Tophouse Historic Inn
A historic 1887 inn in the scenic mountain town of St Arnaud.
The reasons Heritage New Zealand have chosen this little button of a building as a category one historic place are simple, though one of the reasons is unusual and macabre.
Being a junction on the early inland tracks of Nelson, the settlement, St Arnaud, needed an accommodation house, and the earliest one was put up here in the 1840s. After various structures failed to withstand the conditions, Ned James, a cob builder, was employed in 1887 to make a proper job of it, and created the building which stands here today. Its good condition has been put down to its low lying structure and good construction by Mr James.
There is a blemish though. The untidy happenings of one wild evening in 1894 left bullet holes in the roof of the adjoining telegraph house which can still be seen. They were from the gun of a young Bill Bateman, brother of the landlady, Mrs Longney. Mr and Mrs Longney were away the night that Bateman went on a rampage.
He was reportedly jealous of the relationship between a Miss Catherine Wylie, who was nanny to his sister's children, and the tophouse's manager, a John Lane. Bateman sought out and killed Lane and Lane's friend, a Mr Wallis.
Mrs Wallis, Miss Wylie and the children managed to barricade themselves in St Arnaud's telegraph house and get a message away to Nelson with Bateman banging at the door and about to cut the wires. By the time help arrived in the morning, Bateman had taken his life on the telegraph house porch, with a bottle of whiskey found beside him.
Liquor also featured in the death of another local some thirty years later, when the innkeeper's son was charged with removing troublemakers from the premises. One man he sent away, with a bottle of gin the man consumed so much of he stopped dead in the road, was found cold in the morning.
Perhaps the most famous resident of this house would be Wallace (Bill) Rowling, later to become Prime Minister of New Zealand, who had boarded here when he was the schoolteacher at St Arnaud. Since then, the tophouse has had a quieter existence, ceasing trading in 1969, but reopening in 1984 and still providing lodging, tea and the odd drink.