Historic site: Gear Homestead

"Historians of literature like to regard a century as a series of ten face, each grimacing in a different way."

- Richard Ellman.

 
Image of Gear Homestead, 1924.
Gear Homestead, 1924.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref A.1a.12.
 

James Gear was a successful butcher in Wellington

 
Image of What is now believed to be James Gear's first shop on 'the beach' now Lambton Quay.
What is now believed to be James Gear's first shop on 'the beach' now Lambton Quay.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref A.1d.34.
 

James Gear was baptised at Ilchester, Somerset, England on 13 October 1839. He was the son of James Gear, a labourer, and Sarah Fudge. At the age of ten he started work at his father's butchers. In 1857 he immigrated to Victoria, Australia, lured by the goldfields, but soon he returned to his trade as a butcher. In 1861 once again he gave in to the lure of gold and moved to the Otago goldfields in New Zealand. However, by 1865 he had established a butcher's shop in Wellington. On 10 October 1866 he married Elizabeth Phillips, but she died young and without children.

In 1868 he purchased Benjamin Ling's butcher's shop, which was thought to be the oldest in Wellington. Gear purchased other shops in Wellington and concentrated on the local markets by using delivery vans to supply meat to Wellington homes.

In 1873 he established a preserving plant so that he could supply canned meat to more distant markets as well as the local one. He also purchased land in Karori and Petone, on which stock was fattened. In 1874 he built slaughterhouses and a boiling down plant in Petone. From this point he became more active in farming. He bought a share in an estate of more than 1,000 acres at Te Horo, where he participated in turning swamp into pasture. Later on, in 1882, Gear expanded into the refrigerated meat business, one of the first in New Zealand to do so.

James Gear had Gear Homestead built for his new wife

 
Image of Ruth Gear (nee Milstead).
Ruth Gear (nee Milstead).
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref P.1.18.
 

On 16 February 1879, Gear, who was by then around 49 years old, married 20 year old Ruth Milstead. She had two sons, in 1880 and 1886, and two daughters, in 1888 and 1891. In deference to his new wife's reluctance to live at his country property at Te Horo, Gear acquired 382 acres near the waterside in eastern Porirua.

The design of the homestead was commissioned in the early 1880s from an architect, presumed to be Robert Edwards, in an Italianate style popular for important houses at the time in Australia and which was clearly felt to be commensurate with Gear’s success. The house was designed for a prime location on the Porirua estate overlooking the harbour. It was completed in 1887 using high-quality materials by a Mr A Hartley of Porirua, and with its fine finishing materials and 18 rooms was a significant statement of social success.

James Gear built an annex onto the Homestead where he lived alone

 
Image of Young James Bothamley outside Gear Homestead and bridge to annex.
Young James Bothamley outside Gear Homestead and bridge to annex.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref A.1a.14.
 

Gear lived in the house from 1887 until his death on the 5th April 1911. According to family recollections, in his old age Gear became increasingly religious and eccentric. He also suffered from a crippling illness and was eventually confined to a wheelchair. Unable to tolerate the noise made by his young children, he built an annex on the house which is adjoined to the house by a linking bridge. He lived in the annex alone, apart from manservant and nurse, until his death.

 
Image of RW Bothamley and Doris Gear on their wedding day.
RW Bothamley and Doris Gear on their wedding day.
Photo from Pataka Museum Collection, at Porirua Library ref P.2.29.
 

The house remained in the hands of his descendants until 1967. The house was occupied firstly by Gear’s second wife Ruth, followed by their daughter Doris and her husband R W Bothamley, who stayed in the property after Doris’ death. Alterations over the years of Gear family tenure included the linking bridge and a schoolroom, which was built on to the north elevation in 1927.

The Gear Homestead saw many changes after it passed out of family ownership

 
Image of Gear Homestead, 2007.
Gear Homestead, 2007.
Photo by Russell Murray.
 

A ten-acre block was surveyed off from the property in 1958. In 1969, the ten acres containing the house was acquired under the Public Works Act by the Public Works Department as the site for a new school; fortunately for the homestead this never proceeded. In 1964, the balance of the estate was taken for state housing purposes.

The upper level annexe at the end of the bridge was destroyed in 1967. The homestead eventually ended up in the possession of Porirua City Council in 1975 as a community arts centre. It later underwent significant restoration work, which included the removal of the schoolroom to expose the original north elevation.

The homestead was opened to the public in 1983 and has since had a successful and stable career as a functions venue. It has featured nationally in several films and was the main set of Peter Jackson’s 1988 film "Bad Taste".

Information sources:

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