The Hill Family of Nelson - history and connections


Mary Ann Draisey didn’t just decide to make the journey to other side of the world on a whim. Like many other young women, she took the chance to get out of the drudgery of a tiny coal-mining village, for the adventure of a new life in a ‘brand-new’ land as the bride of a young settler already there. Family lore does not extend as to the how, when and where of this, but we do know the marriage didn’t take place as the man died prior to her arrival. She landed in Napier on 29 October, 1876, on the 725-ton barque Inverness, having left London on 21 July. The cost of the voyage was £13.11s and she had an immigrant’s Unpaid Promissory Note for £1. As a single young woman with no special skills listed as a servant, she would have been employed in general domestic service.

Hill Inverness

The barque Inverness

While Mary Ann was growing up in the depths of the Forest of Dean, her future husband’s family was working on becoming globe-trotters. The Hill saga starts back in Bristol when the city was part of Somerset, not Gloucestershire. So far the earliest record is of William, a publican in the now inner city suburb of Totterdown – built on cliffs rising out of the river, with the steepest street in Britain. William married Sarah and they had three children, all baptised on 5 October 1817 at St Augustine the Less – Henry, Alfred and Emma. Henry was six years old at this stage, Alfred three years and 10 months and Emma one month old. It appears William had died by the time of the 1841 census and Sarah is listed as being of independent means and in 1871 as proprietor of houses, probably running/owning several pubs. Both Henry and Alfred were printers, but despite this solid trade, Alfred decided to try life in the colonies, shipping out on the Indus and arriving in Nelson, New Zealand, on 5 February 1843. Alfred set up printing premises in Haven Road. 

Meanwhile George Edwards, boatbuilder of Broadway, Rotherhithe, London, had married Mary Thomas. He was baptised 3 July 1791 at St Luke, Old St, Finsbury in London – Mary was born the same year. They married at Wapping in 1821 and produced three daughters – Sarah Ann (born 21 November 1823 in Rotherhithe), Mary Georgina (1828-1884) and Lucy Emma (March 1831–April 1895). The whole family boarded the Indus in Gravesend where Sarah encountered Alfred Hill. They had three months to get to know one another during the largely uneventful trip. They were married on 14 November 1844 in Nelson by J. Swinton Spooner J.P.. The public notice of this in the local newspaper drew forth a stinging response, decrying the practice of marriage by Justice of the Peace, questioning the legality of such marriage and asserting that any children of the couple would be denied normal rights of inheritance, etc..

Spooner had also travelled out on the Indus, employed by the New Zealand Company as a surveyor. He was also an amateur artist and went exploring with Major Charles Heaphy when they found the Buller River in north Westland. Sarah, eldest daughter of George and Mary, landed as an 18-year-old school assistant and may have found employment in that vocation in Nelson. At that stage a very basic school made of woven toi toi (bullrush) existed, while many people were living in tents until houses could be built. Quite a shock for most new arrivals.

The Indus was carrying mainly free passengers, but both the Edwards and Alfred Hill had paid their passage – about £15. Nelson was a mushroom, blossoming from bare land in late 1841/1842 with the arrival of around 1000 New Zealand Company settlers. A town structure had been laid out but was quickly overwhelmed by the arrival of more ships and people – this led to one of the more unfortunate and savage incidents in the colony’s history, politely known as the Wairau Affray in 1843.

Maybe the fledgling pioneer town of a few hundred people was not exciting enough for the newly-weds after the hustle and bustle of Bristol (population about 150,000) or perhaps there were too many letter-writing bigots, or they were upset by the Wairau Affray. Whatever, Alfred and Sarah returned to Bristol 1845/6.

Two sons made up the Hill family unit – Henry George born 29 March 1846 and William Barton 29 December 1848. Alfred was still at his old trade of printing with his brother Henry when the children were baptised, but by the time of the 1851 census the family was at 9 Trinity St, Castle Green, and Alfred was working as a Tide Waiter (a HM Customs ship inspector who joined the ships outside the harbour and supervised unloading). Alfred died about 1857 so Sarah packed the sea chests again and she and the boys headed back across the Equator taking 114 days to reach Nelson 23 September 1859 aboard the Cresswell on its seventh voyage, after calling at Port Cooper (known as Lyttelton after 1856). The boys settled into school life which had progressed from the first woven toi toi building.  Sarah, now middle-aged (for those days) at 38, married John Thomas Hodgson in 1861, at his home in Collingwood St..  John (known as Thomas) was an artist from Doncaster’s Belmont House estate and was appointed lithographer to the Governor. Sarah died on 13 February 1867 and Thomas remarried Catherine Smith from Ludstone Hall estate, Salop, on 13 October 1868.

