Graves of Fairfield Park

Contents

Fairfield Park, one of Nelson’s first cemeteries, was created in 1851 and over 78 people were buried here before it closed in 1910. It had various names, including Old Trafalgar Street Cemetery, or more simply, the Old Cemetery, and later “Copenhagen Mount." The story of the Graveyard is told elsewhere on the Prow, this article documents the lives of the people buried in the cemetery.

The graves and headstones
FairfieldThe headsone of Robert Shallcrass, Fairfield Park. Nelson City Council
Click image to enlarge

An engineering field book1 ( no.10) was drawn up in October 1933, before the cemetery was made into a park, which showed the original positions of existing tombstones at that time. By 1983, 22 headstones originally listed were no longer there or legible, when another survey was done.  As it is the relatives of the deceased's responsibility to maintain tombstones, rather than the City Council, some have been refurbished recently, such as the McVicar memorial, and the Ching family 150th reunion noted on Jane Ching’s grave. Some relatives have been added to the existing stone at a later date, or a new memorial erected.

Members of the Nelson Genealogical Society have established that, for the period 1851 to 1901 inclusive, there is some form of record of burial and/or headstone at the cemetery for at least 185 people.  In addition, there are various extra memorials that seem to have appeared, some possibly without formal permission.  An interpretative panel with the early history of the Park lists all the memorial stones that can still be read. Council's cemetery database contains names of recorded burials.

Many of the Trafalgar Street Cemetery headstones have long gone, but those of the following people can be easily found amongst the trees and shrubs

  1. Reverend Charles Sarda. On his way from missionary work among Māori in Auckland to take up new work in Akaroa, Canterbury, Charles Sarda developed consumption and died at the Catholic Station in Nelson, aged 28 years. Father Garin described his as the first “natural death” of a Roman Catholic priest in New Zealand, as all earlier deaths had been from drowning. Consumption, otherwise known as Tuberculosis, caused the most widespread public concern in the 19th and early 20th centuries as an endemic disease of the urban poor. In 1815, one in four deaths in England was due to "consumption". By 1918, one in six deaths in France was still caused by TB. After TB was determined to be contagious, in the 1880s, it was put on a notifiable disease list in Britain; campaigns were started to stop people from spitting in public places, and the infected poor were "encouraged" to enter sanatoria that resembled prisons (the sanatoria for the middle and upper classes offered excellent care and constant medical attention). Whatever the (purported) benefits of the "fresh air" and labor in the sanatoria, even under the best conditions, 50% of those who entered died within five years (circa 1916).
    Fairfield PrittPortrait of Reverend Lonsdale Pritt, vicar in charge of St Andrew's Church, Epsom 1872-1873. 'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-8115'
    Click image to enlarge


  2. Francis Otterson - Francis was born in Roscommon, Ireland on 1797. Francis married Jane Heveningham (1807-1888) and they had three children. He was very active in local politics, being a Justice of the Peace, and a member of the Provincial Council. Francis was said to have sufficient initiative and capital to establish a flourishing mercantile business. His main competitors were Fell and Schlanders . Francis Otterson drowned in the Wairau River in 1854.
    He and his wife Jane originally lived in the Bridge Street house where the first Mass was said (though they had moved to Rostrevor, in Richmond by that time), and Francis was strongly Roman Catholic. Some of his family had different religious persuasions and permission was granted to have part of the family memorials in the Protestant section of the cemetery, and part in Catholic section. The trustees records there is a confused case where a young Roman Catholic man named Mr. Otterson, who had come from overseas to stay in Nelson but had died here at the age of 17, was to have been buried on the Roman Catholic section, presumably in the Otterson plot. However his parents were Protestant and so a debate began. This was quickly resolved under the terms that Mr. Otterson was to be buried on the dividing line between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, so as to please all.
    Some family members are buried in the family plot, including his daughter Mary Otterson, 1842-1872,  who had moved away from the Catholicism of her father. She married the Rev Lonsdale Pritt, who came with Bishop Hobhouse and his new wife to Nelson in 1858. Pritt was praised for his assistance to the new Bishop of Nelson Cathedral.2 Pritt was the first clergyman to perform duties in the Waikato and later became Venerable Archdeacon of Remuera in 1870. He died in Auckland in 1885. Mary, his wife, predeceased him by many years and died at Auckland Point Nelson in 1872 aged 30.   
    FairfieldShallcrass nzetcRobert Shallcrass. Image from NZETC
    Click image to enlarge


