The changing face of a 19th century farmstead

We have published previously on the importance of buildings, be they residential or commercial, as an artefact in understanding 19th century culture in New Zealand. While it’s easy to overlook the humble cottage as a source of archaeological data, houses are a snapshot that capture not only information about the person who constructed the building, their wealth and social standing for example, but also provide a glimpse of the larger economy in which the house was built. However, buildings go beyond that, and by investigating alterations we can make a profile of the people who lived there and track technological and stylistic changes through time.

Towards the end of last year, we were contracted to investigate and record a farmstead in Halswell. At the time of recording it was the location of a heavily modified Victorian ‘L-plan’ cottage and several outbuildings. Historical research for the Halswell area is notoriously difficult due to a general lack of sources, although we did know from land records and a valuation issued in 1905 that the farm had been purchased by Cornelius Murphy in 1871, and that the house was standing on the property by at least c.1881.

What made the property special is that the house had remained the home of the murphy family until recently, being passed down through the generations.

Northeast elevation of the cottage.

Plan of the house as it was prior to demolition.

From the outset the house appeared to be a standard 19th century cottage that had been heavily modified in the 20th century. Most of the wall linings, original skirtings and cornices, and ceilings had been replaced. A large section of the original timber floor of Room 10 was missing (see the above floor plan for room numbers). Even the original sash windows had been replaced with timber framed casement windows. At least three large extensions had also been made in the 20th century.

But by peeling back the layers, the original house started coming to the surface. Cuts in the weatherboards on the northwest elevation suggested the original house was much shorter. Weatherboards were discovered behind the wall lining on the northeast wall of Room 6. A fireplace had been removed in Room 3. At least two walls had been removed in Room 10, one of which would have originally formed a hallway between Rooms 10 and 1. Cut marks in the weatherboards on the northeast elevation suggest a door had been removed from between the two windows under the veranda.

Northwest elevation of the house. The red arrow indicates cut marks in the weatherboards that correspond with the back wall of Room 10.

Cut marks in the weather boards highlighted in the above image.

Original weatherboards exposed in the northeast elevation of Room 6 (the back wall of Room 4).

Southwest elevation of Room 3. A brick fireplace had been removed and replaced with an electric heater.

Room 10 looking north. Note that a wall has been removed separating what probably would have been two bedrooms.

Marks on the floorboards in Room 10 show where a wall once ran. (The wall to the right is Room 1).

A little bit of deconstruction work revealed even more treasures. A covered over window frame was revealed in the northeast wall of Room 9 (the wall separating Room 9 from 10) confirming that this was the original back wall of the house. A covered over door frame was also present in this wall.

A covered over window frame revealed in Room 9.

Covered over door frame in Room 9 that originally gave access to Room 10.

Plan of the house with the (known) removed walls, doors and window indicated in red.

Removal of the floorboards in Room 9 revealed that the floor sat on stone piles and brick piles. The piles were marked ‘B’ (a marked used by John Brightling 1880-c. 1898) suggesting this was a 19th century room, although, as it had covered over an original window,  Room 9 must have been a 19th century alteration to the house!

The removal of the floorboards in Room 9 revealed stone and brick piles.

A red brick used as a pile. The brick was marked ‘B’ suggesting this was a 19th century addition.

Then removal of the wallpaper in Room 1 revealed a hidden door in the northwest wall!

Covered over door in room 1 – an idea of the original layout of the house is taking shape.

What is likely the original wallpaper was also revealed. This had probably been preserved under the original architraves.

The original wallpaper of Room 1.

So now we had a house with at least one removed hallway, and a bedroom with two doors….

More secrets were revealed during the demolition. The original gable roof line was made visible above the southeast wall of Room 1. The demolition of the back-to-back fireplaces in Rooms 1 and 10 revealed that the fireplace of Room 10 had originally been a very tall 1.2 m. Big enough for a cooking range perhaps?

Demolition of the house revealed the original gable roof structure above the southeast wall of room 1, indicating that this was the original outside wall of the house.

Fireplace in Room 10 as it looked prior to the demolition.

The fireplace revealed behind the 20th century facade. The fireplace was originally arched, and about 1.2 m tall.

The bricks for this fireplace were marked ‘RS’ – a mark used by Royse, Stead and Co. between 1875 – c.1882.

‘RS’ stamped brick taken form the chimney of the fireplaces in Rooms 1 and 10.

The completed demolition revealed the that Rooms 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 and part of 9 (mentioned above) had been constructed on stone piles, suggesting the they were all 19th century constructions. Can any more information be pulled from the foundations? Yes! Luckily the concrete foundation that had supported the original fireplace in Room 3 was still in situ, and still had a layer of bricks affixed to it.

