Wairau Valley

Contents

This story will cover an area on the south side of the Wairau River from the Waihopai Valley to the Wash and across the river to Northbank. 

Wairau Valley 004 SA cob house near the Wairau Valley Hotel in the township. Pictured are members of the Timms family, a well known Wairau Valley family. Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives.
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In the middle of the 19th Century, a village, to be known as Tewkesbury, was planned for the middle of the Wairau Valley.  About 400 acres were allotted to George Freeman of Gloucestershire, who did not come to New Zealand but bought the land in the New Zealand Company’s Nelson settlement as an investment.1

By 1850, settlers in the valley included E.D. Sweet at Hillersden, C.F. Watts at Lansdowne, D. Monro at Bankhouse and C.A. Dillon at Leafield.  Many of the sons and daughters from the small holdings in the area worked on the larger estates.2

Wairau Valley 008 SThe first house at Hillersden which by this time was the home of the estate manager, Mr Ernie Williams. Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives
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The 1906 Cyclopedia of New Zealand described the Wairau Valley as the centre of an extensive sheep farming and flax milling district with a church, school, hotel, post and telegraph office. The Hillersden Flaxmill was the leading flaxmill in the province, employing 25 people.  Most of the flax came from the Hillersden Station, a 155,000 acre farm at the head of the Acheron River.

In 1906, the flaxmill and farm were owned by the Carter Brothers,3 but soon the Lands for Settlement Act (1894) required the breakup of the estate to meet the demand for land as New Zealand’s population grew.4  It appears the manager of Hillersden (possibly Ernie Williams featured in the photograph on the left) was discourteous to Government officials who inspected the property in 1911.5   In 1913, following the Government purchase of the estate, the Hillersden flaxmill was accused of not shutting down during the winter to give the green fibre a chance to rest: “When the small settlers come onto their sections…..flax would not be ‘fit to cut for the next five years.”6

Wairau Valley 005 SThe Hillersden Clearing Sale in 1914. Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives
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In 1914 it was reported there were 2588 applicants for 43 Hillersden sections, with the land ballot held on 5 March, 1914.7  Descendants of some of these families still farm in the area today. They include the: Scherps (The Springs), Rentouls (Wye Hills), Fowlers (The Bounds) and Slow/Andersons (Anderbrook).8

Wairau Valley 007 SThe Wairau Valley coach across the river at the Top House Post office on the North Bank. Pictured left to right: Harry Onion, Mrs Maclellan, her son Bruce and Mr Stanhope standing with the mail. Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives.
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Working on the land or in a flaxmill could be dangerous.  In 1892, “Arthur Hoase - whose arm was torn from the socket by the scutcher in a flax mill in Wairau Valley - died on the way to the hospital.”Hillersden settler, Frank Newcombe was killed in 1933. “He was rolling a field when his horses bolted, threw him from the seat and dragged the roller over him….cause of death was a fractured skull.10  In 1924, Thomas Jones lost his left hand in a chaff cutter at Hillersden.11  

As settlers came into the valley, they worked hard and made their own fun.  There were races in the valley from the 1880s,2 cricket matches were played at various locations13 and the Scottish community extended a ‘Caledonian welcome’ to a Scottish concert at Hillersden in 1918. “A large number of Scots and their friends from Seddon, Blenheim and surrounding districts made the journey by motor-car…...”14

After World War 1, the community raised about £500 to build a hall in the Wairau Valley township to commemorate the celebration of peace. Settlers from throughout the district attended the opening, which featured a minstrel troupe, a concert, a supper and a dance.  The Marlborough Express noted: “The building, one can see at a glance, is there to stay, being stoutly built and large enough to accommodate a gathering of substantial dimensions.”15  The hall in Morse Street is still used by the community.

