General Non-Fiction posted July 6, 2019

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Olveston Historic Home

by LisaMay

Tourist Site Contest Winner 

Welcome to Olveston, the Theomin family’s mansion. I’m Annie, the parlour maid. Actually, I’m a GHOST – hanging around for the past century, trying to make amends to the Mistress for ruining her favourite tapestry. That’s it there, in the Billiard Room. I washed it, trying to get that smokey smell out from the gentlemen’s cigars, but all the colours washed out instead! 

The Head Housekeeper wanted me punished, but Mr and Mrs Theomin, God rest their souls, let me stay on. Such a kind couple. 

The Head Housekeeper gave me the worst jobs afterwards – emptying the chamber pots, cleaning out the fireplaces, blacking the coal range in the kitchen, and all the dusting! 

But I didn’t mind – it meant I could touch the Theomin family’s beautiful artefacts: the Tiffany and Venetian glassware; Delftware, china and silverware; bronze and brass items; the carved oak furniture, and all the decorative art from East Asia: the cloisonné and ivory from Japan – oh, and the weaponry in the Vestibule: all those swords. There now, you can see how much dusting is involved, not to mention the exotic rugs and carpets to beat!

The Library’s my favourite room. There’s some lovely leather-bound books with marbled endpapers, and other more modern ones by the likes of Oscar Wilde and Rudyard Kipling. The Theomins were Jewish, so books are in Hebrew and German as well as English. Dorothy was an alpine climber, so there’s books about mountaineering and so many other subjects, even Eastern philosophy and religions. Such a broad-minded family!

I liked Miss Dorothy, with her sense of humour and generosity. She was practical, too – she wore trousers under her Edwardian skirt when climbing mountains! Here’s one of her photo albums – she’s written ‘Log of Joyful Days’ on the front. What a poetic title.  

Do you like art? There’s more than 240 paintings in the collection! Those intricate gilt frames need dusting, too. 

I love it here. There’s nowhere in Dunedin as grand. This place gets a hold on folks. It reminds them of the Edwardian atmosphere of ‘Downton Abbey’ on that new-fangled television I’ve heard about. Olveston was built between 1904 and 1906, so it fits that era of stylish living.

The Theomins knew how to have fun – dances in the Great Hall, music recitals in the Drawing Room, where the 1904 Steinway grand piano is. Do you play the piano? Go on, give us a tune. You’re allowed.

They held fancy dinner parties – wait till you see the Dining Room all laid out for a banquet! These days, the rooms are all set up as if the family are still in residence. It makes it feel like a family member will turn up, or one of us servants will appear, carrying a mop or a log for the fire. Or a duster, ha ha!   

Shhhhh! Here comes a tour guide with her group. See how there’s people from all over the world? Did I tell you that Dorothy, the Mistress’s daughter, bequeathed this stately home and all its contents in 1966? Her brother, Edward, died back in the 1920s after that awful Great War. His sister never married and didn’t have any children, so in her Will she gifted Olveston to be used as a visitor attraction.

I’d best stop chatting and go wind the clocks, like Dorothy requested. We have them each set slightly differently, so they don’t all bong at once. My favourite one’s the French clock from the 1760s, in the Dining Room. 

You should join the tour. Listen to the tour guide – she knows all the stories. She tells visitors that Olveston's “a feast of historic and aesthetic delight – a hub of hospitality”. Cor, she knows some big words. She takes children on tour as well: they sometimes dress up in costume and pretend to be delivery boys and serving girls. 

At the end of the tour, all those children want to live here, even if there is no telly. But they don’t want to be servants, unless it’s to be the chauffeur, so they can drive the family’s restored Fiat 1921 Tourer that we’ve got here.

Did you enjoy your brief taste of Olveston? Come again. The garden's gorgeous, too – registered as a Garden of National Significance. Bring a picnic next time. I’ll tell you more while you play croquet with your friends on the back lawn.

Tourist Site
Contest Winner

Author's Note:
The Theomin family's money was made from various business dealings: importing musical instruments and sheet music, as well as clocks and jewellery; a tannery partnership; and establishing an emporium selling imported Oriental items, mainly items from Japan.
Olveston, named after a village near Bristol, England (the city of Mr Theomin's birth), was designed by British architect Sir Ernest George, with Jacobean revival and Art and Crafts elements.
Mr David Theomin was busy in the world of commerce, and also served as President of the Chamber of Commerce, President of the Hebrew Congregation, President of the Otago Art Society, member of the Dunedin Male Choir and numerous other business, social and charitable organisations.
His wife, Marie, was involved in many philanthropic organisations and was national treasurer of a society that helped support mothers and young families. The family was very involved in the business, social, and cultural life of Dunedin. Their daughter, Dorothy, as well as undertaking civic good work, was a noted alpine climber in New Zealand's challenging Southern Alps.
Mrs Theomin died in 1926; Edward, the son, died in 1928; Mr Theomin in 1933; and daughter Dorothy died in 1966. Soon after, the family home became a tourist site.

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