Cousins Clifford and Weld make their mark


In August 1847 Charles Clifford and his cousin, Frederick Weld drove 3000 sheep from Port Underwood to Flaxbourne: "Crossed the Bluff River with sheep.  Had to throw them all into the water, a day and a half's hard work," wrote Weld in his diary.1

Frederick weld

Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld. Schmidt, Herman John, 1872-1959: Portrait and landscape negatives, Auckland district. Ref: 1/1-001819-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22732091

The cousins had worked together at a Wellington trading company before (with Cousin William Vavasour) leasing the land which was to become the Flaxbourne Estate. Clifford wrote: " I went to him (Te Puaha, a Māori chief), was very kindly received, and soon agreed upon a lease of all the land from the Vernon Bluffs down the East Coast to Kekerengu for £24/annum."2

charles clifford

Sir Charles Clifford. Urquhart album. Crombie, John Nicol, 1827-1878. Ref: PA1-q-250-51. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22339596

Clifford was to become the Honourable Sir Charles Clifford, Baron of Flaxbourne: a name well-earned over the course of an eventful 80 year life. He was born in 1813, in Mt Vernon, Lancashire.3 A lifelong Catholic, he was educated at the Jesuit college of Stonyhurst –  and in the grand Jesuit tradition, he went abroad, taking the word of God to the young colony of New Zealand in 1842. He immigrated to Nelson on the George Fyfe in 1842 with the Redwoods who had been tenant farmers on the Clifford estate in Staffordshire.4

While based in Wellington, Clifford travelled New Zealand extensively, mapping out areas of the Wairarapa, as well as buying property in Marlborough and North Canterbury. One particular Marlborough property is of note - Flaxbourne Station was the first large sheep station in the South Island.5

The station’s location near the coast made it a useful stop for ships heading from Wellington to Christchurch. It became a stop for (among others) horse traders bringing stallions to stud.6

The cousins ferried goods between Flaxbourne and the North Island on the Petrel, which was lost off the Kapiti Coast in 1849. The crewmen aboard tried to bring the sails under control, but they failed - the ship sunk, and all aboard were lost.7

Weld and Clifford family gathering

Group comprising Frederick Weld, Filumena Weld, Frances Louisa Tollemache, Sir Charles Clifford and Jessie Cruickshank Crawford. Crawford family: Photographs of James Coutts Crawford and family. [Frederick Weld married Filumena Mary Anne Lisle Phillipps in England in 1859, and returned to New Zealand with her in February 1860.] Ref: PA1-f-019-12-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22783513

The Clifford family became experienced at handling livestock. In 1852, Charles sent his younger brother Alphonso with another load of sheep for land they were farming in Canterbury. The Lyttleton News wrote "[Alphonso] Clifford has succeeded in driving about 1500 ewes from the Wairau district, only losing one on the road." He took them through Flaxbourne, then down the coast to Kaikoura.8


Plan of Flaxbourne Settlement, 1905. Marlborough Museum - Marlborough Historical Society Inc.

In  the 1860s, Clifford and Weld turned some fallow deer out on the Flaxbourne run, which “….disappeared for some time, but they have, in all probability, gone back to the inaccessible country of Tapuanuka, the highest of the Kaikoras (sic).”

In the 1850s, the cousins became interested in local politics -- they were signatories to a letter asking Charles Elliot, founder of the Nelson Examiner, to stand for Wairau in the Marlborough Provincial Council.10

Clifford clearly caught the bug, and by 1854 he was back in Wellington and unanimously elected Speaker of the House of Parliament serving two four year terms. He retired to London in 1860, where he occasionally acted as a government advisor on New Zealand issues. He died in London in 1893.3

In 1853 Frederick Weld ran unopposed for the new Wairau seat in Parliament. He served for two years but was clearly unhappy with his life in the new colony he’d helped to develop. In 1855 he wrote: “colonising, exciting enough in its early struggles becomes very milk & waterish when it resolves itself into merely going certain rounds to visit sheep stations and staying a week in this settlement & a week in that. The tone too of the Colony alters, there are new faces & mercenary ideas, different from those of the adventurers of the early days – friends too get sick or get disgusted – die or go away.”11

Weld personal journal

Sir Frederick Aloysius Weld's Personal Journal. Archives New Zealand. [Weld was not just a controversial politician; he was also an avid writer and painter amongst other things]

Weld returned to Marlborough three years later, and was again elected to the Wairau seat, but the province only held him for another two years. He was the sixth Prime Minister of New Zealand, but served in the office for less than a year. In that eventful year, he moved the capital from Auckland to Wellington, and confiscated over 40002 km of land from Waikato Māori. These acts made him deeply unpopular with the public. He resigned in October of 1865, citing his health - only 11 months after taking the role.

Clearly a wanderer at heart, Weld lived in Canterbury and Malaysia, before he returned to England, where he died in 1891.

Although both men were frequent travellers who lived and worked all over the country and the world, Clifford and Weld both left their indelible mark in the Marlborough region.

 2017 (updated 2022)

Sources used in this story

  1. Stephens, J (2009). Early Pastoralism in Marlborough. The Prow.
  2. Stephens, J (2009)
  3. H. A. L. Laing & K. A. Simpson. 'Clifford, Charles', first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 1, 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  4. Stephens, J (2017). The Redwood Family. The Prow
  5. Stephens, J (2013). Life of a pastoral station. The Prow
  6. Advertisements (1853, September 24) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p.8
  7. Shipping news (1849, April 11) Wellington Independent. p.2
  8. Acland, L.G.D. (1946). The Early Canterbury Runs: Containing the First, Second and Third (New) Series. Christchurch: Whitcombe and Tombs Limited
  9. Acclimatization (1863, December 12) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p.5
  10. Advertisements (1853, July 2) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle p.4
  11. Graham, J. Weld, Frederick Aloysius from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,

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  • Residents of the township of Ward (established on the site of the former Flaxbourne Station) are currently campaigning to have it renamed "Flaxbourne".
    This has been along time coming. Judging by a furious letter to the editor, titled "Flaxbourne's Future Name", published in the "Marlborough Express" on 14 June 1905, residents proud of their association with the historic sheep run never did want their town named anything but "Flaxbourne".

    Posted by Anne McFadgen, 16/06/2017 3:35pm (6 years ago)

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Charles Clifford

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