The Saxton legacy
Bridging Nelson City and Tasman District, Saxton Field is a major regional sporting facility, but the land it sits on used to be part of a large farm originally owned by early settler and gentleman farmer, John Waring Saxton (1808-1866) and his family.
John and Priscilla Saxton arrived in Nelson from England with other family members, including Priscilla’s mother, Mrs Crumpton, on board the Clifford in May 1842. As was the procedure, prior to leaving England Saxton had purchased three pieces of land in the new colony, all of which would be balloted when the settlers arrived: a town acre, (4,000 sq metres), a 50 acre (20 hectares) accommodation (sometimes referred to as a suburban) block and a 150 acre (60 ha) rural block. Following the initial ballot they were allocated a town acre in the Brook Valley.
However, on arriving in Nelson, the Saxtons found they were unable to access their town acre due to swamps and an impassable stream, so a lease was signed for another section on Haven Road close to Saltwater Bridge and the prefabricated cottage brought out on the ship with the family was erected on this. When a road was finally constructed in the Brook Valley, the Saxtons moved from the Haven house to Brook Street, where they had a new house, Claremont, built.
In January 1843 Saxton was allocated a rural section in the Wai-iti Valley, near Belgrove. It is unclear from Saxton’s extensive diaries where exactly his accommodation block was. But by early 1844 he had exchanged the Wai-iti block for something “better and closer.” Again, his diaries do not state what he exchanged it for but in the early years of the colony, absentee owners, incidences of squatting and land exchanges complicated the ownership and identity of some lands.
What is known is that by the end of 1844, John Saxton had acquired, probably through land exchanges, two diagonally adjoining 50 acre accommodation land blocks in Stoke, adjacent to Main Road Stoke, where Saxton Field now is. By 1851 at least seven 50 acre blocks of adjoining land and a rural block constituted the Oaklands farm. Saxton’s diary describes the farm as “steep, hillish and swampy,” and that the first acre was ploughed in November 1844.
Its name came from the oak trees he grew from acorns brought with him from England. The homestead area remains surrounded by these tall original oaks.
In November 1844 John Saxton bought at auction wooden barracks used by the New Zealand Company and situated on Haven Road. The wooden modular buildings were barged around the coast to Stoke, where they were hauled through swamp and marsh up to the farm by bullocks and carts and fitted together in a new configuration to a plan drawn up by John Saxton.
Built of 300-year old Baltic pine with a Cornish slate roof, in time the newly reconstructed building grew into the homestead known as Oaklands. While they waited for it to be completed, the family lived in its original prefabricated cottage, which Saxton had transported in January 1845 from Haven Road to the farm and reassembled. Once they moved into the homestead, the smaller cottage appears to have been used as a farm cottage. Over the years various additions to the Oaklands homestead have been added and removed but it remains the home of John Saxton’s great great grandson, Richard Raine. It is recognised as one of the oldest prefabricated dwellings in New Zealand.
John Saxton was no farmer. A gifted watercolour painter and musician, he spoke several classic languages including Hebrew, Latin and Greek, and enjoyed entertaining visitors at Oaklands. He was also deeply involved in civic affairs as the treasurer of the Nelson Institute, a member of the Nelson Provincial Council, and involved with the Anglican Church. His series of Nelson views and the diaries he kept from 1841-1850 (held by Nelson Provincial Museum) give a valuable record of early Nelson life.
Fortunately, his sons enjoyed farming and successfully developed the Oaklands property and another property the Saxton men leased in Tarndale, north Canterbury (now part of the Molesworth Station). Both properties ran sheep and Oaklands also grew small crops.
John Saxton died in 1866 and ownership of the Oaklands farm passed to his children. Over time however, sections of the farm were sold off, including in 1908, when Saxton’s granddaughter Rosie Saxton sold her inherited block to the Nelson Freezing Company. This block is now the site of the Saxton Field oval and athletic track.
When Saxton’s son, John Waring junior (known as Waring), died in 1932, Oaklands farm comprised of 2,119 adjoining acres between the Ngawhatu Valley and Richmond’s Queen Street, from the estuary to the top of the Richmond Ranges.
Upon his death the farm transferred to the Raine family, whom Gwendoline, the daughter of John Saxton’s grandson, George Saxton, had married into. Her husband Richard (Dick) Raine was an English farmer who had emigrated from Cornwall to farm in Albany in Western Australia. While visiting New Zealand on holiday Dick met Gwendoline’s two brothers, who took him home to Oaklands, where he was introduced to their sister. The newly-weds made Oaklands their home.
