Nelson First Public School Teacher


Life was pleasant for the local school master of Tannadice in the quiet countryside around Forfarshire, Scotland in 1840. William Moore and his wife Isobel lived in a two storeyed white-washed school house beside the river Esk. Next door was the school where William, the sole charge teacher, was known as Dominie to his pupils. William was also a published poet and his poem The Burning of Kildrummy Castle was taught in schools throughout Scotland at the time. His patron was Lady Mary Ogilvy of Tannadice House, thought to be a relative of William's wife.

Moore William

Nature and Grace, poems by William Moore. This edition published Marlborough Express Newspaper Co.,1961

William and Isobel had a three year old daughter, Mary Ogilvy Moore and were expecting another baby when, along with Mary's older son, Peter Fyffe, the family boarded the Fifeshire. This was to be the first settler ship to arrive in the new colony of Nelson, New Zealand. By the time they disembarked at Nelson on February 1st 1842, the Moores had a newborn son. His name was Walter and his life would be one of adventure, hardship and a violent ending.

The family began life in barracks on the hill where the Cathedral was later built, but soon moved to a cottage in Collingwood Street. A few weeks later a Requisition1 from eighty immigrants in the town petitioned William to open Nelson's first public school, to be funded by subscription. It opened on September 12th, 1842 and was managed by a Committee of Captain Wakefield, Captain England, Captain Wilson, Dr. MacShane and Messrs. Tuckett, Anderson, Richardson, King, Spence, Barton, McDonald, Domett, Tytler, Jolie, Brown, Cockburn, James and Cautley, some of the key gentlemen of the New Zealand Company.

William began teaching the children of Nelson, described at the time as running wild in the bush for want of an education, in the one-room school built on Town Acre 208, at the Eel Pond, now Queen's Gardens. The success of this school came to an abrupt end the following year when several of the principal men of the New Zealand Company, who were also involved in the school, met their deaths at the Wairau in conflict with Māori over the survey of land. Without these men of influence and financial security, William Moore's school was forced to close.


Portrait of Matthew Campbell, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection, 69466/3

Mathew Campbell and others opened a new school on February 21st, 1844 under the Nelson School Society. William Moore continued teaching under this governing body whilst publishing his poetry in various newspapers, sometimes under his own name and sometimes under his pen name “Sawny”.

William and Isobel moved to Section 145, Waimea West. An early survey map shows the section owner as Ogilvie/Ogilvy suggesting it may have been purchased for the family by Lady Mary or another member of the family. It is known that she sent out bolts of fine Scottish cloth for the family during these early years of colonial hardship.

A culture of cooperation existed between the early families who had endured those early days of settlement in Nelson and the Moores, Cotterells and Kerrs remained closely connected in Waimea West. When the Nelson School Society opened a school there on January 1st, 1846, William was appointed the first teacher. The community celebrated the opening with a tea party prepared by Mrs Moore and Mrs Morris and attended by Captain Blundell.

By 1848 it was found necessary to open a school for the settlers of Riwaka and William was asked to take on the role of first teacher there. Leaving their property at Waimea West in the hands of Isobel's son Peter, now aged eighteen, William and Isobel moved to Riwaka, but sadly this was to be her last home. Isobel died two years later on September 9th, 1851. Peter Fyffe and his younger half brother, Walter Moore, continued as farm labourers in the Waimea district on their father's land and, in February 1859, a notice of the dissolution of the partnership between William Moore and Peter Fyffe was witnessed by William Bell and J. Palmer.3 This may have been because Peter had purchased a property of his own. In the same year, William and Isobel's daughter Mary Ogilvy Moore and her husband Edward Solly left Waimea West with their first two children and took up land in Takaka, where the show grounds are today. Here Edward and Mary Solly grew hops and had another ten children. Their thirteenth child born in 1882 died as a very young baby and was buried on the property.

Moore Riwaka School

Riwaka School. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 179229

Soon after his daughter moved to Golden Bay, William Moore, now a widower, was asked to open a school at Renwick in the Wairau Valley of Marlborough. The school opened in January 1861. Conflict over land once again saw relations between Maori and European deteriorate in the North Island and the settlers of Nelson Province became concerned that the conflict might come south. Several Volunteers Corps were formed and Peter Fyffe joined the No 8 Company, Waimea West. Nothing further is known of Peter except that he farmed in the Motupiko district and died in Nelson in November 1880.

