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

Early Haven Road

Early Haven Road

page 8

Haven Road was given its name in 1842 by the Street Naming Committee. It was also known at times as the Port Road or even Beach road. For example in The Examiner 12 July 1862: "A sudden storm caused damage on the Port Road and the spring tide sent water across the road, washing away part of the wooden and stone breastwork and undermining sleepers on the Dun Mountain Railway". Or this report in September 1862: "In consequence of the damage that occurred to the sea wall and embankment of the Beach Road, the omnibus had been prevented from running". 1862 was evidently a bad year!

An early description of Haven Road comes from the book "Colonial Adventures" by Pratt. He tells how he landed from the "Indus" in 1842 with his employer and made his way through the water to the beach. He fell over a large boulder and arrived on shore soaking wet. Once on the beach they made inquiries and managed to obtain the use of a hand barrow. They loaded it with their luggage and commenced to push it up the road to Nelson, two miles away. He describes the road as newly made, very soft and sandy, as it had not been much used. It was also glaring white, and pushing the barrow over the rough surface in a temperature of 90 degrees was hard work. Captain Wakefield soon set about remedying this and, with fifty men working on it for a year, he was able to tell the rest of New Zealand that Nelson had the finest road in the colony. The road followed the base of the hillside fairly closely, except at Auckland Point. It was made by cutting down the hill and throwing the dirt on the beach. One of those working on the road, a man named Keats, was killed when he was buried in a landslip. The road was soon lined with shops and buildings. Edwin Hodder, who arrived in the colony in 1857, wrote an account of it in his book "Memories of New Zealand Life". He took the American van from the Port and passed two brick houses
Auckland Point October 1, 1843. J.W. Barnicoat. Bett Collection NPM

Auckland Point October 1, 1843. J.W. Barnicoat. Bett Collection NPM

page 9near the bottom of Russell Street, which were surrounded "by a motley group of natives visiting Nelson. Passing on toward town we leave the warehouses of the merchant princes and the yards of the boat builders and cross the Saltwater Bridge, a plain and unsubstantial wooden affair and make our way to Trafalgar Street".

The merchant princes were the early Nelson merchants, many of them from the "Lord – Auckland". Empson, Patchett, Otterson, Morrison and Sclanders, Fell and others had set up their businesses at Auckland Point, shifting later to the main shopping area of Nelson. Thomas Freeman, who built the "Hydrus" in 1843, was one of the earliest boat builders in Nelson, with his yard along the edge of Haven Road. The "Hydrus" was a good looking boat, 37 feet long and 11 tons burden, built of white pine and intended for trading up the West Coast to Manukau. She was built for William Claringbold, who sold it to Alexander Perry, a Nelson merchant. It was booked to sail up the west coast of the North Island and Perry asked Claringbold to take the boat, with sailors Elliott, Millar and Rutter to service the ports. For over a hundred years the ship's registration papers were held at the Nelson Customs, where I saw them in the 1950s or 60s, but now they are stored in Wellington. The most interesting fact about the papers was that both Claringbold and Freeman signed their names with crosses. Apparently in the 1840s many people could not write or read, hence the varied spellings of the boat's name — "Hydrus" or "Hydrous".

There was a copy of the ship's manifest among the papers, listing the peculiar goods carried:

For Mr Reimanschneider (at the Mokau)

  • Two casks of flour
  • One keg salt
  • One bale clothing
  • One portmanteau ditto
  • One iron pot
  • Three boxes merchandise

For Mr C H Snackenberg

  • Four Hhd Slops (hogsheads of slop clothing)
  • One cask ditto
  • 1 pkge Tobacco

But the gentlemen with the German sounding names were left lamenting, as the "Hydrus" never arrived. Enquiries by the cutter "Lively" showed that she had not reached the Mokau, Kawhia, or the Manukau. Rumour in Nelson had it that she had been stolen, her goods sold for a large stock of provisions in Queen Charlotte Sound, and then sailed for Tahiti or some other island.