Barnicoat Sketches. Nelson from above Saltwater bridge

Barnicoat sketch 1844 - Nelson from above Saltwater bridge. Bett Loan Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum 314793. The building to right is George Edward's boatyard where he started with William Pratt

While Sarah was globetrotting, her father George was busy re-establishing himself in boatbuilding, including a boat for his daughter and son-in-law. One of these was the 9-ton cutter Enterprise in 1843 for surveyor J.S. Cotterell who was killed in the Wairau Affray. She was wrecked in Queen Charlotte Sound while sheltering from a Cook Strait storm and her anchor dragged. The local boatbuilders developed a special craft for the area that could navigate small bays and rivers and creeks and performed a bit like today’s courier vans. They were known as Blind Bay Hookers (after the Dutch hoeker).

George worked out of the Haven area but later moved around the coast to Riwaka where he became the driving force in an 1845 partnership of four men building a vessel of between 30 and 40 tons that could sail to Tahiti – which George had already visited. They would carry a load of potatoes they had grown themselves and sell the cargo along with the vessel in Tahiti. One supposes they would work as crew for someone else for a return voyage. George Edwards, however, died in Riwaka on 13 January 1847, after tripping and breaking his neck while trying to put out a fire around their Tahiti project. Fire was the early settlers’ greatest fear – living in tents, makeshift shelters or even finished wooden houses, while fire brigades didn’t exist and bucket brigades were only effective on little fires. It was possible to lose everything and not be able to replace some items for a year.  Mary lived on nearly 40 more years until 14 February 1884, aged 93.

Ricketts Bros Shipping Office. Copy Collection C2799

Ricketts Bros Shipping Office. Nelson Provincial Museum Copy Collection C2799. George Edwards is second from left. The building was still in situ in the 1930s

The remainder of the Hill family left the Nelson area in the 1860’s – William Barton for Napier and Henry George for Australia.

Henry George Hill returns to Nelson

In Australia, Henry married Ann (Marsden) Gosper in 1871, and he returned with her to New Zealand where they produced four children: Alfred Edward (1873-1891), Sarah Mary Marsden (1874-1937), Henry Reynolds (1876 Waimea-1942) and Wiliam Marsden (1878-1959). Given that Sarah was born in Tikokino, it seems they first settled in Hawke’s Bay, before returning to the Nelson area. Eldest son Alfred drowned while crossing the Para Para river flats en route to visiting friends in Riwaka. About 18, Alfred couldn’t swim and it was said his horse was not good in water. It is also thought the young man may have mistaken his instruction where and when to cross the flats and unintentionally got into deep water.

We don’t know how the second son Henry qualified as a teacher, but in Nelson he had a reasonable chance of a decent education, as private schools had been operating almost as soon as the settlers arrived. Some parts of the country had to wait until the Education Act 1877 to be guaranteed an education. The new 88 Valley School appears to have been Henry’s first appointment (22 June 1876) – a report in 1876 said the master had only been there a few months. The 1887 inspection found the unusual situation of the juniors appearing to have been better taught than the seniors

Henry had transferred to Neudorf by 1879 – an area of German settlement. The school was built in 1870 and opened with 35 pupils. and the report that year found his teaching to be most careful and intelligent, while excellent discipline was maintained. By 1882 Henry was complaining about the lack of maintenance of the school house his family occupied– some of the brickwork was separating. The following year Henry had a glowing report with examiners saying: “Few of our schools now surpasses this (Neudorf) in the quality of teaching.” It went on to say the scholars the inspector had previously thought to be hopeless, were now acquitting themselves well. But there was trouble brewing in the German immigrant community. The inspector’s report said he was surprised that given the competence of the teaching at Neudorf, half the school was missing during his inspection, as a ‘detachment’ of older scholars was going to a private school for part of the week. “They could not, apparently, be spared for the single day on which the results of the year’ work of a school that has cost the public some hundreds of pounds in buildings, besides a considerable annual outlay for maintenance, can be tested.” He was happy to report the following year that everyone had been present.

Neudorf School 1919

Neudorf School 1919 - some 30 years after Henry Hill left the school.

In 1887-88 Henry was also working as the postal service for Upper Moutere and Neudorf for the princely sum of £4 annually. There was a split in the community: the Upper Moutere School Committee complained that Henry had been ridiculing members of the committee in front of the pupils. The newspaper report said the letter of complaint was accompanied by some very interesting and rather sparkling correspondence between the committee and Mr Hill. However, the Education Board could find no reason to dismiss him. Henry’s position was reinforced by the 1888 inspector reporting: “None but a capable and experienced teacher could have accomplished what Mr Hill has done with a roll of 56.” The situation was compounded with effrontery taken to Henry washing some pupils who had come to school ‘unclean’. It was becoming clear Henry and a part of the community were at odds, however, only part of the community as a petition was raised to ask him to remain, and a petition from 32 children. Interestingly, it later arose that “the present quarrel had originated with the division among the Germans in respect to their pastor and there had been religious dissension.” In the end, despite the many plaudits he had on his ability, Henry resigned effective at the end of the year. It was proposed that Henry receive three months’ salary but dismissal was objected to on the grounds it would affect his future career.

