Joseph Ward


Diarist, runholder, forthright politician

Born in Staffordshire in 1817, Joseph Ward arrived in Nelson in December 1842 with his parents-in-law Henry and Mary Redwood. He had married his cousin Martha, prior to the long voyage1 which he found intolerable. He came close to blows with the ship’s master- ‘all think me very hot’, he wrote in his diary.[View Joseph Ward's family tree - PDF].

Joseph Ward

Joseph Ward. Marlborough Museum and Archive

Joseph and Martha first settled in Waimea West with her family, where he farmed and took responsibility for the education of the younger Redwood children.3  Joseph and Martha were to have 12 children.4

Ward was an assiduous diarist, with the Marlborough Museum and Archives holding transcripts5 of his diaries from 1847 to 1890. Between June and August 1844, he recorded day to day activities in Nelson from killing a pig, making an oven door, making pork pies and baking bread. On 7 August 1844, he wrote that Mary (his cousin/sister-in-law) had returned from Nelson with ‘a full view of marriage to the calm, cautious, untalkative Mr Lawyer Greaves. May she be happy.”


Henry Redwood, standing in front of a tree and his Mrs Joseph Ward of Blenheim - noted as his daughter, but quite probably Martha Redwood, sister of Henry Redwood junior and daughter of Henry Redwood Sr., who married Joseph Ward. Marlborough Museum and Archives

In August 1844 he noted that the New Zealand Company had ended and that he hoped a rumour that Colonel William Wakefield and Frederick Tuckett were killed by Māori in Otago was not true. It turned out not to be the case, but shows the anxiety felt following the murder of Captain Arthur Wakefield at the Wairau Affray a year earlier. Tuckett was also at the Wairau Affray but survived and eventually returned to London.5

In the winter and spring of 1847, Ward was employed by New Zealand Company surveyor, William Budge, who had the contract to survey the Wairau sections at sixpence an acre. Ward worked in tandem with his brother-in-law and close friend Cyrus Goulter on most of the Marlborough surveys.6


The Omaka River in flood, Blenheim. Taken from the supplement to the Auckland Weekly News 14 July. 1904 p11. Auckland City Libraries.

He is credited with Blenheim’s original name The Beaver. Located at the junction of the Omaka, now known as Taylor, and Opawa Rivers, the area was prone to flooding and when he came across his survey crew perched on their bunks threatened by swirling waters, he said: “They sat like a lot of Beavers in a dam.”7

cyrus goulter

Cyrus Goulter Fellow surveyor and longtime friend

While surveying the Wairau, Ward selected a pastoral run, which he named Brookby, near Hawkesbury which was owned by his good friend, Goulter. The two families were very close.8

When a magnitude 8.1 earthquake shock Marlborough in 1855, Father Antoine Garin left his home in Nelson and headed east to inspect the damage and see if he could help. He was accompanied by Ward and a servant and when they arrived at Brookby, they were greeted by a frightened Martha Ward who had endured the tremors alone with her children.9

Ward was forthright and somewhat rigid in politics and religion. He was a stern disciplinarian, who avoided contact with non-Catholics, disapproved of novel-reading, and held fast to his religious principles; yet he was cultured and widely read. A moderate conservative in politics, he was a fluent orator with a ready wit.10

Ward’s local government service spanned 49 years. He was the only member for the Wairau on the Nelson Provincial Council and was a champion of Marlborough’s separation from Nelson, declaring at a public meeting that if necessary ‘we’ll take up our rifles and fight for it!”11 He was a member of the Marlborough Provincial Council from 1860 to 187612, a Marlborough deputy superintendent and a member of the Marlborough Roads Board for a continuous 16 years. He was still an active chairman of the board when he died of influenza in 1892.


