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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1988

John & Elizabeth Ann Harris: Marlborough Pioneers

John & Elizabeth Ann Harris: Marlborough Pioneers

The 1870 decade was one of great activity on the part of the Central Government of New Zealand. Vogel was Prime Minister, with a 'go-ahead policy' of borrowing vast sums of money for public works, railways and immigration. Brogdens, the large firm that had built many railways in Britain, was engaged to construct trunk lines in New Zealand. The line from Picton to Blenheim was one of the first. The North Island main trunk was to follow. Brogdens needed a large work force and it was not difficult to persuade English labourers that they would be much better off, under the attractive conditions they could offer.

John Harris was accepted by Brogdens as a suitable workman. He was a young Cornishman, born at Newlyn in 1851. From an early age, he had worked with his father in the tin mines, later moving to a coalmine in Northumbria. He left England with the first recruits, in the sailing ship Schiehallion in July, 1872. After a few days in Wellington, they were shipped to Picton, where they were hospitably received by the inhabitants, who hoped for great things from the railway.

His first work was cutting a ditch on the Elevation, then he was transferred to Tua Marina. About the time his contract with Brogdens finished, his financee, Elizabeth Ann, arrived from Cornwall. She had made the long voyage alone, to an unknown land and they were to spend most of their life together, in Tua Marina. They bought a small holding of 3½ acres. At first they sold hay from it, but later were able to build a home and to develop a market garden. John went gold-mining for a brief period, but mainly worked at his market garden and at various other jobs. For 30 years he was postmaster, at first conducting business at his residence. Later, there was a telephone service and the sale of postal notes. He was also mail-carrier, census collector, tax collector, sexton, etc.

They had a family of four sons and six daughters and Elizabeth Ann kept a happy and hospitable home. They were interested in community work, particularly the work of the Methodist church.

Their Golden Wedding was celebrated with a gathering of family and friends, in 1923. They lived on in their old home, enjoying frequent visits from children and grandchildren, till Elizabeth Ann's health began to fail. She died in 1929. John lived on, until the end of 1931.

After John retired from the Post Office, his work was continued by his youngest daughter, Grace (Mrs Knight), who was Post Mistress for 32 years. This made a term of 62½ years by members of one family, a record which was acknowledged when she finally retired.


Arnold, R. The Farthest Promised Land. Victoria University Press, 1981.

Harris, A. Tribute. 1972.