We have all driven by Ros and Jim’s lovely home just past the Paradise sign and have wondered just a little about its history. Some have heard stories of its first owner, and some of those stories might be true, though many of our tourism guides do like to embellish the story of Arcadia’s first owner. This month we thought we’d do our best to share the story of Arcadia and share some beautiful photos from Jim Veint’s collection (thanks, Jim!).

In 1881, a new resident arrived at the Head of the Lake buying 600 acres above Diamond Lake from Robert McBride. Joseph Cyprian Fenn, described in the Wakatip Mail as:

“an English gentleman” has selected a place where “at Lake Diamond the beauty of Lake Wakatipu scenery culminates, and the estate which has just changed hands has suggestively been known as “Paradise.”

Fenn was the son of Joseph Finch Fenn, the Canon of Gloucester.

Fenn had been famous as “Champion of the Fen” at Cambridge University for his feats in rowing and Jim has a pair of Fenn’s rowing medals and a pewter cup commemorating all of his races. It seems Fenn’s life was going well in the late 1870s when he’d just finished university and brought his fiancé home to meet his father. The only problem came when his father swept his fiancé off her feet (or made her a better offer). Broken hearted and likely not too happy on the family front, Fenn made for New Zealand and a new life. According to many sources, he never opened mail from home. One can imagine he didn’t want to hear from his new stepmother or his father!

Here at the Head of the Lake, he named his property Arcadia (the Greek word for Paradise) and built his first house, which burned down a year later. In time he built himself a cottage where he lived near the Jordan (you can see some of the photos here. The fireplace is still visible) and after another attempt at getting married to Isobel “Poppy” Aitken didn’t work either (the family say that his proposal was more of a business proposal than a romantic one), Fenn seemed to have given up the fairer sex but saw the business potential in building an accommodation house near Diamond Lake. In 1883 he had sold some of his land to his aunt through her first marriage, Kate Mason, which in time would become Paradise and he had seen the success they had experienced. The Mason’s history says that Fenn didn’t socialize with them even though they were both family and neighbors. Maybe Fenn just didn’t want to have much to do with family after his experience in England.

In 1906, Fenn had a mill set up on his property to mill beech for Arcadia. The house was built by Walker and Son of Invercargill. Fenn had no desire to run the guest house himself. Its first manager was the famed guide, Harry Birley and then later the Gardiner’s spent seven years managing it during which time an annex was built to bring it up to 20 rooms (the annex has been gone since the 60s if you’re wondering where it is). In 1919, Fenn sold Arcadia to Alex Reid. Though the guest book lists guests up through about 1924, in time it became a largely private residence and in 1951 Lloyd and Muriel Veint bought Arcadia and it has been in the family ever since.

The guestbook, which the family still owns, has some amazing entries. We’ve photographed a few here for you to enjoy including a very poignant one in 1915 of a soldier who had been at Gallipoli and was convalescing back in New Zealand. What better place to be than Arcadia and how many worlds away it must have seemed. There is also a bit of music composed while at Arcadia and more than one attempt at poetry.

This month’s photos include photos of Arcadia being built in 1906, J.C. Fenn from his Cambridge days, Fenn’s cottage that was along the Jordan (the fireplace is still there), a 1907 advert for Arcadia, an early photo of Cattle Flat, the Glenorchy Tennis club at the opening of the season, an old postcard of Arcadia, some images from the Arcadia guestbook, and below is a lovely link to an episode of The South Tonight with Jim Mora (thanks, Pat!) featuring Arcadia and some of the improvements Jim’s made in his years there.

As one of the oldest houses in the district and certainly among the most distinctive, it’s a pleasure to get to share some of these special images of Arcadia. Thanks so much to Jim and Ros for all of their help with this month’s story.