The creak of the floorboards, the flood marks on the wallpaper, the gloriously overgrown garden, and the old stone fireplace create the charming character of Vesta. Unfortunately, we can't take all of the credit for this beautiful atmosphere that we love. We have to go back. Way back.
Let's begin with the man who started it all; John Williams. Born 1828 in Oxford England, a small fishing village on the East Coast, John grew up here with his three sisters, Mary, Elizabeth, and Anne Bella. Jump forward to about 1850 when John and his sisters embarked on a 6 month journey by boat to Australia. In 1861 John continued to follow the tide of miners to the Otago goldfields. After a having a go at mining, John's ambitions turned to boating and he became a skipper for William Rees.
In 1864 John purchased the lake-front property from a man called Israel Shaw. Shaw had purchased the land from the Crown and sold it to John for 20 British Sterling Pounds. Due to the lack of builders in the area at the time, it is presumed that John built the cottage himself. He most likely sourced trees from the sawmill at the head of the lake and used one of the steam ships to move the wood to his property. At this stage Queenstown consisted mostly of canvas tents and make-shift shanties with few permanent buildings.
Williams added a touch of his own architectural creativity with an unusually high gable and long parlor. The roof was initially covered with timber shingles, but the shingles leaked during strong southerly storms. The shingles were finally covered in corrugated iron in 1870. Around the same time a back room was added, which now houses our wee cafe.
After being ill for several months with a case of bronchitis, John passed away in September of 1881. It's believed his bronchitis was a result of spending long hours on the lake during the winter months. John then left the cottage to his sister Mary Williams. Mary was well educated and worked as an accountant during her time in Queenstown. She lived in the cottage until she passed away during the winter of 1906 at the age of 83. The cottage was passed on to Mary's sister, Elizabeth Archer, who had been widowed in 1895. Elizabeth lived in the cottage until her passing in August 1915, just a few weeks shy of her 90th birthday.
Elizabeth left the cottage to her nephew William Charles Prior. At the time Prior was busy running a farm in Glenorchy so he sold the cottage to his sister Anne Bella and her husband James McNeil. Although the McNeil's owned the cottage, it is presumed they leased the property from 1916 - 1943. There is evidence that the McNeils spent time and money renovating the cottage. The wallpaper that is still present today is dated back to the 1920's and 30's.
When Anna Bella McNeil died in 1943 the cottage was passed on to John Williams great nephew William Edwin Mulholland. Williams cottage was then used as a holiday home. The family referred to it as "The Ranch", and some family members even spent their honeymoons in the peaceful lakeside cottage.
Mulholland died in 1968 and passed the cottage on to his son William Keith. When the youngest Mulholland passed away in 1981 the property was sold to Mutual Rental Properites Limited.
In the early 1990's plans were developing to have Williams cottage demolished in order to create space for commercial properties. The lakes district council recognized the significance and historic value of the cottage and in 1994 the council purchased the building. The Queenstown Heritage Trust has taken responsibility for the restoration of the cottage. Williams Cottage is unique in that it remains on its original site, making it easy to understand the importance of the lake to the early pioneers of colonial Queenstown. Today Williams Cottage is thought to be the least modified timber cottage in New Zealand.
Vesta wouldn't be what it is without the rich history of Williams cottage and the stories from within it's walls. Truly a worthy building to showcase some of the best art and design created by New Zealand artists.