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Island Homes: Devon House

Island Homes: Devon House

Hidden from view behind a woodland frontage and accessed by a twisting driveway through majestic Norfolk pines, stands Devon House. This gracious old home was built in the early 1920s for Miss Charlotte Bailey who inherited the property from her mother’s estate.

Charlotte’s parents married in 1875 — one of the earliest marriages between a Bounty
descendant from Pitcairn Island and a free settler. The celebration cemented the union between Emily Wellesley Christian and George Bailey who emigrated with his parents from Devon, England to New Zealand, and thence to Norfolk Island. George Bailey arrived on Norfolk Island to work at the Melanesian Mission, a mission training school during the latter part of the 19th century.

Charlotte’s home, built by her brother Charlie in a typical New Zealand “bungalow” style, was named after her father’s birthplace. Strangely enough, Charlotte herself never moved into Devon House. She remained unmarried and continued to live in her parents’ home across the road. Devon House became home to a number of tenants prior to being commandeered during World War II by the New Zealand Army to serve as headquarters to the resident Colonel. An encampment of tents took up one area of the property, and the concrete remains of the Officers’ Mess grease traps and drains can still be seen today.

During this time, at least two substantial army huts were constructed on the property, one of which later became the basis for “Devon Cottage”, a second home on the estate. This
became Charlotte’s much loved little home (most of the time) until she died at the age of 101. A second hut constructed alongside “Devon” was eventually incorporated into the main house, but was always known as “the annex”.

In the 1960s, Charlotte, or “Mum” Bailey as she was known (even though she never had
children) invited her nephew George and his wife Dorothy to move into the main homestead after they returned from having been in Sydney for some years. George was a handy carpenter, and made many improvements to the building while Dorothy, a keen gardener, always had a jardiniere of big cuttings sitting in the fireplace, waiting for them to strike roots.

By the 1990s, the older generations had passed on. At this time George and Dorothy’s son Bernie and his wife Mary moved from their house at Fletcher Christian Apartments to make Devon their family home. Mary says, “There was one plant that Dorothy was really fond of – a mauvy-pink Pentas shrub. Every now and then, a new Pentas appears mysteriously around the house, along the driveway, or on the edge of the woodland. I can’t help thinking that Ma (Dorothy) has been paying us a visit.” Although the house has been extended, and some rooms moved around, they were determined to keep the wonderful character of the place. “We did not do anything unless we thought George and Dorothy or Charlotte would approve of it,” says Mary. “One thing that was important to us was to have plenty of windows in the kitchen. Dorothy had been on the short side and had difficulty seeing out of her rather high kitchen window. She loved to see who was coming to the door!”

Some of the dark woodwork was painted white to lighten the interior, and the beautiful old New Zealand matai boards, lifted from the kitchen and the refurbished bathroom, were put down in the hallway leading to the extension, providing a link between the old and new. Bernie says, “People have always said that Devon has good ‘vibes’. I think this is because my parents were always so welcoming and hospitable, and I like to think we have followed on this tradition.”

Devon covers seven acres, and Mary and Bernie joke that it has become almost like a Christian-Bailey compound. The youngest son Edward still lives at home, and Peter, who is working in Brisbane, comes home at every opportunity. Son John now lives in Devon Cottage, and down behind the main house, overlooking the valley facing out to sea. Son Charles has built “Devonside” for himself, wife Kim and son William. Devonside is built in the old style, and recently a property valuer had difficulty believing it was only eight years old.

On another part of the property there is a mini-industrial site, with John operating his
Joinery business, and Charles a rapidly expanding building supply and hardware business. There is a buffer of trees between the houses and this area, and also a large area of woodland between all the buildings and the road. Mary and Bernie hope this woodland, with its many natives and nesting birds, will remain there for a long time into the future.

There is always something going on at Devon. All day long the dogs are ready to give the signal that someone is coming down the driveway. Even the cats share themselves around the three homes, as if they are unsure which one is really their own. Young William is now old enough to come and spend time with Granny and Grandad, and when daughter Miriam, and granddaughters Sarah and Emily come over to stay from New Zealand, Devon is really humming.

Because the living areas in the house are small, three years ago the Christian-Baileys built a large covered patio area. This is where they enjoy big family breakfasts on Saturday mornings. It is also the focal point for big gatherings of family and friends at Christmas, Bounty Day and Thanksgiving.

There are many reminders of generations past within Devon, such as pictures and lovely furniture items. “We have many treasures that tell a story,” says Mary. “It is so good to feel a link with those who have gone before us, and especially Charlotte, who made it possible for us, and for our family, to enjoy living in this wonderful place today.”


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in 2899 Magazine V1 Iss1, 2008. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.


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