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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, November 1955

An Old Admiralty Chart

An Old Admiralty Chart

All of us who have read Mrs Ruth Allan's "History of Port Nelson" should find much of very great interest in this chart of Nelson Port in the very early days. As less than eight years had elapsed since Captain Arthur Wakefield had decided on this site for the proposed settlement of Nelson it is not surprising that there was no light house; and that the small sailing ships, very much at the mercy of wind and uncharted tides, were so frequently wrecked.

Mrs Allan writes:—"H.M.S. Acheron, making for the Admiralty a survey of N.Z. coasts, spent from 24th August to 5th September, 1849, at Nelson. The resulting Admiralty chart, drawn by Capt. J. L. Stokes, and published in 1850, shows both the outer fairway and the entrance well marked with buoys and beacons. Vessels entering the inner fairway lined up the shore beacons, or they kept the door of a white store in line with the chimney of Mr Stafford's House.

In 1854 Capt. Drury, of the Pandora, added further details. The copy we are looking at is based on the original 1849 chart with Capt. Drury's additions. Touching his work Mrs Allan says:—"H.M.S. Pandora arrived in Nelson on 22nd Oct., 1854, and surveyed the entrance to the Waimea river. Capt. Drury recommended that buoys be laid down so that ships could take refuge in the river mouth, when unable to enter the harbour."

Looking closely at this chart we note:—the obvious absence of the Cut (which came some 60 years later); Arrow Rock (or Fifeshire Rock) then much higher than now; Haven Road, leading not to our Rocks Road but to a steep scarp of rock cliffs; and further round, south-west of the cliffs, an area of boulders and a little sand (not our present Tahuna sands, but much more inland); water, as we can see covered all our present sands area —and this was river water. Particularly noticeable is the course of the Eastern Branch of the Waimea. On its right bank, that is its East side, among low swamps we see the solitary cob house of Mr Edward Green, who had come out on the Lord Auckland in 1842; the ground floor of his house is at present the home of Mr Richards.

As far as we can judge, this eastern branch, in 1849, flowed over the site of the present motor camp, or perhaps over the rather depressed area between the camp and the outer sand hills. Mrs Allan, p.1,2, says:—"When the N.Z. Company settlers arrived in Nelson, the Waimea river discharged most of its waters through an eastern outlet, sweeping over the Tahuna Beach (i.e., what is now Tahuna Beach) and along the foot of the hills between Tahunanui and Magazine Point. Across the mouth lay the huge Waimea sandbank, known to navigators as 'The Flats'."

Only the beginning of this huge sand bank, reaching about ten miles across Rabbit Island, appears on our chart. The Maitai river, with the tidal water from the Nelson mudflats, met the outflowing Waimea stream about 800 yards west of the harbour entrance; the resulting swirl at their page Ninejunction scoured out a deep area, named on our chart "Bolton Hole". Explanatory printing on the chart reads: "Ships sometimes took refuge here from outer anchorage in severe north west gales." And this is where Capt. Drury, in his 1854 survey, recommended that buoys be laid.

Old Nelsonians used the term "Western Entrance" for this mouth of the Eastern Waimea, to distinguish this anchoring region from the more usual, more eastern harbour entrance. And now not ships but motorists are to be found sheltering in the region of the "Western Entrance".

Other interesting places on this chart include:—Thompson's house, painted white to aid navigators; the low-water track round the Rock Cliffs; the red and white shore beacons, opposite the tip of Haulashore; the white store and Mr Stafford's chimney, so often used by pilots; Beit's Jetty, and just beyond Green's Point; and up the hill, standing 265 feet above water, Signal Staff.

Returning to the Waimea River, we think back to the problems facing Wakefield and the Expedition men— where to find a site of 1,100 acres for a town, suitable suburban land, and 150-acre farms for those settlers already at sea, sailing for a yet unknown "Nelson". The Waimea plains promised a fair amount of farmland; and the simplest way into this region was up the eastern branch by boat. J. S. Cotterell, later killed at the Wairau, as one of the surveyors of Waimea West block, arranged for a jetty, "Cotterells' Landing", which he made the base for his surveys. According to Mr J. Stewart, the site was at the boat sheds on Pearl Creek, below Appleby Bridge; and one cargo, a prefabricated house built in England for Mr C. Dillon, was taken up this eastern branch by whale boat, unloaded at Cotterell's Landing, and then jolted across country on a bullock waggon.

Another interesting trip was that made when Bishop Mules, then clergyman at St. Michael's, Waimea West, took his bride, Miss Laura Blundell, to her new home, in 1870.

Later developments were to make our chart very much out of date. As Mrs Allan says (p.52): "So long as the eastern outlet of the Waimea River was set near Arrow Rock the scour was sufficient to maintain the bar at a constant level." But, suddenly, the Waimea took unto itself a new channel; "By 1881 the old Eastern outlet was dry at ordinary spring tides." From then onwards the Ta huna Sands, for many years known as 'Green's Sands', began to build up; but the process was a slow one. In the late eighties the sea still reached the tea-rooms site; until the First World War the Beach road fully deserved its name.

And so, when next surveying the lovely bathing beach from the top of the hills, let your imagination carry you back one hundred years, when that most useful river, the Eastern Branch, provided a waterway for the settlers of the Plains and a safe anchorage for wind-tossed sailing ships.