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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, November 1968


page 24


Place names become established only by usage and the more appropriate the name is to the feature the more readily it is accepted. Inappropriate names usually fall into disuse as soon as a more suitable one is found. Descriptive names are the most common and most popular because they help to identify the feature concerned, and this is the purpose of place names.

Place names can be divided into four broad groups: descriptive, historical, commemorative and miscellaneous. The examples which follow have been selected mainly because of their local interest.

Descriptive names:

European: Dun Mountain Fringed Hill
Haven Road Sandy Bay
Rocks Road The Port
Maori: Rotoiti—little lake Rotoroa—long lake
Wairoa—long river Wai-iti—little river

Historical names are directly associated with the feature and usually record something of its history such as ownership, discovery, establishment, etc.

European Examples:

  • Fifeshire Rock: the wreck of the ship Fifeshire in 1842.
  • Magazine Point: the site of the explosives magazine used during the construction of Rocks Road.
  • Jenkins' Hill: property owned by the late Mr. A. G. Jenkins.
  • Cape Farewell: where Captain James Cook took his farewell of New Zealand in 1770.
  • Bark Bay: at one time bark for tanning leather was sent from here to Nelson.

Examples of Maori historical names:

  • Pangatotara: originally Paenga—totara; a totara log or logs carried down in a flood and cast ashore there.
  • Ngatimoti: originally na Timoti meaning belonging to Timothy.
  • Kaiteretere: to eat hurriedly.

While many Maori place names are based on historical events others are based on legends and it is sometimes nigh impossible to differentiate. The original Maori name probably described the whole event but usage has reduced it to a few words which have later been run together. One which has been preserved possibly in its entirety is a little hill near Porangahau, Hawkes Bay, named Tauma-page 25tawhakatangitangihangakoauauaotamateapokiwhenuakitanatahutawhakatangitangihangakoauauaotamateapokiwhenuakitanatahu or, 'the summit of the hill where Tamatea the traveller, played his flute to his lady love'. This name is usually shortened to Te Taumata.

The origin of many Maori place names has been lost even to the Maoris themselves and some were lost long before the arrival of the first Europeans. William Colenso, when enquiring as to the meaning of Maori names received the reply: "Friend Colenso, there is but one meaning of those several words, the name of the place itself."

To take a Maori name and break it up, then with the aid of a dictionary give each part a meaning, can be most misleading. The result is likely to be similar to the late Sir Apirana Ngata's example as to what can happen to the word category; cat, e short for he—masculine, gory—bloody, so category means sanguinary torn cat—or doesn't it?

Commemorative names have no direct connection with the feature and are usually bestowed as a compliment. The name of Nelson itself and its associated street names in the Nelson pattern are examples. Many Maori names should truly come under this heading but to separate the legendary names from the commemorative would be a mammoth task and the result of doubtful value. In more recent times Maori commemorative names have been bestowed on places and these are still traceable.

When European personal names are used in place names the historical can be distinguished from the commemorative as the former is usually in the possessive form such as "Rutherford's Birthplace" whereas "Rutherford House" and "Rutherford Street" are commemorative. Unfortunately this is not always the case; Captain James Cook used the possessive for some commemorative names. Queen Charlotte's Sound and Hawke's Bay are both commemorative and while usage has removed the "s" from Charlotte, Hawke's Bay is still more commonly used than Hawke Bay. This is particularly the case in conversation where the "s" makes pronounciation less stilted.

Miscellaneous names are those that have no apparent connection with the feature and if there is a reason for them the story has been lost.

Patriotic names, especially those of Victorian statesmen, generals, admirals as well as land and sea victories, abound, but the names given to Murchison streets in early days mostly show strong Republican sympathies.

When the settlement was founded in 1865 it was named Hampden after John Hampden (1594–1643) leader of the Roundheads in the English Civil War. This name was retained until 1882 when a page 26post office was established, then to save confusion with Hampden, Otago, the name was changed to Murchison. The name was taken from Mt. Murchison which Sir Julius von Haast named in 1860 after Sir Roderick Murchison, a famous Scottish geologist.

