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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 7, Issue 1, 2009

The Thomas Family of Appleby

page 38
Thomas family. From Left: Edwin Thomas, daughter Frances, Lucy Thomas (nee Price). Thomas Family Collection.

Thomas family. From Left: Edwin Thomas, daughter Frances, Lucy Thomas (nee Price). Thomas Family Collection.

page 39

The Thomas Family of Appleby

My great, great grandfather, John Thomas, was "James worked as a rabbiter and had a unique way of catching them with a fishing net trap. The rabbits were taken by boat to sell in Nelson". born in Manchester, England in 1798. He arrived in Nelson Haven with his 14 year-old son, Edwin, on the Perthshire on August 21, 1852. He had been left with four children when his wife died and brought Edwin with him, while the eldest three stayed in England.

John purchased land in Appleby, between River Road and Appleby Road, near Waimea West Corner at the cost of 64 pounds and 10 shillings. Three months after his arrival he married an Irish girl, Mary Ann (Bridget) Beatson, who is thought to have also come on the Perthshire. John built a mud cottage on his property, where my grandfather later built his house.

John's eldest son, James Heakly Thomas, came to Nelson with his wife Hannah and three children in 1861 on the Sir George Pollock. According to a report in The Colonist, James suffered a serious accident on July 1, 1862 when he was leaving town in his dray. He slipped and fell under the wheels while mounting the dray, suffering serious injuries, and was conveyed to the hospital.

He built a hotel called The Horse and Jockey on the corner of his father's property which was used as a passenger stopover and was probably also a mail collection point. It was near Monro's Crossing on the Waimea River, named after David Monro, a well-known figure in Nelson history. He owned Bearcroft in page 40lower Waimea West which was later owned by Job Russ.

Siamese twins were born while the family was living at The Horse and Jockey, two girls who were beautifully formed, fat and very healthy looking. They were conjoined from collar bone to navel, the latter being common to both. The rib cage round to a common sternum was also joined, leaving a single cavity in which the two hearts and livers were united. The babies died at birth and were buried on the farm, beside their grandfather's mud cottage. A Banksia rose planted on the grave is still growing there. Hannah was left paralysed for life, but she had another child ten years later. She died at the age of 67 in 1892.

James Heakly stopped trading at the hotel when a bridge was built further down the Waimea River in 1867/68 and the travel route changed. The family then shifted to Mapua, somewhere near Grossi Point, which we used to call Thomas's Hole. James worked as a rabbiter and had a unique way of catching them with a fishing net trap. The rabbits were taken by boat to sell in Nelson. He later returned to live in the former hotel and his father died there.

James drowned in 1889 when returning by boat from Nelson. He had gone for supplies with his son-in-law, Thomas Haynes/Haines, leaving from Pearl Creek at the end of Cotterell Road. The landing there had been used from the early days for boat access to the Waimeas. The two men stayed overnight at the Custom House Hotel and their boat evidently capsized in rough seas off the Back Beach Tahunanui on the return journey. Their bodies were found on September 13, 1889 on the Sands, near Edward Green's property. The inquest, at the Custom House Hotel, was conducted by Sergeant White before the coroner, Mr Curtis, who said that both victims had been very sober men.

Edwin Thomas (b.1838) married Lucy Price (b.1846) of Waimea West and they had eight children, the fifth being Alfred Ernest (b.1877), my grandfather, who was known as Ernest. In 1864 Edwin bought 25 acres at the corner of Redwood Road and the Coastal Highway from the Redwood family, which is now the site of the Seifried Winery. He built a house there about 1882, but it became too small and, when Ernest was five years old, they moved back to the former hotel. Edwin worked both farms and died in 1891 at the age of 61 after a painful illness. Ernest then took over both farms. He married Emily Jane Hart in 1903 and their house, on the site of the mud cottage, was built by Robertson Brothers for 250 pounds. They had four children: Lawrence (my father), Reta, Bert and Maida. Part of their property was sold as the site for the Appleby Catholic church, which had its centenary in 2007. Ernest, who was well known for his friendliness and great sense of humour, died page 41in 1947 aged 70 and Emily Jane died in 1949 aged 69.

Lawrence Thomas (b.1904) married Gladys Emily Schroder in Blenheim on December 7, 1926. My mother's parents had shifted there after a fire in the Brightwater bakery, which they owned. Lawrence went to work in the Blenheim gasworks before they married. They returned to Nelson and built a house on the Coastal Highway farm about 1932. After working in an orchard for a time, Dad bought about 26 acres in Redwood Valley where he established an apple orchard. He took over the Coastal Highway farm when his father died, and Bert worked the Waimea West farm and built a house there.

John Thomas, 1798–1896.Thomas Family Collection.

John Thomas, 1798–1896.
Thomas Family Collection.

For many years Dad grew 12,000 tomato plants in combination with the orchard. The five children worked in the apples and tomatoes as we grew up, and it was a very busy life for the whole family. My father, sadly, died suddenly aged 58 in 1962 and my mother and brother then worked both properties. We were all married by this time. The orchard was sold first, followed later by the farm. Mum married Victor Smith in 1971 and died in 1982.


My thanks to my cousin, Murray Thomas, for researching much of this article. He lives in the present house on the Waimea West property with his wife Greta.