Wreck of the Fifeshire 1842


The Fifeshire was one of the first New Zealand Company immigrant ships to arrive in the Nelson region; on its maiden voyage from London it carried 159 immigrants to New Zealand, 17 died in transit from fever on board the ship.1 The Fifeshire carried many famous Nelson names, such as the Poynter family.

The Fifeshire, wrecked on Fifeshire/Arrow Rock.The Fifeshire, wrecked on Fifeshire/Arrow Rock.

Click to enlarge

The Fifeshire was the first of the four New Zealand Company settler ships to arrive in Nelson; Lord Auckland, Mary Ann and The Lloyds, along with the Fifeshire, all left England on the same day.2 The day the Fifeshire arrived, through the original entrance to the Nelson harbour, is the day celebrated as Nelson Anniversary Day, the 1 February 1842.3

It arrived in Nelson on the 1st February 18424 and discharged its passengers and cargo before being cleared to leave for China on the 27th February 1842.5 Captain F.G Moore oversaw the leaving of port as James Cross the regular pilot, was unwell.  The wind was very light, so the Fifeshire did not reach the entrance till the tide had been ebbing for some time. The Fifeshire had almost passed through the narrow entrance when the wind failed and the tide carried her onto the Arrow Rock.6

The Fifeshire lay right across the Rock, the Fore being dry, and the aft in dead low water. It was a disaster for the new colony.
It rested on two ledges at her fore and main chains (the broad thick planks projecting horizontally from a ship's side at her mast.)7

The Fifeshire could not withstand the strain on her back, and it was badly broken. On Tuesday May 10th 1842 J.W Saxton remarked in his diary "We could see under some rocks near the entrance [To the Haven] The Fifeshire, a vessel which had just been lost there" 8. J.W Saxton was a famous painter, and came on the ship Clifford to Nelson.

Men scavenged the Fifeshire for materials to establish the new colony. On 12th October 1842, J.W Saxton remarked in his diary "Authorized Mr Fox to buy from a blacksmith an iron bolt from the Fifeshire as an axle." 9, and on the 30th June 1845 he remarked "saw men at work on the Fifeshire which is said still to contain enough iron to build a brig." 10

The new colony had problems finding raw materials, such as iron with which to make the tools needed for construction, and wagons. Pieces of the Fifeshire were sold piecemeal to the settlers.11 To finally lift the Fifeshire from Arrow rock Mr Poynter, an important member of the Colony, brought floats for 10 pounds apiece.12

On the 3rd of September 1846, the Fifeshire was lifted by the tide and the tanks from the Arrow Rock.13 It was then broken up on what is now called Haulashore Island and stripped for useful materials. For many years Arrow Rock wore the chains of the Fifeshire and the colonists looked on the rock and remembered the Fifeshire's fate. 14

Childs chair, made by Samuel Bryan Johnson.Childs chair, made by Samuel Bryan Johnson. Broadgreen House Archives (Chair in Collection)
Click to enlarge

The Fifeshire provided a lot of resources for the new colony. Mr Poynter, afterwards a magistrate, was the purchaser and he is said to have done very well out of the venture15. The early colonists were great recyclers of the materials from the Fifeshire: some timbers being used for firewood16 others for the use of furniture. Broadgreen House have one such piece of furniture made from the Fifeshire timber.  All the iron was stripped from the Fifeshire and used to make practical things for the colony.

The Fifeshire's mainmast was used to construct the font for the St Thomas's Church in Motueka.

The Fifeshire also provided a point of contention for the new colony. On Friday February 3rd 1846 J.W Saxton remarked in his diary "[Captain Wakefield] said he was not very prudent to put in the wreck of the Fifeshire but it could be taken out in England if they pleased." The above quote is what he wrote about a painting of the Nelson haven in 1846, with the Fifeshire of course, still being stuck on Arrow Rock at the time.17 Captain Wakefield did not want such a blemish on the settlement, so a decision was made not to paint the Fifeshire in.

