The Yardley Chair

The Yardley Chair

This chair was made by Walter John Yardley in Palmerston in 1866. Yardley was born in 1842 and so would have been 24 when he made the chair. Walter worked as a haulage carrier, driving a team of horses around the district, delivering goods and supplies. He was kicked in the head by one of the horses and killed whilst trying to fix the spreader of one of the harnesses near Kyeburn Station in 1877. He was 36.

Early immigrants to New Zealand didn’t have the opportunity to buy furniture upon arrival, and space on the ships was very limited. Due to the limited area on board, any space saving measures were taken. For example, it was important that trunks and chests that were taken had flat tops, so could be sat on or have other items placed on top. Non-essential furniture was usually left behind. This lack of household furniture meant people who were not professional carpenters often made their own tables and chairs. These are sometimes known as ‘primitive’ furniture, and this chair is an excellent example of that. It’s more sophisticated than a lot of early chairs and stools, which often consisted of a slab of wood fitted with rough peg legs driven into holes.

All ‘primitive’ furniture is unique and doesn’t conform to traditional design. Not many pieces have survived, but those that have can help a great deal with our understanding of what the conditions and life was like for these settlers. As the population grew, factory-made furniture was imported and these ‘primitives’ were usually discarded and so are rare to find today. This chair has the arms slightly too high to be comfortable, the back is flat, and overall it’s a bit low. There is a high level of handwork on the chair, and it’s been varnished and painted several times over the years. The chair is most likely made of totara. It’s weathered, and appears to have been outside for a long period of time.

Walter Yardley married Margaret Christie in 1861. They had nine children together, one of whom, Walter, became a blacksmith in Duntroon around 1896, acquiring the title for the land the smithy was on in 1904. Yardley Jr sold the business to Nicol Slater Muirden, and Nicol’s Blacksmith still stands today as an excellent example of a nineteenth century blacksmith’s shop, complete with its chattels.

NOM 78/311

Morgan Bennet