Quakers in Nelson - Quakers Acre Cemetery
The Society of Friends
Quakers, from the earliest days in seventeenth century England, hold strongly to the value of peace. When the founder, George Fox, was asked to enlist he wrote: “I told [the Commonwealth Commissioners] I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars.” Quakers social testimonies are simplicity, peace, integrity, equality and sustainability.
Quakers came to New Zealand as early as the 1770s. Sydney Parkinson, James Cook's natural historian and artist, was a member of the Society of Friends. Nelson is the home of New Zealand's first Quaker Meeting House and the site at 136 Rutherford St, Quakers Acre, is preserved as a historic place with a plaque and quiet garden.
Members of the Society of Friends, although few, were valued in the early settlement period of Nelson for their concern for the welfare of Maori people and abhorrence of the use of force against them. They were a pacifist, egalitarian group and supported the establishment of churches and schools of all denominations. Early Nelson Quakers, Frederick Tuckett and John Sylvnus Cotterell, were both involved in the 1843 Wairau Affray where they refused to fight or bear arms; Tuckett escaped but Cotterell surrendered and died; his grave can be found at Tua Marina, and that of fellow Quaker and surveyor Samuel Stephens at Fairfield Park cemetery. Isaac Hill is buried in the Baptist section of Wakapuaka Cemetery. The Wakefield family, Edward and Arthur, also came from a Quaker background.
Although few in number, Isaac Hill treasured the company of his fellow Quakers at the early meetings held in Nelson at the home of Martha and Samuel Strong. “I must acknowledge sitting in silence though with only a few to be a great privilege, and so all will find it who are absent from large meetings”.1
Quakers Acre, which was once known as Town Acre 667, marks the site of New Zealand's first Quaker Meeting House. Once the meeting house had gone, the land was technically a cemetery, and therefore it remained undeveloped. It was opened as a Quiet Garden in 2008.
Martha (d.1875) and Samuel (d.1854) Strong are buried in the top corner of the garden. Both were early members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and attended worship in New Zealand’s first Quaker Meeting House on Town Acre 667, built 15 May 1853. Martha was unwell at this time and the following year she died and was buried here. Samuel Strong is buried beside his wife. Two infant children of Isaac Hill are also buried here, one named Samuel Tertius, the other name unknown.
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The Strongs arrived in New Zealand on the ship Bombay in December 1842. They were keen members of the Quaker faith and for a time held regular meetings in their own home. Other Nelson Quakers included surveyors Samuel Stephens, John Cotterell and Frederick Tuckett, and storekeeper Isaac Hill. It was Cotterell who selected Town Acre 667 in 1842 from the New Zealand Company but died the next year. Two English Quakers, Robert Lindsay and Frederick Mackie, purchased the acre from Cotterell’s heir and established the Meeting House in the small cottage that was on the site.
It is thought that meetings were not held here on a regular basis after the death of Samuel Strong in 1875, despite the continuing presence of prominent Quakers in Nelson (for example Theodore and Esther Rigg). The land was leased to timber merchant Henry Baigent in 1884 and used as a horse paddock. In 1922 parliamentary authority was obtained to sell most of the acre for subdivision, except 17.5 perches which included the graves and the site of the Meeting House. The Nelson City Council took over the maintenance of the property in 1934.
In 2005 Grace Sutherland, a member of the Quakers, visited the site and, finding it badly neglected, decided to try and recreate the space as a quiet garden in the city. The community had pictures of the original site, showing the cottage, hanging in their present-day meeting house in Nile St. The Friends and Nelson City Council - guardians of the land - agreed to support Grace and her idea, and the area was tidied up, bench seats were installed and a garden was created. The seating area is meant to be a representation of the original rectangular cottage.
The Society of Friends now meets every Sunday in Nelson at its place of worship, 30 Nile Street, gifted from the estate of John and Edith Hazelwood.
At the time the Meeting House was first established here, the Society applied to the government for funding under a ‘support for establishment of denominations grants’. The Society did not qualify, due to its small number of members, but the government did provide prison labour to clear the property; it is recorded that native trees and shrubs were planted although none from this era survive today.
Today an old yew Taxus baccata, stands at the front of the grave. In England, yew trees have been a traditional tree for planting in church yards and beside graves. The yew provided timber to make bows, cross bows and long bows.
The seating area represents the original Quaker cottage on the site, the corner posts marked by trees symbolise the four Quaker testimonies : simplicity, peace, integrity, equality.
The information in this story is edited from the text of the heritage information panel at Quakers Acre, prepared 2009
Nelson Cemeteries (a timeline)
- 1840s - 1868 - Haven Cemetery - Malcolm Place, The Cliffs.
- 1854 - 1875 - Quakers Acre - Rutherford Street.
- 1840s - 1885 - Hallowell Cemetery - Shelbourne Street.
- 1851 - 1910 - Trafalgar Street Cemetery (Fairfield Park).
- 1861 - Present Day (limited burials)Wakapuaka Cemetery.
- 1960 - Present Day - Hira Cemetery (Family and local resident burials); Seaview Cemetery, Stoke.
- 1956 - Present Day - Marsden Valley Cemetery
Sources used in this story
- Isaac Hill, Diary, 2 October 1843.
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Further sources - Quakers in Nelson - Quakers Acre Cemetery
- Brodie, A. & J. (eds) (1993) Seeking a new land : Quakers in New Zealand : a volume of biographical sketches. Wellington, N.Z. : Published for New Zealand Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends by the Beechtree Press.
- West, M (1973) The story of New Zealand Quakerism 1842-1972. Auckland, N.Z.: Yearly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
- Sir Theodore Rigg, 1888-1972. Papers [including Short history of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Nelson, New Zealand dated 1968; Cotterell family tree, and biographical details of some mid-19th century Nelson quakers]. Held Nelson Provincial Museum
- Quaker history in Nelson. From Quakers in Aotearoa. Retrieved 20 January 2012 from:
- Quaker Histories in Embroidery. Retrieved from Quakers in Nelson, 6 April 2021:
- Savage., J. (2010) Hill, Isaac Mason - Biography, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand: