Home History: Aigantighe

Ever wondered how the Aigantighe Art Gallery got its name? Before it became a gallery, it was originally the home of Alexander and Helen Grant. The Grants were Scottish immigrants who farmed a rural high country station, Gray’s Hill. But they wanted a house in town for their retirement, so in 1905 they built a beautiful new home on Wai-iti Street and called it “Aigantighe”. Pronounced “ay-gan-tie”, it is a Scottish Gaelic term for “Welcome to our home”. (Other earlier documentation prounced it "egg-an-ie). Helen lived in the house until she was 101, and it was her wish for it to become a gallery. After she died, her family gifted the house to the City of Timaru and it has been used as a gallery ever since.

Timaru's street layout has changed a lot over the years. Timaru became a borough in 1862 and there is an early map showing the boundary and layout of the town and beyond, which is very different from what it looks like today!

The Aigantighe was built on land that was originally set aside for a cemetery. When the city decided on a different site instead, the land was split into residential sections.

Next door was the Beverly Estate which took up most of the block between Wai-iti Rd, Evans and Selwyn Street. This was the home of Henry J. Le Cren, another early Timaru character who established Timaru's first commercial landing service in 1859.

When the Grants lived here they would have seen the gas lighting and surface drainage on Wai-iti Rd which was completed in 1904. Shingle footpaths were also constructed around 1905 and hydroelectric current was supplied in 1907. By 1913 many public streets in Timaru were lit this way.

The house is a typical example of the townhouses built by New Zealand’s nineteenth-century rural landowners while they continued to live and work on their runs.

The Grants were keen horticulturalists and worked hard to establish gardens and trees around the house, including oaks, cheery trees and magnolias. An orchard was later planted near the bottom of the garden. Many of the trees can still be seen today in the public sculpture garden.

Alexander Grant died on July 21, 1920 at the age of 89, this wife Helen died on the same day July 21, 1955 at the age of 101. When Helen Grant died at 101 years of age in 1955, her son James Grant inherited the house and gifted it to the City of Timaru to be used as an art gallery. It was opened in 1956 and to mark the occasion Lady Norrie planted a magnolia tree (this was later replaced in 1990). The Aigantighe then became home to Clifford Brunsden who was an artist and the first director of the gallery.

A new wing was added in 1978 which was designed by South Canterbury architect Ronald L. Dohig. The Friends of Aigantighe was established and donated artworks and funds towards the Gallery extension.

The Aigantighe Art Gallery Colltion now has an extensive collection of 1735 artworks. The oldest painting dates from c.1665. Some of the celebrated paintings in the Aigantighe collection are by Charles Frederick Goldie. It is saidm that he studied portraiture under Sir James Guthrie in London. Guthrie was the uncle of Lorna Guthrie who married James Grant and in 1955, Grant gave the Aigantighe home to Timaru so that it could become an art gallery. Lorna Grant knew Goldie and the two smaller paintings by him which she owned are part of the Aigantighe gallery's collection. The McCahon pictures were donated by Betty Curnow (neé Le Cren).

Sculpture Garden can be vistied any time for freem and you can see over 25 sculptures including works by Fred Graham, Buck Nin and Pat Foster. It includes thirteen of these sculptures by Arnold Wilson, Bernard Matamera, Matt Pine, Locardia Ndandarika, Bernard Takawira, Albert McCarthy, Atsuo Okamoto, Fred Graham, Buck Nin, Dan de Har, Darcy Nicolas, John Bevan Ford and Nicholas Mukomberanwa. These works are the result of an international Stone Carving Symposium who used Mt Somers Stone, that was held at Maungati in South Canterbury in February 1990.


