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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, September 1977


For some years the pupils of Brightwater School have been working on local history projects, and producing very worthwhile accounts of various topics. We are pleased to print part of their 1976 effort on Waimea West, the oldest farming area in the Nelson Province. We have omitted the Maori part, but, except for some slight re-arrangement and a few additions in square brackets, this is the work of the young historians. The School (and the Historical Society) will be pleased to hear from anyone who can fill in omissions or offer corrections. It is the hope of the School that some day a full history of the Waimeas will be written and that their work will be of assistance. This project started with one class making a tour by bicycle of Waimea West—it took four and a half hours. They have consulted any printed source available as well as talking with descendants of early settlers. Thank you, Brightwater School, and best wishes for your 1977 project.—Ed.

When Captain Arthur Wakefield decided to establish the second New Zealand Company Settlement in what we now know as the Nelson Province, he had to find a quantity of farm land. Not only had land been sold to immigrants in England, but it was necessary for the colonists to start to grow food as soon as possible. Waimea Plain was the first farm land to be surveyed and cleared. At that time the plain was a combination of flax and raupo swamps, of open farm country and heavy bush. What was known as Suburban South stretched from the town site to about present day Stoke. Land in Richmond, Appleby and Hope on the eastern side of the rivers comprised Waimea East. Waimea South began on the south bank of the Wairoa, on about the line of the present Appleby page 20Bridge, and extended up country as far as the limits of organised settlement, which appears to have been between Wakefield and Foxhill where the "Spout" began. West of the Waimea and Wai-iti Rivers was known as Waimea West. [In it the surveyor, Tuckett hoped to find 167 sections comprising 8,350 acres (3340 ha) and eight rural sections giving 1,200 acres (480 ha) a total of 9,550 acres (3820 ha).—Ed.]

All this area was well covered with fern and scrub, with patches of swamp grass and bush. At the town end of Waimea East was a "prodigious swamp extending from the mud flats up to Richmond. Behind the coastal bog, however, lay a 'kind of natural meadow land' with fine grasses and sow thistle like a thick carpet where cattle could graze." Some of the higher ground on the eastern side was dry and stony, and some near the hills produced fern 'of enormous growth'. Waimea West also had grass and fern, but it carried more bush, especially to the south and west.

"The land fell into three principal types—flax land or marsh, fern land and woodland. Swamps were to be one of the chief drawbacks—'swamps without end'. The deep bogs and the raupo, bullrushes and giant flax growing therein made survey work in some areas a nightmare. Yet when cleared and drained, some of the swamp proved to have good black soil which produced healthy crops. The fern land, by far the greatest part of Nelson, was divided into two classes, according to whether it supported high or low fern. The former was usually found to be richer. Fern included manuka. The woodland in the valleys was, with its alluvial soil and mantle of bush, the richest and the most highly prized."