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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 6, March 1964

Notes on Early History of Stoke

Notes on Early History of Stoke

Maori Wars

In 1881, New Zealand was faced with the possibility of a major Maori uprising—the result of a long series of disagreements with residents and surveyors. Matters came to a head, and a large body of Maoris began to congregate at Parehaka in Taranaki. Not only were the Taranaki Maoris concerned, but large numbers commenced to arrive from the Waikato. Volunteers were called for from Nelson, and a force of about 200 was gathered together. Among this con-page 5tingent were a number of member of the Stoke Rifles, including Mr. D. Giblin, a Stoke resident. After so many years he was naturally unable to name all the Stoke people who went with him, but he did recollect the names of John Naylor, Lieut. John Paynter, James Doidge, Henry Ching, Michael Ching, W. Burton, Charles Martin, Hicks Parker, D. Harkness, William Condell and William Kenning.

They proceeded to Port Neson, where the Hinemoa was waiting to transport them. Many women were on the scene, and in some cases were successful in their last minute endeavours to persuade the men from going upon what was considered a highly dangerous expedition. The men were taken to Opunake, but it was found that they could not land there so they went on to New Plymouth, where they landed by barges. They spent the night at New Plymouth, and next morning, had orders to put on their packs and proceed to Rohoto, where they remained for three or four days awaiting reinforcements from the Waikato. Upon the resumption of the march the Nelson men led the way, and some time later, they climbed some big mounds (now known as Mt. Rolleson) and from there they looked down upon thousands of Maoris who were gathered about the Pa. They advanced cautiously, and completely surrounded the pa, by which time there was not a sign of a Maori anywhere, all having retreated inside. Of all the thousands there, only one emerged, — an old woman who came out and nonchalantly inspected the guard. To everyone's surprise, the Maoris offered no resistance, and the constabulary were able to arrest the leaders Te Whiti and Tahu without casualties. These two Maoris were brought to Nelson, and for some time were imprisoned at Whakapuaka. After the arrest, the uprising subsided, and after waiting in the vicinity for three or four weeks in case of further trouble, the Nelson men were told their services were no longer required. They then came back to Opunake, and Mr. Giblin has vivid memories of their march down a black sandy road in the boiling sun. They sweated freely, and then a breeze whipped the black sand up into their faces with the result that it stuck there firmly, and the men got into such a condition that it was almost impossible to recognise their friends. Off shore the Hinemoa was waiting and they were once again taken out to her in barges.

It was later learned that it was only opportune arrival of the Nelson contingent that prevented a major uprising. It seems Te Whiti, who was something of a prophet, and who was held in superstitious awe by the natives, had warned them that their venture was doomed if the southwind blew — "for the pakehas would come with the south wind." The south wind did blow, and with the arrival of the Nelsonians, the Maoris felt that all was lost, and they therefore offered no resistance.

Post Office

Stoke's first post office was situated on the Main Road in the house occupied by Mr. Pearce (1949). The first postmistress was Mrs. Beattie, who also conducted a shop in conjunction with the post office. Mrs. Beattie was a daughter of T. Cresswell who came out on one of the first ships. In those days, the mail used to come out from Nelson once a day on the ten to five train.

Some years later, the Post Office was moved to the school house, the headmaster at that time being Mr. Naylor, and his daughter. Miss Charlotte Naylor (now Mrs. Heath) was the postmistress. At this stage, it is believed the mail was carried by Holders coach which left Wakefield each morning and returned each evening.

The next situation was back in the original position at Beattie's shop, but now the postmistress was a Miss Barry. Before long it had still another move, this time to the house occupied by [unclear: Mr]. D. Giblin (1949). In those days it belonged to a Mrs. Fellowes, and the Post Office rented her front room, and put Miss Condell (now Mrs. J. A. Harley) in as postmistress.

As the years went by the Stoke residents considered they should be better served and petitioned the Government for a proper Post Office building. However, when it came to deciding on the site a very bitter controversy arose, and page 6it seems that some residents even came to blows on the subject. Finding it impossible to reconcile the two factions, the authorities purchased the present site without referring to anyone, and then one morning Stoke awoke to find that its Post Office was a reality — it had arrived overnight in one piece. Its poor appearance caused a storm of indignation, and old animosities were pushed aside as both factions joined forces in an endeavour to secure a more dignified looking structure. Messrs. Gilbert, Reynolds and Biggar went to Wellington as a deputation from the residents, but all to no avail, and today the same pretentious building is in position (i.e., 1949.)

Stoke Rifles

Several old residents have memories of their days in the Stoke Rifles, but were unable to state just when the Company was formed. They knew though that the order of seniority in the district companies was: (1) Nelson City Rifles (2) Stoke Rifles and (3) Waimea Rifles.

Mr. D. Giblin originally joined as a cadet, and then later was transferred into the Rifles. At that time Captain Malcolm was in command, assisted by Lieut. D. Harkness, and Lieut. John Paynter, who later won the N.Z. Rifle Belt.

Old Buildings

One of the oldest buildings in Stoke, certainly the oldest wooden structure, is the house now occupied by Mr. Edward Saxton, and known as "Oaklands". This was originally built in England by Mr. Saxton's grandfather of Baltic pine, pulled down brought to N.Z. on the Clifford, and rebuilt on its present site in its original form. This took place in 1842, so that house is (1949) 107 years old—surely one of the oldest buildings left in the entire district.