Transport around the district was a key consideration.  It was reported in August 1913 that the Government had laid off a railway reserve through the Hillersden estate with a view to constructing a railway line through the Wairau Valley, joining a Main Trunk Line from Canterbury and connecting Marlborough with the West Coast.16  Eventually  a Royal Commission decided a main line on the Eastern seaboard had the ‘least disadvantages’.17

Wairau Valley 003 SThe Wairau Valley Coach outside the Wairau Valley Hotel (later Tavern). Alfred Wadsworth is sitting inside the coach and his uncle, Mr Hoult is in the driving seat. Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives
Click image to enlarge

A meeting was called by the Wairau Valley Settlers’ Association in the Hillersden Hall in July 1920 to discuss the construction of a light railway line between Blenheim and Birch Hill - again a project which did not come to fruition.18

Northbank across the Wairau River had schools, flaxmills, farms, gold mining and a lively community life.  Twice weekly an open coach left Wairau Valley at 5.30am, drawn by two heavy horses.  Mail and passengers were collected from Northbank and taken to the Wairau Valley from where a service left for Blenheim at 10am.  Travelling at 8-10 miles/hr the trip took three hours.

The mail and passenger service was run by Henry and Fanny Wadsworth who lived in the coach house in Church Lane.  Fording the Wairau River could be dangerous and Henry wrote of his closest call: “The river rose…and I knew it had got deep. I went in upstream of the ford so that I would come out in the right place, but the horses missed their footing and missed the get-out point.  We floated downstream quite a distance and were lucky to get clear.” 19

For more on the Wairau Valley read Stella Wadsworth's story: A Woman of the Wairau

2014

Sources used in this story

  1. Denton, R. (1982) Tewkesbury. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 1(2)
    http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-NHSJ04_02-t1-body1-d3.html
  2. 1849 Map of Wairau Valley Pastoral Runs and information from Stella Wadsworth, May 2014.
  3. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations. V.5 Nelson,  Marlborough and Westland provincial districts (1897-1908) Wellington, N.Z.: Cycyclopedia Co. p430-431.
  4. McKinnon, M. (2012) Marlborough region - Grazing and farming. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
    http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/zoomify/35498/the-peters-family-and-the-hillesden-estate
  5. The Hillersden Estate (1911, October 26) Marlborough Express, p. 8
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=MEX19111026.2.33.3
  6. The Hillersden Flax (1913, July 31) Marlborough Express
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=MEX19130731.2.27
  7. The land hunger (1914, March 4) Grey River Argus, p.14
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=GRA19140304.2.39.1
  8. Stella Wadsworth, personal communication 6 July 2014
  9. Accident and fatalities (1892, April 19) Otago Daily Times, p.2
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=ODT18920419.2.14
  10. Farmer killed (1933, October 11) New Zealand Herald, p.10
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=NZH19331011.2.70
  11. Hand in chaffcutter (1924, March 7) Evening Post, p.9
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=EP19240307.2.127
  12. Wairau Valley races (1883, December 24) Marlborough Express
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=MEX18831224.2.25
  13. Cricket (1915, October 29) Marlborough Express, p.5
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=MEX19151029.2.30
  14. Scottish concert (1918, September 14) Marlborough Express, p.4
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=MEX19180914.2.30.3
  15. Peace memorial (1920, July 20) Marlborough Express, p.5
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=MEX19200720.2.54
  16. Marlborough West Coast Railway (1913, August 9) Hawera & Normanby Star, p.7
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=HNS19130809.2.46.1
  17. Stephens, J. (2008) History of the South Island’s Main Trunk Line. Retrieved from theProw
  18. Light railways (1920, July 27) Marlborough Express, p.5
    http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=MEX19200727.2.46
  19. Powell, B. (2008) Memories and History of the Golden Valley: The history of Fabians Valley and Northbank. Blenheim, N.Z. : Brian Powell. pp 141-142

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Further sources - Wairau Valley

Books

  • The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations. V.5 Nelson,  Marlborough and Westland provincial districts (1897-1908) Wellington, N.Z.: Cycyclopedia Co. p430-431.
  • Mitchell, H & J: (2004) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough. Vol I, The people and the Land. Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers:  pp. 78,83,85,91,129,131,351.
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/63170610
  • Mitchell, H & J. (2007) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough. Volume 2, Te ara hou : the new society. Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers: pp. 24,25,218.
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/276659471
  • Powell, B. (2008) Memories and History of the Golden Valley: The history of Fabians Valley and Northbank. Blenheim, N.Z. : Brian Powell. pp 141-142
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/316857438

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