The History of Nelson Rugby


Of all Nelson's claims to history, none are as significant to the development of New Zealand's culture as our rugby background. Rugby is a crucial aspect of our heritage and our identity. It is important to look back on how rugby captivated our region, and developed our nation.

Rugby was first introduced to Nelson by Charles John Monro in 1870. Charles had attended Nelson College in his early college years, and at the age of 16 he travelled to England, enrolling at Christ's College, Finchley, near London from 1867-9. It was here that he fell in love with the game, taking up rugby and playing for the school's second XV. In 1869 he left Christ's College and returned to Nelson in 1870.1

During his absence, a group of young sports-minded Nelsonians, led by Robert Tennent, (a 19 year old sports enthusiast) had founded the Nelson Football Club. Formed on the 30 May 1868, its purpose was to offer young men the opportunity to participate in "all sports that promote healthful exercise" as recorded by the Nelson Examiner, 2nd June 1868.2

Charles John Monro, 1930Charles John Monro, 1930 [founder of Rugby Union in New Zealand], The Nelson Provincial Museum, Cooper-Sharp Collection, 223693/9
Click to enlarge

The first ‘football' played by the club was a mixture of soccer and Australian Rules (which was referred to as either Melbourne or Victorian Rules at the time). However there is very little information available on this sport in early New Zealand. Sources suggest it may have been played with a round ball and the rules may have been agreed on by the players before the game.3

Monro, on his return to Nelson, convinced the Nelson Football Club to trial the rugby code, and a game was scheduled between the Nelson Football Club and a side from Nelson College. The game was played at the Botanic Gardens (a field located in Nelson, at the base of the Centre of New Zealand) on 14 May 1870. The match was to spark a rivalry between the two sides that would last for many years. The Football club won two-nil. This became widely known as the first game of rugby played in New Zealand.4 None of the participants realised the sport they were playing was to become New Zealand's official sport and a source of national pride.

The new code was liked by the club, and adopted. Another game was scheduled to be played between sixteen old college members and sixteen who did not attend Nelson College, however after several wet Saturdays the match was abandoned. Two matches were then played between sides alphabetically chosen: A to K versus L to Z, and then A to H versus I to Z.5

Later that year, Charles Monro visited Wellington, and a suggestion was made that he should organise a game against the Wellingtonians. After a trial, Monro selected a Wellington team from a number of rules players, and coached them, however there was difficulty gathering a Wellington side, and only 13 were able to play. This included Prosser, the driver of the horse-drawn coach which had transported them to the grounds. The Nelson team had also had difficulty gathering numbers due to leave, and the 14 man team was granted free passage on board a Government mail steamer the Luna. The game was played in Petone on Monday 12th September 1870, and Nelson won by the "odd goal in three".6 This was the first interprovincial game played in New Zealand. A year later the Wellington Rugby Club was founded, and on 29 September 1871 a rematch was played, and Wellington won by a goal and two tries to nil. 7


Prince Albert Club which won the Nelson Rugby Unions Snr Cup 118,1187,1891 and Scotts Cup 1891. Image supplied by Alan Fraser.

1873 Nelson Rugby Football Club1873 Nelson Rugby Football Club The Nelson Provincial Museum, Print Collection, 290552
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Nelson rugby team from 1873

Albion, Prince Albert, Rival, and the Nelson Stars were all Rugby clubs which played in Nelson, however no information is available on the time of their establishment, or any club history.
In 1888, the Richmond Rugby Club was formed and rugby was played on what is now the Richmond Show Grounds. The club wore a uniform of black and white, and entered the competition in that season against the Nelson teams of Nelson, Prince Albert, Albion, and College. They were transported to Nelson by horse and carriage. Rugby was beginning to expand into the regions of New Zealand. Unfortunately however, a number of players left the area soon after the end of the 1888 season, and the club was forced into recess. However, due to up and coming players at Richmond Primary School, a club known as the ‘Richmond all stars' was formed. They wore a blue jersey with white chest stars. There was a shortage of players and little support, and although every effort was made to maintain the club, it was eventually disbanded.

In 1894 a game was played between Richmond and Appleby in a local farmer's paddock. The goal posts were hop poles and the sidelines were mostly imaginary. Games between the two settlements continued, however it was difficult to find suitable places for the games to be played. The location varied for a long time, until a permanent field was established at the recreation ground (now Jubilee Park).

On the evening of a game in 1896, a meeting was called to discuss the future of rugby in the two districts, and a decision was made to form the Waimea club. The club wore blue jerseys with a white sash. During the 1897 to 1898 period, the Waimea club was promoted to the senior grade competition; however this did not last long. The club lost its ground and many experienced players and on 29 March 1898 the club was forced to disband.

