A Woman of the Wairau


When young Stella Maxted arrived in the Wairau Valley from Blenheim, she did not know that she was to become part of a valley dynasty and farm there with her husband for 50 years.

Women Wairau Stella Wadsworth on her wedding dayMervyn and Stella Wadsworth on their wedding day. Photo supplied by Stella Wadsworth.
Click image to enlarge

 “Our father bought the Wairau Valley Hotel in 1942. My sister and I had jobs in Blenheim and because it was wartime we had to get special permission to move. Military personnel on leave used to come out from Blenheim and stay for the weekend. At night, we would have sing songs around the piano and play cards and chequers."

Stella met Mervyn Wadsworth at a dance in the Wairau Valley Hall and they were married in 1949.  Mervyn was the son of Alfred and Dinah and grandson of early valley settlers, Henry and Fanny. “He was a man of the land- he just loved it.  He was a champion dog triallist1 and such a good all round farmer,” she says of her husband, who died in 2000.

Meanwhile, Stella was forging a life for herself in the small close knit community.  “When we first married, Mervyn was head shepherd at Lansdowne. We lived in a cottage on the estate and I cooked for the shearers.  I was quite interested in how farms worked but I was wet behind the ears.”

In the early 1950s, the Wadsworths were given an opportunity to help out on a farm in the Wairau Valley, which they eventually owned. They named it Homelands and farmed there until 2000.  Initially there were no fences and gorse had to be cleared.  Mervyn sometimes drove trucks for Cyril Broadbridge2 to ‘get some income to put in another fence.’

Stella soon learnt to help on the farm and could lamb a ewe if she had to, help with the milking, drive a tractor (“in a way”), and she helped in the deer shed when they got deer in the 1970s. “I never felt isolated- we had really good neighbours and Merv was there on the land.”  The three children, Val, Jane and Pamela went to primary school in the valley and then college in Blenheim.

“When we first went to the valley, there was no electricity and most people didn’t have cars.  People didn’t go into town much - church and school were the community hubs. There were dances every Saturday night and ladies wore long frocks,” says Stella.

Everybody attended the dances in the Wairau Valley and Northbank. There were farewells and welcome homes for soldiers, kitchen teas for new brides, tennis, cricket, table tennis and ‘wonderful card evenings’ at Hillersden.  With a Presbyterian church at Hillersden and an Anglican Church at Wairau Valley, most women joined their ladies’ guilds and/or the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers.   Stella was also on the committee of the Wairau Valley School and very involved with the girls’ and boys’ agricultural clubs.

Wairau women WadsworthStella Wadsworth (MDC councillor) planting trees with children at Wairau Valley School.
Click image to enlarge

But eventually Stella wanted a change from ‘babies, bums and boobs’ and with three other women from the valley, travelled to Blenheim each week to attend Toast Mistress meetings. She stood for the Marlborough County Council in 1986. “Toast Mistresses gave me the courage to stand for Council,” says Stella.  She was the first woman to be voted onto the Marlborough County Council, which was initially a bit of a shock to the all-male Local Authority. “I stood to represent the views of women and children and was on the County Council and eventually the Marlborough District Council, for a total of 12 years,” she says.

After Mervyn’s death, the farm was sold out of the family and Stella moved to Blenheim where she continues a lively interest3 in people and community groups.  “It was a pretty good life. It was lovely bringing up the kids in the country because we were altogether as a family.”

Mrs Wadsworth was interviewed by Joy Stephens in Blenheim in May/June 2014

Sources used in this story

  1. National sheep dog trials (1968, June 29) Nelson PhotoNews, p.70
  2. Gilbert, J. (2009, August 3) Broadbridge sold to Renwick. Marlborough Express. Retrieved from Stuff:
  3. Herselman, S. (2013, May 9) Dog trialling became a 60 year love affair. Marlborough Express. Retrieved from Stuff:

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Further sources - A Woman of the Wairau


  • [Anderson, T et al] (2012) Photograph Wairau Valley 2011. [Blenheim, New Zealand: s.n.].
  • Barber, I. and J. D. Hayward (1985) Report to the Conservator of Forests (Nelson) on a survey of historic goldmining sites in the Northbank-Wairau region of Mt Richmond Forest Park. [Nelson, New Zealand: New Zealand Forest service](unpublished)
  • Cunliffe, J. J. (1988) Water and soil resources of the Wairau: water resources. Volume two.Blenheim, New Zealand: Marlborough Catchment and Regional Water Board.
  • Deans, N. A. and P. R. Clerke (1993) Wairau Lagoons issues and options. Nelson, New Zealand: Department of Conservation.
  • Duff, R. (1942) Moa-hunters of the Wairau. Christchurch, New Zealand: Canterbury (University) College (University of New Zealand).
  • Elvy, W. J. (1957) Kei puta te Wairau: a history of Marlborough in Maori  times.Christchurch, New Zealand: Whitcombe and Tombs.
  • Harris, A. & K. (eds.) (2007) Fifty years of mission: reflections of the Wairau Presbyterian Parish 1957-2007. Blenheim, New Zealand. Wairau Presbyterian Parish.
  • Lott, M. (1977) Old Hillersden, 1914. Blenheim, N.Z. : Muriel I. Lott
    Lucas Associates (2002) Wairau Plain landscape concept guidelines. Christchurch, New Zealand: Lucas Associates.
  • Marlborough County Council (1987) Report on the Wairau flood—July 1983. Blenheim, New Zealand: Marlborough County Council.
  • Marlborough District Council (1993) Wairau river floodways management plan. Blenheim, New Zealand: Marlborough District Council.
  • Marlborough District Council (1993) Wairau river floodways management plan appendix I: flood frequency analysis. Blenheim, New Zealand: Marlborough District Council.
  • Marlborough Electric Power Board (1983) Further aspects of the Upper Wairau hydro electric scheme. [Blenheim, New Zealand]: Marlborough Electric Power Board.
  • North, M. (2004) Wairau ecological region, Blenheim, Grassmere, Flaxbourne, Wither Hills and Hillersden ecological districts: survey report for the protected natural areas programme. Nelson, New Zealand: Department of Conservation.
  • Simpson, P. (ed.) (1980) Wairau mountain lands: a study of the catchment environment with particular emphasis on erosion. Blenheim, New Zealand: Marlborough Catchment Board and Regional Water Board, and the National Water and Soil Conservation Organisation.
  • Rae, S. N. (ed.) (1988) Water and soil resources of the Wairau: water resources. Volume one. Blenheim, New Zealand: Marlborough Catchment and Regional Water Board.
  • Rae. S. N. and C. G. Tozer (eds.) (1990) Water and soil resources of the Wairau: volume three - land and soil resources. Blenheim, New Zealand: Nelson-Marlborough Regional Council.


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