In 1865 Walter Moore, William's half brother, and also a Volunteer, travelled north eventually joining the colonial troops stationed at Ōpōtiki following several Pai Mārire (Hauhau) ‘disturbances’ in the Bay of Plenty in 1865. Some time after these events, when things appeared more peaceful, the military settlers were placed upon land still disputed by Māori. A large majority sold their claims to speculators or to intending settlers, willing to brave the dangers of occupation, provided they could get cheap land. Among those who bought in this way were four settlers Messrs. Livingstone, Beggs, Wilkinson and Walter Moore. In May 1867, Wilkinson and Livingston had built a house on their property near the entrance to the Waioeka gorge. Walter Moore and Beggs, who owned the adjoining property, lived in the same house, on the principle of there being safety in numbers. On the 23rd May, 1867, they were confined to their house by heavy rain and engaged in a game of cribbage when they failed to notice the barking of their dog. The barking continued and Walter Moore got up and looked out of the window. Wilkinson suggested that they were friendly Whakatoheas hunting for their horses but when Walter took a second look, about forty Māori were beginning to silently surround the house. The Māori were in fact Hauhau and well armed. Walter and his friends had rifles but only one of the rifles was loaded. They ran out the back door to hear the kokiritia (charge) sounded. They made for the steep fern-ridge, trying to gain the shelter of the bush, but had just reached the edge of the forest when the Hauhau caught up with them.

Moore Te Ua Haumene ca. 1922

The prophet Te Ua Haumēne, about 1866. From James Cowan: The New Zealand Wars

Walter Moore, who had the loaded rifle and was running last, turned to level his rifle at the nearest Hauhau. Unfortunately the solitary charge, on which so much depended, failed to explode and Walter was cut down by the pursuing Māori. This gave his comrades the opportunity to reach the shelter of the bush. From their accounts it seems Walter reversed his rifle, and presented the butt to his foes as a token of submission but was immediately shot. Wilkinson and Livingstone escaped down a steep gully but Beggs was overtaken and tomahawked. The bodies of Moore and Beggs were not discovered until some time after and it was evident they had been treated with fearful barbarity.

Moore Upper Wairau Cemetery

Upper Wairau Cemetery

It is doubtful his sister, Mary Solly in Golden Bay, heard of his death for some time but she named one of her sons Walter Solly in memory of her brother. Walter Moore's father William, in Marlborough, expressed his grief in poems written on the death of his only son. He did find happiness once again when he married widow Sarah Burrell and, as his teaching career came to a close, he was invited by the Newman family of Cowslip Valley, South of Renwick, to be private tutor to their large family. A comfortable cottage was built for William and Sarah on the farm near the Newman's large home and upon his death, William was buried in the Newman plot at Upper Wairau as a much loved member of the family.

With travel difficult and with many children to look after in Golden Bay, it may be that Mary Solly never saw her father in his latter years, but she carried his legacy in her love of books. Indeed before his death at the hands of the Hauhau, her late brother Walter had been studying mathematics. Their father's role as one of Nelson and Marlborough's earliest educators has been largely overlooked in histories of the area although Judge Lowther Broad recorded the important part William played in establishing Nelson first schools when he wrote the Jubilee history of Nelson.

Contributed by Jane Sparrow McDonald, granddaughter of Walter Solly, great granddaughter of Mary Ogilvy Solly nee Moore and great great granddaughter of William and Isobel Moore 2017. (updated August 2020)

Sources used in this story

  1. Education (1842, May 7) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 1(2) p. 35
  2. Broad, Lowther (1892). The jubilee history of Nelson : from 1842 to 1892. Nelson, N.Z.: Bond, Finney & Co
  3. Dissolution of Partnership (1859, February 12) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p. 2
  4. Cowan, J. (1956) The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, 1864–72. Wellington: R.E. Owen, Chapter 19: Skirmishing in Opotiki District:

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