Early Wakefield


It is believed that Wakefield (originally known as Pitfure)1 was named after the Yorkshire birthplace of an early settler, William Hough; however it is also widely accepted that the village was named in honour of Arthur Wakefield who was killed in the Wairau Affray.2

Wakefield town, 1880. Waimea South collection on Tasman Heritage.
Click image to enlarge

Situated in Waimea South, Wakefield’s first European immigrants, who settled in 1843,  found plentiful timber, arable land and very few Māori, who had fled the area in Te Rauparaha’s 1828 raids.3 

An 1842 map by surveyor, John Cotterell shows much of Waimea South was well wooded.  There was great demand for timber, both locally and as an export, and soon thousands of metres of timber were leaving the area each week.4

Hodgsons Store. Wakefield. Waimea South Collection on Tasman Heritage.
Click image to enlarge

Small stores sprang up to cater for the rural community. They stocked food and farm necessities, household goods, clothing and luxury items.  Thomas James Smith and his wife Grace arrived in Wakefield in 1846 and set up a small general store.  By 1865, there were three stores in Wakefield5 - Hodgsons, Hoopers and Paintons.6

It wasn’t long before hotels providing accommodation and community hubs were established. The Wakefield Arms was established by William Plank in 18477, with the Nelson coach service collecting and discharging passengers and goods at the hotel. In 1867, stock sales began in yards behind the hotel.  The Wakefield Arms was the centre of the Waimea South Steeplechase, a popular event for many years, which began in the summer of 1868 and saw horses entered from all over the Waimeas.8

While Wakefield was developing into a busy rural centre, there was some frustration from locals about getting on the map. In 1856, a letter signed ‘One of the Old Settlers’ complained about the inconvenience caused by incorrectly delivered mail. The writer requested that the boundaries of the village be publicised.9

In 1878, a letter to the Nelson Evening Mail appealed to Wakefield people to agitate for a telegraph station at Wakefield before it was too late, saying that if a ‘one shop village’ like Brightwater was to get a telegraph office and station master, Wakefield was also entitled to one.10   The Wakefield Post Office was built in 1909.

Wakefield School, 1913. Waimea South Collection on Tasman Heritage.
Click image to enlarge

Wakefield School is the oldest school in continuous use in New Zealand. Founded in mid-1843 in the home of Mary Ann Baigent, it was soon crowded and by November 1843, John Wilkinson had established a separate school under the auspices of the Nelson School Society. During Wakefield School’s 168 year history, five additional schools  have been incorporated,  they are: Eighty-Eight Valley School, Pigeon Valley School, Spring Grove School, Totara Bush Household School, Te Arowhenua Household School, Wai-iti School (formerly Upper Wakefield) and Foxhill School.11

St John’s Anglican Church (1846) is the oldest standing Anglican church in the South Island.12 Many of the district’s pioneers, such as Edward and Mary Ann Baigent lie in the churchyard cemetery.13  St John’s Catholic Church was established at Upper Wakefield in 1870 and the Wakefield Methodist Church was opened in 1919.14

Early Pioneers

Baigents - Edward Baigent arrived in Nelson and established a forestry and timber business, which survived well into the 20th century.  Edward and Mary Ann were both involved with St John’s Anglican Church, which they helped build and sustain for 45 years.15 Their 7th child, Henry Baigent was a Nelson mayor for two terms.16

Eliab Baigent (Edward’s nephew) arrived in Nelson with his parents in 1848. At various times he worked as a shoemaker, JP, brewer, photographer, musician and tooth puller. From 1900, a huge jar of pulled teeth in his premises was a favourite stop for children on their way home from school. It was felt ‘sheer terror’ was a good anaesthetic for those who visited Eliab.17 

Elib Baigent's business and home. Waimea South collection on Tasman Heritage.
Click image to enlarge

Charles Faulkner - Charles, a widower, arrived in Nelson with his two sons in the mid 1870s to farm 46 acres of land, now known as Faulkner’s Bush. His large two storied house was burnt to the ground in April 1893. The family was well respected family in the community in church and cricket.18

