Appo Hocton


Jumped ship to become first Chinese Immigrant to New Zealand

It was an unconventional arrival for New Zealand's first Chinese immigrant in 1842. Wong Ah Poo Hoc Ting, approx.1820-1920, and who became known as Appo Hocton, (sometimes Hockton) left China aged nine to work on English vessels as a ship's boy. When the immigrant ship the Thomas Harrison berthed in the colony of Nelson on May 26, 1842, he joined other crew members and jumped ship.

Portrait of Appo in 1876Portrait of Appo in 1876, the Nelson Provincial Museum, Brown Collection, 13043/2
Click image to enlarge

The captain’s refusal to supply soap with which to wash his clothes is one reason given to explain Appo Hocton’s desertion from the Thomas Harrison in 1842.1

The young Chinese ship’s steward hid in the hills above Nelson Haven until being caught. He appeared in court on November 4, 1842 charged with desertion and was eventually sentenced to 30 days in the ‘house of correction’ on Church Hill. Family stories persist that he was freed without serving his sentence, possibly assisted by the ship’s surgeon, Thomas Renwick.

Appo stayed in Nelson, becoming the first Chinese immigrant in New Zealand.3 In 1843 he began working for Dr Renwick as a housekeeper, saving enough money to buy a bullock and cart and setting up his own business. Appo Hocton is listed in the 1849 Nelson Census as a carter living in Bolton Square,4 a location near today’s Suter Art Gallery. He built up a solid business, successfully tendering for work constructing or upgrading Trafalgar, Milton, Collingwood and Nile Streets, and Waimea Road.5

Appo was classified as an alien and, as such, could not buy property. He successfully applied for naturalisation, so that he could become a British subject, and was formally naturalised on January 3, 1853, being the first naturalised Chinese New Zealander.6 He bought land in Washington Road and what became Hastings Street, and built houses, living in one and leasing the others.

Hocton cottages on Hastings StreetHocton cottages on Hastings Street , the Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection 31724/3
Click image to enlarge

In July 1856 Appo married his widowed neighbour, Jennifer Rowlings. It is thought that her young son, William, was Appo’s natural child.7 Six months after Jennifer died, in 1865, Appo married Ellen Snook and they had three children, Appo Louis, Albert Ah Lina and Eirena Jane. The couple also adopted a baby girl, Olive Clara Schroder, in 1887.

Appo and Ellen outside their Thorpe homeAppo and Ellen outside their Thorpe home, the Nelson Provincial Museum, Daroux collection, 76428/5
Click image to enlarge

There are various references to Appo joining the throngs of men seeking their fortune when gold was discovered in the Aorere in October 1856 but current thought is that what is known as Appo's Creek near the Aorere River was in fact named after John Jacobus Appoo and that the second ‘o' has been dropped at some stage, leading to the confusion.8 Regardless of whether Appo went to the gold fields he must have been very aware of the wave of anti-Chinese sentiment that rose when it was suggested Chinese miners would flock to the newly discovered field.9  One can only wonder whether Appo personally experienced any repercussions from the anti-Chinese sentiments expressed by many of the Nelson settlers, or whether by now, he was considered one of them.

In 1876 Appo moved his family to Dovedale to begin farming at Brandy Creek and the area eventually became known as Chinatown. The children, with the exception of Albert, who was accidentally shot dead by Louis while rabbit hunting in 187910, grew up, married and settled into homes Appo built for them.

