James and Ellen Keane were immigrants from County Kerry in Ireland. They arrived in New Zealand on the 1st July 1861 after travelling aboard the “Chrysolite” which departed Gravesend, London in April of the same year. After landing in Lyttleton the Keanes spent 10 years living in Christchurch before they and their 5 children headed to their new home in South Canterbury.
This hard working couple managed to get together enough money to buy a piece of farmland and build a home for themselves and their family to live in.
The house they built is the substantial cob cottage that still stands on its original site to this day. This one is two storeyed with a large ground floor living room and an upper room or loft where the family all slept. The covered wagon or schooner they travelled south in stood on their property near the cottage well into the 1940’s.
Cob cottages were well built and a favourite with our early settlers. Utilising the local soil and clay for the raw materials as well as labour and skills given by other community settlers it meant they were relatively cheap to construct. A feature is their excellent thermal protection that makes them suitable for extremes of climate.
In terms of longevity, cob buildings have the potential to remain functional, with regular maintenance, for hundreds of years. This one has been well tended by past and present landowners, sited along Keanes Rd just off the Point highway; it is fenced apart from the surrounding farmland and well protected from stock. The cob has been restored, the tin roof is in good order and it has spouting which all help keep Keane’s Cottage in the great state it remains in today.
Cob buildings were once a significant part of New Zealand's early history and census figures from 1845 recorded more than 40 per cent of building stock in the South Island was of earth construction. As times progressed and more building materials became available this percentage declined to the point where there are fewer than 200 earth dwellings in the South Island today.