Hope Saddle Accommodation house
No remnant of the old Hope Saddle Accommodation building, which was later known as the Moorhouse Creek Accommodation house, now exists, except for a few old fruit trees. The house site now lies under the southbound lane of the State Highway, just over the Moorhouse Creek Bridge at the foot of the Hope Saddle, Murchison side. The back wall was about where there is now a driveway gate on the left. So no remnant of the house now exists.
The first building on the site was a one-storey cottage with three rooms belonging to roadman Robert Edgar and, as far as I can tell, is the cottage alluded to in Jeff Newport's 'Footprints' -with George Batt's team and a number of 'passengers' aboard a large wagon.
The original property purchased in 1878 had a 41 acre block of fairly flat land, most of which was on the north side of the road. The allocation of this size block was possibly to facilitate pasture sufficient for the horses required to do the road building/maintenance work. It was cleared of forest while the road was being formed over the Hope Saddle. By 1895 twenty acres were under plough. The cottage was in a strategic location, built in the last good location before northbound travellers struck the difficult (and often dangerously slippery) gradients of Hope Saddle.
Later it proved to be strategic for other reasons. As a staging point for Newman's coaches, it offered a fresh team to make the arduous drag to the top of the hill and a good easy downhill run to follow all the way to Kohatu where another fresh team awaited. Secondly it also offered the only 'help' station within walking distance when travellers on the Hope Saddle got into difficulties, and offered shelter for northbound travellers when snows or floods closed the road on occasions. Thirdly, while Robert Edgar's section of road extended to at least Glenhope and probably Kawatiri, where it connected to the old original coach route to Murchison via Tophouse, it allowed Robert easy quick access to the most troublesome section of his designated section of road.
After crossing the ford by the house, the original route followed the Moorhouse Creek flats several 100 metres up stream to the right, before making a tight double back onto the same spur which the current highway ascends on the sunny north side. This heavily shaded section of old road presented numerous problems, particularly in winter months: snow drifts would linger, the surface became frozen and icy, when it thawed it was muddy, cut up, devilishly slippery and it was particularly prone to slips.
In 1895, Robert Edgar sold up what, by this time, appears to have been a freehold property. The sale notice states 150 acres of freehold land and 100 acres leasehold land became attached, making it a viable back-country farm after clearing away forest. Robert Edgar had obtained more land between 1878 - 1895. The image of George Batt's team already referred to makes it clear that this was cleared by a slash and burn process, almost totally wasting the forest resource. The splitting of fenceposts being the exception, but in this way a good deal of timber was utilised as wire was expensive, netting unheard of and split baton fences the norm.
From the sale notice it is evident that Robert Edgar had only just made extensions to the house and set it up as an accommodation house, but had become sick, so put it up for sale.
The new owners were James Hamilton and wife Alice (ex and also nee Moorhouse), newlyweds as of 7th May 1895. Almost immediately after marrying, James Hamilton heavily mortgaged the valuable freehold Nelson Moorhouse properties either side of Richmond Avenue, St Johns St. and lower Brook St., to follow his dream of owning a country estate where he imagined he could fatten cattle. He bought Robert Edgar’s as a going concern. He was a stock dealer by trade, later got into horse racing and was somewhat of a charlatan of the worst kind. (I do feel that my great-grandmother was duped by this shyster - please note this is not James Hamilton cordial maker. This Hamilton came from Greymouth and had a brother Frederick who was associated to Buxton’s.) Alice Moorhouse had previously married an unrelated Rev. James Moorhouse from which union three children survived to adulthood. James, a Councillor, died suddenly in 1886 of a heart attack. To Edgar’s properties the Hamilton/Moorhouses added two larger leasehold blocks later, one of 1620 acres, the other 1217 acres.
The oldest image I have of the new and extended cottage under Moorhouse ownership is in the family photograph collection - top photo. It dates to 1896-1897 and can be dated by those present. Alice Hamilton stands under the verandah with her youngest Moorhouse child Alice Moorhouse. Alice junior was born in 1886 and appears to be no older than 10 in this photo. The two-storey extension was built with a large guest lounge room downstairs, four small bedrooms with water jugs and bowls upstairs sleeping 6-8 and another bedroom at the back of the down stairs section of the two storey wing. The rooms were also furnished with a chamber pot under the bed. The stairway was quite steep and narrow and led off what was the living room of the cottage. A small storeroom was under the stairs at the back of the two-storey part of the house. Water was obtained from a spring and water chute behind the house.
In the days when it was used regularly by coaches, a coachman’s bedroom existed in the ceiling space above the cottage part, accessed by a rung ladder and hatch from the old living room. The coachman was treated more as family than guest.
It is my belief that Edgar made these extensions specifically with the idea of offering accommodation to weary travellers not wishing to make the immense journey from Nelson to Murchison in a single day. Apart from the Hope Saddle itself the journey to this point was relatively easy going and could be made in a day comfortably, however many travellers broke their journey at Kohatu or Korere too. At some point after the turn of the century and also relative to the progress on the railway, various changes of status took place for the building. During the final years for horse drawn coaches it was definitely also used as a staging point for Newmans where teams of horses were changed, and during this time its use as both a tea rooms and accommodation house ran concurrently. There was another accommodation house established at Glenhope, but in later years Newmans used the Hope Saddle stop instead for reasons explained above.
