The Old Shebang an 1883 Bachelor Pad


The Old Shebang

The Old Shebang

Ref: 1/1-025894-G. Alexander Turnbull Library

The ‘Old Shebang’,  a working mans cottage located on upper Cuba St near Tonks Ave.  was tenanted in 1883 by three young gentlemen.

William Williams was a keen amateur photographer who has left us a number of interesting images of his life. Williams was adventurous and would go out into the surrounding hills and valleys of the Wellington region with his young friends, photographing the scenery with them in it.

Before his marriage his photographs appear to have been influenced by his friend Elsdon Best. Elsdon went on to write over twenty books and numerous papers about Maori and their way of life including Tuhoe; Children of the Mist. His papers and books written during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are still studied in our universities today. 

Investigating Maori culture

Investigating Maori culture

Ref: 1/2-140204-G. Alexander Turnbull Library

These young men were very inquiring and experimental with their ideas. The image on the right showing a white man with a painting on moko and a blanket in imitation of the way local Maori dressed might be mis- interpreted in our time as being racist. But maybe the young men were attempting to understand the Maori world around them? Elsdon Best’s writing over his life time would make one suspect this scenario.


Ref: 1/2-140354-G. Alexander Turnbull Library

This small wooden unpainted cottage would have had a living room and kitchen downstairs with one bedroom upstairs. A number of similar cottages where built in Te Aro in the 1800’s. This included owner/occupied dwellings and others built by t wealthy land and business owners  living in the more salubrious Thorndon or Karori. These workers cottages were often rented to people who worked for the owners. Cuba St had everything within walking distance a hard working person could want; the greengrocer, butcher, stables and hotels, just like a modern urban community.

The 1883 bachelor’s bedroom doesn’t look a lot different to a young men’s flat today. This one bedroom workingman’s cottage at the top of Cuba St would have been a cheap rental for men establishing themselves in the small township.

1883 bachelor’s bedroom

1883 bachelor’s bedroom

Ref: 1/2-140322-G. Alexander Turnbull Library

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