Goat Island:
Alex Matheson Homestead


The “House on Top Of the Hill”

In 1929 Mary Anne Matheson, widow of Alex Matheson, wrote a will in which she granted “that parcel of land containing approximately twenty-nine acres situated about one mile from the Leigh Post Office owned by me at the date of this my Will and on which I am at present erecting a cottage to my daughter ROSA MARY HASKKELL MATHESON.” The property she was referring to was the one on which Angus Matheson’s house had stood on several years before (though the size of the land is actually 21½  acres not 29). The cottage was built at the top of the hill, close to the Matakana-Leigh Road. Rosa looked after her mother there until Mary Anne’s death in 1938.

The house then had a series of occupants – notable from the Matheson family were Sandy and Agnes Matheson, who lived there from just after World War Two until around 1956 when they built a new house at Ti Point. From around the 1960’s the house was owned and occupied by Ewan Matheson (a son of Roddy Matheson) and his wife Noeline. The property, still inclusive of all the original land, is now owned and lived in by their son (a great grandson of Angus Matheson).

This photo shows the verandah of the house at the time Sandy and Agnes lived there. Sandy and Agnes are 3rd and 4th from the left.

Group of 5 adults on verandah of house

5 thoughts on "Houses of the Mathesons"

  • Thanks very much for this excellent article. I’ve posted a link to it in the Clan Matheson New Zealand Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/ClanMathesonNewZealand/

    and will include a mention of it in a forthcoming issue of the Clan Matheson New Zealand newsletter.

    • Patricia O’Leary says:

      Fascinating reading, thank you so much. Jessie Christabel Matheson was my maternal grandmother. She married Reginald Dawson Birdsall. They farmed at Omaha and I spent much of my childhood with her there and we often visited Aunty Annie in Helensville and Aunty Rosa in Leigh after she retired from running Rest Homes in Devonport.

  • Alison Kember says:

    A fascinating article – thank you. I am a granddaughter of Ben Smith. The photo with the two girls (from the Lion of Scotland”) was taken by Ben Smith and the girls are my mother and her older sister, the first of Ben’s 5 daughters. My mother, Vera, was born in 1917 so the photo was taken several years after that. My father’s sister gave the book to my paternal grandfather as a gift and my mother was astounded to see this and several other photos taken by Ben, who was a keen photographer, used without attribution. She is likely to be the child second from the right in the later photo in your article. It has been a special treat to see that photo which I’ve never seen before. Kind regards.

    • Raewyn says:

      Thanks for that great information, I’ll add that into the article. I’ll email you directly as we have quite a few photos of your mother and grandfather that you may not have seen.

    • Dan says:

      Hi Alison , really nice to see these photos,
      I am one of Ben’s many great grandson’s my grandmother Shirley Vilma, your mums sister .
      Shirley just passed July 22 born 1929 ,
      Ben’s youngest daughter, on reading her memoirs proud know history Ben was a great father and kind husband . I am also keen photographer guess got that from Ben .
      I recall Shirley’s many fond stories with her older sisters growing up house in Belmont, she said Vera was a kind soul . I’ll pass this link fwd with these unknown lost photos amazing thank you . I’ve only seen older photos of Ben great find thank you.
      Best Regards Dan

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