Foundations of the house, looking west.

A row of stone piles that ran under the southeast walls of Rooms 1 and 10. Looking southwest.

Foundation of the fireplace that originally sat in Room 3. Looking southeast.

Red brick from the above fireplace foundation. While faint, the letter B can be made out.

The bricks were marked ‘B’, suggesting that rooms 3, 4 and part of 9 were contemporary constructions.

Putting all the information together, we can piece together the life history of the house.

The building had begun life as a simple box cottage, constructed by Cornelius Murphy between 1871 and 1881. The house had four rooms. Room 1 was probably a living room, while Room 10 was likely to have been two bedrooms and a kitchen. The small stature of the house probably reflects the financial means of Cornelius as his farm was just starting out.

Approximate plan of the original house constructed by Cornelius Murphy. Not depicted – an unknown number of windows that couldn’t be identified during the recording.

A decade after the farm was established the Murphy family had become relatively well off, and the little house was no longer suitable for the family. The house was extended between 1880 and 1900 with the addition of Rooms 3 ,4 and 9. Room 9 was a reasonable size and probably became the kitchen. The extensions would forgo the tongue and groove panel and wallpaper wall linings of the original house and would instead use more expensive (and higher status) lath and plaster.

The house at it probably appeared after the extensions in c.1880-1898.

Further additions to the house could be dated using aerial photography (Canterbury Maps n.d.). The house was extended again in the early 20th century with the addition of Rooms 5 and 6 before 1944  (which included indoor toilet facilities). Rooms 7 and 8 were added, and Room 9 was extended, between 1980-1984. This added a modern bathroom and kitchen. Finally Room 11, a conservatory, was added in the 1990s.

But this is just the beginning of the story this house has to tell. Makers marks found on the roofing iron, timber, nail, and brick samples collected during the demolition, wallpaper patterns, and analysis of wall linings will all provide vital information that will inform us about the choices made by Cornelius in the construction of his home, and of the wider economy that played a part in the construction of the building.

And all this is before we get to the analysis of the outbuildings and other archaeology found on the site.

The strange adventures of Etienne Brocher (aka Stephen Bosher, aka Stephen Brocher, aka the Petone murderer)

Bricks are the best thing that I find. That’s my answer to the most common question an archaeologist is asked. Bricks? Why bricks? Because they always have the best stories to tell! Brickmaking was a booming industry in the 19th century. Fortunes could be made and lost, and opportunities to climb the ranks of society were ready for the taking. Through brickmaking, workhouse orphans would become influential businessmen and labourers would grab political power. And then there were the criminals and schemers trying their best to hang on for the ride…

Recently I was sent out to Akaroa to investigate an old brick kiln on Rue Grehan. The kiln itself is in a very good state of preservation, and many of its original features remain intact. It’s a small, simple, rectangular kiln, set some distance from the road at the foot of L’Aube hill. The elevation facing the road has been replaced in the 20th century. No one driving past would have given it a second thought, but, as most kilns that survive today are of the large robust Hoffman type, this small kiln is a very rare and valuable artefact of Victorian industry.

The 19th century south elevation of the brick kiln on Rue Grehan. A bricked up door is visible towards the middle of the image. Unfortunately a better photograph wasn’t possible due to the foliage. Image: M. Hennessey.

A bricked up opening in the south elevation. The original function was probably to add fuel to the kiln (scale = 1m). Image: M. Hennessey.

The bricks that had been used to build the Kiln were marked ‘EB’ – and with the help of the Akaroa museum, and a healthy amount of background research, it was discovered that this mark belonged to Etienne Jean Brocher.

‘EB’ marked brick used to build the kiln on Rue Grehan, Akaroa. Image: M. Hennessey.

Brocher, a French immigrant, had arrived in Lyttelton in 1876 when he was about 19 years old (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3). Upon arriving in New Zealand he took up work as ships cook aboard the ketch Alice Jane.

He supplemented his legitimate employment with a second job: petty criminal and scammer.

His early criminal career started off slowly. In 1875 he was arrested for forging cheques to buy boots in Timaru. At his arrest he gave an alias, Stephen Brocher, and when he appeared in front of the magistrate he gave the ultimate of novice defence strategies – I don’t speak English (an unfortunate condition that appears to have only affected him when dealing with law enforcement). Unfortunately for Brocher the magistrate saw straight through this well-crafted subterfuge and assigned an interpreter, and Brocher spent a stint in Lyttelton gaol (Timaru Herald 3/2/1875: 3, Timaru Herald 29/9/1875).