With the great leap into modern transport, and Newman’s purchase of Cadillac and Star motor ‘coaches’ (really lengthened sedan cars), Moorhouse’s Accommodation House, while still offering rooms, focused on catering for the public as a tea house. By this time, in fact from 1904 on, both the farm and tearooms were being run by the Moorhouses. Alice Hamilton died that year, sadly intestate, her husband disappeared after demanding his lawful rights to half the entire Moorhouse Estate’s worth, some thousands of pounds, never to be seen again.
Alice’s sons William and Thomas Wilson (Wink) Moorhouse along with her older spinster sister Charlotte, were left to pick up the pieces. William (Bill) and Charlotte shifted to Hope Saddle Farm, while Wink continued running the Dairy farms on the Grampians and Lower Brook Street.
Charlotte was a lovable old lady, by this time in her 70’s. A talented gardener, great cook and the saviour of the family from destitution. Hamilton had not been able to access her share in the estates, and this was mortgaged to pay him out. The rest was plain uphill slog dealing with rapacious lawyers who eventually foreclosed on mortgages, destroyed the estate, subdivided viable farms and made fat profits doing so.
Charlotte housekept and ran the tearooms and accommodation for a good number of years, while nephew Bill ran the farm and helped with the staging horses until that ceased around 1920. For him it was a difficult step backwards. After leaving college Bill had trained as a tailor and enjoyed town social life, so to be thrown into running a sheep farm in the back blocks was quite a culture shock, one he handled as best as he could by taking solace in the ‘odd drop’. But things looked up for him in 1922 when a young West Coast teacher came into the area. This was Molly Broughton. In 1923 he married her and Molly became the new Moorhouse Tearooms' proprietor relieving the ageing 84 yr old Charlotte of her duties. Charlotte, an early settler stalwart died the following year.
Bill and Molly Moorhouse had three sons, two of whom reached adulthood and have only recently passed on. Molly kept the tearooms running well into the 1930’s. She had some support from a sister May who had married Harry Sims and lived over the back hill on a farm in Lamb Valley. Sadly Bill lapsed back into his love of the bottle and died in 1932, leaving Molly to bring up her sons and both run the farm and tearooms, a big ask. Fortunately Wink’s sons Noel (my father) and Stuart were of an age where they could travel up on the train or by motor cycle and do much of the donkey work on the farm like repairing fences, collecting wood, scrub cutting, mustering and shearing, but it was not a very satisfactory arrangement and after Molly remarried to Jock Rennie in the mid-late 1930’s it was prudent for them to shift off the farm to where Jock could get work. The tearooms closed at this point and the whole concept of catering for the public ceased. Modern transport had removed the primary objective of it being there in the first place, now vehicles stopped at Murchison for morning tea and lunch.
The building remained more or less intact until the 1950’s. But because it did not have permanent residents it soon fell into disrepair and the ‘new’ two-storey wing became unsafe. My father would not let my older siblings go upstairs for fear they might fall through the floor when they visited for shearing in the 1940’s. In 1956 the property was sold to Peter Stewart who built a small bungalow on the low ridge behind the fruit trees and ran the farm for several decades. That house too rotted and was demolished. During that period Peter removed the ‘new’ wing of the old accommodation house and opened the front wall of the older cottage to make a farm shed, where he parked a tractor. I can recall stopping and looking into the shed in the 1970’s and noting two interesting features. The back wall was constructed of square cut clay cobs, and had at some later stage had vertical paling style cladding on a wood frame added to the outside. Also, the original ‘roof rafters’ were still there, borer riddled but intact… birch saplings of about 80-100mm in diameter. The stables, later converted to a wool shed which stood on the opposite side of the road, remained standing until well after 2000.
In the 1990’s one of several changes in ownership took place, and at that point Peter’s bungalow was bulldozed and a new road pushed through the last standing part of Robert Edgar’s cottage. A few years later the main road was widened. The fence and gate were about where the back wall was but this may have been shifted back on the road widening.
Now, as stated at the outset, only the old plums and pear tree are left to attest to its existence.
Family story has it that during the hard times when shady hobos and swaggers were roaming the roads looking for a handout, the family buried their gold coins somewhere near these trees for safekeeping. If so, they may still be there as when Bill died the knowledge of its location died with him. My thoughts are that perhaps he spent it at the Korere or Owen pubs. He was a member of both the Tapawera and Murchison Lodges and passed both pubs on a regular basis.
2018 (updated August 2020)
Sources used in this story
- Mark Moorhouse - personal recollections
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Further sources - Hope Saddle Accommodation house
- Newport, J.N.W.(1978). Footprints too : further glimpses into the history of Nelson Province. Blenheim, N.Z.: Express Printing Works