Early prominent Marlburians
Two doctors and a shopkeeper were key figures in turning Blenheim from a settlement notorious for a spirit of lawlessness into a bustling market town.1
Dr Stephen Lunn Muller (1814 -1891)
Originally from Camberwell, near London,2 Dr Stephen Muller arrived in Nelson in 1850. He was Nelson's Provincial Secretary until 1857, when he became Blenheim's resident magistrate and post master.3
Dr Muller did not practise medicine in New Zealand, but his abilities were crucial to the development of the fledgling colony. From the beginning he was involved in the promotion of education in the Wairau, and the establishment of a library in the province.4
By all accounts, Dr Muller was a political moderate who possessed a high moral character. But, in 1872 he was replaced by Mr Eyes, the new Commissioner of Crown Lands and Provincial Secretary. The Nelson Evening Mail thundered: " To superannuate Dr Muller, is an insult to him, and to the country alike...assuming that he, in the prime of life, as regards his intellect, and very little senior to his successor, is no longer able to perform those duties which he has hitherto discharged to the satisfaction of all."5
Eyes was apparently Muller's inferior and was disgraced by a domestic scandal and forced to resign. 6
Dr Muller was reinstated as magistrate. At his retirement in 1878, Dr Muller described the early days of Blenheim as ‘a sort of pandemonium filled with all sorts of bad characters' but ‘that the place increased in size, and the good feeling of the better class of settlers, combined with the assistance of the police gradually prevailed.' 7
Dr Muller was married to early women's rights advocate, Mary Anne Muller and was an affectionate husband, who possibly disapproved of his wife's views due to his position as an upholder of the law. 8
Dr George Cleghorn (1850- 1902)
George Cleghorn received his medical training at St Thomas's Hospital, London, emigrating to New Zealand in 1876.9
Click image to enlarge
Shortly after his arrival in Blenheim, Cleghorn began general practice. He was appointed medical officer to the newly established Wairau Hospital in July 1878, where he remained for more than 20 years. He quickly became known as an efficient and innovative surgeon, who attracted patients from throughout New Zealand. 10 He was one of the first surgeons in the colony to use antiseptics and perform complex abdominal operations. 11
Cleghorn performed what is believed to have been New Zealand's first successful appendicectomy. Then, in 1893, when the premier, John Ballance, was mortally ill with appendicitis, Cleghorn was called in to operate, but Ballance died of peritonitis a few days later.12
When the New Zealand branch of the British Medical Association held its first annual meeting in Nelson on 9 March 1897, Cleghorn was elected its first president 13 and he was a prominent figure at medical conferences.14
In 1900 Cleghorn left Blenheim due to ill health. Three hundred gold sovereigns collected by the public and gifts from residents of the Wairau Pa were presented to Dr and Mrs Cleghorn. "..on the day of his departure from Blenheim he deservedly received the most flattering send-off ever accorded to anyone by the people of Marlborough." 15
Cleghorn spent a year in England and undertook further medical study, before returning to establish a consultant surgical practice in Wanganui in 1901. He died at Wanganui on 11 June 1902 and was survived by his third wife, Helen, and three children.16
Dr Cleghorn was noted for his philanthropy, treating many poor patients for nothing. "None ever filled the place in the heart of the community that Dr Cleghorn enjoyed. ..he was as kind as he was skilful."17
The Cleghorn Memorial band rotunda, which still stands today, was erected in Blenheim by public subscription in 1903. 18
William (Billy) Carr 1856 -1934
Billy Carr set up business in a small tin shed as an iron, zinc, gas and water fitter on October 4, 1881. 19
Carr was born in Taranaki and trained as a tinsmith in Nelson before moving to Blenheim. When he died, aged 78, he was one of the largest property owners in Blenheim, owning shops, a timber yard, contracting business and a picture theatre. During the Depression he helped a struggling widow pay for her husband's funeral and then in partnership with Sowmans, the undertakers, began to offer a hearse, driver and casket for £15. 20
Carr's hardware emporium offered everything necessary to build a house and furnish it and Christmas was a highlight with a Santa Claus and generous threepenny lucky dips. Carr was regarded as a good employer- tough but fair. In 1931, he married an employee, Grace Muncaster. 21
Apparently quite a character, Council records note that in 1888, Carr circled the potholes in front of his shop with chalk each morning - they soon received prompt attention. 22
Known for his common sense and independent spirit, Carr served on the Blenheim Borough Council for 26 years, although, he was dismissed in 1919 for failing to attend four meetings, 23 and not re-elected until 1925. As well as being a councillor and deputy mayor, Carr was a foundation member of the Marlborough Aero Club, a chairman of the Lower Wairau River Board, a member of the Marlborough Electric Power Board and the Wairau Hospital Board. 24
But his greatest love was for the Fire Brigade for whom he was a volunteer fire fighter for 55 years. 25
When Carr died in September 1934, his casket was carried to the Omaka Cemetery on the fire brigade's steam pump, with members of the brigade forming a guard of honour. The Marlborough Express (September 14, 1934) reported: "..his funeral was made the occasion for an almost unprecedented manifestation of respect and public mourning. .....Practically all the shops in town were closed as the casket was borne by, and the staff swelled the crowds on the footpaths. 26
Updated May 1, 2020
Sources used in this story
McIntosh, A. (1977) Marlborough: A Provincial History. Christchurch, N.Z.: Capper Press, p 149.