The name Hampden has been retained in Hampden Street and Hampden Hotel, and eight other streets commemorate the English Civil War:

  • Chalgrove Street (now spelt Chalgrave): John Hampden was mortally wounded in the battle at Chalgrove Field.
  • Clarendon Street (washed away in the flood of 1878): Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon (1609–1674), was a staunch supporter of Charles I.
  • Cromwell Street: Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), Lord Protector of England.
  • Essex Street: Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex (1591–1646), Commander-in-Chief of the Parliamentary Forces at the outbreak of the Civil War.
  • Fairfax Street: Thomas Fairfax, third Baron Fairfax (1612–1671), Commander-in-Chief of the New Parliamentary Army, 1645.
  • Hotham Street: Sir John Hotham, first Baronet (died 1643) Parliamentary Commander of Hull.
  • Milton Street: John Milton (1608–1674) the poet, who was also Latin secretary to the newly formed Council of State under Cromwell.
  • Waller Street: Sir William Waller (1597–1668), a successful general in the Parliamentary Forces.

Early explorers and surveyors were often hard pressed to think up names to bestow in features in an almost nameless country. Their party usually included some local Maoris who were relied upon for existing Maori names, but after that they had to use their own imagination. So we sometimes get the names of the party, their friends and relatives, characters from books and poems and names in the news of the day.

If place names are regrouped in chronological order they become more interesting and often a pattern evolves.

Maori names are our earliest, and two local ones, Motueka and Takaka, are said to be of great antiquity and to have been brought from Tahiti where they are also associated.

Unfortunately the history of many of our local Maori names has been lost and possibly some names themselves, due to raiders from the North decimating the local population.

Abel Tasman in 1642 was the first of the early navigators and he left us only two names in this area.

  • Murderers Bay: now Golden Bay.
  • Sandedune Hook: now Farewell Spit.
page 27

Captain James Cook in 1770 was next and while he left many names around our coast only three are in our immediate vicinity.

  • Blind Bay.
  • Tasman's Bay.
  • Massacre Bay (Tasman's Murderers Bay).

D'urville's Names:

Captain Dumont D'Urville in 1827 was the first European to make a survey of Tasman Bay and he gave 45 names to costal features in this area most of which are still in use.

This is a complete list.

Descriptive names:

  • Separation Point.
  • Pinnacle Island: also known as Clara Is.
  • North Head.
  • Torrent Bay.
  • Ballon Rock.
  • Jetty Point.
  • Entry Reef: now Hapuku Reef.
  • Cyathees Cove.
  • Point Percee.
  • Long Beach: now Orchard or Appletree Bay.
  • Sandy Point: now Sandspit Point.
  • Stream Cove.
  • White Cliffs: now Moutere Bluffs.
  • Pepin Island.
  • Piege: now Beef Barrels.
  • Chicots.
  • Sauvage Point.
  • Current Basin.
  • Reef Point.
  • Channel Point.
  • Collinet Point.
  • Two Island Point.
  • Hole-in-the-Rock Point.

Historical names:

  • Abel Head: D'Urville thought that Tasman may have anchored near here.
  • Astrolabe Roadstead: where his corvette I'Astrolabe anchored.
  • Watering Beach: they replenished their supply of water here.
  • Observation Beach: where the observations for latitude and longitude were taken.page 28
  • Fishermens Island: a Maori fishing party was on the island while the Astrolabe was in the Roadstead.
  • Cape Soucis: Cape Anxiety—the Astrolabe was nearly driven ashore here.
  • Whirlpool Point: the tide took control of the Astrolabe close to this point.
  • French Pass: the Astrolabe was the first European vessel to be taken through the Pass.
  • Point Bonne: the Astrolabe "laid-to" here after having negoiated the Pass.

