History, Life at No.22, New Zealand

A Tour Guide at The Elms/Te Papa

Today is the day I get to do a few more hours at The Elms.

The time I thought to share a few snippets about this fascinating piece of history in Aotearoa.

Starting from the beginning of how the Mission established itself.

The Background

Front cover of Brown and the Elms
The Front cover of “Brown and The Elms.”

Let’s take a glimpse back to around the 1880s where there were no roads or barely any cleared paths.  To move from one settlement to another required a very long bush walk or for most folk the use of a ship.

They were pioneers, with a vision.

By the Totara Slab Whare is the saws and carriage

For some new arrivals, it would’ve taken much longer to acquire that vision.  Can you imagine their startled expressions on arrival seeing this new world in which was to be their home?.

This is one of the reasons my hunger for more knowledge was ignited. 

I wanted to know more about how it really was for our pioneering ancestors and the effect on the local Maori people.  The Elms/TePapa historical site is where Maori and Pakeha made the first contact in Tauranga area way back in the early 1800s.  My knowledge and other tour guides are gained via the diaries of Rev Brown with which local historians have painstakingly spent years putting together a storyline that is as true as can be of how Tauranga developed into the city it is today.

The Library.jpg
A path leading to the oldest free-standing Library in New Zealand

 Previous to the establishment of The Elms/Te Papa, the area and in particular Otahataha Pā was a thriving Maori community before the onset of further intertribal Maori wars which eventually left the land deserted and tapu.   With the Missionary [Christian Missionary Society, originating from England] saw it as a perfect site as it was close to the harbour and between two Maori pa’s.  With the failure of other Missionaries.  It was finally developed in the 1830s by Rev Brown, his family, supporters and the local Maori.  Once established it brought Christianity, education, and peace amongst warring tribes of the Bay of Plenty and Waikato.  Also, it was a place that practised bi-culturism as Brown learned to speak Maori and preached his sermons to his Maori congregation with hundreds attending from various local Pa’s.

This small snippet, of course, is a simplified version of the historical significance and development of the Tauranga CBD and surrounding area.


The House and garden - in spring
The side of the House in Spring – part of the garden is very English, and the place was known for its Hollyhocks the seed originated from the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

This local historic house and gardens, has caught my attention on more than one occasion. Now known as The Elms Foundation [1997]. It is one of New Zealand’s oldest heritage sites, second after the Mission House in Paihia.

It encompasses category one listed heritage buildings and nationally significant collections. The original house dating back to the mid-1800s with New Zealand’s oldest free-standing library both of these buildings are the only original buildings. There are other buildings on the property including a Chapel and outhouses which are replicas.

One of the more interesting points is this property is that it was owned and occupied by the same family from the late 1830s until the late 1990s, it was then made into The Elms Foundation in 1997 with the passing of Duff Maxwell as the last surviving descendant.

It has been and still is a place to gather and learn, for our community and visitors alike.

Oh, did I mention the diverse and tranquil garden settings?  Another reason to fall in love with the place.

A king fern in the Native Garden area
The King Fern

Which is deemed of historical significance due to rare native plants such as the King Fern.  Just that alone, makes me want to wander around there regularly. The garden adds a calming ambience to the place.

Two notable historians whose knowledge I continue to refer regarding The Elms are Jinty Rorke [archivist/historian] and C.W. Vennell [author].  Essential readings to be an informative guide.  At this stage, I can state it is not easy to vocalise all those dates and information I have learned when confronted with a group.  Of course, this will become easier as I gain experience.

In the meantime, I emphasise the fact I am a new guide when I greet our visitors.

Thankfully, I have now jumped over that hurdle of “first-time” nerves, and I’m enjoying being there as the place has a positive vibe that makes me want to return.  Each and everyone I have shown around has created a differing dialogue which means I continue to learn about each visitors’ interest in their visit as well as extend the knowledge I share with them.

I call that a win-win situation.

What I do love about this new experience is that I am continually pushing out my comfort zones due to the fact I am not a person that is known for her eloquent verbal skills. Having said that by involving myself in something that interests me I have become more proficient with words than in other social arenas. Practice and more practice makes for improvement.

More importantly, is the fact that heritage is a non-renewable resource.

With this knowledge I do believe, it really is the job of every one of us to protect our heritage sites, and to ignite people’s interest in history.

With that in mind, I look forward to sharing stories about The Elms/Te Papa, a place unlike any other in New Zealand in “that carries such a pleasant and robust family association over 160 years”.



37 thoughts on “A Tour Guide at The Elms/Te Papa”

        1. The last descendant before it became a foundation was Duff who stayed at home and did all the maintenance on the place and eventually beekeeping while Gertrude went out to work as a seamstress.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Like you Sue I’m fascinated by how the early settlers lived. It sounds like a dream job. You’ll be finding out through your tours what people want to hear and your passion for the place will be infectious. I’d love to do the tour with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wendy, I’m not sure about a dream job, as it’s not a paid one😊 I think I would be more nervous taking someone around that I know though I would still love to show you around.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hehe, I know what you mean. I have to do a bit of public speaking in my job and it’s always a bit more nerve wracking when I have a friend or family in the crowd. Shouldn’t be though because they’re the ones who are your biggest supporters. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Nilla and I didn’t know that the King Fern was in Australia. I will have to do some research.

      It’s quite magnificent alongside other native plants and I haven’t seen it in the bush while tramping.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Geoff, I think I have found my niche. The gardens are very homely which makes them feel relaxed to be in and not at all groomed like the ones attached to stately houses. I enjoy the native garden area and the trees are huge and are always admired by everyone.


    1. It is April and there are not too many historical places still being kept alive down here. A treasure for many academics and others to explore our history. Brown kept up his dairies over the years and are a wealth of knowledge. A keen botantanist as were his nieces who were a couple of very interesting women. They are the ones where my interest is as one was a feminist and had involvement in Women getting the Vote in this district.

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  2. Interesting history and opportunity for you! I bet you are good at it. I always wonder, though, when history is written by those in power, how accurate is it? I wonder if the Maori would have just as soon be left alone. When I studied early California history in grade school, we learned all about how loving and wonderful the Missionaries were. No mention of the diseases they brought or the near slave-like conditions they kept the native population in. I hope the New Zealand Missionaries were kinder to the indigenous population.

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    1. Good points Janis. Firstly, Rev Brown was a peace loving Christian and had a very good relationship with Maori, in the beginning it was a win-win situation.

      Until, the battle of Gate Pa, and the land grab. Very complex issue and I don’t feel qualified enough to make a personal judgement on what happened after that battle. It is an ongoing issue here in NZ/Aotearoa. What I loved about Brown is that he learnt to speak the Maori Language and he was an educationlist as well as a Christian. He taught religion through education. Maori from around the district came to the Mission for lessons and to do their state exams. I am not sure about other missionaries and how they treated the Maori. The Elms seemed to have a more positive relationship, though they did have servants. I need to dig further into that area.

      The place still has a positive vibe to it which many visitors remark on. As with most changes there are issues attached. It is also hard not to put our moral stances of today to what happened years ago. Women had many battles to overcome and I am really interested in the women who kept this place alive. More on them at a later stage.

      As always Janis you make me think 🙂 Thanks for the comment and have missed your input of late.

      Liked by 1 person

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