Cabragh House

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Cabragh House (school and residence) is considered an historic site for exemplarising late Victorian furnishings and provincial New Zealand vernacular architecture. The larger of the two original houses on the former site of Cabragh House School is now known as Amber House.

Cabragh House is a single storey timber villa in late Victorian architectural style constructed in Nelson, New Zealand in circa 1897.

There are certain constraints imposed by using timber framing as a means of construction and this, together with certain commonalities of style, has meant that many houses constructed of wood during that time, at widely disparate colonial locations throughout the world, share certain similarities.


Cabragh House's location may be viewed on WikiMapia. This hyperlink also provides an opportunity to examine satellite imagery which clearly shows how land reclamation to the north of Cabragh House has moved the shoreline considerably northwards from when the house was originally built on the shores of the Nelson Haven.

Ownership history

According to provincial records, on 7 August 1901, John P Hornsby, a Nelson accountant, purchased land in Weka Street (part sections of Section 258 and 260 and, later, Section 262). These sections already held two dwellings, now numbered 46 and 48) but then known as 36 and 38 Weka Street respectively.

Originally, it seems, the larger two-storey house at number 36 was the dwelling and residence of Mr Hornsby and his daughters (known as the misses Hornsby). Then the single storey house at 38 was used as a private boarding and day school for girls and little boys, as indicated by the 1910 Electoral Register.

According to a Prize Day speech delivered by the Principal in the Druids Hall on 10 December 1917 and reported in The Colonist the next day, The school was founded in 1906. However, this is in conflict with an article in the same newspaper that appeared on 21 August 1905 that indicates an opening date of 15 September 1905; perhaps plans changed. Between 1909 and 1917 Cabragh House School was heavily promoted in local almanacs, street directories and the Post & Telegraph New Zealand Directory.

Although this Hornsby land transfer was registered in 1901 it is probable that both buildings existed before this time.
The Architectural design of both Cabragh House and the adjoining Amber House indicates a date of construction for both houses somewhere between 1895 and 1905. To support this contention, an original photograph, principally of the two-storey house then at 36 Weka Street, has printed on its reverse “CABRAGH House school & home, Weka Street, Nelson NZ. Late 1890s school started & staffed by Hornsby sisters Charlotte (Lizzy), Ruth & Janetta”. Municipal drain layer plans and sheets also indicate a probable date of erection for both houses in early 1897.

It seems that the private school business was a winner in provincial Nelson - especially if you had the qualifications. Records indicate Miss J M Hornsby (Jannetta) also had rooms in Trafalgar Street as a teacher of pianoforte, theory, singing, elocution and languages as well as being Principal of Cabragh House School.

However, a search of the deeds reveals that none of the sisters Hornsby ever owned legal title to either the School or Dwelling House located at either 36 or 38 Weka Street.

In February 1908, John Hornsby mortgaged 38 Weka Street (Cabragh House) in return for government advances, although the reason for obtaining the loans is not clear. It could be speculated that money was needed for improvements to the properties as, after 1906 but prior to 1920, the two storey building that had previously been the dwelling was renovated extensively with top storey balconies and awnings added. This may have been necessary due to a change of use as, in 1918, the larger two-storied building (now renumbered from 36 to 46) was used exclusively as classrooms and boarding accommodation and the smaller single storey building (now renumbered from 38 to 48 Weka Street), as a dwelling.


It is a source of confusion that the building later known as Amber House was, during this period, known as Cabragh House School and the previous single-storey school house that had now become a residence also retained its original title of Cabragh House.

The best advertisement for Cabragh House School that the author has seen was in the Post & Telegraph New Zealand Directory from 1917.

On 28 April 1919 John Hornsby died at his residence in Weka Street, aged 85 years.

The Obituary in The Colonist the next day included the following: "Prior to coming to New Zealand about 25 years ago, he held several important positions on the Irish railways. Although he never took much interest in civic affairs, he was a keen advocate of the through freights system, on the subject of which he contributed several valuable articles. His daughters conducted the Cabragh House School successfully for many years."

In October of that year a Certificate of Addendum was issued. The Public Trustee conveyed a portion of the property for private sale. Now the renumbered 46 and 48 Weka Street were passed to daughter Charlotte, who sold it to Henry Canning in 1928.

The last listing for Cabragh House School in Lucas's Nelson Almanac is for 1927 and there is no entry for the School in the 1928 Post Office Directory. Certainly by 1928 Cabragh House School was no longer operating as a school, its scholastic function and commercial viability having been rendered superfluous by the steady growth of, what is now called, Nelson Central School.

Post 1928



The word Cabragh probably has Irish or other Gaelic roots due to the Hornsby's Irish origins and may be an unorthodox spelling of Gabragh. It is beyond the scope of this article to explore this thesis; see Placenames in the north of Ireland external link below.


  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Farley, Sue (1998). New Zealand Historic Places, Nov 1998; 71:31-32. Nelson Provincial Museum. 
  • Hindmarsh, Gerard (1997). Images from the Frontier: the Tyrees' priceless legacy, article in New Zealand Geographic, Apr/Jun 1997; 34:54-71. New Zealand Geographic. 
  • Hindmarsh, Gerard (1997). Images from the Frontier: the Tyrees' priceless legacy, article in New Zealand Geographic, Apr/Jun 1997; 34:54-71. New Zealand Geographic. 
  • Stacpoole, John (1977). Colonial Architecture in New Zealand. A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 224 pages, NZ$11.50.  +[1]
  • McLintock (Editor), A. H. (1966). An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand - ARCHITECTURE - The Victorian Era. Government of New Zealand & Longmans, Wellington,.  +[2]