Some time later, the Richmond Borough Council acquired the present recreation ground. The club was revived by younger players in 1904. It was then that the club adopted its red and white colors. The club still remains, now known as ‘Waimea Old Boys'. Jubilee Park is used as their home ground, and is integral for sport, leisure, and recreation.8

Regional rugby in the 20th Century

The first Motueka club to form was Huia, which was established around 1900. Before this there was a Motueka team which used to combine with a Riwaka side and travel to Nelson by steamship to play. The Huia club owed its early success to All Black Lewis Allen. After arriving in Motueka in 1902, Allen had a huge impact on the budding inexperienced side, and after taking charge, the Huia team entered the Nelson Tournament. Allen was described as "a good team man and an amazing individualist." It was his leadership that allowed the club to advance.9

The Stoke and Marist clubs were formed more recently (in 1947 and 1945 respectively).

The Nelson Rugby Union was formed on the 18 June 1885, after a meeting at the Masonic Hotel. This was the sixth union to be formed in New Zealand.10

The Golden Bay-Motueka Rugby Union was formed in 1920, and the McGlashen Cup was contested between the two sides.11 In 1968 the two unions merged, to form the Nelson Bays Rugby Union. This union played until 2005, when Marlborough joined, to become the Tasman Rugby Union in 2006.12  Today our regional team is a source of pride and local identity.

The Seddon Shield was named after Richard John Seddon, a New Zealand Prime Minister, and came into being in 1906. It was purchased by the Marlborough, West Coast, Nelson, and Buller Rugby Unions for competition. Marlborough were the first holders of the shield, beating Buller by 3 to nil.13  Although the Nelson and Marlborough Unions have recently merged, the two still compete for the shield individually, the rivalry between the four regions is still strong and the Seddon Shield has become a significant aspect of our regional heritage.

Rugby is an important part of our culture, and has played a crucial role in our development. Today rugby is a source of national pride. It unites us, and motivates us. We have benefited greatly from the competition it has sparked, both locally and nationally. If it wasn't for those Nelson enthusiasts in the early years, then rugby may never have thrived. From these humble clubs, traditions were formed and rivalries born. Our region can truly be proud of the role it has played in developing our nation's identity.

Jim Lord, Nayland College 2010
Updated May 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Reed, W.A. & Swan, A.C. (1969). 100 Years of Rugby - the Birth and Evolution of our National Game, The Story of Nelson Rugby Football Club 1870-1969. Nelson, N.Z: Nelson Rugby Football Club, pp. 28 - 29.
  2. Unknown author. (1868) Untitled, Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume XXVII, 2 June 1868. Nelson, NZ. pg 3, Retrieved from:
  3. Turley, A. (1966) They gave us rugby. Nelson, NZ: Nelson College, p.12
  4. Stade, K. New Zealand's first game of rugby. The Prow. Retrieved from:
  5. Reed, W.A. & Swan, A.C., pp. 28-29
  6. History of the Wellington Football Club  (accessed May 2020) Wellington Football Club, Retrieved from:
  7. Reed, W.A. & Swan, A.C., p. 29; McAloon, J. (1997) Nelson- A regional history. Whatamango bay, Queen Charlotte Sound, NZ: Cape Catley Ltd.
  8. Oldham, C. (2010) Waimea Old Boys, 100 years of Waimea rugby. Nelson, New Zealand: Waimea Old Boys RFC. pp. 11-12
  9. Holyoake, F. (1985) Early days of rugby. Nelson Evening Mail,  March 29th
  10. Reed, W.A. & Swan, A.C., p. 51
  11. Golden Bay-Motueka Rugby union. Retrieved from Wikipedia (Accessed May 2020)
  12. Nelson Bays Rugby Union. Retrieved from Wikipedia (Accessed May 2020):
  13. Reed, W.A. & Swan, A.C. p. 71

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  • I have a photo of Prince Albert Football Club in 1891, do you want to use it?

    Posted by Alan Fraser, 09/03/2021 1:06am (3 years ago)

  • The writer appears to be overlooking the STAR RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB (my father pushed the Nelson RFU to allow a club in Stoke) which later became Stoke Rugby Football club. I played rugby for STAR on the sheep paddock located on the corner of Songer Street and the Main Road, at a time when there was a church,pub and petrol station on the other corners and the only shop in Stoke was Halkett's General Store where we could buy everything from John Bull boots to groceries. I had the task for the first Star team of cutting "stars" out of white sheets to sew onto red jerseys. It was my job every Saturday morning to rake up sheep poo and then before kickoff, to get missing "players" out of the Turf hotel to play the game.

    Posted by Philip Haywood, 13/06/2015 11:42am (9 years ago)

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Further sources - The History of Nelson Rugby


  • McAloon, J. (1997) Nelson- A regional history. Catley Ltd, Whatamango bay, Queen Charlotte Sound.
  • Oldham, C. (2010) Waimea Old Boys, 100 years of Waimea rugby. Nelson, New Zealand: Waimea Old Boys RFC. pp. 11-12 
  • Reed, W.A. & Swan, A.C. (1969). 100 Years of Rugby - the Birth and Evolution of our National Game, The Story of Nelson Rugby Football Club 1870-1969. Nelson, N.Z., Nelson Rugby Football Club.
  • Turley, A. (1966) They gave us rugby. Nelson, New Zealand


  • Holyoake, F. (1985) Early days of rugby. Nelson Evening Mail

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