Father Antoine Garin, circa 1870. Photographer unidentified, Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/4-016333-F

He was described as a ‘strident voice in the slanging match that sometimes passed for politics in Marlborough.13  “Bold and outspoken, he scorns to fire from behind a bush, but steps at once into the open to give and receive fire.”14

Ward’s outspoken views saw him vote against the abolition of the Provinces in 1875. Ward wasn’t convinced of the benefits of centralising Government saying: “the working settlers - the men who will really make the money and make New Zealand - would be little better than beasts of burden.15 After just six months, he resigned from the House of Representatives as he was opposed to the abolition of the provinces.16 He unsuccessfully stood for the House in 1878 17 and again in 1884.18

Ward had his critics. Pro Bono Publico wrote a caustic letter to the Marlborough Express on 9 June 1875 sarcastically describing Ward as a ‘local genius’ and ‘a shallow, pretentious windbag’ who ‘can be very eloquent on the subject of the poor man paying for the rich.”19

The Marlborough Express of July 19, 1884 must not have been a good read for Mr Ward.  On noting Ward standing for the House of Representatives, the Evening Post newspaper was quoted: “it would be nothing less than a disgrace to the constituency and a misfortune to the Colony if Mr Ward were to be returned. Happily there is not the least fear of it.20  On the same day, in an article entitled ‘Mr Ward is the God of the Day’, the newspaper argued that a statement from the Kaikoura Star that Ward had done more for the Wairau than Henry Dodson was ridiculous. “Why Mr Ward has done absolutely nothing, and all he could do in the future would be to render the constituency the laughing stock of New Zealand.21 A letter to the editor on July 19 from Henry Dodson also noted that Ward was ‘somewhat reckless in his public utterances and does not seem to improve with increasing age.” 22

Joseph Ward died on 12 November 1892 and Martha died less than five months later, ‘grief for her husband having broken her constitution.23 Joseph and Martha are buried at the Omaka cemetery.24

Note: this Marlborough politician is not Joseph Ward, 17th Prime Minister of New Zealand. In fact the Marlborough township of Ward was named after the Prime Minister, not the local politician profiled here.

2017. Updated Sept 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Lash, M. D. (1992). Nelson Notables 1840-1940: a dictionary of regional biography. Nelson, N.Z.: Nelson Historical Society, p 146
  2. Berry, K. (1986) Scrutiny On The County. Blenheim, N.Z.: Marlborough County Council, p 11
  3. Lash.
  4. Orr, K.W. 'Ward, Joseph', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand:
  5. Diaries. Joseph Ward (1 January 1847- 1890). Marlborough Archives
  6. Berry, p 90-9
  7. Mcintosh, A. D.(ed)(1977) Marlborough: a provincial history. Christchurch, N.Z. : Capper Press, p 158
  8. Lash
  9. Holdaway, B. (2016). The Wairau and its forgotten capital. Blenheim, N.Z.: Barry Holdaway , p 93
  10. Orr.
  11. Brooks, C.(comp.)(2011), Marlborough: celebrating 150 years Blenheim, N.Z.: The Marlborough District Council, p 45
  12. McIntosh, p 474
  13. Berry, p 89
  14. Berry, p 51
  15. Brooks, p 47-48
  16. Lash
  17. Blenheim. 21st April. Evening Post, volume XVI, issue 109, 22 April 1878
  18. Evening Post on Mr Joseph Ward. Marlborough Express, volume XX, issue 167, 19 July 1884
  19. Mr Ward and colonial politics. Marlborough Express, volume X, issue 717, 9 June 1875
  20. Evening Post on Mr Joseph Ward. Marlborough Express, volume XX, issue 167, 19 July 1884
  21. Mr Ward as the god of day. Marlborough Express, volume XX, issue 167, 19 July 1884
  22. Mr Ward's truthfulness. Marlborough Express, volume XX, issue 167, 19 July 1884
  23. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts] Marlborough Provincial District - the Marlborough land district (published 1906).
  24. Berry, p 219

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  • Re the photo of Henry and his daughter Mrs Joseph Ward. That is not his daughter. I would say if it is Mrs Joseph Ward, then it is Martha Redwood, who married Joseph Ward, Martha is a sister of Henry Redwood junior. Martha and Henry Jnr are children of Henry Redwood senior.

    Posted by Sue Goulter, 09/08/2018 10:56am (6 years ago)

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Further sources - Joseph Ward



  • Ward, J. (1855) Diary 1854-5. (ms-papers-5373) (Alexander Turnbull Library)
  • Diaries. Joseph Ward (1 January 1847- 1890). Marlborough Archives

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