The cottage is a replica of a typical dwelling lived in by a Fencible family in the 1850s. The Fencibles were a corps of retired soldiers that was raised after the Northern War (1845–46) to defend Auckland against any attack by Maori from the south. About 700 men and 1900 wives and children had arrived from England by 1852. Each family was given an acre (0.4 ha) of land and basic accommodation. The men were liable for military service if required for 10 years after their arrival. They were called out only once – to a false alarm.

The brick blockhouse near the cottage was built in 1860 and occupied by Auckland militia just before the Waikato War (1863–64). Erected on rising ground overlooking Manukau Harbour, it is the only survivor of 10 similar structures on the southern fringes of Auckland, between Parnell and Otahuhu.

The reserve also houses the Onehunga Fencible & Historical Society Inc.

Image attribution: David Green.

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Map showing Fencible Cottage and Blockhouse