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Brain Watkins House

Est. 1881.  Historic Places Category 2.  Boat-builder Joseph Brain built this Victorian kauri villa for his family who occupied it for 98 years. Their daughter Elva was a crack shot and lived in the house her whole life. Read more about it here by Debbie McCauley, local historian. Open to the public each Sunday afternoon from 2pm to 4pm or by booking on (07) 578 1835
Admission $5 (children free). The historic garden is free to wander at any time.                                

Map No. 3.
233 Cameron Road (cnr Elizabeth St & Cameron Rd (west),
Tauranga, 3110

Brain Watkins House by Shirley Arabin October 2014
Home to Joseph and Kate Brain and their five daughters.

Joseph & Kate Brain and their five daughters
Joseph & Kate Brain and their five daughters

Joseph was a boatbuilder and civil contractor who built this Victorian kauri villa in 1881. Daughter Elva was born in the house and lived there her whole life. She was a crack shot and married William Watkins at the age of 72. A rare and authentic example of a single-family home with contents collected by one family over 98 years, Elva left this unique historical setting in the care of the Tauranga Historical Society when she died in 1979. Category 2 listed by Heritage New Zealand and open it to the public each Sunday afternoon from 2pm to 4pm. To book another time phone (07) 578 1835. Admission $5 (children free). The historic garden is free to wander at any time.

Brain Watkins House c. 1906

The house has stood solid and square on a corner in Tauranga for 133 years. The square villas featured in many New Zealand towns from the 1880s were practical and utilitarian and the Brain Watkins House is no exception. Like The Elms, the Brain Watkins House attempts to fulfil the gap in Tauranga, the city which lacks a civic museum.

Built entirely of kauri by Joseph Denham Brain for his family, the house follows the typical pattern of a central corridor from front to back door with rooms opening on each side. Fire places in two living rooms, a coal or wood stove originally in the kitchen, and a fireplace in one bedroom provided heating in an otherwise house cold in winter. Weatherboard cladding and an iron roof with a central front door and windows on either side shows an affiliation to the neo-Georgian style.

Brain Watkins House, after 1957

This is a house derived from a pattern book rather than an individual design and the joinery, verandah fretwork, balusters, verandah poles and gate being factory made. A feature unique in Tauranga is the  tiled front path and steps.

Brain Watkins House, 1969

The house remains furnished with the possessions of the Brain family who were the only people to live in the house, ending with the death in 1979 of Elva Phoebe Brain Watkins, the youngest daughter. It is a veritable treasure house of china, linen, crochet and embroidery and the nick nacks collected by a family during their hundred year occupancy.

Brain Watkins House 2023
Inside Brain Watkins House 2023
Brain Watkins Garden 2023

Elva Brain Watkins left the house to the Tauranga Historical Society after her death and they have protected and preserved the house since. Through the City Partners scheme the Tauranga City Council has entrusted the care of the garden and lawns to City Care who do this well.

Due to the limited numbers of members available to be House Guides the house is only open on Sunday afternoons from two to four p.m. but arrangements can be made for group or class visits on week days. Volunteers who could help as guides are very welcome

Brain Watkins House by Debbie McCauley - current 2023 President of Tauranga Historical Society

Rare Victorian era home on view. Weekend Sun by Rosalie Liddle Crawford interviewing Debbie McCauley, historian and Ben Pick from Heritage New Zealand | Pouhere Taonga.

Brain Watkins House.Tauranga Historical Society.