On his release Brocher moved to Akaroa, where he got work as a carter, before finding work with brickmaker, Joseph Libeau (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 27/6/1879: 2). While in Akaroa, Brocher entered into a feud with local man, Chas Lemmonnier. In 1877 Lemmonnier accused Brocher of kicking him. The reason for the assault? Lemmonnier had made the gravest of offences, and had called Brocher a COWARD and a PRUSSIAN!

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880:2.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880: 2.

While Brocher had denied kicking Lemmonenier, a medical certificate was produced to the contrary. And where had Brocher kicked Lemmonnier? Right in the, ahem, family jewels.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880: 2.

In 1878 he married the daughter of Joseph Libeau, Josephine (Alaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 1878: 2). Josephine owned a small plot of land in Grehan Valley that had been subdivided from the larger rural section owned by her father and, while we’ll never know for sure, it seems likely that Brocher married her to get access to this property (LINZ c.1860: 1016). Josephine, being fairly astute, never transferred ownership of the property to her husband.

Brocher constructed the brick kiln on Josephine’s property, and begins appearing in the local newspaper as a brickmaker starting in 1881 (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 3).

The only problem? Brocher wasn’t very good at it…

In 1881 Brocher entered into litigation against John Dixon, who had received a load of bricks six months prior.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 2.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 2.

Brocher gave up brickmaking shortly after, and began a new career as a photographer (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 3). He also continued his new-found interest in litigation, suing Josephine’s brother for £9 4s 6d in 1881, and continuing his feud with Chas Lemmonnier, suing him for £1 15s that same year (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 13/5/1881: 2).

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 22/11/1881: 3.

Always trying to get his hands on more money, Brocher was “connected with some trouble about a sum of money collected for a Catholic Church”, and stole the deeds of his father in law, Joseph Libeau, to take out a fraudulent mortgage on his property. His inability to produce his father in law’s signature stopped his attempt (Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4).

Finally, in 1882, Brocher decided that the marriage to Josephine wasn’t working as he had envisioned. The brickmaking business had failed, and photography wasn’t letting him pay his growing debts, let alone making him wealthy.

On 26 December he stole a horse and bridle from his brother in law, Henry, and abandoned Josephine and their son and daughter (Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4). He rode the horse to Lyttelton, where he sold the horse, and then boarded a ship for Sydney, before going back to France. A warrant was put out for his arrest. Of interest, a distinguishing feature is a bullet wound on his right leg, perhaps a souvenir from earlier dealings…

New Zealand Police Gazette, volume 6, 1882: 9.

The editor of the Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser made it clear how the Akaroa population felt of Brocher’s departure without paying down his debts.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 10/1/1882: 2.

And so, was that the end for Etienne Brocher’s story? Not by a long shot. In fact, things were just getting started.

Following his arrival in France, Brocher was immediately arrested for being naturalised in New Zealand without the consent of his parents, and for not serving in the military (New Zealand Times 1896: 3). After refusing to join the 37th Regiment of infantry at Troyes Champagne he was sentenced to 5 years military detention in Africa. Then, after serving his time, he was sent to the first battalion of Light Infantry at Mascara, Algeria (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3).

Following his military service, he returned to New Zealand in 1890, eventually settling in Petone, Wellington, under the pseudonym Stephen Bosher (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3, Ashburton Guardian 1896: 2, Star 25/3/1897: 2). He re-appears in the New Zealand historic record in 1896 when, as Stephen Bosher, he is implicated in the brutal murder of elderly shop keepers, Joseph and Emma Jones.

The murder had occurred on the evening of 27 August 1896. The Jones’ had been interrupted by an unknown assailant while eating dinner. A struggle had ensued, in which the assailant had thrown pepper into Mr Jones face, blinding him. Mr Jones was then stabbed three times in the back. The body of Mrs Jones was found in a hallway leading from the kitchen to the front door (Evening Post 28/8/1896: 6). She had received a single stab wound to the chest (Evening Post 29/8/1896: 5).  The motivation for the murder was unclear as the cash box belonging to the Jones’ had been left behind, and it appeared nothing had been stolen (Evening Post 29/8/1896:5; 31/8/1896: 6). The murder made national headlines.

Evening Post 28/8/1896: 6.

Brocher had gone to the Jones’ shop to collect a package the morning after the murder. After he failed to get a response from the Jones’ he asked a neighbour to check on them. The bodies of Mr and Mrs Jones were discovered by the neighbour. Brocher then entered the house, saw the bodies himself, and alerted the police to the crime (Evening Post 14/1/1897: 2).

