John Waring Saxton 1807-1866


Diarist and settler

John Saxton, his wife Priscilla, five children and other family members (including his brother the Rev. Charles Saxton) arrived in Nelson Haven on the Clifford on 11 May, 1842.  Like many other new settlers, Saxton found his town acre  to be inaccessible because of swamps. On Thursday May 12, 1842, he wrote: "All of us in great consternation at the accumulated disappointment in our expectations."

John Waring SaxtonJohn Waring Saxton, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Copy Collection 110029731373
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Saxton was an assiduous and observant diarist and leaves us with a detailed picture of the lives of the early European settlers: "Went to church. During the service the rain and wind so violent that umbrellas were opened inside the church. There was a collection for the intended church which the Bishop said in his sermon would be a cathedral church." Sunday 4 September, 1842.

On Sunday 11 June, 1843, Saxton retrospectively noted: "This day saw Captain Wakefield for the last time...." News of the Wairau Affray soon reached town and Saxton took his turn to watch the town at night.

In the latter part of 1845, Saxton visited a Mr Cautley on his farm and recorded how the settlers were discovering the potential of sheep farming on the rugged terrain: "Though scabbed, his sheep gave 2lbs of wool each, the wethers supplied his table and the lambs gave wool also, and...he made his own candles (from tallow) which saved an annual bill of £2. He had about 60 acres under cultivation which could be affected by one man and a boy at constant work. He expected to receive about £300 from his farm this year, which was the return for less than £1000 expended.

However Saxton himself was not able to take advantage of such opportunities for some time. On January 1, 1846, he received news that his brother-in-law and benefactor, Joseph Somes had died and made no provisions for him in his Will, although his sister Maria Somes said she would continue to send £100 per year.

In August 1846, he wrote about a meeting with several gentlemen including resident agent, Edward Stafford: "Mr Stafford then earnestly and kindly urged me to go to my farm as likely to be a great saving of at least £100 a year as I could keep so many animals....I was obliged to decline this also for the same reason - my utter inability to complete my farm house for want of funds, which I felt unable to confess."

Drawing by John Waring SaxtonThe town and part of the harbour of Nelson in 1842, about a year after its first foundation / drawn by John Saxton Esqr; Day & Haghe lithrs. London, Smith Elder & Co., [1845]. Alexander Turnbull Library Manuscripts & Pictorial
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Saxton was an artistic, rather than a practical man, but with the assistance of his sons, he succeeded in developing his Stoke farm even though it was hilly and swampy and they had no prior farming experience. His journal entries from 1850-51 show that life slowly became more comfortable and prosperous for the family, with an increasing number of social events, picnics and musical evenings.

Saxton was treasurer of the Nelson Institute, a trustee of the Nelson Trust Funds and between 1853 and 1857, he was a Provincial Council member for Waimea South. He was a gifted watercolorist and a talented musician who was much in demand at social functions.

Sadly, in spite of his increasing comfort and success, Saxton suffered from recurring bouts of depression and he died aged 58.

This article is paraphrased from a series of columns written by Joy Stephens and published in the Nelson Mail in 2007.

 Updated January 2024


Sources used in this story

  • Allan, R. (1965) Nelson: A history of early settlement. Wellington, N.Z. : A.H. & A.W. Reed, pp. 95-6, 179-180, 381, 392, 406
  • Lash, M. D. (1992.). Nelson Notables 1840 - 1940: A dictionary of regional biography. Nelson, NZ : Nelson Historical Society
  • Saxton, John Waring. (1841-1851). Diaries. 5 v.  The Nelson Provincial Museum. Bett Collection, qMS SAX

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  • where would one find Johns birthday,occupation, arrival to new zealand? Prow response - Nelson Notables reveals: 1808; occupation is apparent in the story; arrived NZ 11 May 1842

    Posted by Roxy, ()

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