Matahiwi Barn was originally home to the draft horses that worked the farm owned by English brothers Henry and John (Jack) Holmes.
The brothers acquired the property from an aunt whose husband served in the British Army in New Zealand. On the officer’s retirement, Governor Grey allocated him land in the Matahiwi but his health quickly declined and the couple returned to England, where he died.
The Holmes brothers sallied forth to New Zealand and took up the property’s reins in 1877. Jack married and had children long before his older brother got around to it but eventually his son moved out of the area, his daughters married out of it and Jack and his wife retired to England.
Henry remained. At the end of the 19th century he built a large homestead opposite Matahiwi Barn. This enabled him to offer a prospective bride a grand house, amply staffed, and a lifestyle as close to that of an English country house as was possible for a household located in dense Wairarapa bush and linked to the nearest settlement by rudimentary bullock track.
“The big house”, as it is still known to Henry’s numerous descendants in the Matahiwi area, remains a private residence but is no longer in Holmes’ hands and can’t be seen from the road. The two-storey barn, constructed of heart totara felled and milled on the property, was erected about the same time.
The design was American. A chute delivered grain and chaff stored on the upper level to the horses’ feed room below. As engines superseded beasts, the barn became home to tractors, trucks and farm machinery; then to anything that was obsolete, broken or might be handy one day; then to wildlife. It was in a parlous state when the present owners took it on – roof like a sieve, higgledy-piggledy walls, dirt floor and crammed with rusted implements, defunct vehicles, rodents, birds and spiders. Exactly what they’d been looking for in fact: a rackety old agricultural building of pleasing design and quality timber that could and would be restored as a gracious and sublimely comfortable country home.