Henry and George Dodson


Pragmatic and political early Spring Creek settlers

New Zealand provided plenty of opportunities for four of Joseph and Isabella Dodson’s nine children1 to shine, with Thomas and Joseph settling in Nelson and Henry and George making their homes in the Wairau.

Born in Wiltshire, the brothers all seem to have arrived in New Zealand under their own steam. Thomas arrived in Nelson in 1841 on the Will Watch and Joseph arrived in 1854. Thomas was a member of the Nelson Provincial Council and various other bodies and Joseph became a brewer and Nelson’s first mayor.2


J R Dodson, Mayor: The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 32005

But this story will deal with younger brothers, George and Henry and their part in the development of the Wairau.

Dodson Henry NZETC

Henry Dodson. NZETC

Henry Dodson

Henry Dodson arrived in Nelson in 1855 via an unsuccessful period at the goldfields in Ballarat, Australia. He joined his brother Joseph and worked at his brewery, before moving to the Wairau in about 1857. He set up a brewery, which is now Marlborough’s oldest commercial building and houses a beer garden.3 He was a member of Marlborough’s first Provincial Council established in 1859 and was one of the ‘Blenheimites’ who wanted the provincial seat of government to be in Blenheim,4 not Picton which was Marlborough’s capital until 1865.

“The object of the sheep farmers (large runholders like William Adams) was to draw off the population from Blenheim to Picton so that a few scabby sheep might run on these plains, and the advance of small agriculturalists, be retarded in the vicinity of their runs,” he told a large meeting at Blenheim’s Royal Oak Hotel in Blenheim in 1860.5

In fact Henry could have been Blenheim’s first mayor, as he and James Sinclair had an equal number of supporters. A compromise was reached and F.J. Litchfield was Blenheim’s first mayor.6 Henry was Blenheim’s second mayor from 1870-71 and again from 1883-84.7

Henry became Marlborough member of the House of Representatives in 1881. Historian Lindsay Buick wrote: “His advanced views he had imbibed when amongst the diggers of Ballarat, and although he was not a polished speaker, he had a rude eloquence that often carried conviction where more flowery language might have failed.”  Henry was described as one of the most skilful ‘election engineers’ the Wairau had ever produced and held the Wairau seat until his retirement in 1890.8

In 1884 when addressing a meeting of electors at the Marlborough Public Hall, he said that he had been accused of putting members of his family into public positions. He countered this by saying his brother George had been put on the Lands Board without his knowing anything about it, and that the Government had actually objected to another person he had suggested, whom they passed over in favour of his brother, George.9

Henry died suddenly in May 1892 of a ‘paralytic stroke’ and his obituary in the Marlborough Express noted that he had worked hard to secure the future prosperity of Marlborough. “It says much for a man that his death should cast a gloom over a whole community, but much more, when it can be said that he leaves no enemy behind, and has left a record, public and private, of which any man may well be proud.”10

Dodson George

George Dodson. Marlborough Museum & Archive

George Dodson

George Dodson arrived in Nelson in February 1842 on the Fifeshire and was  soon working with the New Zealand Company’s survey staff.  He joined chief surveyor Frederick Tuckett on an expedition down the south coast to find a new settlement to be named New Edinburgh (Dunedin) in 1844.11

He farmed at Spring Grove in the Waimea district prior to relocating to Marlborough. When the Wairau was opened for settlement in 1854, George was the first farmer to settle in the Spring Creek district.12 Spring Creek was very swampy and in the early days, George was one of many farmers who raised cattle there. However the Australian goldrush created a sudden demand for grain and George ploughed his paddocks and became a grain grower.  He was the first in the area to plough with horses, the first to import a traction engine and an early adopter of a manual reaping machine.13

Dodson Spring Creen Railway Stn 20090670018

Spring Creek's original railway station. The Station Master had his office inside and there is a waiting lobby, necessary in the absence of a platform veranda. George had already been in Spring Creek for 20 years when the Blenheim to Picton railway line was opened in 1875. Marlborough Museum & Archive

His interest soon turned to provincial politics, although a report in the Nelson Examiner and NZ Chronicle of 1865 makes one wonder how keen he really was when he stood as Blenheim candidate for the Marlborough Provincial Council in 1856.  A ‘Blenheimite’ like his brother Henry, George was keen for the seat of Government to be based in Blenheim but when quizzed on topics other than the merits of the two rival towns, confessed he had not thought about other issues. In what sounds like a bruising encounter as he fielded questions, he said he was opposed to taxation in any form and had left the old country on that account and would vote with the majority on rates issues.14

Dodson Ferry Bridge Spring Creek

The opening of the Ferry Bridge at Spring Creek, September 1909, with guests on the old Ferry punt. George was chairman of the Spring Creek Road Board from 1875. Marlborough Museum & Archive

George represented Tua Marina on the Marlborough Provincial Council between 1869 and 1874.15 As chairman of the Spring Creek River Board for 25 years from its inception in 1875, George did much to alleviate devastating flooding in the area.16 As the settlers burned off scrub on the Wairau Plains, water flowed freely into the rivers and floods were becoming more frequent and disastrous. George is described as being at the ‘head and front of all the river protection work carried out in the district’.17

As well as being a member of the Spring Creek River Board, George was a member of the Spring Creek Road Board, the Waste Lands Board and a Justice of the Peace for 18 years. He died in 1905.18

2017 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. Harrison, P.M. (2011) The Dodsons of Brinkworth, Wiltshire, England. P. Harrison: Wellington, p.3
  2. Newport, J. (1973, April) Wakapuaka. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 2(6), p.12
  3. Obituary. Death of Mr Henry Hobson (1892, May 9) Marlborough Express
  4. Buick, T.L. (1900). Old Marlborough or the story of a province. Christchurch, N.Z.: Capper Press, p. 409
  5. Buick, p. 410
  6. McIntosh, A. D.(ed) (1977). Marlborough: a provincial history. Christchurch, N.Z. : Capper Press, p.361
  7. McIntosh, p. 426
  8. McIntosh, p. 380
  9. Wairau election (1884, July 7) Marlborough Express, p.2
  10. Obituary. Death of Mr Henry Dodson.
  11. Mr. George Dodson (1906) The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts]
  12. Mr. George Dodson
  13. Buick, p. 345
  14. Marlborough. Election intelligence (1865, September 16) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle
  15. Private communication, Alison Petheridge, descendent of George Dodson, 10/9/2017
  16. Mr George Dodson
  17. Buick, p. 345-346.
  18. Mr. George Dodson

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