Timber Pioneers - Brownlee and Baigent
William Brownlee (1828-1917) and Edward Baigent (1813-1892) were two of Marlborough/Nelson's most successful sawmillers. Generations of both families continued to work in the timber and forestry industries until the end of the twentieth century.
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When William Brownlee, his wife Christina and their family arrived in the Pelorus District in June 1864, they found the area timbered with dense, virgin native forest.1
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With initial cutting rights for more than 1000 acres, Brownlee was reputed to have made more than £7000 in the first two years. He had plenty of capital for further expansion -and expand he did.3 Between 1864 and 1915, Brownlee and Co. shipped 189 million feet of timber out of the region. Brownlee milled the Mahakipawa, Kaituna, Nydia Bay and Kaiuma Bay forests, establishing himself as the ‘king of sawmillers'.4 By the 1880s, 75 men were employed by Brownlee. He was a good employer and many men worked at his Blackball mill for the 30 years of its operation.5
Developments in bush tramway technology, later used nationwide, were attributed to Brownlee, with his tramway being described as ‘a marvel of sawmill engineering."6 At its peak, the Brownlee empire included three sawmills, 28 miles of tramline, four locomotives and a fleet of coastal traders. However, by 1915, the Marlborough forests were worked out and Brownlee and Co. relocated to the West Coast, where the company remained until 1987.7
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Edward Baigent, who arrived in Nelson in May 1842 with his wife Mary Ann and their children, also had a sawmilling background. He too brought a variety of saws and tools, with the intention of setting up a sawmill.8 In 1844, Baigent built a water-race from the Wai-iti River and erected a water-wheel which he used to power a flourmill. A year later he added a water-powered sawmill, which operated during the day, while the flour milling was done at night.9
The need for money to develop his sawmill saw Baigent working for the New Zealand Company in contract labour gangs. He worked on improvements to the sawmill at night, taking two years to get it working to full capacity. By 1850 he was employing eight men.10
Baigent provided timber for the building of Nelson's first cathedral in 1850/51. It took 10 bullock teams to transport the timber from Wakefield to Nelson.11 In 1869 Baigent opened his first Nelson timber yard on the corner of Collingwood and Hardy Streets. A year later he moved to Waimea (Rutherford) Street, where the business remained for more than 100 years.12
The economic depression of the 1880s and 90s seriously affected the Nelson timber trade, however the family firm of H. Baigent and Sons continued to grow through the 20th century. They developed and owned substantial forestry holdings, timber yards and the Eve's Valley mill, now owned by Carter Holt Harvey.13
Many early pioneers made their living from cutting down and milling native timbers, and a review of forest policy in 1925 indicated the indigenous timber resource would be exhausted by 1965-70. Nationwide state plantings of exotic forests were increased to 300,000 acres between 1925 and 1935.14
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By the end of 1939, Golden Downs, Nelson's state-owned forest, covered 19,250 acres. Production forest plantings, 88% of which were pinus radiata, covered a total of 120,000 hectares in Marlborough/Nelson by 1992.15
For an alternative view of the Brownlees enterprise, see Nola Leov's story.
William Ross Brownlee died 29/11/1917 aged 89. Buried Havelock (from the Blenheim death register/Marlborough Museum)
Edward Baigent died 9/11/1892, aged 79.16
- Letters from Isaac Baigent of Windlesham Mills, 1853, and notes about the Baigent family, supplied by Philip Parker (2006) [PDF]
Updated: April 03, 2020
Sources used in this story
- Paton, Brian. (1982) Sawmill Pioneers in the Pelorus [Dissertation (Dip. P.R.)]. Christchurch : University of Canterbury, p. 8-9.
- Mahoney, Paul (1995, Jan) Innovation isn't easy. New Zealand Historic Places n.51:p.11-12.
- Paton, p. 15-16
- Paton, p.26 ; Orman, Tony. (2002, July 27) Havelock ‘lokey’ reminds us of Pelorus timber days. Marlborough Express
- Paton, p. 18-20
- Orman, T. ; Paton, p. 22
- Paton, p. 24 ; Mahoney, P.
