Fairfield Graveyard


The Fairfield graveyard, along with the popular Fairfield house was for a long time thought to be haunted (as are most graveyards).

Nelson CemeteriesNelson Cemeteries. Nelson City Council
Click image to enlarge

On the 21st of January 2007 a paranormal investigator team came to inspect both the Fairfield House and graveyard for ghostly activity. Some people have said that they have witnessed the appearances of a transparent woman both walking around and becoming a realistic figure in their dreams. But few results were found to truly call Fairfield House and Park "haunted."

Fairfield graveyard has had over 78 people buried on its land from 1851.  The first person to be laid to rest is unknown, as many of the earlier gravestones are damaged, faded or unmarked and, in some cases, have been relocated to other cemeteries. Damaged graves were relocated to the Rhododendron Dell  in August of I948, but some more recently damaged headstones, whether by time and mother nature or vandalism, still remain in Fairfield.

The land now known as "Fairfield Park" was originally Reserve D, when it was marked on the town plan in 1842 by chief surveyor Frederick Tuckett. The land was to be used for "Military Stations",  such as barracks and a parade ground.   Once streets began to be named debates grew about the naming of Reserve D,  and it  was then christened Copenhagen Mount, after a battle involving Lord Nelson.  The cemetery was quickly renamed Trafalgar St. Cemetery and is sometimes referred to as Trafalgar Street South Cemetery.   This cemetery became the preferred choice for the deceased residents of Nelson than, rather than Reserve B, which in later years became Hallowell Cemetery

A group of trustees was given the task of dividing up Reserve D into different sections -  for Roman Catholics, Church of England and the "general public" . There was one very confused case involving these sections. A young Roman Catholic man named Mr. Otterson, who had come from overseas to stay in Nelson but had died at the age of 17, was to have been buried on the Roman Catholic section, however Mr. Otterson's parents were Protestant and so a debate began. This was quickly resolved under the terms that Mr. Otterson was to be buried on the dividing line between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, so as to please all.  

Nelson SouthBurton Bros. (1880's). Nelson South, showing Reserve D and the cemetery. Nelson Provincial Museum
Click image to enlarge

Once the Wakapuaka Cemetery opened in 1861 only close family members could be buried in Trafalgar St. Cemetery. On January 1 1910 the cemetery was closed completely by the Nelson City Council.   In some cases a family member's grave was moved,  despite the rest of the family being buried  in the Trafalgar St. Cemetery. This happened to  the daughter of James Palmer Black. James Palmer Black was buried on the 29 October 1889 after living in  New Zealand for 38 years. He was buried with his late wife Joan who died in 1861. Their first child, a daughter named Jessie Black, was buried with her parents (dates unknown) but was then transferred to Wakapuaka Cemetery on the 25 August 1917 for reasons unknown.

In later years the Trafalgar St. Cemetery was renamed Fairfield Cemetery by the Nelson Historical Society, because of the cemetery's close proximity to the public Fairfield House.

Anastasia Byrne, Nelson College for Girls, 2009

Additional information from the Nelson City Council Heritage Plaque at Fairfield Park

(text by Janet Bathgate)

Copenhagen Mount
Reserve D, a parcel of land marked on the 1842 Plan of the Town of Nelson by chief surveyor Frederick Tuckett, is now Fairfield Park. The six acre reserve was set aside for "military stations" - for barracks and a parade ground. Hot debate amongst the newly appointed strreet-naming committee occurred when the majority chirstened it Copenhagen Mount after one of Lord Nelson's battles. Possibly, some people felt uncomfortable with a recollection of a battle that was fought against a country with which Britain was technically not at war.

Trafalgar Street Cemetery 1851-1910
In late 1851 it was decided Reserve D, what was Copenhagen Mount, would be more suitable for a cemetery than Hallowell  (Reserve B - the cemetery today accessed from Shelbourne Street) and the name Copenhagen Mount was quickly replaced by the Trafalgar Street Cemetery (and sometimes referred to in records as Trafalgar St South Cemetery).

Separate areas of Reserve D, under the control of a group of trustees, were set aside for Roman Catholic burials. Church of England burials and a "general public cemetery for the burial of all persons of all classes and denominations without the imposition of any sectarian creed." After the Wakapuaka Cemetery was opened in 1861, burials of close relatives were still permitted here but the cemetery was completely closed on January 1, 1910 and the land vested in the City Council.