  3. The headstone of Thomas Rollinson and Margaret Dalkis, includes the inscription "Drowned at Awaroa". Until bridges were built river-crossing accidents were a frequent cause of death in New Zealand  Records show that, between 1840 and 1870, 1115 deaths were recorded, but this may not reflect the true numbers. A government report in 1870 states:  "...Considerable pains have been taken to make this return as complete as possible, but I regret to say that, from the imperfect state of the old records, it is still far from being an accurate statement of persons drowned in New Zealand Rivers. Names of persons ascertained to have been drowned in harbours, wells, waterholes, swamps and in the sea have been excluded from this return. Cases of drowning in the River Grey are sometimes stated to have occurred in the Province of Nelson and sometimes the in the County of Westland. This is accounted for by the inquests being held on either side of the river."3

    The report notes that figures became more accurate over time, but some confusion could occur if a body was not found and over names of rivers where person died. Locations were easily muddled as ”there are many rivers in New Zealand with the same name (Wai means water in Maori).”

  4. Robert Shallcrass - A prominent figure in the early Nelson police force,
    Robert was born in Surrey, England, 29 October 1819 and apprenticed as a printer aged 12. In 1851 he went to America, returned to England and later travelled to the goldfields of Victoria, Australia. Shallcrass then emigrated to New Zealand, sailing on the Spray from Melbourne, arriving in Nelson on Sunday 29 June 1856. He worked as a printer for the Nelson Examiner and took up half an acre of land in Brougham Street, part of town acre 600, which he purchased in 1857. Shallcrass built Merton Cottage and, before it was completed, he met Miss Annabella Williamson Jeffrey. Annabella had emigrated with her family from Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland at the age of 24, arriving on the Cresswell on 6 October 1856. Robert and Annabella were married on 4 July 1857 by the Rev TD Nicholson. They had eight children, seven sons and a daughter, with two small sons dying in 1861 during a diphtheria epidemic. They were buried in Fairfield Cemetery and Robert planted five elms around the grave to represent his five living sons.

    Robert Shallcrass was appointed Sergeant-Major in charge of the Nelson Provincial Police Force in 1861. His part in apprehending and bringing the four villains who committed the Maungatapu murders to justice in 1866 earned him high praise. Shallcrass prompted one of the suspects, Joseph Sullivan, to turn Queen's Evidence against his accomplices, on condition that he was not hanged. This confession and the subsequent finding of the bodies enabled the case to be proved, and three of the murderers were hanged in the Nelson Gaol on 5 November 1866. That same year, Shallcrass was promoted to the rank of Inspector on a salary of £260 per year. Early in 1870 Sub-Inspector N.W. Franklyn, the officer controlling the Nelson Southwest Goldfield Police, resigned and Shallcrass was appointed Chief Inspector of the Provincial Police.

    In 1874  the Provincial Council gave Shallcrass control of Nelson Gaol. He resigned his police appointment and lived on the premises. In 1883 he was held at gunpoint by a prisoner, John Davidson, who stabbed warder Samuel Adams to death and then shot himself, under advice from Shallcrass. Robert resigned as Gaoler in 1883 and retired. He died at Merton cottage, aged 68 in 1888. Annabella died on 31 March 1893 at the age of 61 and was buried in the family grave at Fairfield.4

  5. Thomas Blick - a master weaver from England, who became the first person to manufacture cloth in New Zealand, owning the country's first woollen mill which was sited in Brook Valley.