D'Urville named several features after members of his ship's company but in his journal he gives no reasons for having done so. If we presume a connection between the persons and the features these names must also be classed as historical.

  • Adolphe Point.
  • Jules Point.
  • Jules Island: Croisilles Harbour.
  • Morne de la Noy: now Mackays' Bluff.
  • Audibert Point.
  • Regnoud Point.
  • D'Urville Island.
  • Gaimard Islands: now Chetwode Islands.

Commemorative names:

  • Adele Island: thought to be named after his wife.
  • Croisilles Harbour: D'Urville's mother was of the family of Croisilles.

Miscellaneous names:

D'Urville does not give any suggestion for his selection of two names on D'Urville Island so these fall into this group.

  • Cape Zach: a headland on the western side of D'Urville Island to the southward of the entrance to Greville Harbour now nameless.
  • Lebrun Peninsula: the southern point of D'Urville Island.

Guilbert Point to the south of Astrolabe Roadstead is not mentioned in D'Urville's journal and does not appear on his charts but is on the Acheron chart of 1851. Lieut. Guilbert of the Astrolabe was responsible for the hydrographic work.

Two creeks flowing into Astrolabe Roadstead have recently been named after members of D'Urville's Company: Lesson Creek in Stillwell's Bay and Simonet Creek in Appletree Bay.

page 29

Although D'Urville was a good linguist and able to speak Maori he recorded only three Maori names in Tasman Bay, none of which are now in use.

  • Tagui Island: now Tonga Island.
  • Mai-Tehai: a Maori village near where Motueka now is.
  • Skoi-Tekai: a Maori village at Glenduan.

Our early settlers called many local places after their home towns and these names can well be called nostalgic, examples are:

  • Stoke: after Stoke-by-Nayland in Essex.
  • Richmond: after Richmond-on-Thames in Surrey.
  • Appleby: after Appleby in Westmorland.
  • Wakefield: after Wakefield in Yorkshire.

When Mr. W. Hough named Wakefield after his home town he said it will also be a compliment to Captain Arthur Wakefield so this name falls into two groups.

Place naming by explorers and surveyors is a continuing process and the names themselves often give an indication of the period in which they were given. The Crimean War names bestowed by Mr. W. T. L. Travers indicate their period as do the group of Second World War names in the Spenser Mountains and more recent "space" names in the Wangapeka-Karamea area.

The poetic pattern of naming in the Spenser Moutains was started by Sir Frederick Weld when in 1853 he named Lake Tennyson and the mountain above it "The Princess" after Tennyson's poem, first published in 1847. In 1855 Mr. Travers named the mountains the Spensers and peaks after characters in Spensers "Faerie Queene." Then were added names from Tennyson's "Idylls of a King," still following a similar pattern; later naming, however, did not conform.

In 1860 Julius von Haast surveyed the south western portion of Nelson Province and while most of his place naming followed the usual patterns he introduced variety by naming some features after European scientists who were prominent members of the Royal Society, e.g. Mt. Owen after Sir Richard Owen; Mt. Murchison after Sir Roderick Murchison and the Lyell Range after Sir Charles Lyell.

The selection of a place name is not just a matter of chance; to be acceptable it must be easily pronouncable and euphonious, and fall into one of the first three groups. Sometimes a name suits a place so well that it is never questioned; Millers Acre in Trafalgar Street, between Halifax Street and Ajax Avenue is an example. From 1852 to 1867 it was the site of the Windmill, Dr. Bush's flour mill, a prominent Nelson landmark. Later it was Mr. John Scott's timber mill and later again Mr. Andrew Miller's timber mill.

page 30

In recent years it has become fashionable to dispense with the possessive form in all personal names used in place names, irrespective of whether they are historical or commemorative. This has the undersirable effect of a person whose only claim to fame is that he lived at the end of a certain road, or occupied some land in a certain bay, being promoted from the mere historical to the commemorative in such illustrious company as Queen Charlotte, Lord Nelson, Lord Rutherford, Captain D'Urville and others.