In 1958, a painting by M.Cooke titled "Fifeshire Rock and Bay" caused much argument. Many declared the rock's name was "Arrow". 18 But today, the rock is commonly referred to as Fifeshire Rock. The reason for the two names can be traced back to the arrival of the first immigrant ships to Nelson. The storeship Arrow was the first of the immigrant ships to arrive in Nelson, and the Arrow gave its name to the rock 19. Today, it is commonly called "Fifeshire Rock".

Andrew Marriott, Nayland College, 2010

Sources used in this story

  1. Various Authors, Fifeshire, http://freepages.genelogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ourstuff/Fifeshire.htm, 3/06/2010
  2. Various authors, Fifeshire
  3. Horrock, S. (1971) Historic Nelson. New Zealand: A.H and A.W Reed Ltd
  4. Brett, H., The Fifeshire. New Zealand text centre(NZETC), http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-Bre01Whit-t1-body-d234.html, 25th May 2010
  5. Brett, H., Fifeshire wrecked. NZETC, http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-Bre02Whit-t1-body-d1-d4-d5.html, 25th May 2010.
  6. Brett, H Fifeshire wrecked.
  7. Baumfield, J.(2004), Arrow/Fifeshire Rock [personal notes]
  8. Saxton, J.W. (1841) Journal of an intended voyage to New Zealand in the Ship Clifford , Diary Vol 1, Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial Archives. Retrieved May 10th 1842
  9. Saxton, J.W. 12th October 1842
  10. Saxton, J.W. 30th June 1845
  11. Horrock, S. Historic Nelson.
  12. Journal of an intended voyage to New Zealand in the Ship Clifford 1841, Saxton, J.W, Diary Vol 2, Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial archives. 29th July 1846
  13. Saxton, J.W., 3rd September 1846
  14. Baumfield, J., (2004)
  15. Brett, H., Fifeshire wrecked.
  16. Journal of an intended voyage to New Zealand in the Ship Clifford 1841, Saxton, J.W, Diary Vol 3, Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial archives. 17th August 1847
  17. SaxtonJ.W., Vol 1, Feburary 3rd 1846.
  18. Baumfield, J., (2004)
  19. Horrock, S. Historic Nelson.

Want to find out more about the Wreck of the Fifeshire 1842 ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment


  • My Great Great Grandfather John Poynter arrived on the Fifeshire,with his first Wife (they had no children) he was Resident Magistrate in Nelson. His second Wife Ann KING (My Great Great Grandmother) was the Daughter of James and Elizabeth KING (My 3rd Great Grandparents) who arrived in Nelson on the William and Alfred in 1849.

    Posted by Marie BURN, 20/05/2017 7:33pm (3 years ago)

  • you have not got my book square rigged sailing ships visiting nelson 1841 to 1914 in you list of books with information on the fifeshire,, it has research information not found any where else. Ed. thank you. I will remedy that

    Posted by Peta Raggett, 30/01/2017 9:12am (3 years ago)

  • my ancestors were on the Fifeshire when it landed in Nelson. I saw a picture of model. would like to get good photo of model, or find out where pete raggett got plan details to build model.i build model ships myself.Ancestor name was Richard and Sarah Panter. i have original letters written by then on their arrival and stay till 1845, when they left for South Australia

    Posted by john conrad, 13/07/2016 10:16pm (4 years ago)

  • My ancestors arrived in this ship. David, Ann and Charles Wootton

    Posted by Lorraine Wootton, 08/01/2016 11:16am (4 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments

Further sources - Wreck of the Fifeshire 1842




  • Fifeshire Rock myth crumbles (1996, March 23) Nelson Mail, p.12
  • Saxton, J.W, (1841 ) Journal of an intended voyage to New Zealand in the Ship Clifford Diary Vol 1,2,3, Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial Archives.


Web Resources