    Blick came to Nelson, with wife and seven children in 1842 on the Indus, by all accounts a ghastly journey. In the tropics the drinking water, stored in barrels, became contaminated and had to be thrown overboard. Food became putrid. Passengers and crew were in danger of death from starvation and thirst. A large number, including many children died. The captain decided to put into Sydney for fresh food and water, but for three days before the "Indus" berthed, everyone on board was without any form of sustenance. Before he left England Blick had applied for permission to buy land in the Nelson Colony and the area of the Brook Valley was sold to him. On arrival he saw a need for good, hardwearing cloth and leather, so he set up a tannery producing leather by 1843. Behind Blick House, a Cob house where they lived from 1860, other buildings and soak pits for the leather were constructed.

    As he had brought no weaving equipment from England, cloth was harder to produce. The first attempts at a hand loom construction were unsuccessful, the split bamboo that he used to make reeds was not smooth enough for the fine woollen warp threads and the local timber had a tendency to warp, but he eventually got it working.  He used yarn spun by local women, who had bought their own spinning wheels with them. In June 1845, he exhibited two lengths of tweed at the Nelson Institute. The cloth sold well and, greatly encouraged, Thomas set about improving his loom using an engine driven by water power from his stream. “Blick“ cloth (tweed and flannel) was in great demand and used for constabulary uniforms. Weaving stopped for a while when spinners wanted an increase in price for their wool, but production started again in 1850’s . Joseph Webly, a fellow English weaver came to Nelson became Blick's partner in 1858. Blick died on 28 November, 1860, aged fifty eight. His wife sold the factory to Joseph Webley, as no family member wanted to continue the business, and Webley continued the manufacture of cloth there for some time before transferring to new premises in Bridge Street and changing the trade name from Blick Cloth to Nelson Cloth.

    In 1850  the Baptist Church was opened in Nelson. It was the first foundation of the Baptist church in New Zealand and Thomas Blick, his wife Hannah, son Enoch and daughter Hannah were all foundation members. The early years of the church were fraught with difficulties of every kind, but it struggled on, prospered and has made a valuable contribution to the life of Nelson.5

    Fairfield House gardenThe garden at Fairfield House, 2013. First established by Neil McVicar. Nelson City Council
    Click image to enlarge
  6. Neil McVicar is buried under a simple headstone facing Fairfield house, which was once the site of his home, nursery and orchard.  Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1808, he was a nurseryman in Bath, England, when his first wife Mary, the mother of his sons, William and John, died. He emigrated to Nelson from England in 1849, on the barque Cornwall. His second wife, Margaret and infant son, Wishart, died on the voyage. Neil built the original dormered four-room cottage where Fairfield House stands today.  He established a large orchard behind his home of some 500 fruit trees, which included 30 varieties of apples, as well as shrubs and some of the forest trees, we can see today. Neil developed a nursery supplying fruit trees, choice shrubs, oaks elms, poplars and cypresses etc. to the early pioneers. "The Nelson Examiner" of 1852 records that he won prizes for his rose blooms. After only four years in New Zealand he died leaving his remaining sons William and John orphans. They both moved to Blenheim and trained to become builders and cabinetmakers.
    Fairfield Bellevue BellBellevue. The Bell family home in Richmond. Retrieved NZETC
    Click image to enlarge


  7. William Gordon Bell - W.G. Bell was born in Scotland in 1784,  worked as a plantation manager in the West Indies, and married Alziere Cervantes, the widow of the owner.  They returned to Scotland when abolition of slavery made the plantation unprofitable. When James, their son, became a surveyor for the New Zealand Company, William (aged 56) and his children and families came to New Zealand in 1840 via Australia. They spent six years in Wanganui, endeavouring to establish a home and farm in a climate of Maori hostility to the land buying proceedings of the New Zealand Company agents. They decided to move to Nelson, another New Zealand Company settlement, and replacement land for the abandoned Wanganui farmland was able to be negotiated.

