Blick Cloth is reputed to be the first woven cloth in New Zealand. It was also known as Nelson Cloth or Nelson Tweed, and was 'described as 'good rough woollen cloth' (Anon,1845:5).1 It was manufactured in Nelson between 1845-1876.
In 1870, Nelson Cloth won the tender to produce 2000 yards of grey tweed to make the uniforms for the New Zealand Constabulary.
Described as New Zealand's first weaver, Thomas Blick (1802-1860), set out from Gloucestershire, England on the ship the Indus. He had purchased eight acres of land in the Brook Valley from The New Zealand Company, and it was here that he established a mill in June 1845. He brought with him his wife and seven children, arriving in Nelson in February 1843.
Thomas was 38 years old and his wife, Hannah, 39. Their children were: Benjamin, aged two, Charles, fourteen, Enoch, seventeen, George, eighteen, Hannah, thirteen, James, five and William, nine.
Thomas had been a weaver in Gloucestershire, but he described himself as a labourer when he emigrated to New Zealand. He may have chosen this vocation as there was a demand for labourers at the time.
Thomas Blick developed Blick Cloth from sheep's wool spun by German immigrant women. They worked for one shilling per day. As production increased, Thomas was not able to keep up with the demands the spinners made for an increase in wages, so the business folded.
Thomas began production again in the late 1850's and a business partnership was formed with Joseph Webley, a friend and master weaver who came out from England.
The stream running through Thomas Blick's property was used to power the first loom in New Zealand. As production increased a water wheel was installed, which was reportedly 32 feet across.
When Thomas Blick died in 1860, Joseph Webley bought the business and continued to produce a high quality and sought after cloth, which was renamed from Blick Cloth to Nelson Cloth. The factory was moved to Bridge Street in the Nelson township.
'In 1871 Webley changed the trading name to Webley Brothers and the cloth became known as Nelson Tweed (Anon 1871:7). In 1872 Webley Brothers were reported to be producing more than fifty different patterns in Nelson Tweed. (Anon,1872).2
What became of this successful business, that up until 1870 'was the only woollen mill in the colony'.3 It became too competitive an industry for Webley, with the growth of mills such as the Mosgiel Woollen Factory Company and Kaiapoi Woollen Company in Christchurch in the mid 1870's. Webley sold the land and machinery in 1876.
Blick Cloth made an appearance again in 1969, when a time capsule was found below the Provincial Council Chambers building which was being demolished at the time. The capsule, dating back to 1859, contained a collection of objects which represented local industries at that time in Nelson. It is now held at the Nelson Provincial Museum.
The site of New Zealand's first commercial mill and weaving industry can be found if you head up the Brook Valley in Nelson - at 26 Blick Terrace. Thomas Blick's House is still standing and protected under the Historic Places Trust. The house, which must have once been a busy household with seven children, the bullock pulling the water wheel, and the sound of German being spoken, as the women spun the sheep's wool, now has a peace about it. Thomas would once have been sitting at his loom, weaving high quality Nelson Tweed.
To explore further:
- Thomas Blick's grave can be found in Fairfield Cemetery in Nelson.
- There is a piece of Blick Cloth in the Nelson Provincial Museum
- The original Blick House is still in existence, located on Blick Terrace, up The Brook Valley, it is registered with the Historic Places Trust.
- In June 1845 Blick cloth was exhibited at the Nelson Literary and Scientific Institute
- A posthumous award was given to Thomas Blick in 1860, in the form of a bronze medal. Mr Blick had entered his cloth in 'a London exhibition at Crystal Palace and took first place in the worsted cloth section' ( Newspaper article, details unknown, 'Historic Medal returned'). The medal was gifted to the Nelson Provincial Museum by Thomas Blick's descendants in 1974.
- Dunedin Exhibition 1865 – the cloth won a silver medal
- 'Medal of Merit' and an 'honorable mention' at the Great Vienna Exhibition 1873
- Nelson Exhibition in November 1873: the Webley Brothers received prizes for their shawls and blankets.
2016 (updated August 2020)
Sources used in this story
- Haines-Bellamy,P, (2008) The Nelson Provincial Museum collection of women's dress: a thesis.2 vol. Dunedin, N.Z.: University of Otago, p.59
- Haines- Bellamy, p. 60
- Haines-Bellamy,p. 61
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Further sources - Blick Cloth
- Carter B and MacGibbon J, (2003) Wool, A History of New Zealand's Wool Industry. Ngaio Press, Wellington, New Zealand
- Haines-Bellamy,P, (2008) The Nelson Provincial Museum collection of women's dress: a thesis.2 vol. Dunedin, N.Z.: University of Otago
- Harris, S. (2016) History of the Brook Valley. Nelson : Sue Harris
- Collier, C.S. (1980, October) Putting the Record Straight: Nelson’s Early Woollen Mills: Nelson Historical Society Journal, 3(6)
- Hughes-Sparrow, I. (1980) Thomas Blick - New Zealand’s First Weaver: 1802-28.11.1860. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 3 (6)
- Nelson's Tweed Once Famous (1975, March 29) Nelson Evening Mail
- Blick House. Retrieved from Heritage New Zealand
- 'Nelson region - Farming', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 15-Nov-12
- Information about Thomas Blick on Ancestry.com