Richard Nicholas Sayer

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Richard Nicholas Sayer

Also Known As: "Dickey"
Birthplace: Wellington, Wellington City, Wellington, New Zealand
Death: Died in Dalefield, Wellington, New Zealand
Immediate Family:

Son of Richard Burgess Sayer and Jemima Stinson
Husband of Hester Sayer
Father of George Sayer; Mary Edith Elizabeth Waterson; Alice Hall; Frank Sayer; Richard Burgess Sayer and 1 other
Brother of George Henry Sayer; Sarah Elizabeth Braggins and Mary Eliza Renall
Half brother of John Oxenham Ashmore and Arthur Burgess Stinson

Managed by: Jason Scott Wills
Last Updated:

About Richard Nicholas Sayer


Richard "Dickey" Nicholas Sayer was born in Wellington, the eldest son of Richard Burgess Sayer and Jemima Sayer, nee Oxenham. After his father died in 1854, his mother married John Ashmore in 1855 and the family moved to Wairarapa.

He married Hester Blake on July 30, 1864, and the couple had six children.

He died on October 30, 1902, and was buried at Clareville cemetery. He had been gored in the armpit by a prize bull he was walking home from the A and P show and was dead 30 minutes later after hemorrhaging.

Sayer's Slab Whare at Arcus Road, Carterton, is a listed Historic Place Category 1 building. It has national significance as one of the few slab houses remaining in New Zealand.

A rare relic of a once common form of shelter, Sayer's Slab Whare was built in Carterton around 1859, shortly after the area was opened to European settlers as a small farms settlement. Among the first settlers to arrive in Carterton were John Ashmore and his stepson Richard 'Dickey' Sayer. Ashmore, commissioned by the Wellington Provincial Council to build the 'Black Bridge' over the Waiohine River, ran out of funds in 1858. He moved out of the area a year later when Ngati Kahungunu leader Ngatuere Tawhirimatea Tawhao threatened to burn his house down after Ashmore had refused to pay local Maori for grazing rights. The 14 year old Sayer, a friend of Ngatuere, remained. Without funds or assistance, the slab whare was a logical choice of shelter for Sayer, then living at subsistence level as a hunter.

Constructed of totara trees harvested from the land, the simple box-like house could be easily built by a single man with very little outlay other than labour and a heavy iron wedge. Demonstrating carpentry skills that may have been developed during the construction of the Black Bridge, Sayer took considerable trouble to chamfer each slab to ensure that each board would slide neatly in behind the other. Such refinement was unusual and is not normally associated with slab whare construction. The single roomed house had a steeply pitched roof, a single door and two simple, symmetrically arranged windows.

When he turned 20 in 1864 Sayer married Hester Blake and began to farm the surrounding land. Around this time Sayer covered the dirt floor with wooden boards. To create more living space he extended the whare by adding a lean-to. This was not an unusual form of housing at the time. In 1865 the New Zealand Advertiser disdainfully described Carterton as a settlement consisting of 'slab shanties and bark whares', illustrating the popularity of this form of housing construction in the area. Sayer, his wife, and their six children lived in the whare until the mid 1880s.

As the settlement developed and saw-milled weatherboards became increasingly available, the slab whare was gradually replaced with the more elegant New Zealand villa. Many whare were converted into storage spaces or used to house animals. When Sayer moved into a new villa just metres away his son, Richard Burgess Sayer, moved into the whare. When Sayer died in 1902, gored to death by a bull reared on his farm, his son moved into the villa. The whare may have been unoccupied until 1930, when Sayer's grandson moved in after wiring the shelter for electricity. The whare remained in use until the Sayers' leased and later sold the property to its current owners in 1967. Efforts by the owners to transform the whare into a museum have not been realised and today this rare example of early settler housing is used as a woodshed.

As an example of an early form of housing used by Pakeha settlers, Sayer's Slab Whare is highly significant and has considerable potential to provide insight into early New Zealand history. Use of the slab and batten technique to create simple box-style whare from native timbers was a common practice in early Pakeha settlements. Sayer's Slab Whare is an eloquent example of how such whare were constructed and the degree of comfort they could give their owners. The whare is also noteworthy for the unusual care and skill that went into its construction. Chamfered boards and features such as the stone path leading to the house were not typically found in such shelters. Such attention to comfort may partially explain the continued use of Sayer's Slab Whare when most were abandoned for the New Zealand villa style of house. Despite the numerous changes that occurred to the whare throughout its long history as a residence, much of the original construction remains.

As one of the few such whare that has survived into the present, Sayer's Slab Whare is significant for its rarity. Although the simple box cottage style is well represented by examples built in stone, cob and weatherboard construction, there are only three other registered examples of slab housing. The only registered example of slab construction in the Wairarapa is Lars Anderson Schou Barn. The whare is therefore locally significant as an example of housing that evidence suggests was once prevalent in the Wairarapa area between the 1850s and 1880s. It has national significance as one of the few slab houses remaining in New Zealand.

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Richard Nicholas Sayer's Timeline

Wellington, Wellington City, Wellington, New Zealand
December 25, 1864
Age 20
New Zealand
December 25, 1864
Age 20
New Zealand
January 1866
Age 22
Carterton, Wellington, New Zealand
February 29, 1872
Age 28
New Zealand
September 7, 1872
Age 28
New Zealand
November 28, 1873
Age 29
Greytown, South Wairarapa District, Wellington, New Zealand
October 30, 1902
Age 58
Dalefield, Wellington, New Zealand