Wagon wheel leaning against building.

An introduction to Alberton

Nestled in the Mt Albert suburb of Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest city, Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, Alberton showcases a majestic colonial property and the lives that made it a much-loved and admired home.  Alberton was built in 1863 as a large, but otherwise conventional, timber farmhouse.  In the 1870s the residence of Allan Kerr Taylor and his second wife Sophia was transformed into a truly grand Raj-themed mansion, inspired by the country of Allan’s birth.

When you visit this historic 18-room home you’ll be transported into the world of early Auckland’s fashionable set, where garden parties, mounted hunts and archery were enjoyed with a distinct Victorian backdrop. But Alberton is also a fascinating introduction to the daily domestic life of a colonial family, albeit one aided by an army of servants. On your self-guided tour, look out for the bells and buttons by which the ‘help’ were summoned. In the rather plain servant quarters in the attic, you’ll find traces of their graffiti on the walls.

A crowd of people celebrate outside.

Mildred Kerr Taylor, Xmas 1897. Photo: Alberton Collection, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

Taylor was still a teenager in 1849 when he spent part of his inherited fortune on a first block of land at Mt Albert, which was then on Auckland’s rural outskirts. The seventh child of William Taylor, a captain in the 39th Madras Native Infantry, he grew the estate to 500 acres, extending from the slopes of Ōwairaka/Mt Albert all the way to within close distance of the Waitematā Harbour.

Alberton’s 1870s revamp was heavily influenced by Taylor’s early life in India. You’ll immediately spot those Indian colonial references in the ornate verandahs bookended by two exotic corner towers with ogee-shaped roofs. Approach closer and you’ll see a series of half-doors paying homage to their English heritage and Indian upbringing (perhaps the only ones in Aotearoa New Zealand), designed to keep animals out while welcoming in the cooling breeze.  

Alberton is so beautifully conserved that entering its atmospheric interior really does feel like stepping back in time. Hundreds of family items came with the house when the last of Allan and Sophia’s 10 children gifted it to the nation in the 1970s, and many are on display, including original furniture, pianos, fireplace mirrors, wrought iron beds, costumes, textiles, table settings, paintings and photographs.

Standing in Allan’s study, it feels like he might have only recently set aside his morning’s correspondence. In another corner of the house, Sophia, an active Suffragist, and her daughters maintained a well-equipped sewing room. Still kitted out with original hand-cranked sewing machines, it eloquently conveys the self-reliance of a 19th century household.

Hollie Smith is greeted by a gentleman in a wig.

Hollie Smith on set in Alberton. Photo courtesy of Ten Canaries. All rights reserved.

Out in the garden, you can wander the lush lawns shaded by heritage Redwoods, Oaks, Cedars and Walnut trees, and check out Alberton’s outbuildings – the little dairy where the butter was made and stored, and the washhouse with its original copper washing vessel still intact. Although now a mere fraction of the original estate, the garden is still productive, with a vegetable patch, fruit trees, beehives and a lively brood of hens – by all means take away a jar of homemade preserves and honey or free-range eggs. The verandah store, Alberton’s boutique and well-curated gift shop, also offers homewares, jewellery and other goodies.

Something you soon realise when you visit Alberton is the breadth of its appeal. As well as being a popular venue for hire for birthdays, weddings, corporate functions and a location for film shoots, Alberton comes alive through a busy calendar of public events such as concerts, exhibitions, workshops and tea services with vintage fine china that make the most of the beautiful heritage setting. The Summer Market Days fill the garden with stalls of specialty produce and crafts, artisan food stalls, live music and garden workshops, and are a must! 

When you’re ready to leave, take a walk to the top of Ōwairaka/Mt Albert for the city views, followed by a stroll along the Roy Clements Treeway Path, a suburban oasis of regenerating bush beside the Meola Creek (Allan Kerr Taylor named the waterway after a Himalayan glacier). 

Alberton: The Podcast

Alberton recently featured on the Stories from Early Auckland podcast series. Listen to "The Ladies of Alberton" via the link below to learn more about Sophia Kerr Taylor and her family.

Ladies of Alberton — Cathie Harrop Songs and recordings