Did you know that the first recorded interior brick fireplace was in 1840 in Otago?

The first brick chimney in the South Island was erected in Otago (MacGregor, 1976) during pre-settlement days. Constructed of fire bricks from Sydney it rose above the shingle-roofed cottage of the Rev. James Watkins who had arrived in New Zealand with his family in 1840.

Built of planks the fireplace and chimney complete with the camp oven was carried inside along with the spit roaster. Bars were set into the chimney at various heights to hang the kettle and pots. Bread ovens could be built into the stones that formed the open hearth which dominated the room.

It was a milestone for early settlers to New Zealand to be able to cook inside the house without being smoked out and until then settlers cooked outside using cooking utensils like camp ovens and “go-ashores” over a tripod.

Interior chimney fireplaces grace many a home today, particularly historic villas where indoor fires were used for heating and cooking.

These historic remnants of early New Zealand settlement are sadly now at risk, from earthquake damage, crumbling mortar, and the creation of more efficient ways of heating.

The two double fireplaces in my own 1900 villa were removed prior to relocation from Palmerston North to a rural lifestyle block near Feilding. Luckily, I was able to save the hundreds of discarded bricks and they now form rather wonderful paths and patios, and indoor bookshelves, secured to the wall with bracing.