Dr Thomas Renwick
A busy settler in early Marlborough and Nelson
Dr Thomas Renwick was born in Dumfries, Scotland in 1818, trained as a doctor and quickly rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy as a ships’ doctor. On May 26, 1842, he set sail for Nelson on the New Zealand Company ship Thomas Harrison. Under his steady and methodical hand, there were only two casualties during the long and hard voyage. The Thomas Harrison arrived in Nelson in October of the same year.1
Later in 1842, it is believed that Renwick helped a young Chinese ship’s steward, Appo Hocton , who was charged with desertion from the Thomas Harrison and sentenced to 30 days in the ‘house of correction’ on Church Hill. Family stories persist that he was freed without serving his sentence, possibly assisted by Renwick. In any case, in 1843 Hocton began working for Renwick as a housekeeper, saving enough money to buy a bullock and cart and setting up his own business.2
Dr Renwick set up a medical practice in Nelson and used his modest profits to buy livestock: cattle, pigs, ducks and merino sheep. He also supplied money to George Hooper, a passenger from Thomas Harrison, to establish the region’s first brewery.1 Despite several changes of name and ownership, Hooper and Co. was a stalwart Nelson institution until it was finally bought out by DB Breweries in 1969.3
In the four years that followed, Renwick became an influential Nelsonian, and a member of the Nelson Provincial Council. He married Adeline Absolom on August 11th 1846. In 1849 he was appointed a trustee of the Kirk (Church of Scotland) in Nelson after helping to build the first Presbyterian Church in the region.4
Adeline Renwick was a wealthy woman, and her money allowed Thomas to first lease, then purchase, a large amount of land in the Awatere in 1848. He named this 8500 hectare parcel of land Dumgree after his home in Scotland. He went on to buy the Delta Dairy (originally owned by the Honourable Constantine Dillon), a 4800 hectare run at Waihopai in 1855. While Renwick lived in Nelson, he spent much of his time travelling around to survey his Marlborough properties.
Dr Renwick was noted for his meticulous scientific mind, which he applied to all things, including farming; he left detailed notes for his staff on how to complete specific activities on the farm.5
In the years that followed, it became apparent that Renwick wanted a self-sufficient and self-governing region of the Wairau - separate from Nelson. In 1853, while a member of the Nelson Provincial Council, he, along with other Wairau settlers, pushed hard for the establishment of a separate province of Marlborough, which they achieved in 1859.
After visiting Europe with his family, Renwick returned to New Zealand some time in 1862-1863, and was summoned to the Legislative Council in Wellington in October 1863.6 He was a senator in the Upper House of the New Zealand Parliament until his death in 1879.7
Adeline Renwick’s health was failing and she did not enjoy New Zealand, which she found unstimulating and devoid of culture. She returned to London, divorced Thomas in 1869 and died8 a year later. He married the young Anne Smith9 just after New Year’s Day 1872.10
They bought Newstead House in 1877 and renamed it Renwick House. It was Thomas' home for just two years, but Anne lived there until her death, at which time, the Government bought the two-acre property comprising Renwick House and surrounding grounds to support the growth of Nelson Central School. The house is still a part of the school.
Thomas Renwick died on May 29th 1879 and is buried in the old Presbyterian section of Nelson’s historic Wakapuaka Cemetery. Renwicktown would later be renamed Renwick and sits on the banks of the Wairau to this day.
Mrs Anne Renwick owned Dumgree until her death in Aberdeen in 1937. It was later farmed by a nephew, until it was sold out of the family in 1977.11
The Marlborough Museum holds photographs, clothes and about 700 letters relating to the Renwick family.12 You can read excerpts from some letters here.
Sources used in this story
- Airey, E. (1979) Renwick: the story of a pioneer family. Wellington, N.Z.: Elisabeth Airey.
- Murphy, N.R. (2002) A Chronology of Events Relating to the History of the Chinese in New Zealand, Wellington: Alexander Turnbull Library, p.2
- Kuckuck, F & Grau, M. (2013, March 17) How Nelson became the craft brewing capital. Retrieved from Stuff.
- Thomas Renwick. Retrieved from Wikipedia August, 2017:
- The Adeline Renwick Trust (1882, April 10) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2:
- Wong, S. (2011, November 16). Retrieved from Stuff:
- Awatere Valley past & present. Retrieved August 2017 from:
- Dr Thomas Renwick. Marlborough Museum, virtual exhibit:
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Further sources - Dr Thomas Renwick
- Airey, E. (1979) Renwick: the story of a pioneer family. Wellington, N.Z.: Elisabeth Airey
- Berry, K. (1986) Scrutiny on the county. Blenheim, N.Z.: Marlborough County Council, p. 13, 25, 140, 147, 172-174, 199, 217.
- Brooks, C. (2011)(comp.), Marlborough: celebrating 150 years. Blenheim, N.Z.: The Marlborough District Council, p. 40, 49.
- The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts] Marlborough Provincial District - The Marlborough Land District (1906) christchurch: Cyclopedia company, p. 28
- Hodson, G. (2014) Onamalutu - a sentimental journey. Blenheim: N.Z.: Friends of the Renwick Museum and Watson Memorial Library. p. 5
- Kennington, A.L. (2007) The Awatere: a district and its people Christchurch, N.Z. Cadsonbury Publications, p 54-56, 57, 69, 158.
- McIntosh, A. D.(ed.) (1977) Marlborough: a provincial history. Christchurch, N.Z. : Capper Press, p. 96, 97, 99, 197.
- Stevenson, M. W. (1988) The Awatere valley: today and yesterday. Blenheim,N.Z.: Committee of Awatere Valley Women’s Division Federated Farmers, p. 53.
- Allan, H.F. (1985, October) The Story of Newstead or Renwick House. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies 1(5)
- Wilson, J. (1992) Farm survivors. New Zealand Historic Places 38, p 27-8
From Papers Past
- Naval promotions. New Zealander, 2(96), 3 April 1847.
- Provincial Council. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume XV, issue 1, 2 April 1856
- Council Paper. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume XV, 4 February 1857
- Provincial Council. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume XVI, issue 0, 16 May 1857
- Provincial Council. Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, volume XVI, issue 15, 20 May 1857
- Provincial Council. The Colonist, volume II, issue 163, 13 May 1859
- Appointment to Legislative Council Richmond. The Colonist, volume VI, issue 625, 20 October 1863
- Resident Magistrate's Court. Nelson Evening Mail, volume II, issue 217, 16 September 1867
- Death notices. Wellington Independent, volume XXV, issue 3022, 21 July 1870
- New Zealand Parliament. Marlborough Express, volume XI, issue 848, 9 September 1876
- "Pickings from Hansard." Marlborough Express, volume XI, issue 852, 23 September 1876
- The Renwick Road Act. Marlborough Express, volume XI, issue 869, 22 November 1876
- Death. Nelson Evening Mail, volume xiv, issue 274, 29 November 1879
- The Colonist The Colonist, volume XXII, issue 2636, 6 December 1879, supplement
- Formal Separation, 1862. Retrieved 28 June 2017 from : Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
- Marlborough Museum. Virtual exhibit. Dumgree photograph album.
- Dr Thomas Renwick. Marlborough Museum, virtual exhibit:
- Thomas Renwick. Retrieved from Marlborough Online.