The first Sharland


When James Henry Sharland stepped off the John Masterman ship on the 8th February 18571 he had his son James Frederick Sharland and his partner Julia Lazarus at his side. They would have been greeted kindly by the local settlers, offered fresh fruit and a warm smile as comfort after months at sea.2 But had the locals known of James Henry Sharland's recent, and past convict history,3 they probably would have opted for pelting him with rotten vegetables and giving him the cold shoulder.

Sharland's flax millSharland's flax mill [photo supplied by author]
Click image to enlarge

James Henry Sharland had not embarked from London 104 days earlier, as had most of the other passengers of the John Masterman and the ship itself.4  In fact James Henry Sharland had not left from anywhere at all, but rather been invented somewhere in between James Henry Shaw leaving his wife in Hobart, Tasmania, and the John Masterman's arrival in Nelson about a week later. James Henry Shaw, his son, and Julia, had hopped aboard the ship when it had docked in Hobart on the 30th of January, leaving behind Sophia Neat, who was James Henry's wife and James Frederick's mother. Julia left behind her brother Elijah, who coincidentally was married to Frances Neat.5  

Details as to why James Henry Shaw decided to leave have never been revealed, but it was certainly unusual for a middle aged man to leave his wife, take their child and elope with a woman four years his senior. Not that slightly dodgy behaviour was rare in the Shaw family. They weren't exactly known for being model citizens, in fact it used to be said that if you should meet an honest Shaw you should shoot him quick before he turns bad.6

Something that was good about James Henry though, had to be his timing. He came to Nelson when the town was in high spirits, recovering from the slump during the forties, which had been caused by naive optimism. The New Zealand Company had crudely over-estimated the quality of the soil in the Nelson region and, when settlers arrived, few had enough capital to cultivate the land. In 1842 there was a depression in Australia and Britain which made land sales even more difficult, causing the New Zealand Company to almost go bankrupt.7

To make matters worse, clashes in the Wairau with the local Iwi over land resulted in the death of roughly 22 British settlers. On the June 17th 1843 a group of local authorities sought out chiefs Te Ruaparaha and Te Rangihaeata, seeking their arrest over charges of arson. English law of course meant little to the Māori chiefs, and the confrontation resulted in a stand-off where shots were fired from both sides. Rongo, the daughter of Te Ruaparaha and wife of Te Rangihaeata, was one of the victims fatally wounded during the flurry of gun shots. To avenge her death tribe members captured and tomahawked twelve of the group of settlers, sending a wave of fear through the Nelson Region.8

Few people in the community had not been affected by the conflict, many losing family members or friends. Many settlers moved away from Nelson, and land also lost value due to the threat of violence from the Māori tribes. Hardship continued in the region, progress was painstakingly slow and the town remained crudely underdeveloped. For years a ditch stretched down the side of Trafalgar Street which caught many pedestrians off-guard, particularly at night, and a bridge wasn't built over the Maitai until 1847.   The fifties were much more hopeful times. Several mines were discovered, mostly during the year 1856. The mines offered copper, chrome ore and gold. The success of most mines was short-lived, although they did attract throngs of hopeful settlers to Nelson. Between 1853 and 1858 the population doubled, and labour shortages in the early fifties led to high wages and increased independence for wage-earners. 

There were many opportunities for James Henry Sharland when he arrived. He had left his troublesome family name behind and was a trained gilder. In his first years in Nelson, however, there are no records of his actions until 1859 when, on the October 5th he played a song at a dinner held for the Volunteer Rifle Corps.9 What he was doing before this date is a mystery, which he most probably intended it to be.

James and Julia's son, George Cornelius Sharland, was born in 1860, but 21 years later when he was to be married he wished to do so under the name Shaw. Attached to his marriage certificate is a handwritten note from his father: "I James Shaw hereby solemnly declare that in consequence of family reasons I changed my name to James Sharland on my arrival in New Zealand in 1857 and wrongly registered my son George Cornelius Shaw as George Cornelius Sharland on the 2nd day of August 1860." 