Oaklands was generally a sheep farm, with flocks on the highland areas, and a small percentage of beef cattle. It also grew hops and apples and the large flat block that is Saxton Field today produced cereals, including barley, wheat and oats, as feed for the farm’s Clydesdale work horses.
In taking it over, Dick Raine took on responsibility for Oaklands’ assets and liabilities, including compounding death duties incurred by the family over several generations. The farm needed to be rationalised and, in order to pay off some of the debts and ensure its survival, he leased parts of it and sold others. In 1932 the Nelson Aero Club leased 45 acres for its first terminal and in 1934 aviator Kingsford Smith landed his plane, the Southern Cross, at the airfield. Cook Strait Airways started operations from the aero club.
One of the sections of lowland farm was bought by the Crown, which leased it to the Kingturner family. It was this block that later provided the bulk of Saxton Field.
The productivity of some of the farm’s lower hill country was increased with ploughing and harrowing and the sowing of more productive grass species, and during the early 1930s dairying was introduced. In 1937 Dick Raine attained official registration as a dairy and Oaklands provided milk to the Stoke area. In 1944 he became the first chairman of a farmers’ cooperative town milk company the Nelson Milk Treatment Station, when at least two earlier milk co-operatives merged.
In 1960 he divided the farm in two and transferred ownership to his two sons, Glyn and Richard. Revising the split to suit themselves, Richard Raine took control of more of the lowlands and dairy farm (including the original Oaklands farm and homestead), while Glyn Raine took over the hill land.
Over time Richard bought back several blocks his father had sold years before and in time also bought part of his brother Glyn’s farm. (Some of Glyn Raine’s farm remains in his family.) The contemporary Oaklands farm is now around 460 hectares in size and Raine family members continue to live in the original restored Oaklands homestead. Situated up behind Saxton Field off Suffolk Road, the hard work of a combined eight generations of the Saxton-Raine family have transformed Oaklands into highly workable farmland.
Oaklands Farm today
The peaceful rural setting of the farm has completely changed and Oaklands is now a working town farm, as urban sprawl from both Nelson City and Tasman District closes in around it. Under the stewardship of Richard Raine’s son Julian (John Waring Saxton’s 3x great grandson), and his son Tom, Oaklands focuses on the dairying his grandfather Dick introduced in the 1930s. Where Dick was the first chairman of the Nelson Milk Treatment Station, in 1998 Julian was its last chairman before the company was sold as one of the legs of the newly formed Fonterra.
As at the end of 2016, fresh Oaklands milk is sold direct from refrigerated vending machines situated at the farm gate and at various locations around the city. The farm supplies its milk to 60 restaurants and cafes in the region, offers a home delivery service, and is developing a supermarket milk brand.
One section of the original Saxton farm Richard Raine was unable to buy back was the Crown block, and this was eventually sold to the Nelson City Council. It is this block which forms a large part of the Saxton Field sporting complex. The Nelson City Council set aside this land for the development of a regional sporting complex in the 1970s. Work began on the first sports ground in the early 1980s and Saxton Field, as it was named, was gradually added to and developed over the following 24 years until it is the sporting complex of today.
Jointly owned by Nelson City and Tasman District, Saxton Field provides facilities for a variety of codes including hockey, cricket, softball, netball, football, athletics and cycling, as well as general recreational purposes. Extending from Saxton Road in the north to Champion Road in the south, and bordered on the western boundary by Main Road Stoke, the complex of indoor stadium, sports fields, courts and tracks covers 65ha of recreation reserve.
Updated May 20, 2020
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Further sources - The Saxton legacy
- Neal, T. (2010, November 20) An Island in between. Nelson Mail on Stuff:
- Interview with Julian Raine by Karen Stade, 16 October 2016.
- Jeremy Cooper, The Oaklands Story – 1844 to present, 2013
- Oaklands – Our History https://www.oaklandsfarm.co.nz/about-us
- Saxton Field. Retrieved from Nelson City Council:
- Saxton Field Reserve Management Plan. Retrieved from Nelson City Council:
- Radio NZ Interview https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/201761714/171-year-old-nelson-family-farm-weathering-dairy-ups-and-downs