Other buildings which are just on or over their century mark by mid-20th Century are:—

  • Langbein's, originally built by Mr. Buxton, Nayland Road.
  • Stead's, originally built by Mr. Holland, Nayland Road.
  • Reddick's, builder not known, Nayland Road.
  • Roil's, originally built by Mr. Roil, Saxton's Road.
  • Bradley's hop kiln, in Mr. Manson's paddock, Nayland Road.
  • Stephen's, originally built by Mr. Nicholson, Main Road.
  • Lusty's, originally built by Mr. Bradley, Nayland Road.
  • ?., originally built by Mr. Harley and onetime residence of William Songer, Nayland Road.

These buildings are all different from "Oaklands" in that they are partly of Cobb construction, i.e., a mixture of clay and straw.

Oldest Living Residents

Some of Stoke's oldest living sons and daughters are (as at June, 1949) as follows:—

D. Giblin, aged 87; E. Chisnall 84; E. Saxton 79; J. Biggar 80; Mrs. Manson (Bradley) ?; Mrs. E. Rankin (Ching) 87; Miss R. Saxton 80; Phillip Ching 81; Mrs. M. Palmer (Rout) 84; Mrs. C. Heath (Naylor) ?; Mrs. E. Briggs All-port) 74.

Stoke Road Board

The Stoke Road Board was the first local body formed in the area, the exact date being unknown. Mr. D. Giblin stated that he was one of the original members and at that time Mr. John Glen was the Secretary. At different periods Messrs. T. Chisnall, A. Allport, E. Chisnall, Bartlett and Coleman aso gave service on the board. It was finally taken over by the Waimea County Council, and ceased to function.


It is reported that in the early days kakas were very plentiful, as also were rabbits and hares, grey ducks, pukekos and brown teal, while back in the hills were native pigeons. Black swans were often seen flying over at dusk as they still do today.


Fish were plentiful, and in the early days very little net fishing was done. Mackerel by the hundreds used to come page 7up the creeks and get stranded by the outgoing tide. Large numbers of flounder used to be speared on the mudflats, and snapper could be caught on a line in great quantities.


The actual line of the foreshore has not altered to any marked extent in living memory but there is a great change in the course of the channel. In the early days, there was deep water at an anchorage known as "The Stump", straight out from where the Golf Links House now stands, and boats used to unload there. It was also possible to unload lighters at a jetty near the Nelson Freezing Co. The channel then curved round and more unloading could be done at the end of the road now called Beach Road, at Richmond. This was quite extensively used, as wheat for the Richmond Flour Mill used to come by that route.

A considerable change has been noted in Grossi's Island, which sixty years ago was fully twice its present size.

At Tahunanui (called by the Maoris 'Wakatu') the channel has changed its course considerably, as in the old days the main channel came right across behind the sandhills to what is now the children's paddling pool. (1949.)


The oldest residents have no recollection of any organised sport being played other than cricket; and apparently in the winter-time shooting was the main relaxation.

Mental Hospital

Suggestion that there had at one time been some small mental institution up Poorman's Valley were discounted. It seems that the land was known as the Asylum Reserve, and on it was a house in which a Mr. Richardson, the reserve superintendent, lived. No patients were kept there at any time.

Marsden Family

The Marsden family were prominent in Stoke's early history, and were among the community's wealthiest settlers. The original Mr. Thomas Marsden was a jeweller, and came out in one of the earliest ships. In those days it was the practice for new arrivals to be allotted one area of good land and another area, usually hill country farther afield. Mr. Marsden purchased a further allotment and later, under the New Zealand Company's scheme of 1848, was able to thus consolidate his holdings. He thus acquired quite a large area of land up Poorman's Valley, and extending down to the main Road.

Even so, it is believed that he did not make his money from his actual farming activities, the bulk of it coming to him in the form of bequests from England, which were well invested. He originaliy commenced to build up Poorman's Valley, but just after he had made a start, an easterly storm blew up, and in the morning all his framing was flattened. He was so disgusted that he gathered up all his materials, and transferred them to the place where "Isel" now stands. His son, John, was the donor of the Marsden Recreation Ground, and on his death a large tract of land was left to the Cawthron Institute.

The lane that runs along behind the Methodist church is the remnant of a road that used to cut straight across the paddocks, and join the hill road at Wakatu. This was known as the Old Gorse Road, and was always a source of irritation to Mr. Marsden, as it made a number of his paddocks very odd shapes. Finally he was successful in getting the road closed, and in exchange he gave the land for what is now known as Arapiki Road.

Notes taken on Stoke history by Mrs. D. E. Holcroft at a meeting arranged by Mr. J. T. Baigent and held at the residence of Mr. H. Chisnall, Nayland Road, Stoke, in June, 1949. Among those present were Messrs. D. Giblin, E. Chisnall, E. Saxton, J. Biggar, A. Ching, and W. Ching.

These notes are printed as then compiled but it is obvious in parts of the text that allowance has to be made for the changes which the passing of the years between 1949 and 1964 has brought. Our readers will be able to discern most of these.