Sir Thomas Picton (1758-1815) and the naming of Picton

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Sir Thomas PictonLawrence, Thomas Sir: Portrait of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton
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Picton was originally called Waitohi, or Waitohi Pa. It was named by the local Maori,  the Te Atiawa,  who occupied the site.  The name Waitohi means wai, or water, and tohi - the tohi ritual, in which the tohunga dipped karamu branches in the sacred stream and brushed the right shoulder of warriors before battle.  This rite was last performed on soldiers preparing to leave with the 28th Maori Battalion in WW2. Another, discredited explanation, recalls Te Weranga o Waitohi, Te Rauparaha's sister who is reputed to have died in a scrub fire.

Waitohi was purchased from the Maori in 1850 by Sir George Grey  and Sir Francis Dillon, the New Zealand Company agent. The name of the town was later changed to Picton, after Sir Thomas Picton, a British Army general and hero of the Battle of Waterloo. Sir Thomas never came to Picton,  nor had any links with it, but this way of naming places was typical of colonial times.

Map of the land given by the Maori of Waitohi to Queen Victoria, 4 March 1850Pukapuka a Ruri a te whenua i tikua ai e nga tangata Maori o Waitohi a te Quini Wikitoria 4 Maehe 1850. [Map of the land given by the Maori of Waitohi to Queen Victoria, 4 March 1850] (Signed) M. Richmond, Supt. F D Bell, Resident Agent NZ Land Co. [copy Alexander Turnbull Library, MapColl-834.2gbbd/1850/ Acc.320]
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At the time Marlborough separated from Nelson and became a province in 1859,  central Government decided to name the two main Marlborough towns  Picton and Blenheim. Picton became the capital of Marlborough until 1865.

Thomas Picton was born in 1758 in Wales and became a life-long soldier. He fought in the American War of Independence, in the West Indies and in 1801 became the Governor of Trinidad. He was thanked seven times by the English Parliament for bravery in the Peninsular War  in Spain, and knighted for his services in the army. He conducted the siege of Badajoz in Spain, where many lives were lost. The Duke of Wellington, after whom Wellington is named, and who later was responsible for defeating Napoleon Bonaparte in the battle of Waterloo, wanted Sir Thomas Picton to join his forces. He considered him to be ‘a rough-mouthed devil' but had confidence in his ability as a soldier and leader, and in 1815 gave him a high command in his army after Napoleon returned from Elba.

Seriously hurt two days before in an earlier battle, Sir Thomas kept his wounds secret because he wanted to fight at Waterloo against Napoleon. Sir Thomas Picton's uniform did not arrive in time for the battle so it is said that he fought in civilian clothes and a top hat. He was killed by a shot through the temple from a musket ball while leading his brigade to the charge. It is reported that the Duke of Wellington was moved to tears by the carnage on the battlefield and the number of men who had been killed.

Bird's eye view of WaitoiFox, William 1812-1893 :Bird's eye view of Waitoi. [1848] [showing a Maori kainga], Alexander Turnbull Library, C-013-001. Permission of ATL must be sought prior to further use of this image.
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The defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815 and his exile to St Helena allowed the British nation to gain supremacy for around 100 years following, and ensured a relatively peaceful Europe. Britain established an Empire including countries like India, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all of which are now independent. Many New Zealanders are descended from English migrants and for years still thought of England as ‘Home' and talked about the ‘Old Country', especially during the South African  (‘Boer') War  and World Wars I and II. 

Picton is not the only town named after Sir Thomas Picton, there is also a Picton in New South Wales, Australia, and one in Canada.

