Monday, December 03, 2012


This is the story of a lovely old house - and of the lady who lived there.
The house was called Hillcrest, because it was on a hill on Norfolk Island, with a lovely view down to the sea. The house belonged to Maria Heaps (nee Bailey) and she was my husband's great-aunt.

 Maria was one of six children born to George Bailey and his wife Emily (nee Christian.)  In this picture Maria is the girl in the centre at the back. Her sister Charlotte is on her mother's lap, and her brothers Gilly, Herbie and  Charles are in the picture.Tom was not yet born.

Here is a later picture of the family outside their home "Greenacre". Maria is the girl to the left.
And here is Maria as a young woman with her parents.

This very elegant picture of Maria has become well-known on Norfolk Island, for reasons I will explain later.

Maria met the love of her life Frank Watson Heaps, commonly known as "Dick." Dick had come from New Zealand to work in the Pacific Cable Board. They were wed at All Saints' Church at Kingston in 1907.
It was a most elegant wedding.
This is Dick Heaps snuff box.

 Dick and Maria made a journey to New Zealand where they visited Maria's relatives in the Bailey family. I suspect that Maria was delighted for the chance to catch up with the latest fashions!

 Here they are at Rotorua.

 Maria and her sister Charlotte were close. They are seen here together in the Hillcrest garden.

 Maria and Dick had no children, but they loved to entertain and have visitors to the lovely home they later built on land given to Maria by her mother. It was probably built around 1920, and used timbers bought from the Melanesian Mission when they dismantled their buildings and left that year.
Maria's mother had inherited about 28 from her father Charles Christian, who had purchased a 50 acre grant from the flour miller, James Dawe when he left the island in 1862. Other portions (each about 7 acres) were given to her children Charlotte, Herbert and Charles, and all built homes nearby to Hillcrest.

 The home was built of Norfolk pine, but contained a lot of beautiful kauri. The verandah was faced with shingles, as you can see here.
What a wonderful teaparty on the lawn!! I think that is Maria on the far right. Dick is standing behind the ladies right over on the left. I suspect I may still have that tablecloth - Maria did exquisite embroidery and crochet work.

 Many a visitor or paying guest enjoyed a pleasant afternoon in the Hillcrest garden.

 And what a beautiful garden it was, with all sorts of trees, shrubs and flowers, laid out between carefully planned paths. You can still just see some of the layout in the place today. 

The home was as gracious as its owners. Upstairs were three lovely little attic bedrooms, and her great-nephew Bernie (my husband) spent many days and nights at that house with his favourite "Auntie Mar-ai". Maria's name was pronounced as it is in Black Maria (rhyming with "fire.")

 There was a croquet lawn in front of the house, where many happy hours were spent.
Maria's sister Charlotte was also an elegant person, a true gentlewoman. The two girls had been brought up as ladies by their British father, and had been taught the "gentle arts" of needlework, music and painting. Charlotte called her property next door "Devon", because that was where their father George had come from before migrating to New Zealand and then coming to Norfolk Island.

 Maria and Dick took in paying guests. In those days, people mostly came to the island by ship, and stayed for two or three months. Many of these visitors would have been reasonably well-off and financially independent, but there would have been very few complaints about the hospitality, the service, and the restful atmosphere at Hillcrest.
When Dick finished his job with the Cable Board, he took on the job of Postmaster. At that time, the Post Office was in one of the Kingston buildings. I am told that there was a time when an extremely large sum of money disappeared from the Post Office. Dick had a fair idea of who had stolen it, but because he was in charge, he felt responsible. Maria mortgaged Hillcrest to an American so he could repay the money. Her brothers Tom and Gilly repaid the debt, and took over the mortgage.

 Do you wonder what sort of bird is kept in the cage in the picture below? Bernie tells me that it was a canary. Later, Maria gave  the cage to him, and he was given a couple of canaries to put in it. The cage then hung on the verandah of his grandparents' home where Governor's Lodge now stands.
Maria died in the 1950's. Dick had died before her. Maria's brothers Tom and Gilly assumed control of the estate. Hillcrest was leased to Iris (nee Christian) and Clem Thomas, who continued to run it as a guest house.
The home, and its seven acres, was later sold to a Mr Jim Needham, who erected a shop on the road frontage. The shop was known as "Nimpex"
Later, the old home became the restaurant/kitchen for a new hotel, which still took the old Hillcrest name. A two storey unit block was built, with a reception/office complex that linked the new building to the old home.
 The restaurant was known as "Maria's". Over the years it was also known as "Mariah's" and "Maria Heaps." It was a elegant and gracious setting, and Maria would have approved, seeing so many visitors enjoying themselves in her lovely home.
 There were stories about her ghost being seen on the old staircase, but I do not believe she would ever have sought to unnerve anyone.
 The front of the house was altered to include some lovely wide French doors, overlooking the old croquet lawn. Later a large verandah and a pool were added.
 The hotel had various owners and operators over the years, but locals always felt the place was special. People especially like to sit in front of the old fireplace in the winter as they enjoyed a coffee or a drink.
Then one night in 1993, something terrible happened.
 The fire started in the old fireplace and quickly spread.
 By morning the old home was gone, although most of the rest of the hotel remained intact.
 There was a rebuilding programme over the next year, with a lovely new building designed to take advantage of the lovely sea vistas. Meanwhile hotel guests dined under a marquee on the old croquet lawn! You can just see it on the far right of this next picture.

 One of the first functions in the new "Maria's" at Hillcrest was our daughter's wedding, in March 1994.
I an so glad we still have a few concrete reminders of Maria, such as this picture in a handcarved frame made by Auntie Linda. Many girls at that time were taught to carve. A blown up version of this particular picture was always in the restaurant, and it was also used on the menus. The enlarged picture that graced the restaurant is now in the home of another family member.

 The little writing desk under the picture also belonged to Maria.
Here is the front of one of the menus, featuring Maria in that lovely dress..
And here is the dress itself! We still have it!

This is a hexagonal table that Aunty carved. I know it is cluttered - we keep the books we read to Liam and Nate on  it.
Every leg is carved with a different design. And no nails or glue have been used in making it.

You can see what a beautiful setting the old house was in.
So, why have I written this story? Well, we were told by the new owner that Hillcrest is no more. It is now Heritage Hill. But I wanted to tell the story of the real Hillcrest heritage, over 100 years of it. We were told that Hillcrest is dead! But not in our hearts and memories. 


Anonymous said...

What a shame that the new owners felt they had to change the name. Hillcrest is a more apt name as well.

Thank you for sharing your story I enjoyed reading about it all.

suziqu's thread works said...

Oh Mary I have so enjoyed reading this hisotry about Hillcrest and seeing you have Maria's dress there makes it all the more so very special and memorable.
Just amazing!
My husband of 33 years is a New Zealander too.
I'll be back later to read more.
x Suzy

Alex Black. said...

That was a nice read.
In the early eighties my mother visited Norfolk Island from NZ with a couple of lady friends. My mother's birth name was Heaps and she told me that she was related to Maria Heaps. I am not sure what the exact relationship was. My mother was born in 1920. She really loved her visit to Norfolk and so did her friends. One of them commented that you could sit on the veranda and watch lettuces grow. The climate was so good.

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