- Stringer, M.J. (1999) Just another row of spuds: a pioneer history of Waimea South, p 208
- Allan, R. (1965) Nelson: A history of early settlement A.H. and A.W. Reed, p. 212
- Lash, M. D. (1992.). Nelson Notables 1840 – 1940: A dictionary of regional biography. Nelson Historical Society, p 14; Evans, D. (1992) The Baigents of Wakefield: a family history. Auckland, NZ: Evagean, p 13
- Evans, D. p.13.
- Evans, D. p 18; Lash, M. p 14.
- Evans, D. p 19
- Ward, John & Cooper, Don (1997). Seventy years of forestry : Golden Downs Forest, Nelson, 1927-1997. Richmond, N.Z. : Forest History Trust, p 9.
- Ward and Cooper, p 51. ; Nelson/Marlborough : number and size of forests
- Lash, p.14
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Further sources - Timber Pioneers - Brownlee and Baigent
- Allsop, F (1973) The first fifty years of the New Zealand Forest Service Wellington, N.Z.:A. R. Shearer, Govt. printer
- Gregory, K (1976) Land of Streams. Waimea, N.Z.: Waimea County Council, p.52-54.
- New Zealand Forest Service. (1968). Forestry in Nelson. [Wellington: R.E. Owen, Government Printer]
- New Zealand Forestry Corporation. (1989). Sale of state owned forests in New Zealand : Resource description, Nelson. .[Wellington, N.Z.] : New Zealand Forestry Corporation.
- Pattison, J. S. (1966). Forestry and farming on the Moutere hills, Nelson - an economic comparison. Thesis (M. A.)--University of Canterbury, 1966.
- Poole, L.(1969) Forestry in New Zealand: the shaping of policy. Auckland, N.Z.: Hodder & Stoughton
- Profits that grow with the trees! : Description of Nelson Pine Forest Ltd. and its proposed forestry development (1923). [Nelson, N.Z.] : Alfred G. Bett Print.
- New Zealand. Ministry of Forestry. (1994). Regional Studies: Nelson and Marlborough Wellington [N.Z.]: Ministry of Forestry.
- Roche. M. (1990). History of Forestry. [Wellington, N.Z.] : New Zealand Forestry Corp. Ltd in association with GP Books
- Sinclair, B. (1984). The West Coast timber industry 1866-1914. [Hokitika, N.Z.] : N.Z. Forest Service.
- Smith, D. (1997). Abel Tasman area history. Nelson, N.Z.: Dept. of Conservation, Nelson Marlborough.
http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/conservation/historic/by-region/nelson-marlborough/abel-tasman-area-history-whole-document.pdf, pp. 21-23
- Ward, Frank L and Furness, Donald M.(1987). A History of the Pelorus Bridge scenic reserves. Blenheim [N.Z.] : F.L. Ward.
- Wiltshire, A. G. (1990). Development of a business strategy for the purchase of Crown Forests in the Nelson-Marlborough region : An evaluation of the process. [MBA thesis.] Dunedin : University of Otago.
- Hay, Jaquetta. (1998, Jul) Tasman's green belt. New Zealand Forest Industries,29, 7, pp.23-24, 28
- Hobbs, William. (1995) Trees talk in Nelson economy. New Zealand Forest Industries, 26, 3, pp.26-27
- Kelly Logging - energy and experience. (2004 Feb). New Zealand Logger magazine, pp.24-34
- Law, Gillian. (1996, Jul). Southern woodbasket. New Zealand Forest Industries, 27, 7, pp.43-44,47
- Millen, Paul. (1988, Aug). 'Sounds' interesting. New Zealand Tree Grower, 9, 3, pp.64-65
- Palmer, Harriet. (2003). Long-term relationships make for stable industry. New Zealand Forest Industries, 34,10, pp.35-37
- Palmer, Harriet. (2002). People, focus & planning. New Zealand Forest Industries, 33,12, pp.16-20
- Nelson, N.D, (1981) Edward Baigent : a pioneer Nelson settler, businessman, and politician : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History at Massey University
[full text available at:
Brownlees and Marlborough Forestry
Marlborough Museum has a significant selection of unpublished material about Brownlee.
