Newman Brothers


Running a transport service in the days when unformed roads wormed their ways through virgin bush up steep hillsides and across rivers and mountain creeks tested man and beast. Nelson's Newman brothers were just two of many of the pioneers who helped link the scattered parts of the new colony.1 

Newman Bros: from horse dray to nationwide bus company

From European settlement in the 1840s until about the 1930s, coastal shipping was the main mode of transport. With most new settlements built on the coast, modes of inland transport were limited - people mainly travelled by foot, bicycle, horse, and in Nelson, the Dun Mountain tramway.2

Harry-Newman-in-Rai-Valley.jpgHarry Newman in Rai Valley. Date unknown. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Print Collection: 286859 Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

As taxes funded the development of better roads, bullock and horse-drawn vehicles became more common.Demand for improved inland access began in the late 1850s after the discovery of gold and minerals in the region.4

By the 1870s, there were driveable routes between Nelson and Blenheim and Nelson and Murchison. A network of roads was appearing on the Waimea plains.5

In 1876, Thomas and Henry (Harry) Newman bought two six-horse wagons6 - little did they know this would be the start of a nationwide fleet of buses which continues to operate, as part of the Inter-City group, under their name today.7

The Newman brothers built their reputation on reliability and service. Their first passenger and mail contract was from Foxhill to Longford, near Murchison. 8

On their first run on 1 July 1879, Tom, aged 20, was at the reins with 29-year-old Harry beside him.9 The 120 km, two-day journey was memorable in more ways than one. Held up ten miles from their destination, Tom was determined to get the mail through, so he put the mailbag over his shoulders and walked - the mail got through!10  The brothers were paid £195/annum for the contract.11

Newmans-Cadillacs-outside-Nelson-Post-Office.jpgNewmans Cadillacs outside Nelson Post Office. Date unknown. The Nelson Provincial Museum, F N Jones Collection: 9969.
Click image to enlarge

Newman's tri-weekly passenger and freight run between Nelson and Blenheim, taking 11 hours, began in 188712, with the mail contract added in 189113. "Practically in every case the securing of a mail contract marked the birth of some particular coach service, for, without some such contract coach services were uneconomic," said Tom's son, Sir Jack Newman in 1957.14

Newmans-Coach-Redwoods-Valley.jpgNelson - Redwoods Valley coach about to start from Nelson Post Office. Date unknown. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Print Collection: 306508
Click image to enlarge

In the early days, roads had to be cleared of fallen trees and slips by the coach drivers. Bridges did not exist, so the horses and coaches went through the rivers. "Many times, the water would gurgle into the coach and the inside passengers would be wondering whether they were not due for a ducking." 15

By 1904 Newman Brothers ran passenger services between Nelson, Blenheim and Westport.16 By this time, Tom and Harry owned 10 coaches, wagons and other vehicles (with five running daily), 150 horses and 20 stables along the routes. 17 Each stable had at least one stable hand, with a farrier at the larger establishments.18

From 1870 to 1914, the stagecoach reigned supreme. In 1911 the Newmans bought their first motor vehicle - a four-cylinder Cadillac. The first cars evolved into longer service cars with their chassis lengthened (work carried out by Nelson's Anchor Shipping and Foundry Company) so they could seat up to 13 passengers.19

In 1918 the last horse-drawn carriage was retired from service - fittingly with Tom Newman at the reins on the last run between Murchison and Glenhope. The old stables in Hardy Street were used as the Newman Bros headquarters, with the cars housed at night in the old horse boxes.20

Newmans-Cars-in-Murchison.jpgNewmans cars at Murchison, 1929. The Nelson Provincial Museum, F N Jones Collection: 10001
Click image to enlarge
Newmans-car-in-bush.jpgNewmans car in bush. Possibly circa 1930. The Nelson Provincial Museum, F N Jones Collection: 10032
Click image to enlarge

The company of Newman Brothers Ltd was formed in 1919, Harry died later that year and Tom (who died in 1944) eventually took over the running of the firm.21

In 1921 Thomas Newman ventured into new forms of transport, organising the first plane to land in the Nelson region. The Avro 504 flew in from Wellington and landed in Marsden's paddock at Stoke.

By 1926, Newmans had a fleet of 50 ‘modern and powerful motors', 30 drivers and five mechanics.22 Management of the company transferred to Tom's son Jack in 1930. Sir Jack Newman was knighted for services to the travel industry, commerce and the community in 1977.23 He died in 1996.24

By 1929 there were still only about 3000 kilometres of sealed road in the country - less than three percent of the country's road network. Sealing New Zealand's road network continued at a gradual pace until the 1950s and 1960s, when it accelerated.25

Newmans remained a family-owned business until 1972 when it merged with trucking and mining company, Transport (Nelson) Ltd. There followed a period of expansion where the Newmans brand encompassed tours, rental cars and campervans and a short-lived airline. In 1994, Newmans was integrated into the InterCity group.26


Updated, October 12, 2021.

Sources used in this story

  1. Watson, W. (2010, March).Transport - overview - Before motor transport. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand:
  2. Newman, J. (1957). Land Transport in the Early Days. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 1(2).
  3. Watson
  4. Newman
  5. Newman
  6. Lash, M. D. (1992). Nelson Notables 1840 - 1940: A dictionary of regional biography. Nelson Historical Society, p 114-115.
  7. Newmans Coach company.
  8. Lash, p. 114-115.
  9. Carter, G (2006). Travelling with Newmans. G.T. Carter Transport Books, Wanganui, p 4.
  10. Triumph for pioneers of transport through the bush (1926, July 29) NZ Truth , 1079, p.1x.
  11. Centennial Souvenir : Newmans Coach Lines (1979) [N.Z.] :T.N.L Group.
  12. Newman
  13. Lash p. 114-115.
  14. Newman
  15. Triumph for pioneers of transport through the bush
  16. Lash p. 114-115.
  17. The cyclopedia of New Zealand volume 5: Nelson, Marlborough & Westland (1906) Wellington, N.Z.: Cyclopedia Co., pp. 130-131. 131.
  18. Carter, p 4.
  19. Carter, p 5.
  20. Carter, p 4-5.
  21. Lash, p 114-115.
  22. Triumph for pioneers of transport through the bush
  23. Lash, M. (2007). Newman, Jack 1902 - 1996  Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
  24. Glowing tributes for transport pioneer (1996, September 27) Nelson Mail, p.3; Pioneer in tourism and transport dies (1996, September 24) Nelson Mail, p.1.
  25. Walrond, C. (2010) Roads - Building roads.  Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  26. Intercity (New Zealand). 

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  • Hi
    We are the Packard and Pioneer Museum in Maungatapere, near Whangarei, Northland. We have been closed to the general public for years since the death of the owner. We are now in the process of reopening and reorganising (please visit our temporary website which is a facebook page whilst the main website is being built, Amongst the artifacts are 2 old Newmans busses, complete. Would you be interested to buy them? If you are interested I can get some more pics off to you

    Posted by Richard Easton, ()

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