Early Richmond


It is thought Māori used the Tasman region as a rich food and flax resource from as early as 1350 AD.1 A lack of archaeological evidence suggests there were no permanent Māori settlements in the immediate vicinity of the centre of Richmond itself. However, there is evidence of settlements at nearby Appleby, and numerous sites along the Waimea Inlet and the Tasman Bay/Te Tai o Aorere shoreline .2

Queen Street, 1880. Tasman District Archives on Tasman Heritage. Click to enlarge

The European settlement of Richmond began in 1842 when two young New Zealand Company surveyors, John Barnicoat and T.J. Thompson, were contracted to survey 20,000 acres of land at Waimea East.3

Most of Waimea East was bought as large land holdings of 50-100 acres, with the Sutton family owning about one quarter of the total area.4 There were many absentee landowners, which disadvantaged the settlers who had to rent land from them and the sense of indignation continued for many years.5

Star & Garter HotelStar & Garter Hotel. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio
Collection: 76910
Click image to enlarge

A village soon began to develop. Richmond was named in 18546 by which time there were Methodist, Baptist and Anglican churches, as well as shops and businesses: bakers, butchers, coopers, shoemakers and general storekeepers. During the gold mining boom years, seven pubs in and around Richmond did a roaring trade. They included the White Hart, Plough Inn, Railway Hotel and Star and Garter.7

Education was important to the early settlers. Richmond School opened in 1856 and the Richmond Mechanics Institute, offering a book lending service and lecture evenings, was established in 1865.8

During the 1880s, two enterprises were involved in the extraction of minerals in the vicinity of Richmond. Between 10 and 12 tons of copper were taken from the Champion Copper Mine in 1883. About 500 tons of coal were extracted from a two metre thick seam of coal near Reservoir Creek between 1862 and the 1880s.9

Richmond was proclaimed a Borough in June 1891 and an Appleby farmer, George Talbot was elected the first mayor.10 By 1896, Richmond had a population of 500 people.11

The Nelson Railway ran between Nelson and Wai-iti, via Richmond, between 1876 and 1955.  Richmond students travelled to Nelson College by train until 1952, when buses replaced the train service.12 Waimea College opened in 1957.

A & P Show, RichmondA & P Show, Richmond. The Nelson Provincial Museum, F N Jones
Collection: 6x8 37
Click image to enlarge

Richmond's first agricultural show was held at the Richmond Fair Ground on 7 December, 1859. There was a ploughing match and entries of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and horses, with produce classes introduced the following year. In 1876, the venue was changed to Mr Cannings' paddock, which became Richmond Park.13 The first A&P (Agricultural and Pastoral Association) show was held at Richmond Park in 1893.14

Electric lighting came to the Borough in 1910 thanks to Robert Ellis, who powered his Brightwater flour mill by turbine during the day. The turbine supplied power for lighting by night.15 Power lines were extended along the main highway to Richmond16 to provide lighting for households and 10 street lights in the town.17

Jubilee at Richmond.Jubilee at Richmond. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio
Collection: 182035
Click image to enlarge

While the early settlers worked hard, they also enjoyed the ‘genial' climate and ‘arcadian' countryside.18 Fish were plentiful with the channels and holes around Saxton's, Best, Quarantine and Moturoa/Rabbit Islands yielding various kinds of fish: snapper, kahawai, terakihi, gurnard. "It would be a poor day if 12 dozen or more good flounder would not be caught," remembered Roly Papps.19

Sport of various kinds was also important in building the local community. Jubilee Park, located in Gladstone Road,  has been the home of rugby football in the area since the 19th Century. Jubilee Park has hosted a range of other sports codes including croquet, hockey, cricket, tennis and soccer; and regional competitions between local fire brigades.  Being the only public park in the borough for some time, it was also used for non-sporting events, such as Lord Plunket's vice-regal tours. In the early 1940s Lime and oak trees were planted to commemorate the European pioneers of the district. In the late 1940s the Richmond Sports Association was formed to raise funds for and oversee the building and management of a combined sports complex on the grounds.20

The Easter Monday picnic at Moturoa/Rabbit Island was a much anticipated occasion: "That was an event. All the local people would go...It was a great gathering of the community on that day. We used to play games on the beach and have races. Croucher's Bakery used to make hot cross buns for everyone for the occasion," remembered Veda Hammond.21

Richmond History trail (to c. 1900's) . Click image to enlarge

A note on the naming of Richmond

One of the early settlers of the area was George Snow, a tailor. He named the settlement after his English home, Richmond -on-Thames in Surrey. The Star and Garter Hotel, built in 1843, was named after a hotel of the same name in Richmond-on-Thames.22


Updated August 16, 2022.

Sources used in this story

  1. Harris, Jill (2002). A place to live: the Tasman District...a community profile. Nelson, N.Z.: Tasman District Council and Dry Crust, p8
  2. Sutton, J. (1992). How Richmond Grew. Richmond, N. Z: J. Sutton, p 9. 
  3. Sutton, p 13-14
  4. Harris, p19
  5. Sutton, p 18
  6. Sutton, p 19
  7. Harris, p 19-20
  8. Harris, p 20-21
  9. Sutton, p 267-268
  10. Sutton, p 57
  11. Sutton, p 267
  12. Sutton, p 204
  13. Sutton, p 84-85
  14. Harris, p20
  15. Harris, p 21
  16. Kepes, A (Ed.). (1991). Richmond memories. Nelson, N.Z. : June Derecourt Printing Agency, p 7
  17. Sutton, p 205
  18. Richmond (1906) The Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts. The Cyclopedia Company Limited, Christchurch, New Zealand. 124-127.
  19. Papps, Roland J. (1982). Growing up in old Richmond. Reefton, N.Z. : J.E.Smith,p 21.
  20. Jubilee Park: transcript of the Oral History Interview with Muir McGlashen about the History of Jubilee Park, Gladstone Road, Richmond (1983). 
  21. Kepes, p21
  22. Reed, A. W. (2002). The Reed dictionary of new Zealand Place Names. Auckland: Reed. p. 435; Discover New Zealand - a Wises guide. (1994). 9th ed. Auckland: Wises Publications. p.336.

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