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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 6, October 1980

Some Biographical Notes on Joseph Webley

Some Biographical Notes on Joseph Webley

Joseph Webley, the woollen manufacturer of Nelson, was born at Tetbury Hill, in the village of Avening, Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, in 1815. His parents were Rev. Samuel b. 1782 and Hannah Webley.

Joseph was to have been a Baptist minister as was his father and he was page 29trained for the ministry, but he became a lay preacher. He learned the woollen trade and took the post of manager of a large woollen mill.

A plaque commemorating Samuel Webley's 37 year ministry in the Avening Baptist Church is placed on the wall of that building.

Joseph Webley was the first in New Zealand to manufacture really fine quality tweed as opposed to coarse cloth.

His first wife, Esther Tilling, who he had married in Stroud in 1840, died in Nelson 23.9.1884. Shortly afterwards he re-married, this time to Anne Elizabeth Poynter who died in Nelson in 1933.

In 1859 Webley and Blick sponsored a family named Mills to come and work at their mill. This family emigrated from Stroud.

Joseph Webley died in Vanguard Street, Nelson at his home, 27th June, 1891, aged 76, peacefully and of old age. His obituary is in the Colonist of June 29th, 1891. He is buried at the Wakapuaka Cemetery, Nelson.

His will was curious and interesting, detailing among other things a half tester bed which must have been rather big. His estate was divided amongst his widow and five children, Joseph, Joshua, William, Sarah and Ellen, many of whose descendents still live in Nelson to this day.

Postscript: Miss Hughes-Sparrow has found this quotation which forms a fitting conclusion to the two articles on Nelson's pioneer wool manufacturing.

From the New Zealand Herald, 17 February, 1875.

Woollen Trade Pirates

The advances that have been made in perfecting the manufacture of woollen clothes at Nelson have been so considerable and the quality of the articles produced so excellent, that more than one Home firm (to their shame be it mentioned) have shipped out to the Colony large quantities of cloth marked "Nelson tweed."

The difference between the real Nelson tweed and the spurious shipments from London and Liverpool is that the former is all wool and the latter all, or nearly cotton.

The material of the one will hold together for years, while the latter betrays its poverty and falls to pieces in a few weeks.

So again we learn that the woollen manufacturers of Dunedin are being pirated in England and sold in England as "Otago pure Merino wool manufactured in New Zealand," all of which is very dishonest, but it nevertheless proves this much: That woollen goods of a certain class manufactured in the colonies are preferred, both in England and other places, to those of British production.