The correct name for this island, in front of Waikawa Bay, is Motu Ngarara (Lizard Island), although for some years it was known as ‘Goat Island’ when Thomas Allport leased it and ran sheep and goats on it. Researching the Allport family was confusing until I realised that there were three Thomas Allports; the one who arrived in Nelson from Birmingham and settled in Stoke, his son Thomas who moved with his family to Marlborough, and his son Thomas who some of the older locals still remember. A family of ‘characters’, it seems.
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The ‘middle’ Thomas, who first farmed in Tua Marina then moved to Picton in 1874, set up Panama Boarding House in High Street with his wife Rachel. It was he who leased the island, and he rowed out to his small shed there when he wanted some peace and quiet. It seems that the police always suspected him of having an illicit whisky still, and would occasionally raid the island, thinking it must be there, but they never found it. Years later, when Panama House was demolished, the still was found cleverly built into the chimney.
His son Thomas, whose wife was Lydia, farmed at Koromiko for some years, then moved to Picton and ran a fruit shop in the 1920's. They also sold sweets, as some of our seniors recall, and Eric McIsaac remembers their home-made icecream: ‘Oh, he used to churn and churn. But it wasn’t nice and soft like it is now – it was gritty, you know – sugary, but we all liked it, of course. Penny icecream – that was worth having!’
Eric also recollected that Thomas enjoyed prospecting. ‘He and his cobber Shiny Bob used to go with a horse and cart and go up the back there to the coal mine and dig it out with a pick and shovel. And they’d bring it down in sacks. They didn’t seem to make a business out of it – they did it just as old prospectors, you know. Coal from out of Mt Freeth.’ Thomas established a wood and coal business with his son, and also the ‘White Star Line’, according to his daughter Mrs Emily Masters, so was clearly something of an entrepeneur. Thomas Allport died in 1934, and his wife Lydia in 1946; both are buried at Picton Cemetery.
After Thomas II had died in 1900, the Department of Agriculture set the island aside, in 1904, as a breeding place for angora goats; it was certainly ‘Goat Island’ then. However it was gazetted as a scenic reserve in 1927, so the regenerating bush we now see represents 85 years of growth. The island now has a navigation beacon on its southern shore.
This story was first written by Loreen Brehaut for the Seaport News in Picton. (Updated July 2020)
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Further sources - Allports Island
- Allport Family. [unpublished] Family history. Picton heritage and Whaling Museum:
- McKinnon, M. (2015) 'Marlborough places - Picton', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 21-Apr-15