    William and some of the family settled on land which is now Lower Queen Street, Richmond in 1847. Daughter Bessie (Elizabeth), who spent a lifetime as a practical farmer, kept a diary of day to day events of the first year here. It reveals the constant hard work of establishing a farm from scratch. The two daughters, Margaret and Bessie, their younger brother Willie, and a hired hand, Harry Tunnicliff, assisted their father with most of the work. They built a house and used the bullock drawn plough. Flax had to be grubbed, gathered and burnt, posts and rails carted from a nearby wood and fashioned into stockyards and pig pen, and crops sown. She describes neighbours helping with the early ploughing, making the first cheese, fencing stock, planting crops. There was no work on Christmas Day; the hired man spent the day in the Ale House. Income was earned from the sale of cheese to a Nelson shop, barley to a Nelson brewery and stock were traded at sales. There was a cart road to Nelson for transport of produce and infrequent visits by William Gordon Bell to the bank, for Grand Jury service and for settling the ownership arrangements with the New Zealand Company. Sundays were visiting days and, in March, young and old enjoyed a couple of days at the races. The New Zealand Company ceased to exist in 1850 and Crown Grants were issued to its land purchasers. W.G. Bell's 1851 grant was for 110 acres (the original farm, now named Bellevue) and, in 1852, he got 1900 acres in the Upper Motueka valley, now Golden Downs. W.G. Bell the Younger got a grant of a smallish acreage of land adjacent to the Waimea River. The year 1851 marked the death of Alziere, buried at Fairfield, Nelson.  Disagreements between father and son, financial difficulties, sale of land (Motueka) and a try at goldmining occurred after this.6

    On his death in 1864, the Nelson Examiner remarked how "the clear ringing voice and vice-like grip of the hearty old Lowland farmer" was missed, and "His work as a man and a colonist will be conceded by all who knew him: and any country which can boast a number of men of the same stamp may justly feel proud."

    Fairfield Nathaniel EdwardsThe grave of Nathaniel Edwards. Fairfield Park. Nelson City Council
    Click image to enlarge
  8. Nathaniel & Annie Edwards - The tombstone for Edwards family includes Nathaniel & some of his 16 children. All the children noted on the stone died before Nathaniel (who died 1880) apart from daughter Frances Augusta who died 1881.  The remaining family lived in England with their mother after 1881.

    Nathaniel  Edwards, merchant born 1822, arrived on the ship Slaines Castle in 1845 as a single man. He must have had some money or backing, as he arrived as a partner in a firm to establish and operate a flax mill near Motueka.  Flax dressing was already an established industry, with several firms working on becoming profitable.  Flax–made rope was sold in Bridge Street.  Edwards arrived with staff and machinery and produced plenty of dressed flax, but was no more successful than others in making the dressed flax competitive on the English market. Without successful exports the business failed.  In 1846 he sold all the machinery for a pittance and joined the Government survey team in the Awatere Valley.

    On 29 August 1855 Nathaniel married Ann Augusta Nicholas Nelson cathedral. In 1856 he joined the mercantile firm of Fell & Seymour as a clerk. In 1857 an agreement was signed for Edwards and George Bennett to take over the company and John Symons joined the partnership. The business was known as N. Edwards & Co.. It operated as general merchants, importers and commission and shipping agents. By 1863 they were operating their first coastal vessel, the steamer  ‘Lyttleton’ as part of the Nelson Steamship Company.  To further its mercantile interests, the company established, in 1866, a shipping branch, and established a workshop near N. Edwards & Co bulk store at Auckland Point.

    fairfield graveyard image

    Aerial image from Top of the South Maps showing location of graveyard and Edwards plot

    In 1866 Edwards sold his shares in the mercantile firm to his partners. He retained the shipping department but, by 1870, John Symons had become the sole owner of both the mercantile company and its shipping department. Edwards was also a politician both as a member of parliament for Nelson and member of legislative Council.When Edwards bought Fells imposing residence (now Warwick House) in 1862 he undertook two major expansions perhaps envisioning the family which seemed to increase annually. The site away from the “ditch” in the city would have been healthier. Epidemics of Diptheria and typhoid were common and he lost two children in the diphtheria epidemic of 1861. Upon completion the house had approximately 50 rooms. Edwards died only a few years after making these additions. In 1880 his estate was valued at the incredible amount of eight hundred thousand pound sterling, which would equate to around $90 million in today’s terms After Nathaniel Edwards died in 1880, aged only 57, his wife Mrs Anne Augusta Edwards (nee Nicholas) went to England with her 9 surviving children. She lived in London till she died 31 July 1922. 

    Annie Augusta and Nathaniel Edwards had 16 live children (but some didn’t live long) and twins seem to run in the family.

