Havelock was a goldrush town which, for a short time, nurtured two of New Zealand’s greatest scientists: Sir Ernest Rutherford and Sir William Pickering. The town is located on an important pā site for Ngāti Kuia and Rangitāne. This was Motuweka, a pā and Kainga complex with associated urupā, where the river provided a rich source of eels, flounder, herring and flax, enabling Ngāti Kuia to engage in the flax industry. The maunga above Motuweka was named Takoriki, meaning ‘Disturbed Slumber in the House of a Young Man’.1

Havelock SS Manaroa HM1009The SS Manaroa leaving Havelock.  [The Manaroa was a coastal steamer plying this coast from the 1890's]. Photo Havelock Museum Society Incorporated.
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When a New Zealand Company party explored the head of the Te Hoiere/Pelorus Sound in 1838, Edward Jerningham Wakefield observed that the extensive mudflats at the head of the Sound gave little promise of a future seaport. However, the discovery of gold at Canvastown in 1863 saw Havelock become a port of consequence.  Large vessels stopped at Cullens Point and were served by lighterage. It was reported in 1877 that, on one occasion, 22 vessels were laying off Cullens Point.1

Before the arrival of Europeans, Motuweka Pā was at the junction of two Māori trails: one to the Waitohi (Picton), the other to the Wairau.2 New Zealand Company surveyor, John Barnicoat saw the potential of the Motuweka flat as early as 1854. Kurahaupo chief, Hura Kopapa from Kaituna, was reluctant to sell the site to the Company,  but eventually agreed to relinquish the land.  The Motuweka Pā was destroyed and four or six sections were granted by the Crown in compensation to Māori.3

Havelock gold miners HM1185Gold miners in the Havelock area. Date unknown. Back row, left to right: G.Sutton, Ted Levene, F.Scott, C.Anderson, Ern Scott. Front row (l-r) J.Ward, Jack Ward, Joe Anderson. Photo Havelock Museum Society Incorporated
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Gold was discovered in the Wakamarina in April 1864 and Havelock became a service centre for gold miners, with stores, wholesale merchants, boarding houses and inns quickly springing up.4  In May 1864, Thomas Hewetson, a storekeeper, wrote: “…Havelock …is nearly as big as Nelson. I should suppose there is upwards of 150 large tents and weatherboard and corrugated iron buildings - nine tenths of them grog shantys.” He also described “a strong force of Dunedin police and detectives”, restaurants and dining rooms, two Banks and a new Post Office. As the manager of Mr Allen’s Store, Hewetson reported that some days he was sending eight or nine tons of goods up the river to the diggers.5

Havelock. Mrs Mary Mulvey HM1064Mrs Mary Mulvey who died, aged over 100, in 1922. [“Mrs Mulvey’s big sack apron did everything. She even used to collect wood in it. As you passed her gate, Mrs Mulvey always hailed you in for a cup of tea. One could not refuse! All visitors would be served a thick slice of bread, handmade butter and cheese – each slice was brought in and handed out from, her handy sack apron!”- Ivy Godsiff. Caption from the Havelock Museum.] Photo Havelock Museum Society Inc.
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Havelock’s first public school was established in Outram Street in the early 1860s and was soon bursting at the seams.6  In 1882, James and Martha Rutherford arrived in the area with their large family, including their second son Ernest.  In 1908, Ernest Rutherford wrote to Jacob A. Reynolds (principal of Havelock School 1882-1898) not long after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances. He thanked Reynolds for initiating him ‘into the mysteries of Latin, algebra and Euclid in my youthful days at Havelock, of which I still have a very keen remembrance.”7

In 1885, William Pickering made history by being the first person to take a four horse team between Blenheim and Nelson. He had operated a coach service between Blenheim and Havelock since 1879. Pickering was on the Havelock School committee for 30 years.His grandson William was born in 1910 and lived with his grandparents while he attended Havelock School.9  William Pickering was destined to become a rocket scientist who headed Pasadena, California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for 22 years.