Other published resources:
- Alex Brownlee - logging pioneer. (2003, March). New Zealand Logger magazine, pp.44-53
- Brownlees Milling. Retrieved April 01, 2020, from :
- The Brownlees of Carluke, Scotland. MSS [Marlborough Museum]
- Dossor, R, (1977) The potential of Marlborough exotic forests for a large capacity sawmill/processing plant at the Port of Picton. Picton, N.Z. : Marlborough Harbour Board.
- Gabites, Alington and Edmondson. (1979) Forestry in Marlborough: an assessment of the impact of a commercial exotic forestry industry. Marlborough, N.Z. : The Council.
- Havelock.(1872, May 8) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 31(28), p. 5
Leov, L C. (1974). Rai Valley sawmills. Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, 3, 1, pp.36-43
Leov, L C .(1974, Oct). Recollections of Brownlee's locomotives. Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, 3, 1, p. 44
Mahoney, Paul. (1995, Jan). Innovation isn't easy. New Zealand Historic Places, 5, 1, pp.11-12
- News of the Day. (1871, January 18). Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 30(14), p. 2
Orchard, John.(1987). A short history of sawmilling in the Nydia Bay area. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 2, 1, pp. 29-33
Orman, Tony. (2002, July 27). Havelock ‘Lokey’ reminds us of Pelorus timber days. Marlborough Express, p. 25
- Paton, Brian. (1982) .Sawmill Pioneers in the Pelorus. [Dissertation (Dip. P.R.)]. Christchurch, N.Z.: University of Canterbury.
- Wooden lines of railway (1872, January 6). Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 30(72), p 5.
- Allan, R. (1965). Nelson: A history of early settlement Wellington, A.H. & A.W. Reed, p.212
- Early Wakefield (1938, August 10) Nelson Evening Mail, p.11
- Evans, D. (1992). The Baigents of Wakefield: a family history. Auckland, N.Z.: Evagean.
- Lash, M. D. (1992.). Nelson Notables 1840 – 1940: A dictionary of regional biography. Nelson, NZ : Nelson Historical Society, p. 14
- Nelson, N.D. (1981). Edward Baigent : pioneer Nelson settler, businessman, and politician. [Masters Thesis] Palmerston North : Massey University
- Stringer, M.J. ( 1999) Just another row of spuds: a pioneer history of Waimea South. [Wakefield, N.Z.] : M.J. Stringer, pp. 142, 207
Resources at the Nelson Provincial Museum
- Baigent, Edward. (1891). E. Baigent's manuscript, Wakefield, December 1891. UMS 62
- Baigent, Lewis E.H. ( N.D.). New Zealand sawmilling in the forties. UMS 61
- Allan, Ruth Mary. (N.D.). Baigent Family. UMS 467
- Golden Downs Golf Course, on Living Heritage by the Tapawera Community. Retrieved 14 August 2014
- Irvine, R. E. (1976). Golden Downs Forest : Fifty years of forestry. Nelson, N.Z. : R.E. Irvine
- Newport, J . (1962) Footprints: the story of the settlement and development of the Nelson back country districts. [Christchurch] : Whitcombe. pp.151-160
- Newport, J. (1987). More Footprints. Nelson, N.Z. : J.N.W. Newport. pp.43-44,50,73.
- Ward, J., & Cooper, D. (2004). Golden Downs Forest, Nelson, 1927-2004 : Coronation Forest 50th anniversary edition, 1954-2004. (Rev. ed) Richmond, N.Z. : Weyerhaeuser New Zealand.
- Ward, John & Cooper, Don (1997). Seventy years of forestry : Golden Downs Forest, Nelson, 1927-1997. Richmond, N.Z. : Forest History Trust.
- Alec Brownlee talking about the tramways that brought logs to the mills on the West Coast.[sound file]. Link last checked 01 April, 2020 from:
- Brownlee & Co. Sawmilling Industry. Link last checked 01 April,2020 from:
- Marlborough Forestry Industry Association. Link last checked 01 April, 2020, from:
- Nelson/Marlborough : number and size of forests. Link last checked 01 April, 2020 from:
- Wood availability :5 The wood processing industry:Log flow in the Nelson/Marlborough region. Link last checked 01 April, 2020, from:
- Nydia Track http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/marlborough/sounds/nydia-track/