Fairfield Park
The name "Fairfield" was given to the Park in 1963 at the suggestion of the Nelson Historical Society, because of the close proximity of Fairfield house, the early home of the Atkinson family. Together Fairfield Park, Fairfield house and also Melrose house make for a fine historic parkland precinct on upper Trafalgar Street. Fairfield house is open to the public and tree-top views from the reconstructed observatory tower are well worth the climb.

The headstones
Many of the Trafalgar Street Cemetery headstones have long gone, but those of the following people can be easily found amongst the trees and shrubs

  1. Reverend Charles Sarda. On his way from missionary work among Maori in Auckland to take up new work in Akaroa, Canterbury, Charles Sarda developed consumption and died at the Catholic Station in Nelson, aged 28 years
  2. Francis Otterson - Drowned crossing the Wairau River. Otterson was a leading member of the Roman Catholic community.
  3. The headstone of Thomas Rollinson and Margaret  Dalkis, includes the inscription "Drowned at Awaroa". Until bridges were built river-crossing accidents were a frequent cause of death.
  4. Robert Shallcrass- His contribution as a police sergeant towards the Maungatapu murders case led to the appointment as Inspector of Police in 1866. Later as Nelson's goaler he was held at gunpoint by a prisoner who stabbed warder Samuel Adams to death and then shot himself. Robert and his wife Annabella had a son who died of diptheria aged 11.5 months; a second son is also buried in the plot, he also died of diptheria aged 3 years. Samuel Adams is buried in the Catholic Block at the Wakapuaka Cemetery.
  5. Thomas Blick. A master weaver from Gloucestershire England. Blick was the first person to manufacture cloth in New Zealand owning the country's first woollen mill which was sited in Brook Valley.
  6. Samuel Stephens - A Quaker. Stephens was a member of the New Zealand Company's  preliminary expedition to Nelson in 1841 as first assistant to the  chief surveyor. At the time at his death he was the member for Nelson in the House at Representatives. His gravestone is now illegible but contained the following words:
    ‘Sacred to the memory of Samuel Stephens Esq., who died at Nelson N.Z. 26th June 1855. He was one of the first English settlers and ever took the warmest interest in the progress of the colony.This tomb is erected in affectionate remembrance by his widow. Requiescat in Pace.' 
  7. The headstones of William Hale  and  his wife Eliza and daughter Hannah were damaged beyond recognition by 1948 and were buried along with others in the north eastern area at the cemetery. Wiilam Hale was one of the first to establish a nursery in Nelson. Some of the trees growing here at Fairfeld could be from his stock.
  8. Neil McVicar is buried here under a simple headstone facing Fairfield house, which was once the site of his home, nursery and orchard.  Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1808, he was a nurseryman in Bath, England, when his first wife Mary, the mother of his sons, William and John, died. He emigrated to Nelson from England in 1849, on the baroque Cornwall. His second wife, Margaret and infant son, Wishart, died on the voyage. Neil built the original dormered four-room cottage where Fairfield House stands today.  He established a large orchard behind his home of some 500 fruit trees, which included 30 varieties of apples, as well as shrubs and some of the forest trees, we can see today. Neil developed a nursery supplying fruit trees, choice shrubs, oaks elms, poplars and cypresses etc. to the early pioneers. "The Nelson Examiner" of 1852 records that he won prizes for his rose blooms. After only four years in New Zealand he died leaving his remaining sons William and John orphans.They both moved to Blenheim and trained to become builders and cabinetmakers.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment


  • Item #4: should read Robert Shallcrass had a son who died of diptheria aged 11.5 months (not years) a second son is also buried in the plot, he also died of diptheria aged 3 years. Ed. We will amend this.

    Posted by E Grindlay, 09/03/2014 8:43pm (12 months ago)

  • Item 5 says Thomas Black. Are you sure that is correct? I am of the opinion it should be Blick. Ed. You are correct. A scanning error, now amended. Thank you

    Posted by A Robinson, ()

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments

Further sources - Fairfield Graveyard


  • Broad, L. (1892) The Jubilee History of Nelson: From 1842 to 1892  Wellington, N.Z.: Bond, Finney, and Co., p. 21




  • Nelson City Council Heritage Plaque : Copenhagen to Fairfield [sited at Fairfield Park, text by Janet Bathgate]

Web Resources