The name Waitohi means wai - water, and tohi - the tohi ritual, in which the tohunga dipped karamu branches in the sacred stream and brushed the right shoulder of warriors before battle.  This rite was last performed on soldiers preparing to leave with the 28th Maori Battalion in WW2.  This meaning has been thoroughly checked with Maori kaumatua who still understood the old language, and is agreed by the present Te Atiawa leaders.
Te Rauparaha's sister did not die until 1839, on Mana Island where her tangi was held, and she never came to Waitohi.  The place-name was in use before her death.  It was never the practice to name places in memorial to people still living.  This misinformation has been published in several books and probably began as guesswork.
On the Waitohi Purchase Documents it mentions Te Weranga o Waitohi which refers to the energy of the sacred waters.  This has been misquoted as ‘Te Wera o Waitohi'.

2009 

Sources used in this story

  • Buick T. L. (1976) Old Marlborough Christchurch, N.Z.: Capper Press (reprint) p. 457
  • Esdaile, C. (2008) Napoleon's Wars. London: Penguin Books pp. 557-562 [Note: plate 27 (opposite p 383) of battlefield of Waterloo] 
  • Kelly, H.D. (1976) As High as the Hills, Whatamango Bay: Cape Catley, pp.16-17
  • McIntosh A.D. (Ed.) (1977). Marlborough a Provincial History, Christchurch, N.Z.: Capper Press (reprint), pp. 176-192
  • Reed, A.W. (1996). The Reed Dictionary of Maori Place names. 3rd ed. Auckland:     Reed.  pp.132-133
  • Reed, A W. (2002). The Reed dictionary of New Zealand place names. Auckland: Reed. p.562

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  • Picton was declared the Capital in 1859, and it remains the Capital of Marlborough now. It was a Declaration by the then Governor of New Zealand, Governor Thomas Gore-Browne. Declarations like that do not change when the Seat of Government moved to Blenheim.

    Posted by Kerry Griffiths, 22/12/2014 9:41pm (3 years ago)

  • I question that the buildings in the Fox watercolour are 'early European' as the painting was made before the Waitohi purchase. Maori did not leave Waitohi and move to Waikawa until after another purchase agreement was signed in 1850. There was only 1 European (with his Maori family) living in Waitohi from 1844 on.

    Posted by Loreen Brehaut, ()

  • The name Waitohi means wai – water, and tohi – the tohi ritual, in which the tohunga dipped karamu branches in the sacred stream and brushed the right shoulder of warriors before battle. This rite was last performed on soldiers preparing to leave with the 28th Maori Battalion in WW2. This meaning has been thoroughly checked with Maori kaumatua who still understood the old language, and is agreed by the present Te Atiawa leaders.
    Te Rauparaha’s sister did not die until 1839, on Mana Island where her tangi was held, and she never came to Waitohi. The place-name was in use before her death. It was never the practice to name places in memorial to people still living. This misinformation has been published in several books and probably began as guesswork.
    On the Waitohi Purchase Documents it mentions Te Weranga o Waitohi which refers to the energy of the sacred waters. This has been misquoted as ‘Te Wera o Waitohi’.
    Ed. this will be incorporated into the story. Thank you

    Posted by Mike Taylor, ()

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Further sources - Sir Thomas Picton (1758-1815) and the naming of Picton

Books

Articles

  • Andrews, J. (1985). The Picton railway. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 1, (5): p.38
    http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-NHSJ04_05-t1-body1-d8.html
  • Chambers, Betty. (2007, Jun/Jul). Picton. New Zealand Memories, 66, 20-21
  • Kerr, Lloyd. (2000, Aug/Sep). Picton - port of entry to the South Island: a photographic essay. New Zealand Memories, 25, p.62-63.
  • Of boats and things. (1997). Marlborough's past and present, 6: p.14.
  • Pryce, M.H. (1977) Picton - a short history.  New Zealand Marine News, 27(4): p.142-145.
  • Robin, Fay. (1998, May). A Picton past. North and South, 146, p.30-31.

Other

  • Archive: Picton Historical Society, History Notes, and images: portrait of Sir Thomas Picton, and image of Picton Castle in Wales, home of Sir Thomas Picton [held Picton Museum]

Web Resources