J.W. Grant (1879 - 1969) In 1881 Alexander Grant purchased Grays Hills, down the Haldon Rd, in the Mackenzie from Captain Baldwin who had purchased the 47,000 acres from Fletcher and Sherries for £16,000. This tussock run Grant enlarged to about 60,000 acres carried approx. 15,000 merino sheep. His son, James William Grant, became a partner in 1908. A manager was put on when James went off to WW1 in 1917-1918. Marion Lorna Guthrie married James William Grant in 1916. A manager was put on when James went off to WW1 in 1917-1918. Alex. Grant sold part of the run to his son James in 1911, he retained the original run until his death in 1919, after which it passed to James’ wife. In 1948 the property was sold to David Urquhart and the 58,800 acre property is still in the Urquhart family today. Mr and Mrs J.W. Grant retired to Timaru to "The Croft" also set on spacious grounds. James Grant treasured the many fine specimens of trees on his Park Lane property - and his gardens gave him considerable pleasure with its fine showing of azaleas and camellias. At one time he was president of the local Rhododendron Society. James Grant bequeathed to the city of Timaru The Croft and The Aigantighe. James wife Lorna had an uncle Sir James Guthrie who taught portraiture to the famous artist Charles Frederick Goldie. Lorna Grant knew Goldie and the two smaller paintings by him which she owned are part of the Aigantighe gallery's collection. - sites.rootsweb.com/Croft

Death notice TH 20 June 1969 reads: GRANT, James William (Hamish) on June 19th, 1969 at Timaru, loved husband of Lorna GRANT of 12 Park Lane and late of Gray Hills Station in his 91st year. Private funeral. No flowers please. HALL and MOORE

Burkes Pass Cemetery. Headstones only. James William GRANT 20 March 1879 - 19 June 1969 of Gray Hills Station and his wife Marion Lorna 23 Nov 1885 - 30 Jan 1972


Jessie Wigley, the interior designer daughter. On June 15th 1910 at Chalmers Church, Rodolph Lysaght Wigley, second son of the late Thos. H. Wigley, of Opuha married Jessie Christie (born 1880 21st Dec) daughter of Alexander and Helen Grant, Gray's Hills. Jessie has been described as the Lady behind the Aigantighe. She had a big involvement in the arts community of South Canterbury. At the age of 21 she took on the responsibility of decorating the interior of the Grand's new Queen Anne Revival Edwardian house, which would later become the Aigantighe Art Gallery. Jessie was creative and practical, and channeled her energies into carving wooden furniture (to add to what had been ordered from Glasgow), selecting wall paper, and sewing bedspreads and curtains for the family over a period of several months. The family moved into the completed and prepared home in 1905. Jessie had six children with Rodolph and died 1968 1st Dec. Learn more here: Learn more about Jessie here: aigantighe.co.nz/jessie-wigley

The Aigantighe connection to the street art on Strathallan Street. Rodolph's Mt. Cook Motor Car Service provided the first car transportation from Fairlie to the Hermitage in February 1906. In 1913 Jessie designed the company's lily motif after the giant mountain buttercup (incorrectly called the Mt Cook 'lily'.) Flowers November to January.  Today the symbol still represents the goodwill of the company, a permanent memorial to the Wigley's and the dramatic Mackenzie Country. You can see street art on Strathallan Street celebrating the design. sites.rootsweb.com/wigley




How you can join the history hunt...

If you are looking to learn about the Aigantighe their is an awesome write up here which is what we used: See page 48, Heritage Assessment by Ian Bowan Architect and Conservitor and Laura Dunham Historian): timaru.govt.nz/Community-Services-Commmittee-26-November-2019.pdf

Visit the Aigantighe website for details about the painting of Helen Grant by Archibald Nichol: aigantighe.co.nz/archibald-nicoll (This painting of Helen joined the Aigantighe Art Gallery Collection in 1998 when it was gifted by a family member) the house and gallery history:  aigantighe.co.nz/gallerys-history

See photo at the Grays Hills Station with Helen Grant on the veranda of the homestead, while Mr Alexander Grant leaning on the fence. Two children also appear in the photograph - possibly their daughter Jessie, in the push chair between her parents, and son James, seated on the veranda. A small wooden addition or outbuilding appears behind the homestead: timdc.pastperfectonline.com



Alexander Grant (1832-1921) was the son of James Grant and Helen Grant
Helen Lindsay Grant (Banks) (1854-1955)  was the daughter of Robert Lindsay Banks and Jessie Banks
James Grant (1879–1969) Son of Alexander and Helen. Married Lorna Guthrie.
Jessie Christie Wigley (1881-1968) Daughter of Alexander and Helen. Wife of Rodolph Lysaght Wigley