The Taranaki Refugees


The Taranaki War of 1860 had a lasting legacy for both Māori and Pakeha communities in Taranaki and Te Tau Ihu.

The impact of the war on Taranaki Māori and Māori/ Pakeha relations in Te Tau Ihu, plus the story of the Parihaka Prophets in Nelson following the war has been told elsewhere on the Prow.

Payne, A D (Mrs), fl 1997. [Nicholson, Maria], fl 1859-62 :[View of Nelson from Britannia Heights area. ca 1860]. Ref: A-306-009. Alexander Turnbull Library, [Oddfellows Hall is the largest building in the Centre]
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In May 1860 Taranaki War refugees - the wives and children of Taranaki settlers - started to arrive in Nelson.1 The refugees were welcomed by the settler community, not only because of strong sympathy for their cause, but also because they were seen as a boost to population numbers. Settlement in Marlborough, Waimea and Motueka was also promoted for this reason, although fewer settlers took this option.2 At the height of the movement of people there were nearly 1,200 Taranaki refugees in Nelson - a huge impact on a relatively small population (4701 in 1861).3

As soon as news of the events in Taranaki reached Nelson a public meeting was held, refuge was offered in Nelson and a subscription4 opened to raise money. Some refugees were hosted by families, but more of them were offered shelter in the Nelson Oddfellows Hall and buildings, at no charge. The Nelson Provincial Government saw that this was not sustainable, and offered support. The Colonial Government later took responsibility.5

To house the refugees, the Provincial Government built the Taranaki Buildings (or Barracks - the accommodation was highly regimented), on government reserve land opposite the hospital near the junction of Waimea Road and Rutherford Street. The building was funded by the Government plus money from the public subscription, and funds donated from across Colonial New Zealand and even Australia. Local carpenters volunteered their labour.6

Gully, Mr. [John] The Nelson Provincial Museum, Davis Collection: 1138
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At the close of hostilities free passage was offered for the refugees to return to Taranaki - and most did, between 1861 and 1864. However, a few significant families did remain. Amongst these the Gullys, notably John Gully, the Rawsons, Atkinsons, the Thomson Rutherford family (including Ernest Rutherford's mother), James Crowe Richmond and family and Emily Harris, the artist.

Burning the old people's home (The Taranaki Barracks, in 1909). Nelson PhotoNews, 13 November 1971
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The legacy of the War was also seen in the built environment. From 1863 the Taranaki buildings were being used as a hospital for the insane. They were later used as an old people's home. The buildings were burned down in 1909.7 The Parish of All Saints  was formed in 1862, partly to cope with the influx of Anglicans from Taranaki - which resulted in the building of the Church, opening 1868.8

The unspent balance of the Refugee fund was deposited, and later the Committee overseeing the fund voted to spend the money on the purchase of Trafalgar Park in 1891, to be used as a recreation and sports ground.9

A further result of the Taranaki War was the establishment of a Volunteer Corps in Nelson.10 Many settlers preferred to join the Volunteers, rather than being obliged to join the militia, which was being sent to Taranaki. In September 1860, Nelson's resident magistrate, James MacKay, had sought exemption of the Nelson volunteer militia from conscription in the Taranaki War, to reduce provocation of Te Tau Ihu iwi.

updated 2023

Were your family members Taranaki War refugees? Tell your story at the Nelson Provincial Museum or on the Prow.

Sources used in this story

  1. Broad, L (1892) Jubilee history of Nelson 1842-1892. Nelson, N.Z.: Bond Finney & Co, p.127
  2. Mitchell, H & J. (2007) Te Tau Ihu o te Waka: Te Ara Hou - The New Society. Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers in association with the Wakatū Incorporation. p.405
  3. Broad, p.127
  4. Taranaki Refugees fund (1891, July 31) Colonist, p.3 
  5. Smith, D, (2002) Emergency Housing in 19th Century Nelson.Nelson Historical Society Journal, 6(5), p.37 
  6. Smith
  7. News of the day (1909, August 7) Colonist, p.2
    [The home reopened as the Alexandra Home on Tukuka Street and later moved to Richmond.]
  8. Mitchell, p.405
  9. Taranaki Refugees fund
  10. Broad, p.127

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  • Thank you for sharing this rich information,. I'm intrigued to know if these facts might also solve a question I have held about my families migration from Nelson TO Taranaki around (from what I can tell) 1880. My ancestors the Webbys/Whebbys and the Castles came to Nelson spread across the Thomas Harrison, The Lloyds and The Whitby. They settled mostly in Waimea. And married into each others families. However at some point, from what I can tell around the last 1970's early 1880's some of the Castles and Webbys migrated north to Taranaki. I have always wondered why they would do so. Is it possible that settler families were encouraged or financially supported to move to Taranaki around that time? Can you offer any insights?

    Posted by Maree, 17/04/2023 10:22pm (1 year ago)

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