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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 1981

Cooper and Morse

page 5

Cooper and Morse

It has been well recorded that Cooper and Morse set up the first sheep run in the Wairau when they moved about 1,000 sheep to the area near Tophouse late in 1846. What has been recorded about the people themselves? Possibly very little.

We know something of Nathaniel George Morse; records which exist would seem to indicate that he was a man of means. He was a West Country man, born at Exeter in 1822, and was one of the very early settlers to arrive in Nelson. Ruth Allan has stated that Morse, with partners Murray and Rogers, was actively farming in the Lower Moutere area, near Motueka, by 1844. Within a few months they had a flock of 600 sheep besides 30 cattle.

He was in partnership with Dr Cooper in the Upper Wairau undertaking, but his dreams of owning a sheep run did not seem to suffer unduly when the partnership broke up – he simply moved further down the Valley and started again. Morse lived in the Waimea area until he moved to Wanganui in 1873.

There are references to Dr Bedborough which would appear to suggest that he had some interest in the Cooper and Morse undertaking. We know little of Dr Henry Bedborough, "late surgeon to the 16th Lancers", prior to his ownership of the Upton Downs sheep run in the Awatere Valley.

John Henry Cooper was surgeon-superintendent on the emigrant ship Martha Ridgeway which arrived in Nelson on April 7th, 1842. The passengers included H. A. MacDonald who became manager of the Union Bank in Nelson, his mother and his sister Jane, aged nineteen years. Magistrate H. A. Thompson's diary records that on November 8th, 1842 Jane Scott MacDonald was married to John Henry Cooper.

Little information has been available about Dr Cooper but some light has been thrown on him and his family by a perusal of the C. W. Saxton Diary at the Nelson Provincial Museum. It also gives some information about the Wairau undertaking.

In 1846 Cooper and Morse were running sheep in the Motueka area, but they apparently had only the right of pasturage and problems arose at men with capital were able to buy the land and force them out. They had clipped 1800 pounds of wool that season which they sold to a Nelson merchant for one shilling per pound, giving them ninety pounds between them to pay all expenses. Most owners lost by their sheep that year.

As Cooper and Morse were compelled to move their sheep under pressure from the landowners, they decided to drive them to the Upper Wairau valley where unoccupied land was available although there was no guarantee that they would be able lo secure a title to it. A diary entry in November 1846 stated that Mr Cooper and Mr White were about to ride up the Waimea to overtake and accompany Messrs Morse and Bedborough and their sheep on the way to Wairau Valley. Eight men were assisting in driving the sheep.

On his return from the valley, where he had left Messrs Morse and page 6Bedborough with the sheep, Mr Cooper stated that there was an abundance of aniseed, but he believed that if this was eaten off too closely it never recovered again. There was also an abundance of grass as far as he could see. The wood (between Kikiwa and Tophouse) was very bad with a covering of decayed leaves over the surface roots, this gave way under the weight of the sheep whose feet became entangled between the roots.

In 1847 the Government surveyor, C. W. Ligar, arrived in Nelson to inspect the Wairau and lay out a road to it. When Nelson people learned that the Governor (Grey) had bought the Wairau land there was some feeling and it was said that the banker, MacDonald, who had married the widow of Magistrate H. A. Thompson, was enraged at the purchase from the murderers.

In April 1847 Mr Fox, Company Agent, said that most of the new track to the Wairau was a terrace above the river on which a coach might be driven, but several miles would have to be cut out of the Ben Nevis hillside close above the stream, the stream chasm of which was not more than twenty feet wide. (This refers to the track from Kikiwa to Tophouse and the writer has seen other references to the mountain now known as Beeby's Knob as being Ben Nevis.–J. N.).

Dr Cooper sold up most of his goods and let his house in Nelson in the spring of 1847 as he and Mr Morse were going to build a house in the Wairau. The family were to live in the cottage and the men in tents. When Mrs Cooper, with her young family and her mother, set out for their new home they were delayed at McRae's, Wakefield, as they received a message that the house was not ready. From there they reached their destination in three days. Dr Bedborough was accompanying them but returned to Nelson. Later it was said the family were well and comfortable. Unfortunately the packing in of provisions was a problem. The servant left and Mrs Cooper was overworked.

Mrs Cooper had to return to Nelson in February 1848 to be confined and it appears doubtful if the family returned to the Wairau. Dr Cooper was practicing his profession in Nelson during 1849. Mrs MacDonald Senior took ill and wished to return to England, so Cooper said he would sell a hundred sheep to allow her to do so. Little Henry Thompson visited Mrs MacDonald in Nelson before the MacDonald family moved to Australia to take up a bank appointment at Port Phillip in August 1849.

This writer knows little more of Dr Cooper but some diary entries suggest that he was not a well man. Some concern was expressed in September 1847 as it was said that when he went to the Wairau he would be in great need of medical advice, hut someone said that "Old Bedborough would be there."

Captain Cork, skipper of the Comet, brought a message to Nelson in May 1851 to say that Dr Cooper had died about a month before. The diary entry states that he had gone about a hundred miles up country to a village where there had been no doctor and a small salary was guaranteed to him if he would settle there and get what he could besides. The family was with him.

No clue as to the whereabouts of this village has come to light, but it is reasonable to assume that it would be somewhere in the Wairau (Marlborough! area.

Perhaps there are some descendants of Dr Cooper who would be interested in the information that has been unearthed.