Thursday, 1 December 2011

Genealogy notes 28 Nov 2011 Day 9 Genealogy Cruising & Dunedin NZ

Today was an onshore day at Port Chalmers and Dunedin and there were no genealogy talks in the morning. The Research Help Zone operated during the day for those who didn't go ashore and the two talks after dinner were my Family History on the Cheap: Tips & Tricks based on my book of the same name and Helen Smith talking on Digitising and Organising Your Family History which nicely followed on from what I had mentioned in my talk.

We took the shuttle into Dunedin and wandered around the craft markets in the Octagon, had our customary latte on the sidewalks but it’s interesting to note that New Zealand has not banned smoking in public places. You can be walking down the street and the person in front is smoking and you get a face full of smoke or in outdoor cafes etc if you are downwind of a smoker, it can ruin a good latte. It will be nice to be back in Australia for that reason alone!

One of the craftspeople advised us to go and see OlvestonHouse and said it was even better than Larnach Castle (another house with a tragic history) which we had seen on an earlier trip to Dunedin. As it was only a 10-15 minute walk from the Octagon we decided to go to Olveston House. What they don’t tell you is that the walk is straight up the side of a small mountain! Plus by the time we got to the top it had started raining so we got wet too!

Tours are run at regular times and we were five minutes late for the 12 noon tour but we said we didn’t mind joining the tour anyway so we caught up with them in the kitchen having missed only one room. It is truly amazing and belonged to one family who only had two children neither of whom had children so when the daughter died she left the home and all its contents to the city of Dunedin.

It is still very much as it must have been a century ago with the exception of electric lights  and security cameras and it has been faithfully restored where necessary. The furniture, artworks, chinaware and silverware, sculptures and tapestries must be worth a small fortune with many dating back to 15-18th centuries. 

The house also has one of the finest collections of Japanese weapons and other Eastern treasures that I have ever seen, even in museums. It is definitely worth a visit and I can’t imagine how the family lived there by themselves, it’s huge although there were also servants of course. The old Fiat car is still out in the garage! The rain meant we couldn’t explore the gardens or the conservatory but they looked well maintained too.

The family's history is briefly outlined on the website including photos and it's a bit sad that the family patriarch David Theomin and his wife Marie only had two children Edward who married but did not have children and Dorothy who never married. But in a way it is fortunate for the city of Dunedin, as they have this magnificent house and its history as part of their ongoing heritage.

It was still raining when the tour finished but not too heavy so we decided to walk back quickly and it is much easier walking back down than going up! Some people took taxis there and back but at least we got some serious exercise!

After the night talks I went down to bed as there was a serious roll which continued for most of the night. Tomorrow we will be cruising around Fjordland and entering Doubtful and Milford Sounds which should be truly fantastic!


  1. The house was furnished with William Morris Skrim on the main hall area where the landing stairs were used for the band. Also the stained glass was from the William Morris Arts and Craft movement (cant remember the name of the artist though)

    Did you love the copper sinks to protect the fine china? The photos of the daughter climbing mountains?

    Well worth the visit that house - that is for sure.

    Michelle aka patientgenie

  2. I adored Olveston House and Larnach Castle when I holidayed in the South Island in Winter of 1985. I think my interest in genealogy was seeded then as I inexplicably found myself visiting cemeteries, churches and the Early Settlers Museums. The walls were lined with framed photographs of old timers and I felt such a strong connection to *something*.

    I was 24 at the time and more into nightclubbing than old fart stuff.

    Fast forward to 2010, and I learn a huge branch of my maternal great-grandfather's family had settled in Dunedin in February 1904. All my
    Blackmore folk who had come from Devon to Australian, then hopped across the pond.

    I am the deja vu I felt were the spirits of my ancestors giving me a hug and saying, "So lovely to see you, dear. Pull up a pew."