From article on Wakapuaka, 1892Wakapuaka (1892, Sep 23) Colonist, p.2. Papers Past
Click image to enlarge

It wasn't until five years after his arrival in Nelson that James Henry started to make a real name for himself, by leasing 84 acres of land, and buying three sections up the Maitai, which he named, "The Greenlands," and which remained in the family until 1969, when it was purchased by the State Forest Service. The land was in the area now named Sharland's Hill. It is here that he set up a flax mill, which established a long tradition of flax milling in the Sharland family. It expanded to mills in West Wanganui, Pakawau, at Mt Patriarch on the Wairau's North Bank and even Nile Street.   James Henry continued to run the original mill until 1876 when his sons took over and he returned to his old trade of carving, gilding and picture framing. The shop that he owned still stands just before the Collingwood Street Bridge, and the building remained a framing shop until 2008, when the business moved to Gloucester Street.10 

James Henry passed away on March 3rd 1901. His will, dated two days before his death, left his land to, "Son James Frederick Shaw," and the rest of his estate to, "George Cornelius Sharland." It seems he even confused himself, as James Frederick always referred to himself as Sharland, and George officially had his name changed to Shaw. James Henry himself died registered a Shaw, but like many of the details in his life, it has never been confirmed if the funeral directors took note of old English advice to "bury a Shaw 7ft below, as deep down they're really good men."11

Ellen Sharland, Nelson College for Girls, 2009

Updated: April 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. John Masterman 1856/57 voyage on RootsWeb:
  2. The Voyage Out: Published in Memories of New Zealand Life by Edwin Hodder, 1862. Retrieved 26 June 2009, from New Zealand Yesteryears: passenger shipping in New Zealand 1800-1900:
  3. James Henry Shaw. Retrieved from personal family history site, 27 October 2020:
  4. Brett H. (1928) White Wings: Volume II. Retrieved from: New Zealand Electronic Text Centre:  
  5. Dobson, John (1988) Sharland Reunion. publisher unknown.  
  6. Interview with Ray Sharland. 15 June 2009, Nelson.    
  7. McAloon, Jim. (1997) Nelson: A regional history. Whatamango Bay, N.Z.:Cape Catley Ltd, p.25 
  8. Bailey, J. L. (Ed.)(1859) The Nelson Directory: and companion to the almanack (fascim. ed) Nelson, N.Z.: C.& J. Elliot
  9. The Colonist: Jubilee Souvenir, The Colonist (1907)
  10. Venner, G. (2001)The Maitai: a history of the valley and its people. [Nelson, N.Z. : G. Venner]   
  11. Interview with Tom Sharland, 15 July 2009, Nelson

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  • Hi Ellen, a great story to read. I am a direct descendant (great great grandson) of James Henry Shaw. I knew of the NZ connection and name change but had no idea about his life in NZ which you have well researched. I haven't seen the marriage certificate of George Cornelius, so that comment was a revelation. I also haven't seen the will of James Henry, so your commentary about that was also interesting. Is there a passenger record of his trip from Tasmania to NZ?

    Posted by Steve Jones, 26/10/2020 2:55pm (4 years ago)

  • Would you please delete my previous post. I have since discovered that James Frederick was not my great-grandfather. Regards Michael Topfer

    Posted by Michael Topfer, 03/02/2015 4:35pm (9 years ago)

  • Hi Ellen,

    I was very intrigued to read this story. James Frederick Shaw (Sharland) was my great-grandfather. I had no idea his father took him to New Zealand after leaving my great-great-grandmother (Sophia Neate) in Hobart. Just amazing! Would you be happy to share family history information?

    Regards Michael Topfer

    Posted by Michael Topfer, 14/01/2015 2:56pm (9 years ago)

  • I would like to contact John Meyers and or David Meyers as I am a decendant of Thomas Meyers.

    Posted by Julie Rhodes, ()

  • John Meyers would love to share any inforation on the Shaw family and Julie Lazarus with anyone listed above. Please make contact asap

    Posted by John Meyers, ()

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Further sources - The first Sharland


  • Bailey, J. L. (Ed.)(1859) The Nelson Directory: and companion to the almanack (fascim. ed) Nelson, N.Z.: C.& J. Elliot
  • McAloon, Jim. (1997) Nelson: A regional history. Whatamango Bay, N.Z.:Cape Catley Ltd, p.25
  • Venner, G. (2001)The Maitai: a history of the valley and its people. [Nelson, N.Z. : G. Venner]

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