Sydney and Sarah Higgins - Married in 1849, the Higgins’ bought land in Mt Heslington Valley. Sarah built the kitchen while Sydney was working and she worked as a midwife in the area for 26 years. They had 11 children, with all but one settling in the Waimeas as farmers or sawmillers.19

George and Dinah Parkes - George Parkes arrived from Nottinghamshire in 1849, marrying Dinah Sutton in 1851. They  came to 88 Valley and raised sheep, cattle and crops on a farm originally called Glenhope and renamed Punawai in 1918.  Some of the land in the original title is still owned by Parkes family members.20 

Thomas and Hannah Tunnicliffe - And finally typifying the hardy spirit of the region’s early European settlers was Hannah Tunnicliffe, wife of timber worker, Thomas. The couple, who had 11 children,21 settled in upper Wakefield and she carried supplies from Nelson on her back, walking the distance.22       

The photographs used in this story are from the Waimea South Collection which is available through the Tasman Heritage website.


Updated August 16, 2022.

Sources used in this story

  1. Walrond, C. (2010)  Nelson places - Richmond and the Waimea Plains. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  2. Waimea South Historical Society. (1992). From River to Range. Waimea South Historical Society. p.1.
  3. Stringer, Marion J. (2006). More Wakefield spuds: more Waimea South history. Nelson: Marion J. Stringer. p.8.
  4. From River to Range, pp.1-3.
  5. Bint, Betty (October, 1984) Some early storekeepers of Waimea South. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 1(4), p.10.
  6. Stringer, Marion J. (1999). Just another row of spuds: a pioneer history of Waimea South. Wakefield: M.J. Springer. p.37.
  7. Bint, Betty (1985, October). The hotels and accommodation houses of Wakefield. In Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies.
  8. Correspondence (1856, April 26)  Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle,  p.2
  9. Correspondence.(1878, March 16). Nelson Evening Mail,  p.2.
  10. Stringer (1999), p.74.
  11. Neal, T. (2018, November 9) Legacy of early settler thrives in NZ's 'oldest school'. Retrieved from Radio New Zealand.
  12. From River to Range, p.45; Wakefield Church reaches 150 years (1996, October 9) Nelson Mail, p.13
  13. From River to Range, p.8
  14. From River to Range, p.45
  15. Lash, M. D. (1992).Nelson Notables 1840 – 1940: A dictionary of regional biography. Nelson, N.Z,: Nelson Historical Society, p.15
  16. Bint, Betty (1986, September) Eliab Baigent. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 1(6), pp.33-36
  17. From River to Range, p.61
  18. From River to Range, pp.71-73
  19. From River to Range, p.90; Legend in her own time (1996, June 29) Nelson Mail, p.12
  20. Personal communication from Sue Parkes, direct descendant
  21. Stringer (1999), pp.594-600
  22. From River to Range, pp.102

Want to find out more about the Early Wakefield ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment


  • trying to find historic maps of Wakefield around the 1880s

    Kia ora Paul, there is a map from around this period on the NZ Heritage Maps platform. It is under 'Wai-iti District' rather than 'Wakefield'. Wakefield is in the right side of the map near the bottom, Eighty Eight Valley, Pigeon Valley and the Wai-iti River and the (Anglican) church reserves are listed. https://maps.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/1290. Ed.

    Posted by Paul Smith, 28/12/2022 10:02pm (1 year ago)

  • I am trying to locate the book "More Wakefield Spuds" has any one have one for sale or know where I can purchase one.


    Posted by Jenny Cotgrove, 31/01/2022 7:22pm (2 years ago)

  • Hi Joy
    Did you find any references to the Landon-Lane family in your research? I understand the family lived in Upper Wakefield in the 1860s-80s. Their children attended the local school.

    Posted by Barry Chisholm, 07/09/2021 9:33am (3 years ago)

  • I just love Wakefield, my mother was born in 88 Valley 20th December 1902. Loved the 1913 Wakefield School photo. She would have been 10 - so I guess she will be in that school photo. I just wish I new which one!

    Posted by Valerie Westley, 01/04/2017 8:31pm (7 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments

Further sources - Early Wakefield



Web Resources