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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 4, September 1978

Stoke — What is in a Name?

What is in a Name?

Visitors to Stoke possibly wonder just how the locality came to receive its name and why roads came to be called Nayland Road, Polstead Road, Songer Street and, a little further afield, Torlesse Street.

The New Zealand Company records simply refer to the locality as Suburban South but the name of Brook Green was adopted by the settlers. This appears to have been dropped following the transfer of school administration from the Nelson School Society to the Nelson Board of Education in 1858.

The name of Stoke was given by William Songer who was the first settler here. He came from Stoke-by-Nayland in Suffolk (in the sheep country of East Anglia). Polstead was a nearby village.

When the New Zealand Company's Second Settlement (Nelson) Expedition ships were leaving England the farewell sermon was preached by the Vicar of Stoke-by-Nayland, the Rev. C. M. Torlesse. Charles Torlesse, brother of Harriet Bridges, went to Stoke in 1823. His wife, Catherine Gurney (born 1793), was the eldest child of Edward Wakefield and so was a sister of the Wakefields who founded the New Zealand Company settlements. Their eldest son, also Charles, came out with the Nelson Expedition and later was a surveyor, more notably in Canterbury.

William Songer who had been the gardener at Stoke-by-Nayland came out as a personal attendant upon Captain Wakefield, while his page 28wife, who had been the nurse who brought up (he Torlesse family, came out as a matron on one of the emigrant ships.

Mrs Torlesse owned land in New Zealand which was cared for by Songer and she used to send out seeds for him to plant. It is reasonable to believe that some of the old trees in the area owe their origin to this source.

Shortly after his master's death at the Wairau Songer settled on Section 51 Suburban South, owned by Rev. C. Torlesse, whose young son, the improver C. O. Torlesse was then being cared for by him. Songer named the district Stoke after the English village, Stoke-by-Nayland, the home of the Torlesse family. He soon built a mud cottage and began to farm, growing barley and potatoes and running cattle and pigs judge Broad in his jubilee History names Songer as neing one of the Expedition men still alive in 1892.

Relationships were maintained between the people at Stoke, Nelson, and the people of Stoke-by-Nayland and this link was further cemented by the gift of a beil. There is reference in the newspaper Examiner of December 10, 1864, to a gift for the church which was being built. The bell was a gift from Charles Ricketts Rowley, Bart., of Tendring Hall, Stoke-by-Nayland. It was manufactured by Messrs John Warner and Sons, Jewin Crescent, London, and arrived in New Zealand on the Anne Longton with all fittings complete. The inscription on the bell, "Come let us go into the House of the Lord," was written for the founders by the Archdeacon Vicar of Stoke-by-Nayland, the Rev. C. M. Torlesse. The bell is still in use.