Havelock Brownlees Mill Pelorus HM1034Brownlee’s Mill at Pelorus. 14 June 1908. Photo Havelock Museum Society Incorporated.
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With the gold rush over within a year or so, Havelock became a small service centre and stopping place for travellers. The end of the gold rush saw many men eager to pick up work, which they found in sawmills at Havelock and throughout the Marlborough Sounds.10   By the 1880s, sawmiller, William Brownlee was employing 75 men in his mills.

'Telephonic communication’ between Blenheim and Picton was established in February 1906, with the first message announcing: “The Labour Department has just advised local authorities that Thursday from March 31st, shall be the weekly half holiday in Havelock.”11

Havelock Prince of Wales visit. HM258The Prince of Wales (standing legs crossed) is greeted by a crowd at the Havelock Town Hall, 1 April 1921. Photo Havelock Museum Society Incorporated.
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The 1918 flu epidemic saw the Havelock Town hall converted into a temporary hospital and older children were recruited to carry broths and medicines. Havelock put on festive finery for the visit of the Prince of Wales on 1 April, 1921. Four years later, Sir Ernest Rutherford visited his old school.12

Havelock. Gathering outside the Town Hall HM1099A gathering outside the Havelock Town Hall. Date unknown. Mr Wells in the wheelchair. Photo Havelock Museum Society Incorporated.
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In the 1930s, Sounds folk shopped at Orsmans’ General Store and stayed at the Post Office Hotel before returning home on the Mailboat the next morning at 8am, if the tide allowed. The Havelock mudflats were notorious and many a launch master after a drink at the hotel would push off a little too late and get stuck in the mud.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Mailboat was run by the Johnson family. Passengers caught up on news before reaching the isolation of their farms, which were connected by a primitive phone system consisting of a wire stretched in long sagging loops between posts and trees.13

The Havelock Museum

The Havelock Museum on the Main Road, Havelock is well worth a visit. Evocative and informative displays draw you into the stories of Havelock’s past including milling and mining, farming, businesses and community.

The Havelock Museum Society Inc. has nearly 200 historic photographs and a database containing social history and stories about local families. There are also some historic displays at Canvastown. To find out more about these resources, see:   www.peloruspeople.org.nz/havelockmuseum.

2014 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. Te Tau Ihu Statutory Acknowledgements 2014, Nelson City Council, Tasman District Council, Marlborough District Council, p.36:
  2. Ross, J. O. (1977). Pride in their ports: the story of the minor ports. Palmerston North [New Zealand]: Dunmore Press, pp.138-140
  3. Ponder, W. F. (1986). A labyrinth of waterways [Lower Hutt, New Zealand]: Wenlock House, p.65
  4. Mitchell, Hilary & John: (2004) Te tau ihu o te waka a Maui: a history of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough, Vol 2: Te Ara Hou Wellington, N.Z.: Huia Publishers and Wakatu Incorporation, Nelson, p.39
  5. Congdon, E. (1961) A century of education in Havelock. Blenheim, New Zealand: [Centennial Committee]. p.4
  6. Hewetson, T. (1981) Havelock in 1864. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 1(1)
  7. Congdon, p.4
  8. Congdon, p.20
  9. Congdon, p.20
  10. Congdon, p.38
  11. Ponder, p.9
  12. Telephone connection with Havelock (1906, February 26) Marlborough Express, p.3
  13. Congdon, pp.36-38.
  14. Ponder, pp.62-65

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  • Does anyone tied in with the Havelock Museum know anything about a tablecloth we have in our family. It has been embroidered with about 160 names and may have been done about March 1907 in Havelock. Perhaps it is a school reunion or a Havelock reunion. Some of the names are family names or relatives that I know -- for example, Hale, Gibson, Lawrance, Cloughley, Wooster, Saunders, McCallum, Vickerstaff and Bramwell-Scott - but there are many, many more names that I don't know.

    If anyone would like a photograph of the tablecloth and a list of the names, I would be happy to forward them and perhaps somebody may be able to shed some light on the reason for the celebration in 1907.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Kind regards, Gillian Fox

    Posted by Gillian Fox, 27/09/2018 9:44pm (6 years ago)

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