Tutchen dairy farm

Once upon a time, a long time ago, cows grazed peacefully on the slopes of Mt Victoria, chewing their cud and producing ‘town supply’ milk for the citizens of Wellington. It was the Tutchens, after whom Tutchen Street is named, who made all this possible.

Peter and Sarah Tutchen arrived in Wellington on the Arab in October 1841 with their seven children. Peter and his eldest son, Simon Peter, were shepherds by occupation. In 1849, they had a farm in Happy Valley although they probably did not own the land. Happy Valley would have been isolated and remote from the newly-settled town of Wellington in 1855, when a neighbour, whose house was destroyed by the earthquake, was forced to move into a calf house belonging to the Tutchens. (It’s not clear which of the Tutchens this was).

By 1854, however, at least Peter and Sarah seem to have moved to Mt Victoria to farm dairy cows. They called their property – address Brougham Street – “Hawthorn Hill”. It was not long before all their sons remaining in Wellington – Simon, Charles and Josiah – had joined them. Charles bought land in Pirie Street and Josiah was also nearby. Peter Tutchen died in 1861 at only 63, leaving his wife and two sons running the farm. Between them they owned seven town acres in the 1860s and leased two acres on Mt Victoria’s Town Belt. Wellington rate books give an idea of how sparsely populated Mt Victoria was at the time, with the Tutchens recorded as one of only 10 households in Brougham Street in 1863.

Portion of Thomas Ward’s map of 1891, showing the boundaries of the Tutchen dairy farm at its height.

Portion of Thomas Ward’s map of 1891, showing the boundaries of the Tutchen dairy farm at its height.

The Tutchen’s significant dairy operation required employees to assist with the work, as evidenced by Mrs Tutchen junior’s occasional advertising in the newspaper for “a strong active Lad; one that can milk preferred” in the early 1870’s.

At the same time, a bucolic picture of Mt Victoria is painted by newspaper reports, with the Wesleyan Sabbath School children enjoying their annual treat, a picnic in Mrs Tutchen’s paddock at the foot of the hill. On entering the paddock, each child was presented with a bun, then they all joined in amusements with their teachers. There was a plentiful supply of fruit on hand to refresh them after that, followed by a substantial tea at four o’clock. The amusements continued until seven o’clock, then a hymn was sung, hearty cheers were given for the hospitality and all departed. Another year, swings were erected in the field for the 350 children and a tent for the teachers. That year the visitors finally began to wend their way home, down the hill, at 8.30 pm. Even the Rechabites held their Anniversary Day picnic in Tutchen’s paddock in 1872.

Unfortunately, this rural character extended to the access to the Tutchen’s home. Although they paid rates for the maintenance of Wellington roads, Brougham Street was almost impassable in 1870. In early spring that year, Mr Tutchen joined a deputation to Council, complaining that wood and coal could not be delivered to their residences, a neighbour was forced to keep his children away from school, and it was almost impossible to reach the Reverend Paterson’s house.

By 1877, when Sarah would have been 75 years old, it was time to downsize. Two of the Tutchen town acres had been sold to neighbours in 1870 (320 and 321). Now Mrs Tutchen was selling three acres on 21-year leases (with right of renewal for a further 21): TA 323 in Brougham St; 330 in Austin St; and 331 on the corner of Austin and Pirie Streets, subdivided into quarter-acre allotments. She also sold part of TA 324, which had frontages on Pirie St and Tutchen Street, together with a substantial four-roomed cottage newly papered and finished throughout. A feature of “this valuable section” was that it was situated “in the immediate neighbourhood of his Worship the Mayor”, who was William Hutchison at the time (1876-77). That year also, her daughter-in-law, Mrs Simon Tutchen, widowed since 1872, held a public auction at her stock yards in Pirie Street to sell “10 splendid milch cows, some in full milk, others to calve shortly, 1 superior bull” and dairy equipment.

When Sarah Tutchen died at her home in Pirie Street in 1882, the press described her as “one of the oldest settlers in Wellington, and a much esteemed member of the Wesleyan Church for upwards of 50 years”. Four months later, “the great unreserved sale of the Tutchen Estate” was announced – town acres 322, 323 and 324 with frontages to Pirie and Brougham Street and “subdivided into suitable-sized building allotments, each one of which will command an extensive and beautiful view of the whole city and harbour”. With this sale, the last remnants of the Tutchen dairy farm disappeared from Mt Victoria.