In August she arrived in Auckland, having sailed up the east coast of the North Island. Claringbold and one of the sailors were arrested and charged with having feloniously run away with the vessel. Another of the sailors, Rutter, managed to bolt before he was taken. The "Hydrus" never returned to Nelson. Claringbold was sent back on the Government ship "Victoria", probably in irons in the bilges and he was jailed for some time.

Hodder mentioned "the plain wooden unsubstantial Saltwater Bridge", which was fair enough, as it was about twenty years old by then, having been built in the early days of the colony. Wakefield saw the need for the Saltwater Bridge right from the beginning of the colony. Saltwater Creek (Wairepo to the tangata whenua), from being a small creek at low tide, filled to the brim when the tide was full. The only way to cross it was to go as far as Parere Street, the first dry land crossing. It was an annoying little stream. At low water it nearly disappeared and someone placed a plank across it, for pedestrians. At most times of the day it could be forded, hence the advertisement in the Examiner: "W Bishop, chemist and druggist at his tent, Haven Road, near the Ford".

page 10

The creek was bridged too late to avoid an unfortunate accident. It seems that handy to the ford or plank was a grog shop. The entry in Wakefield's Diary for 1 January 1842, mentions the Grog Shop: "Not much done on the embankment for a bridge over the Tideway as it is in the neighbourhood of a haunt of people who have established a grog shop".

This embankment shows on old drawings, like Dillon Bell's of 1845. From the end of Haven Road it curved across the mudflats, till it reached dry land at the end of Bridge Street. Again Wakefield's Diary, 4 January 1842: "Cautioned Mr Wright and a man lately arrived from Wellington about selling spirits without a licence".

The grog shop was there to stay however, and was well patronised by the Expedition labourers, who found Mr Wright quite willing to cash the cheques by which Wakefield had paid them. The accident referred to could be put down to this grog shop.

It appears that a certain Mr Birch, clerk to Mr Williams of Auckland Point, after leaving the grog shop one evening on his way home, decided to take the short cut across Saltwater Creek. No doubt full of spirits, he was confident he knew where the plank lay. It was dark and the tide was running strongly, evidently two or three feet over the plank, but he stepped into the water and the accident happened. Next day his body was found, carried up the creek and bearing "marks of considerable contusions, no doubt brought by violent contact with the stone wall". Not all the stories are as tragic as this; some are quite amusing.

Saxton records a similar incident with a happier outcome, in his Diary. The entry for 16 August 1845 reads: "This night, three years ago, I pulled Ben the Bullock driver out of the tideway at Haven Road. He being drunk, had walked straight into it from Wright's public house".

When the bridge was built someone decided that a tidal gate should be installed underneath. As the tide rose, the flood gate was pushed shut by the tide and no water flowed under the bridge to flood the mudflats. As the tide ebbed, the water collecting inside the flood gate became strong enough to push the gate and the water flowed into the harbour. It didn't always act as it was supposed to, as you can see from the following letter in the Examiner: "To Millowners, Capitalists and Others. The sluice Saltwater Bridge being again out of repair, and the tide pouring in like a mill-race, it is advisable to part with the same to any person wishing to erect a Flour Mill, Flax Mill or Saw Mill. The adaptability of the present works for a mill site is so obvious, as to need no further commendation. The particulars as to title, and what the present works in their unfinished and useless condition have cost the public, may be had by applying to the Board of Works, Nelson".

Apparently the Government was rather slow to respond to these remarks and, in November 1861, another resident had a shot at the Board of Works: "The Editor, The Engineering genius who designed the culvert at the Saltwater Bridge — it keeps the saltwater out but the fresh is kept in so that the houses formerly untouched have nearly two feet of water in them and many acres are covered".

There's no pleasing some people! The tide water was now being kept out and apparently the flood gate jammed the other way and kept all the creek water in. It was annoying to the engineer and the workmen to find that all the gravel they had laid on the roads and footpaths was completely removed and deposited in the ditches. Still, Haven Road seemed to be quite dry.

