Thomas Nelson Neal


Thomas Nelson Neal was born in Nelson, New Zealand on the 29th of November, 1842 to William and Amelia Neal (nee Matthews). William had came out on the ship Will Watch to survey for a new settlement called Nelson to give his family of five a new life. One of William's children had died before the voyage. The settlement site was chosen and soon after that the immigrant ships with the surveyors' families came to Nelson. By the time the ship carrying William's family reached Nelson, a total of 67 children had lost their lives due to the poor conditions on the ship, including three of William and Amelia's five children. Amelia apparently was so pleased to have reached land that she jumped out of the row boat which was taking her to shore and ran to land - an action which met disapproval. 

Thomas Nelson Neal
Thomas and Selina's Golden wedding. Thomas Nelson Neal front row 3rd from left. Image supplied by the author.

Times were cruel in the early settlement of Nelson, where settlers were obliged to live in clay huts with thatched roofs. However, they slowly began to build new lives for themselves. Thomas was the sixth child of William and Amelia and possibly one of the first, if not the first, Pakeha children born in the colony. Hence the middle name "Nelson".  It is unknown if Thomas received any schooling in Nelson, although a school was established as early as 1842.  He started working at a young age, helping to bring in money for the family as his father struggled as a bricklayer and farmer.

Thomas lived at Waimea East and during his time there married Magdalena "Selina" Louisa Sophia Busch, a daughter of Hans and Sophia who resided by the Roding River in the Lee Valley, just south of Brightwater. They married in 1866 and had one child in Waimea East before they made the trip over to Marlborough. Selina and Charles went by boat with their furniture to Marlborough while Tom went over the Maungatapu with three Clydesdale horses. He noticed men behind him on the trail but didn't take much notice of them. Later, he found out about the Maungatapu Murders which occurred nearby.

Thomas Nelson Neal
Thomas Nelson Neal. Image supplied by Melva Neal courtesy of the author.

The family of three first settled at Waikawa in the Marlborough Sounds where Thomas worked on a farm until he and his brother-in-law William Kinzett bought a property in Spring Creek known as "Burnlea". Five years later Tom bought William out for ninety pounds. Thomas's sons later farmed Burnlea. Thomas saw the growing flax industry and saw it as a prime opportunity to earn a living. On the 21st of July, 1898 Thomas bought 200 acres of the Marshlands Estate  of well-known flax farmer John Clervaux Chaytor. Many of his descendants took up the flax business as well.

Thomas had 12 children with Selina from 1865 to 1891: Charles William (1865-1946) married Agatha Lankow and had 14 Children. John Frederick (1868-1940) married Marion Watson and had three children before Marion's passing. He later married Kate Norgrove and had four more children. Amelia Doras (1870-1945) married John MacDonnell and had four children. Francis (1871-1934) married Lucy Allport and had eight children. Thomas (1874-1948) married Becky Ann Kerr and had six children. Mary Magdalena (1876-1877) drowned in the river behind the house. Mary (1878-1954) married George Woolley and had eleven children. Ellen Maud (1880-1944) married John Orchard and had two sons. Martha Ann (1882-1930) married William Bright and had eight children. Albert Henry (1884-1933) married Clara Allport and had seven children. Edward John (1886-1950) married Winifred Jellyman and had five children. Laura Evelyn Mabel (1889-1923) married Cornelius O'Sullivan and had five children and Montague William James (1891-1950) married Lillian Taylor and had six children.

Thomas died in his sleep of sudden heart failure in his home at Marshlands in 1924. His daughter Laura had died a year earlier of heart disease and his daughter Mary had drowned in 1877. Selina died a year later and they are both buried in the Rapaura Cemetery surrounded by relatives. His home at Marshlands still stands today and has only recently been sold out of the family. At the time of Thomas's passing he had over seventy grandchildren and today many Marlburians share links back to the Neal Family and many are descendants of Thomas and Selina Neal.

2019 (updated August 2020)

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Further sources - Thomas Nelson Neal


  • Carr, Brenda (1998) In Search Of A Better Life; William and Amelia Neal. Blenheim, NZ : B.Carr