Reservoir Creek Richmond


A history of early European settlement

The European colonisation of Nelson (including Waimea East) was conceived and planned by the New Zealand Company in London at the beginning of the 1840.’1 A copy of J W Barnicoat’s rough survey plan (Richmond)2 of July 1842 [see image] . Reservoir Creek flows through sections 88, 90, 68, 69 and 79 to the Waimea Estuary. Investigations have failed to determine a name for Reservoir Creek prior to the construction of the now defunct reservoir in the early 1890’s.  A geological survey map dated October 1910 identifies the creek as “Reservoir Gully”.  Interviews with long-term residents, who have historical ties with the creek, would suggest the waterway was known simply as “The Creek”.

reservoir creek Bett2012.4.628

Map of part of the accommodation sections in the settlement of Nelson. [1850?]. Nelson Provincial Museum, Bett Collection: Bett 2012.4.628.

The first historical reference of note along the banks of Reservoir Creek occurs on section 88 that was land originally purchased by a Mr. Tollemache.  In March 1862 a man named Roberts opened the Cambrian Coal Mine.3  The mine itself is located just upstream of present day Marlborough Crescent above the Easby Park car park on the true left of Reservoir Creek.  The coal is in Tertiary (Eocene) coal measures caught up along the Waimea Fault. The coal dips steeply, is crushed and discontinuous and while of high volatile bituminous rank has high sulfur content.4

Roberts relinquished the claim after extracting 100 tons of coal that was used for steam engines and household heating.  In 1872 Mr William Higgs, who now owned the property called Barrington Farm, reopened the mine and sold 30 tons to Symonds Flax Mill and some for use in Snowdens and Gappers traction engines.5  An inspection of the mine in 1873 indicated that the workings were very unstable due to rotting and insufficient timber.  Despite this a man named Weir in 1880 removed another 300 ton of coal.  These workings were below Reservoir Creek level and water inflows soon brought the operation to conclusion.

Almost immediately opposite the Cambrian Coal Mine, on the true right of Reservoir Creek on section 90, is the site of a former rifle range.  Following the Wairau Affray settlers of the District were very uneasy “and held fears especially when the men were absent from home all day”.6  This, in addition to an incident at Happy Valley, Wakapuaka resulted in them volunteering to form armed groups in their respective areas in 1845.

Reservoir Creek Selbourne Homestead

Selbourne Homestead Hill St 1890 [Photo Courtesy of Mr. Yelvin Sutton]

 The rifle range, on George Sutton’s property,7 was probably used by the Richmond Corps prior to 1868.  This range was 500 yards long and volunteers would shoot from the bottom of present day Selbourne Avenue to targets just below” the butts” above Easby Park.8  The targets are today located below Cropp Place, under a residential carport.  Jean Sutton’s book “How Richmond Grew” reports that combined Nelson City Cadets and Richmond Corps held camps on the Sutton’s paddock in August 1875 and Easter 1879. In 1881 many of these participants were the first outside troops to arrive at the North Island uprising at Parihaka. It is not known when activities at the rifle range ceased. The last report was around the turn of the century when the Martini Henry rifles were replaced by Lee-Enfield magazine rifles.

As the Richmond Borough developed there was an increasing demand for water.  This was especially true for the Volunteer Fire Brigade relying solely on wells, ditches and tanks.9  A proposal to construct an earthen dam behind Richmond was rejected in 1880.  However a second plan put to residents in September 1885 at a public meeting was “enthusiastically received”.  A notice was sent to William Higgs (section 88) and John Sutton (section 90) to ask if they had objections to the proposed scheme, as the stream from the gully to be dammed (Reservoir Creek) ran through their properties.10   Pipes and ironwork, clearly visible today, were ordered from Scotland and arrived on the S.S. Glenora, amounting to 120 tons.

Fencing, trenching and construction commenced in 1890.  Olivier Sutton ploughed the pipeline from the Reservoir site to Hill Street with a pair of horses.11  The original dam face was constructed with logs to contain a 12-foot head of water with an estimated storage of 1,200,000 gallons of water.  Later the spillway was raised to 20 feet to enhance water storage.  It appears the new Reservoir was operational in 1893. The Reservoir was a closed area for public access, though a duck shooter drowned at this site near the turn of the century.  By 1970 alternative sources of water supply resulted in the closure of the Reservoir.  At 113 years of age Tasman District Council has concerns about the existing dam structure and related issues for public safety.  Future management options are currently being considered. [The dam was decommissioned by Tasman District Council in 2014].

As previously mentioned three surviving members of Richmond’s original European pioneers took time to answer my numerous questions. This resulted in a snapshot of life along Reservoir Creek in the 1920-40’s.  My only regret is not having the time to report on the many fascinating and colourful stories.  Age and beauty must be considered in the first instance…

The research for this story was originally done for Tasman District Council, October 2006.
Updated, September 6,2021.

Sources used in this story

  1. McAloon, Jim. (1997).Nelson A Regional History. Whatamango Bay, N.Z : Cape Catley in association with the Nelson City Council.
  2. Sutton, Jean. (1992). How Richmond grew. The name “Richmond” first appeared on 4-11-1845, p. 19.
  3. Sutton.
  4. Dr Mike Johnston, pers. comm.
  5. Sutton.
  6. Sutton.
  7. The Sutton property “Selbourne” was purchased from the magistrate John Nixon in 1853.
  8. Yelven Sutton, pers. comm.
  9. Sutton.
  10. W Higgs was not happy about the proposal and land had to be purchased for the water main passing through his land.
  11. Yelven Sutton, pers. comm.

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Further sources - Reservoir Creek Richmond



There are a number of PDF documents on the Tasman District Council website on the history of Reservoir Creek. This includes the following reports.

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