Hodder, in his description of Haven Road, mentioned seeing two brick houses at the bottom of Russell Street surrounded by a motley group of natives, some busily engaged in dressing flax, others sitting listlessly on the ground smoking, and all dressed in a curious combination of European costume. They probably appeared "motley" as the Maoris, alway eager to trade with the settlers, brought kumara, potatoes, page 11
Haven Road about 1870. Steamboat Tavern at left and Dun Mountain tramline. NPM

Haven Road about 1870. Steamboat Tavern at left and Dun Mountain tramline. NPM

melons, pumpkins and fish, which they exchanged, mostly for blankets and European clothes. When they acquired a shirt, a waistcoat, a pair of trousers or a coat, they put them on, no matter what other clothes they were wearing. Hodder considered there were 50 or 60 Maoris in Nelson at one time, some using the brick houses as their headquarters or a place of accommodation.

I always thought that the Maoris gathered at Auckland Point, but a note in the Examiner mentions the Russell Street house in May 1843: "A Maori Hostel (similar to the one on Haven Road) to be built at the corner of Russell Street". When the sections in Nelson city were selected in April 1842, the Examiner remarked: "The Maoris are the landlords of nearly the whole of Auckland Point." Henry Augustus Thompson, as Protector of Aborigines and the main Government official in the town, selected the sections there for them.

According to New Zealand Company propaganda, one tenth of the land sold by the Maoris was reserved for them, to be held always as reserves. However, of the 1100 sections sold in the City of Nelson, only 100 were kept for the Maoris. One out of eleven is not one tenth in my reckoning. Have a look at some of the other land sales. I should think that the difference between one tenth and one eleventh of the land sold by the Maoris would make quite a large area. I wouldn't mind owning it.

For many years Haven Road ran along the edge of the harbour. Ships and canoes landed their cargoes and pulled up on the beach, or lay off shore. Old photographs page 12show many little cutters, schooners and other craft lying off Haven Road. A whole fleet of small vessels served Tasman Bay and Golden Bay. The "Nelson mosquito fleet" they were called, and carried goods, mail and passengers, who included miners, across the Bay. With the advent of steam, little paddle-wheel steamers appeared and one, the "Emu", was well known for a few years. In an endeavour to receive enough patronage, she indulged in stunts such as sailing up Saltwater Creek as far as the bridge, to halt for a while opposite the Grog Shop, now known as the Victoria Hotel. The Examiner said that, because of the narrow channel, the "Emu" had to back all the way down again, which was quite easy as she was pointed at both ends! The only drawing I have seen of the "Emu" shows her as a very ordinary boat, with a squarish-stern and a little lifeboat hanging in davits over the stern. The Examiner shipping notes were never very accurate. The "Emu" didn't last very long in Nelson, as she heard that they needed a ship to carry people to work across Auckland Harbour, instead of rowing across in little row boats. So off she sailed and got the job. She found time to do little cruises about the harbour. On one of them she ran on a rock off Motutapu Island and as the tide fell, broke her back. The Bay where the "Emu" struck is still called Emu Bay. Aucklanders perhaps wonder about the bird which gave the Bay its name.

The final episode of this story of Haven Road deals with the larger vessels which anchored in the stream at the Port and brought cargoes for Nelson. These included stock to replenish or build up the Nelson herds. Intending buyers and stock agents needed to have a look at the stock, so many took a boat out to the ship, to see what the animals were like. The inevitable happened when one of them, a man named Bell, went too close to the hold, slipped, and fell down on top of a cargo of bullocks. What a commotion. The bellowing bullocks no doubt thought it was the last straw. Driven to a ship from their own paddock, suffering pitching and tossing on the boat and now having human beings hurling themselves at them. Bell shouting in alarm and the sailors yo-ho-ing, as they let down a rope and hauled him up — what a noise!

