Clendon House, Rāwene. © Grant Sheehan.

Tohu Whenua: Clendon House, Rāwene


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The charming Hokianga Harbour town of Rāwene is Aotearoa's third oldest European settlement – and Clendon House is one of its original buildings (dating from 1860). 

Not only does this historic residence contain the contents of its original family, the guides who work there are fantastic and the story they tell is feature-film worthy.

Clendon House was once the home of Captain James Reddy Clendon. James was an important historical figure who found success as a ship owner and trader.

He was present at many of the earliest encounters between Māori and Europeans and witnessed both the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1835 and the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Later he became chairman of New Zealand’s first bank – the original Bank of New Zealand. He was also a member of the first Legislative Council and eventually became the first United States Consul in this country. Quite simply, the man got around.

But this is where the plot thickens. When James died at the age of 74, he left behind eight dependent children and his much younger wife Jane. Jane was confronted with the fact that while the house was insured for a few hundred pounds, James was thousands of pounds in debt.

Despite living in a time when being a woman, a widow, a single mother and of Māori descent all counted against her, Jane set about using her standing in both Māori and Pākehā communities, her local relationships and her knowledge of commerce to pay the debts and educate her children. 

She was unrelenting in her efforts, paying some debts with small amounts of land and cash, writing persuasive letters to her creditors and trading in gum, bark, firewood and garden produce – anything that would enable her to stay in her house. 

Through Jane’s determined efforts the house remained in the Clendon family for over 100 years. Thanks to Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga who bought Clendon House in 1972, this authentic time capsule is now open to us all for a glimpse into the lives of one of our nation’s most intriguing pioneer families.

Clendon House is recognised as a Tohu Whenua, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best heritage experiences.

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