The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations. V.5 Nelson, Marlborough and Westland provincial districts.(1906). Christchurch, N.Z.: Cyclopedia Company Ltd, p 366.
Wairau (1858, 19 May) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 17 (40), p. 2
- Economy or favoritism? (1872, 23 January) Nelson Evening Mail, 7(20), p.2
- McIntosh., p. 256. 267
Address to S.L.Muller, Esq R.M. (1878, 31 December) Marlborough Express, 13( 1093), p.6
- Grey River Argus , 29 November 1905, p. 2
- Wright-St Clair, R. (2007) Cleghorn, George 1850 - 1902 from Dictionary of New Zealand Biography:
- The late Dr. Cleghorn (1902, 12 June) Evening Post, 63 (139), p. 5 https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers?title=EP&start_date=12-06-1902&end_date=12-06-1902&query=cleghorn
- Medicos in Conference. (1897, 10 March) Southland Times, (13699) p.2
- The late Dr. Cleghorn (1902, 12 June) Feilding Star, 23 (1461), p. 2
- Wright-St Clair, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2c21/cleghorn-george
- Memorial to late Dr. Cleghorn (1903, 20 August) Colonist, 46 (10801), p. 4
Harris, A & Harris, K.(2001) From Billy Carr to Marlborough Mitre 10: the story of the hardware firm founded by William Carr on October, 1881. Blenheim, N.Z.: The Home Centre, p. 8
Harris, pp.9, 18
Harris, pp.11, 17, 24
- Beverley, A. (1969) The first hundred: the story of the Borough of Blenheim 1869-1969. Blenheim, N.Z.: Blenheim Borough Council, p.46
- Blenheim Municipal Election (1919, 15 November) Grey River Argus, p.3
Brooks, C. (1989, October 14).Billy Carr... a legendary Blenheim gentleman. The Saturday Express, p.5
- Harris, p. 25
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Further sources - Early prominent Marlburians
Beverley, A.(1969) The first hundred: the story of the Borough of Blenheim 1869-1969, Blenheim, N.Z.: Blenheim Borough Council.
Buick, T. (1900) Old Marlborough or The story of a province, Palmerston North, N.Z.: Hart and Keeling.
- The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations. V.5 Nelson, Marlborough and Westland provincial districts.(1906). Christchurch, N.Z.: Cyclopedia Company Ltd, p.366
- Harris, A. & Harris, K.(2001) From Billy Carr to Marlborough Mitre 10: the story of the hardware firm founded by William Carr on October, 1881, Blenheim, N.Z.: The Home Centre.
- MacDonald, C. Pages from the past: some chapters in the history of Marlborough, Blenheim, N.Z.: H. Duckworth (E.H. Penny and Co).
- McIntosh, A., Redman, W., Allen, W.(Eds.) (1940) Marlborough: a provincial history, Blenheim, N.Z.: Marlborough Provincial Historical Committee.
- Brooks, C. (1989, October 14). Billy Carr... a legendary Blenheim gentleman. The Saturday Express, p.5.
Billy Carr - a real character (1991, May 28) The Marlborough Express, p.19-20.
Celebrating 120 years of hardware (2001, October 4) The Marlborough Express, p.17.
Dr Cleghorn's memory lives on at rotunda (1995, April 5) The Marlborough Express, p.1.
Grand celebration (2003, August 30) The Saturday Express, p.28
- Matthews, N.(1982). A short history of the Cleghorn memorial in Blenheim's Market Place. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 1(2): 47-50.
One hundred years of women's suffrage; feisty nights pioneer survived brutal marriage (1993, September 1) The Marlborough Express. p.19.
Pierson, J. (1999).George Cleghorn and the band rotunda. New Zealand Memories, 3 (20): 374-376
What's in a name - Cleghorn Street. (2008, June 11) Blenheim Sun, p.7.
What's in a name - Litchfield Street. (2007, June 20) Blenheim Sun, p.5.
- What's in a name - Muller Road. (2007, June 13) Blenheim Sun, p.5.
- Advertisement. The cheapest place to buy kerosene is at Carrs. (1892, March 31) The Marlborough Express, 28(78), p.3
- Cleghorn, G (1898, March 25).Correspondence. Hospital Management. Letter to the Editor.The Marlborough Express, 33(72), p.2.
- Dr Muller's weather report (1886, January 12) The Marlborough Express, 22 (9), p.2.
- The convent schools (1889, February 20) The Marlborough Express, 25 (43), p.3.
- Wairau (1858, May 19) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 17 (40), p.2
- Sudden Death of Dr. Cleghorn (1902, June 12) The Colonist, 45 (10433), p.4
- Wright-St Clair, R. (2007) Cleghorn, George 1850 - 1902 from Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: