Towards the end of last year I wrote about one of our earliest South Canterbury settlers, Elizabeth Rhodes, and her journey south from Christchurch in 1854.
When she first arrived in Timaru with her husband, George Rhodes, she lived for a short time in a cottage on the beach on the site of what is now our Landing Service Building. In order to be closer to the middle of the run they occupied they moved into a hut on The Levels Station.
This hut was the first Homestead in the region. For us today the word Homestead conjures up images of grand dwellings and sprawling homes however in South Canterbury in 1854 this was not the case.
The hut Elizabeth moved into was just over 9m long and 3.6m wide. There were 2 rooms with no communicating door between them. One, a bedroom which occupied a third of the floor space and included a platform for the help to sleep on, the other a drawing room, dining room and kitchen combined. There was a large open fireplace at the far end with an outside chimney made of cob or sods.
The six foot tall exterior walls were built of totara slabs and the roof was thatched with tussock or raupo, (bulrush). The interior walls were thickly lined with cob, made by mixing clay with water and chopped tussock, this was held in place with wooden laths.
There was initially little comfort to be had in the old slab hut but, with her adaptable nature and strength of purpose she made a real home there. In later years Elizabeth told her children that she loved those early days and the hard life as a pioneer wife. She enjoyed great friendships with the local Maori and the few other Pakeha women and settlers in the area at the time.
The hut still stands on the rise it was built on looking out over the Levels plains. It is protected and well maintained by the current landowners. The thatch roof has been expertly redone and the totara walls are still strong and as raggedly beautiful as ever.
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