Initially a man named James Shore was accused of the murder, and Brocher was brought in as a witness (Evening Post 16/11/1896: 6). Shore was a known drunk, and an easy target for law enforcement, although luckily for Shore he had spent the night of the murder annoying the local Petone residents in a drunken haze. His whereabouts on that night were well-known, and he could not be placed at the crime scene (Evening Post 17/11/1896: 5). Attention turned to Brocher as a suspect.

The case against Brocher was incredibly flimsy, and came down to some very circumstantial evidence:

  • Mr Jones ledger book showed that he had been the last person to purchase something from the store that night,
  • It was discovered that Brocher had an almost £3 debt to Jones,
  • The knife wounds described by the coroner supposedly matched a knife owned by Brosher – although the knife was never found, and the description of the blade was based entirely on witness testimony,
  • A muddy footprint found in the Jones’ scullery matched a pair of boots owned by Brocher – although Brocher had entered the house the morning the bodies were discovered prior to alerting the police.

Perhaps, in any regular case, this evidence could have been argued away by a competent lawyer. Unfortunately, since arriving back in New Zealand Brocher had been up to his old tricks.

After arriving back in New Zealand Brocher had attempted to contact Josephine to ask if he should come home. She sent back a single word reply: “No”.

New Zealand Times 16/11/1896: 3.

During the murder case against Shore, Brocher was arrested for selling a cart to two separate people, while also taking out a loan on the same cart.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Brocher re-appeared in court later that day on a separate charge. As it turned out, the cart he attempted to sell to Smart and Zachariah may have been stolen from W. H. Cook.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Then, while in prison, Brocher attempted to again contact his wife, Josephine, in Akaroa. This was a huge mistake. Brocher had since re-married. The only problem? He and Josephine had never been formally divorced, and they were still married. That, and he had told his current wife, Mary Anne Reece, that he had never been previously married (Evening Post 23/10/1896: 6). The letter had been intercepted by a jailer, and the revelation made national scandal!

Evening Post 14/11/1896: 5.

Josephine attended the hearing for his bigamy case, not once looking at her husband.

New Zealand Times 16/11/1896: 3.

Brocher was sentenced to two years imprisonment both for the case of the cart and for the charge of bigamy, to be served concurrently (Evening Post 16/1/1897: 5).

New Zealand Police Gazette, volume 20, 1896: 216.

While in prison, Brocher was charged with the murder of Mr and Mrs Jones. With the gossip about the bigamy still warm the case became something of a soap opera.

At the beginning, Brocher clearly felt that he was going to be let go.

Evening Post 13/1/1897: 6.

A suggestion was made that Mr Jones’ eyes should be photographed, as the image of the murderer would be captured in his retina, although the editor of the North Otago Times noted that the last thing Mr Jones saw was pepper…

North Otago Times 1/10/1896: 3.

And a witness gave his testimony in a fake French accent…

Evening Post 15/1/1897: 6.

While another gave testimony in fake broken English.

Evening Post 18/3/1897: 6.

Brocher had been concerned that he would be accused of the murder because throwing pepper is a “foreign trick”.

Evening Post 18/3/1897: 6.

And of course, Josephine made a statement as to the character of her previous husband.

Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4.

Ultimately it was the bigamy case that would be Brocher’s downfall. Previously, his current wife, Mary Anne Reece, had not been expected to testify against her husband (Hastings Standard 14/11/1896: 2). But after it was clear that she was not his wife she was open to questioning by law enforcement. Mary Anne Reece gave testimony that her husband had been acting strangely that night, was shaken, had a cut on his hand, and that she had seen the supposed murder weapon and it had gone missing following the murders (Evening Post 16/1/1897: 5). The fact that her entire life had just been destroyed by the bigamy case doesn’t appear to have had much sway over the court.

His criminal past (including outstanding warrant for his arrest for the horse and bridle), the bigamy case, the fact that he had a history as a scammer, and now the testimony from Mary Anne Reece meant that opinion was quickly turning against Brocher. In many ways, it no longer mattered if he was guilty of the murders…. In the eyes of the public he was absolutely guilty of something.

Brocher’s story ends in 1897 when he was sentenced to death for the Petone murders. In his final statement he reaffirms his innocence, and accuses some of the witnesses of lying to the court (Evening Post 24/3/1897: 2). He would later forgive these witnesses with his last words at the gallows (Evening Post 21/4/1897:5).

Evening Post 24/3/1897: 2.

Etienne Brocher was hanged at the Terrace Gaol on 21 April 1897 (Evening Post 21/4/1897:5).

Matt Hennessey



Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser. [online]. Available at

Ashburton Guardian. [online]. Available at

Evening Post. [online]. Available at

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Star. [online]. Available at

Timaru Herald. [online]. Available at

Land Information New Zealand, c,1860. Deeds index – C/S 8 – Subdivisions of rural sections register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.