The bullocks had even more to undergo, as they had to swim ashore, after being hoisted over the bulwarks and dropped in the water. They were chivvied ashore by men in boats, or on horse-back. No wonder they landed on the road in a rumptious mood, ready for anything. And so we have the most exciting part of the Haven Road history, as the poor cattle were driven to a stockyard at Auckland Point. No wonder Nelson residents felt alarmed at times. Their alarm was summed up in a letter to the Colonist in October, 1863: "Sir, As we are likely to have a large importation of cattle from Wanganui to this place — and some no doubt, in a wild state, I think some steps should be taken by the Provincial Government as to the appointment of a proper place for their landing. At present cattle are landed on the beach and driven into town, a practice which, from the narrowness of the Beach Road (Haven Road) is very dangerous to persons going or coming from the Port, more especially children, and if an accident should happen the enquiry would then be, "Why was there not some proper place for their being landed? I have heard that an accident happened on Sunday last by a person being run at by one of the cattle from the "SS Storm Bird", which shows the necessity of some proper place for their landing.

"When the "Tasmanian Maid" plied on this coast, her general rendezvous for landing sheep was up the Waimea River. This place can still be made available for landing sheep and cattle and considering the above-mentioned narrowness of the beach roadway some measure like this should be enforced.

"On the Haven Road, if a person were to meet some infuriated bullock he must either jump into the sea on one side or run the almost certain hazard of being tossed in the air while vainly endeavouring to climb the high palings that skirt the other side of the road".

page 13

Man, what a choice! Jump into the Tideway or the Saltwater Creek and swim to work arriving there soaking wet, with your sodden lunch oozing out of its paper bag! Not much of an idea. The other choice wasn't much better — being tossed in the air or helped over the paling fence by a few fiece prods from a bullock's horns!

I should imagine that all who could, would take to their heels and try to race the infuriated cattle, until they became tired. I don't know how far they would go, but a smart side step at the Grog Shop (sorry, the Victoria Hotel) would see the smart alec into the hotel. From behind the bar, with a reviver in his hand, he could watch the confused melee of people and beasts crossing the Saltwater Bridge, by this time at a hard gallop.

It always reminds me of those bull runs they have in Italian, or is it Spanish, cities where half the population chase the bulls through the town, or is the bulls who chase? What a wonderful tourist attraction. I should imagine Nelson would be packed with tourists every Bull Run day. What a pity someone built wharves where cattle could walk quietly ashore. At any rate workers living down the Haven Road must have broken all records on days when a cargo of wild bulls was let loose, and appeared at work early, much to the boss's delight.

Did anything happen about the letter? Not at once, but public opinion stirred the Provincial Council and, after some debates, they passed the following law in 1865, just three years later!

"All imported cattle shall be landed in the Waimea River (at the Back Beach at Tahuna) and are prohibited from being driven through the town between the hours of six am and midnight". This meant that auctioneers wishing to replace their herds in the stockyards on Haven Road, had to drive the beasts there in the early hours of the morning. We can picture the belated reveller, making his way home, finding himself confronted by thirty or forty long-horned, fierce-looking cattle. No wonder men signed the pledge.

But enough of the cattle. What about the sailors on the ships coming to Nelson? They seemed to be a quiet lot mainly, although they tried to enjoy themselves when they came ashore. Some feature in accident reports:

"Reckless Driving —Accident on Sunday, Haven Road "William Watts was seen driving a horse and cart up to town closely followed by another horse and cart with three seamen. Watts was 20 yards ahead and they were all urging their horses on at too great a speed and near the Saltwater Bridge the wheel of the cart containing the three sailors contacted loose stones and the three men were thrown out, one of them sustaining a serious injury.

Halliday, the constable, was on the spot and very properly laid an information against the whole of the parties — for we understand that, owing to the narrowness of the road many persons had great difficulty in getting out of the way."

In the Resident Magistrate's Court they were given severe reprimands and fined — Watts 4 pounds and costs, the seamen each 2 pounds and costs. Nothing very serious. How about this one:

"Accident in Haven Road

"Barricades were left on the road to get the traffic onto a newly formed piece of road so that it might be consolidated but they were left up at night and a horse shied at them, throwing a seaman out of his vehicle".

More could be written about early days in the Haven Road but 1 think that, in spite of many other fascinating incidents, enough has been written in this article.


Hodder, Edwin: Memories of New Zealand life. Longman, 1862

Pratt, William: Colonial experiences. Chapman and Hall, 1877.