The Neal Canoe 1902

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In 1902, while whaling along Rarangi Beach, Edward Neal spied a long, overturned canoe somewhere along the beach. He returned with a team of horses and dragged the canoe to his home in Marshlands and asked around to find the owner of the canoe.

Marshlands was prone to flooding as much of Marlborough was. The stop banks had not yet been formed and so the Wairau easily overflowed and spread itself across the Marlborough plains killing crops and animals and destroying homes. A recent flood would have taken the canoe to the river mouth. Edward was unable to track the owner so put it to use on his farm.

Thomas Nelson Neal

Thomas Nelson Neal. Image supplied by author

Around 1910 his brother Monte used it to transport flax to and from work sites because of the fact it was "almost impossible" to tip over and in the cases when water did get in it was very easy to bail it out and continue on working. Unfortunately, in 1916 it floated down the Pukaka Drain behind Edward Neal's family home and had to be rescued a second time from Rarangi Beach. For over twenty years it was used by the family for various jobs. During some floods the family used it to save livestock and they also used it for hunting trips and more farm related tasks.

When it was first discovered, it was in great condition, but over time a substantial amount was lost in length and height. The family placed it in a ditch where many of Edward's grandchildren played on it. Edward's granddaughter Heather remembered it as being fun to play on and when waters would rise she and the other children would sit in it and float in the little ditch. 

Thomas Nelson Neal

Thomas Neal and family. Image supplied by author

The family kept the waka until 1962 when it was decided that it should be given to Marlborough Historical Museum. It is now on show in there at Brayshaw Park along with three other hand-crafted canoes which sit proudly in the centre of the Museum.

Edward John Neal (1886-1950) was born to Thomas Nelson and Magdalena (Selina) Neal on the 7th of August, 1886, being their 11th child. In 1905 Edward married Winifred (Ivy) Jellyman, a daughter of William and Elizabeth who lived out at Rapaura. They had five children: Edward Nelson Neal (1908-1960) who married Bessie Landon-Lane and had nine children before his passing at the age of 51, Winifred Anne, born in 1910 died of a haemorrhage of the bowel at 10 weeks old, Ernest William Neal (1911-1998) married Ellen Dunkinson and had three children.

Arnold Thomas Neal (1913-2000) survived the sinking of the MV Jason in World War 2 and was captured. He returned and married Barbara Webster and had three children. Douglas Ronald Neal (1914-1983) married Joyce Webster and had one daughter before passing at the age of 68. The whole family were sports mad with Edward John taking up refereeing and his sons played everything from cricket to rugby. His son Ern was a great bowls player. Edward John Neal had 11 grandchildren at the time of his death and had a further five after. He and his brother Monte passed away within five hours of each other in 1950. Both were known in sport and were commemorated in a large funeral service in Blenheim. They are  buried next to each other with their wives in Omaka Cemetery.

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