John Wallis Barnicoat 1814-1905


Surveyor and  Speaker of the Nelson Provincial Council 

Born in Falmouth, Barnicoat was articled as a civil engineer before immigrating to New Zealand as a cabin passenger on the Lord Auckland, which left Gravesend on 25 September 1841.

John Wallis Barnicoat, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Collection, 34843 John Wallis Barnicoat, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Collection, 34843
Click image to enlarge

On 4 October, he described a frightening incident aboard the sailing ship: " In the night a heavy gale carried away the foretop gallant mast and flying jib boom and tore the foretop gallant sail." Then the ship was "....tacking about all day and losing way each tack."

Once they got their sea legs, Barnicoat and his fellow cabin passengers ate extremely well: "fresh fish every day...roast goose....giblet tarts, plum pudding...and plenty of wine". They were thrilled by the birdlife and whales, and devised many entertainments. 

Barnicoat sketch on Lord AucklandBarnicoat, J. Sketch of Messrs Sclanders, Graham and Fell on Lord Auckland, Nelson Provincial MuseumClick image to enlarge

Barnicoat shared a cabin with Thomas John Thompson  and described its snug ambience on 29 December. "I have mentioned that our cabin is only 7 ½ feet by 6 ½ feet and in this space we have two beds, 7 boxes, 2 carpet bags, 2 hat boxes, several small boxes and parcels, shoes etc etc," 

On Sunday 5 February, the passengers were called on deck as Banks Pensinsula hove into sight. "The whole of us were pretty nearly in raptures with the beautiful valleys which continually presented themselves." 

On Sunday 26 February, Barnicoat sailed into Nelson Harbour. Two days later he noted that a public ‘grog shop' was very popular with drunken sailors. " This evening one of them was purposely annoying one of the natives by bawling in his ear and swearing at him.....The native at last quietly got up and knocked the sailor down then gave him two or three tremendous blows on the head and walked off in their usual dignified manner." 

During 1842 and 1843, Barnicoat and his fellow cabin passenger, Thomas Thompson, took up survey contracts in Waimea East and the Moutere. In April 1843, he reported that their tender for surveying "No 1 district in the Wairoo (sic) was accepted at 10 shillings on the net acreage of the district." 

On March 10, 1843, Te Rauparaha arrived in Nelson. "The old murderer was dressed in a dirty blanket with a large bunch of the down of albatross in either ear....He demands compensation for the occupation of Nelson, not yet considering its purchase complete. He also, it seems, wants payment for Motueka, Moutere, Waimai (sic) and the other districts of Nelson." 

On 28 June, after the Wairau Affray, Barnicoat wrote: " On looking back....however much I may be exasperated against the natives on account of the massacre which occurred after the fight, it is difficult to attach any blame to their proceedings before that occurrence....These natives told us repeatedly of the opposition of the chiefs to the occupation of the Wairoo by whites...." 

Barnicoat was among those accused of cowardice for fleeing from the scene. However he said there were two options: Arthur Wakefield  thought it would be ‘certain death' to run away and Barnicoat and others preferred running away as the safest course of action. "We did not run from the fight, for the fight had already ceased."

On February 1, 1844, Barnicoat noted a more subdued Nelson Anniversary than the previous year when "mirth seemed the order of the day". Two barques were waiting in the harbour to take away 25 families of emigrants. "The anniversary was a great falling off from last year...from a feeling that any rejoicing was untimely so soon after the Wairoo Massacre." 

In 1849, Barnicoat married Rebecca Lee Hodgson and they had seven children. He entered politics when the Provincial Government was established in 1853 and served in the Legislative Council from 1883 to 1902. 

This article is paraphrased from a series of columns written by Joy Stephens and published in the Nelson Mail in 2007.

 Updated April 24, 2020

Sources used in this story

  • Barnicoat, J.W. (1814-1905) Journal (1841-1844), The Nelson Provincial Museum, Bett Collection
  • Lash, M. D. (1992). Nelson Notables 1840-1940: a dictionary of regional biography. Nelson, N.Z.: Nelson Historical Society, pp.15-17 

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Further sources - John Wallis Barnicoat 1814-1905



  • Mackie, J.(1999). Early surveying and surveyors in the Nelson region. New Zealand Map Society Journal, 12, 4-13.
  • MacKie, J. (1999 ). Surveyor heroes of Nelson's past: the Honorary J.W. Barnicoat. Survey Quarterly, 17, 7-8.




Held Nelson Provincial Museum

 Held Hocken Library:

 The Hocken Library at the University of Otago and the Nelson Provincial Museum hold copies of Barnicoat;s pencil sketches also found on

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