Henry was well into his career, in 1890, when he received a £20 increase in salary at the Collingwood school. The following year, however, Henry found himself at the centre of a public spat over his suitability. From here on Henry seemed to be a polarising influence in the community. The school under his leadership had received two bad annual reports in a row from Education Board inspectors. So again, the School Committee said Henry had to go, whereas a petition of the parents begged for him to remain. He was offered a position at Spring Grove but that school declined to have him, and then it was proposed he go to Haven Road school as second teacher to replace a teacher taking up Henry’s Collingwood position. It was then agreed everyone take a month’s break. Three months later it was decided that Henry would remain at Collingwood for another year. Despite little improvement in the school’s performance, Henry was offered a transfer to Lyell. It was not to be a happy experience for Henry as the school had fallen behind not having a senior teacher for a third of the year preceding him and during 1895, measles and whooping cough were rife and attendance down. He was also without an assistant, struggling to teach over 60 children across nine classes. One can hardly blame Henry for throwing in the towel and going farming. He and the family packed up and left for Rahotu in the middle of iconic dairy country on the western side of Mt Egmont (Taranaki). Some of the family gravitated to the farm in the coming years: Henry Reynolds and Olive were there in 1905 along with William Marsden who was still single. Annie had joined them by 1914 and was still there with Ann and William five years later. Henry died of kidney disease and is buried in Te Henui cemetery with his wife. Ann died on 4 September 1920.

More Nelson connections – the Wastneys

Mary Georgina, second daughter of George Edwards and Mary Thomas, first married Henry Fowler 12 December 1849, who had arrived from Wiltshire with his parents aboard the Indus.  She later married William Wastney and they had eight children: George Edmond 1856-1927, Edmund 1857-66, Alice 1859-1918, Ada 1860-1934, Amy 1862-1931, Annie 1864-1915, Harry 1865-1931, Lucy Emma 1867- 1940. Mary died in Wakapuaka 19 April 1884 and William remarried the following year.

Henry Fowler, Mary Georgina’s first husband, became a partner in the Tahiti venture of George Edwards, but it is not known if it ever eventuated. However, he did commission a boat of 10 tons for him to operate between Nelson and Wellington - which he did for several years. He, like other youngsters among the immigrants, learned to sail in some of the world’s more dangerous waters, Cook Strait, where the tidal flow can be too strong to sail against, and waves can peak at 10 metres – well above the little boats’ masts. The 11-ton Triumph was built for him in 1848. Tahiti business partner William Pratt reports that toward the end of 1847 Fowler brought the schooner across the bay to pick up the widowed Mrs Edwards and her daughters, Pratt, and probably others to attend a supper and dance in Nelson. Underlying this were developing romances between the young folk. It was daylight before the men returned to the ship. The Triumph was totally wrecked at the Wairau River in June 1849 and four or five days later Fowler turned up in Nelson in the boat’s dinghy. He had rowed and sailed it some 80 miles to report Triumph was a partial wreck in Port Gore. Henry and his crewman had managed to salvage the cargo before the barley aboard swelled to the point where the boat would have burst apart. Henry assembled a rescue crew and they managed to make the cutter temporarily seaworthy. Henry had intended to marry Mary Edwards after this trip to Canterbury, but with the set-back of proper repairs to the boat, they married and later sailed the Catherine Ann to Lyttelton where they intended to settle.

William Wastney. Tyree SC 34840

William Wastney. Nelson Provincial Museum. Tyree Collection 34840

The Wastneys arrived in Nelson in two stages – like many other husbands, Edmund had arrived on the Whitby in 1842, with Captain Wakefield, as one of the colony’s establishment crew. His wife Lucy and the children followed on the LLoyds, arriving 9 February 1842 with the wives and children of husbands of the first ship. Edmund became a member of the Provincial Council representing his area for several years. In 1849 the settlers of Nelson were dissatisfied at the way the country was being run by one man in distant Auckland (the Governor). The 393 signatories, including Edmund and eldest son John, wanted an immediate introduction of representative government into the southern settlements.

William, the second son, married Mary Georgina Edwards. He was also a Member of the Provincial Council and active in local body politics. Early on, the family established a dairy farm in the Wakapuaka area and this lasted several generations until 2021 when, having had enough of milking on winter‘s early mornings they finally convinced the owner (William Ian) to convert the land by extending the orchard to growing feijoas and producing a number of products under the Little Beauties brand, including dried feijoa slices covered in white chocolate, with similar treatment to other fruit. It quickly become a family business Another well-known modern Wastney is singer/songwriter Bryce Wastney.


Read the full history of the Hill family compiled by Ross Miller, from its origins in England to connections in New Zealand. The family history is in two parts and can be downloaded as a PDF:

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