Legend has it that the front doors of the England Brothers Architectural Office blew open dramatically and there entered the eccentric rich land owner Allan McLean, demanding the startled staff inside to see some house designs. Upon showing him a plan for a four bedroom house that was proving popular in Christchurch at that time, Allan exclaimed, “Not four rooms, forty rooms!”
The Scottish born Allan McLean and his brothers arrived in Lyttelton in 1852. Experienced farmers, the trio brought up land and ran their own farms. This part of history is acknowledged today in the naming of the recreational area, McLeans Island. In 1854, the brothers sold their Christchurch properties and moved on to Ashburton and Otago. ‘Morven Hills’, the Otago estate was 500,000 acres and was the largest run in New Zealand at that time. Allan settled in Waimate, building a fine homestead of 21 bedrooms known as ‘Waikakahi’.
Allan’s world was turned upside down when the government forced the Settlements Act on him in 1894. Due to the intense need for more land, those who owned large runs were encouraged to sell up – the Act making it compulsory, especially for those who dug their heels in. Heartbroken at losing ‘Waikakahi’, Allan left the Waimate district. He next appeared in the office of the England Brothers.
Allan got more than forty rooms in his new mansion, he got fifty three. ‘Holly Lea’ was finished in 1900, in Allan’s 78th year. It was the largest wooden house in New Zealand at the time. Allan died there in 1907, leaving the mansion to his housekeeper, Emily Phillips, who had been more like a companion. She moved on in 1913, opening ‘Holly Lea’ to its future as the McLeans Institute.
According to Allan’s wishes, ‘Holly Lea’ became a home for educated, refined women who were dealing with troubled times. It served this purpose until 1955. Before the earthquakes, the Christchurch Academy that ran courses for those wanting to learn trades such as brick-laying or hairdressing, called the old place home.
Now known as the McLeans Mansion, it can be found at 387 Manchester Street. Closed since the 2010/2011 earthquakes, the place has featured in the news as its fate hangs in the balance. As the structure is no danger to the public, time is being taken over its future (as at 2015).
For a more in depth look at Allan McLean, please check out the following link: http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/mcleans-island-allan-mclean-1822-1907/