  9. Jane Ching’s memorial stone was refurbished at the time of the Ching family 150th reunion in 1992 . The story of the Ching family is told elsewhere on the Prow.

  10. McGee-  The McGee family came out on the Martha Ridgeway in April 1841. Parents Alexander, 34 shoemaker, and Catherine, age 35, wife brought with them their five children: Charles 15yrs shoemaker, Henry 12yrs; Ann 9yrs ; Elizabeth 7yrs  and David age 8mths.  The headstones refer to  Alexander and Catherine and their children Henry and Ann. Son Charles is noted on another headstone, possibly with his own wife and children.

    Alexander McGee owned a number of hotels, including the Marine Hotel 1859-64 (later renamed as the Coach and Horses on the North east corner of Trafalgar and Bridge streets). Alexander had the licence to the Anchor Inn on the south east corner of the same intersection, which later became the Trafalgar Hotel under a new owner. McGee probably found, like others at this time, that running a hotel was a lucrative business and past experience not necessary.  Hotels and licences changed hands often.

    His son, Charles McGee, appears to have followed in his father’s footsteps as a shoemaker, stating this as an occupation when they arrived in Nelson, and in public records in 1847. However Charles also turned to being a publican, stating this as his profession by 1853 on the electoral roll. The Royal Arms on the corner of Collingwood and Bridge Streets was licensed in 1851-1857 to him, and then in 1865 Charles McGee rebuilt it as the 17-room Nelson Hotel. Sadly this hotel was destroyed in a disastrous fire in 1866 that started here and spread to all corners of the intersection, fanned by a strong wind. It was quickly rebuilt and the famous public meeting to form the Nelson Rugby Club was held here in 1868. During the 1890s the licence lapsed and the building was used by the Anchor Boot Company. 

Fairfield graveyard sketch

A sketch of the Cemetery from the 1933 Engineering field book showing location of the Hale plot

Illegible or missing stones
  1. Samuel Stephens - A Quaker. Stephens was a member of the New Zealand Company's preliminary expedition to Nelson in 1841 as first assistant to the chief surveyor. At the time at his death he was the member for Nelson in the House at Representatives. His gravestone is now illegible but contained the following words: ‘Sacred to the memory of Samuel Stephens Esq., who died at Nelson N.Z. 26th June 1855. He was one of the first English settlers and ever took the warmest interest in the progress of the colony.This tomb is erected in affectionate remembrance by his widow. Requiescat in Pace.'  The designated Quaker cemetery is on the hillside off Rutherford St, near the junction with  Selwyn place.

  2. The headstones of William Hale and his wife Eliza and daughter Hannah were damaged beyond recognition by 1948 and were buried along with others in the South Western area of the cemetery. William Hale was one of the first men to establish a nursery in Nelson. Some of the trees growing here at Fairfeld could be from his stock.

2015

Sources used in this story

  1. Nelson City Council records
  2. Ault, H.F. (1958). The Nelson narrative: The story of the Church of England in the Diocese of Nelson, New Zealand, 1858-1958. Nelson, New Zealand: The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Nelson, p. 31
  3. Government Statistics recorded deaths by drowning, in the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1840-1870: Return of Names of Persons Drowned in New Zealand. The quote is from AJHR Vol III 1870 Section D46.
  4. Bertram, J.B. (2002) Robert Shallcrass. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 6(5), p. 34
  5. Sparrow, I. (1980) Thomas Blick - New Zealand's first weaver 1802–28.11.1860. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 3(6) October 1980
  6. Boyd, R. (1996) The Bell family in Nelson. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 6(1)

 

Want to find out more about the Graves of Fairfield Park ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment

Comments

  • Neil McVicar arrived on the ship Cornwall a barque, not baroque.

    Thanks, typo error will correct. Ed

    Posted by cheryl carnahan, 20/07/2017 10:45am (3 months ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments

Further sources - Graves of Fairfield Park

Books

 

Articles

Other

  • Nelson City Council Heritage Plaque : Copenhagen to Fairfield [sited at Fairfield Park, text by Janet Bathgate]

Web Resources