Cottage History

The cottage is named for the many historic Lombardy poplar trees planted by early gold miners to provide shelter and firewood. This well-loved house is on its second life after an uninhabited period last century. In the past two decades three separate families have thrown their energy into restoring the house and establishing the significant 1.3 ha of grounds in which there are two streams, large lawns, historic trees, flower beds and vegetable beds gardens.

This Noted Historic Places Trust Building, of split-schist construction, was built in 1864 by Thomas Hughes, mine manager and part-owner of the old Vinegar Hill Gold Mine, which was located on Shepherds Flat Road. Thomas came from Merthyr Tydfil in Wales (b.1833) and in 1860 he married Mary Ormond, of the same town. Four days after their wedding he sailed for the goldfields in Australia promising to send for her when he struck gold. After three years he left Australia for the new goldfields of Otago where, fossicking along the foot of the Dunstan Mountains, he found gold and established his claims. In 1863 he sent for Mary and, in the six months it took her sailing ship to reach Dunedin, he built her this fine stone cottage. Records show that Thomas walked to Dunedin (pushing a wheelbarow) to collect Mary – but not if she had to walk home. Mary died aged 67, and Thomas aged 85, and both are buried at St Bathans. They were a much-loved couple and family.

Vinegar Hill Mine, owned in conjunction with John Morgan, was a productive mine and apparently returned one thousand pounds a year for the first thirty years of operation. Tailings and lake remain through the farm gate at the apex of Shepherds Flat and Vinegar Hill Roads. Miners’ allotments on Shepherds Flat Road consisted of one acre of land and a cow. Most miners’ accommodation was built of sod with canvas or tin roofing. The remains of a sod hut are visible on the roadside near the sharp right-hand bend in Shepherds Flat Road. There were many people living in this road during the gold-rush days and many old hut sites are identifiable from the groupings of old trees remaining in the paddocks. A fine stand of greengage plum trees, on the opposite side of the road from Lombardy Cottage towards the Loop Road, fruits occasionally.

The redevelopment of Lombardy Cottage was begun in the 1990s by former publicans at the Vulcan Hotel in St Bathans. This couple, the Frewens, saw something in the tumbledown stone house in a stand of Lombardy and elderberry trees and began to rescue it. They were followed by Wendy and Graye Shattky whose excellent restoration included the corrugated iron addition containing the bedrooms and repair of the original stonework. Their hard work in clearing broom and beginning a significant tree-planting programme created the bones of the garden. Today the focus is developing the woodland setting and ensuring the beautiful Shepherds Creek remains unaffected by farming or mining operations which threaten some areas of the region.

Lombardy Cottage Gardens

Trees are our life here, both for shelter and beauty. Due to the 500m altitude and subsequent late frosts it is hard to get the fruiting trees to produce crops however greengages, pears and crab apples do sometimes fruit. Many other species have been planted in the past few years including apples, mulberries, cherries and plums.

Snow can come at any time of the year and in 2012 fell heavily on January 23 breaking many trees branches which could not cope with the weight of snow on their leaves. Strong winds can arise at any time and the adjacent area of Matakinui means, in Maori, the crashing thunder of the gods in the hills.

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