Elms Resources

Archdeacon A.N.Brown's Library



The building of greatest historical and architectural significance on the former Te Papa Mission Station site now known as The Elms is the small, free-standing library. This, the first permanent building erected on the site, served as Alfred Brown's study and as a safe, dry storage room for his precious books.

Coromandel Timber and Construction Details

Although kauri logs floated down from Mercury Bay in the Coromandel had to be hand sawn on site by two resident carpenters, the building was completed in 1839, less than two years after the Brown family arrived at Te Papa. The original roof was of an unusual board and batten construction. It seems likely that it was not completely water-tight, as shakes, similar to shingles, but split rather than sawn, were soon laid over the first roof. They provided adequate protection from the elements until the 1950s, when they were overlaid with corrugated iron. Recent restoration work has seen the iron removed to be replaced by shingles.

The chimney was added later, built by Brown himself in the absence of skilled bricklayers. The mortar for the construction was prepared on site by burning shells from Mount Maunganui across the harbour in a kiln erected a few years earlier to provide lime for the chimneys of the raupo cottages in which the first missionary families lived. An old ledger, in which Brown recorded all provisions and household items supplied from the main mission station at Paihia in the Bay of Islands, shows that he ordered paint brushes and paint at the time the library was under construction. The original colour, hidden under layer after layer of paint, was uncovered during recent renovations. The decision was made to repaint the library in the greyish olive colour known as "drab", as it would have been in Brown's day.

Although Archdeacon Brown would have recognised the building as it stands today, he would have been bewildered by the plants surrounding it: palms, rimu, pines, bromeliads and dracaenas planted in recent years. Bishop Selwyn reported that he and a friend , when visiting Te Papa, "pitched their tents in an orchard of peach trees adjoining Mr Brown's study".

The Library Interior

The interior kauri walls were unpainted, but coated with "knotting" a mixture of shellack similar to varnish, which prevented resin from seeping out of any knot holes in the timber. Although painted white for many years, the walls have recently been restored to this original finish. The furniture, table, chairs and book cases were brought out from England by Alfred and Charlotte Brown when they left in 1829.

A trapdoor in the floor provided entry to a space about 1.8 metres deep, where both people and valuables could have been hidden if an attack had ever been made by Maori on the mission station. Luckily the attack never came.

A delightful description of the library has come down to us in the journal of William Gisborne, later Commissioner of Crown Lands, who visited the mission station briefly in May 1847. He wrote: "We found the Archdeacon, a short, rather stern and intelligent looking man, dressed in very canonical garments, enjoying in a comfortable study the warmth of a cheerful fire, and busily engaged amid heaps of half-opened letters and other ecclesiastical looking documents.

The Library's Books

The room was surrounded with shelves, on which large volumes, heavy to carry, and I daresay, heavy to read, gloomily reposed, while, from among, above and below them long rows of tempting, rosy-cheeked apples, brightly reflecting the ruddy fire, shone in delightful contrast with their more sedate brethren. On the walls hung engravings of Bishop and Mrs Selwyn, the Judge of New Zealand, the Queen of England, and other dignitaries whom I did not recognise."

What books do we find in Archdeacon Brown's library? Weighty theological tomes, of course, but also practical "Do It Yourself" books on every subject. Isolated mission families needed access to medical advice, encyclopaedias and gardening books, as well as music for hymns to be played on the small piano brought out from England.

This delightful gem, probably the first purpose built free-standing library in New Zealand, is one of the most historically significant buildings in the country.

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