Appo Hocton was highly regarded as a Nelson pioneer and was one of 84 who attended a settlers’ luncheon to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.11 He remained active into old age, suffering only one accident, when he fell from his horse during a regular trip between Dovedale and Wakefield to buy fish.12

His date of birth was never verified, and his age at the time of his death, on September 26, 1920, ranges from 98 to 103, depending on which family story or document is quoted. New Zealand’s first Chinese immigrant and first naturalised Chinese New Zealander is buried alongside family members in the Dovedale Cemetery. By the turn of the new millennium he had 1600 living descendents throughout the country.13


Updated: April 03, 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Stade, K. (2010) Appo Hocton: Woo Ah Poo Hoc Ting. Nelson, N.Z.: The Nelson Provincial Museum, p.6
  2. Murphy, N.R. (2002) A Chronology of Events Relating to the History of the Chinese in New Zealand, Wellington: Alexander Turnbull Library, p.2
  3. Nelson Census (1849), Nelson: The Nelson Provincial Museum, Card 21, p.16
  4. Stade, p.14
  5. Ng, James (1993). Windows on a Chinese past, vol 1. How the Cantonese goldseekers and their heirs settled in New Zealand. Dunedin: Otago Heritage Books, p.123
  6. Stade, p. 29
  7. Mike Johnstone (2009) pers.comm.
  8. Local intelligence: Chinese immigration (1857, August 15) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle p.3

  9. The Colonist, (1879, June 14), p.3; Nelson Evening Mail (1879, July 16),p.2; The Colonist (1879, June 17) , p.3.

  10. Broad, L. (1892). The Jubilee History of Nelson from 1842-1892. Nelson: Jubilee Committee, p.203
  11. Stade, p.47
  12. Stade, p.58

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  • great story of the first Chinese man who faced a lot of struggle in his life and become a first immigrant in New Zealand become an inspiration for other decedents.

    Posted by Ruchika jha, 29/05/2024 10:37am (2 months ago)

  • Very nice article, totally what I wanted to find.

    Posted by LarryMak, 26/07/2021 1:51am (3 years ago)

  • Fantastic posts. Thank you!

    Posted by AlexaDyed, 02/02/2020 9:12pm (4 years ago)

  • I am the great grandson of Appo and amazed at his strength and tenacity. He achieved much and had a very intersting life.
    Appo's son, Louis William Hocton was my grandfather. He had two daughters, Leila Marjory Cook and Elva Gwendoline Barker. They were the only two Hoston named people and since both have died, the Hocton name is but a memory.

    Ian Cook

    Posted by Trish & Ian Cook, 02/07/2018 11:28am (6 years ago)

  • Excited to see Lynda Hunt's reference to William Hocton, would love to get in touch with you for more information re William Hocton

    Posted by Alvin Schroder, 09/03/2018 12:20pm (6 years ago)

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Further sources - Appo Hocton



Ask at your local library for newspaper articles since 1985.

  • Murdoch, H. (2000, January 11). Family marks first Chinese settler's grave. The Nelson Mail, p.3
  • Obituary (1920, September 27) Nelson Evening Mail. Available on microfilm at:
    Nelson Public Libraries:
    Nelson Provincial Museum and Archives :
    National Library of New Zealand :
  • Petheram, J. (2004, July 23). The Chinese connection, The Nelson Mail., p.13
  • Petheram, J. (2004, July 23). Chinese settler led remarkable life, The Nelson Mail, p.15
  • Travelling back for the future (2004, June 2). The Press, p.A4


Unpublished material

Held Nelson Provincial Museum:

  •  Burton, Sally (2004) Appo Hocton "listening post" [acrylic on jarrah transmission]. 
  • Hockton, A. (1920, May 14). Letter from the Private Secretary, Godfrey Thomas, Government House to A Hockton Esq, Dovedale, Nelson. UMS 1480
  • Portrait of Appo's children, Brown Collection, 13045 
  • Smith, Dawn.(1988, June 13). Appo Hocton. Nelson Historical Society lecture, NHS 7a.  
  • Stade, K. (2008 p.7). New Zealand’s First Chinese Immigrant, Appo Hocton. Nelson.  MS STA 


  • Ruby Mary Davies (nee Hocton - Appo's granddaughter) with husband Roy Davies and great, great grandsons of Appo Hocton (submitted by Elaine Krammer - see Comment)

Web Resources