The Greig Brother's of Dillons Point; Early Settlers of Beaver Station


Settlers came from all walks of life and all nations when the New Zealand Company began promoting farmlands ripe for the picking in Aotearoa. Two Scottish boys, aged in their early twenties, stumbled off a ship in a new land sometime in the 1850’s viewing a bustling town called Nelson. But their eyes and dreams were destined to other lands, in the plains of the Wairau Valley.

These two boys were brothers James and William Greig, fresh from Perthshire, Scotland who had left their families in their homeland in search of better lives in the infant colony. Their stories span the period between the founding of Blenheim until its establishment as an important town in New Zealand's history.

William Greig and his family

William came out to New Zealand with his older brother James. The pair were not married at the time and had left behind their family in Perth, Scotland, where the boys grew up. Their sister Isabella married the Rev. Archibald Scott, who was instrumental in paving the way for the reunification of the Church of Scotland with the Free Church of Scotland in 1900. Marguerite Fairweather, the Great Granddaughter of William, thought that perhaps he trained as a barrister in Scotland but for one reason or another he lost his hearing due to an illness, therefore, damaging his career. It is probably because of this that he came to New Zealand with his brother.

The Greig Brothers of Dillons Point

The Greig Brothers of Dillons Point. Image supplied by author

The pair landed in Nelson and then moved over to the Wairau Plains in the same year - probably 1855.  The town of Blenheim was not called Blenheim then and was no more than a few buildings sat beside the junction of the Taylor and the Ōpaoa Rivers with James Wynen and James Sinclair running two Hotels in the area.

In 1857 James Greig married1 Catherine McCallum in the Wairau Valley, in a service performed by the Rev. Nicholson, Marlborough’s first Presbyterian minister. In the same year, Archdeacon Henry Butt wrote in his memoirs about how he was coming into Port Beaver on Capt. McLean’s schooner “Mary” and how Mr. Greig waited at Morgan's Creek with a team of bullocks. In the early days, before boats were motorised, they would have to be hauled up the Ōpaoa River by horses and bullocks as the banks were covered in marsh and the rivers too narrow for sails. It is said that the bullocks got so used to hauling the boats up the river that they could be driven from the boat by the farmers instead of having to lead them themselves.

William Greig first got work at Beaver Station under James Sinclair. In 1858, he was Clerk to the Wairau District Road Board and was working as a clerk for James Sinclair’s other affairs. James and William were some of the first to take up land in the Dillons Point area, or the Lower Wairau, along with other pioneers such as James Holdaway and Charles Lucas. In the Marlborough Museum Archives, a piece of writing states that William Greig was the first person to pilot a launch into Seymour’s Wharf which was located on the banks of the Taylor where the River Queen used to be parked before it was removed to Kaiapoi.

Greig Bros Mr. George Wratt 1860s

Mr. George Wratt 1860s. Image supplied by author

It’s in this locality that William probably met the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Wratt, Miss Kathy Wratt. George Wratt resided at his Wilford Hill property along the Ōpaoa River which would’ve been near to where the Greig boys farmed at Dillons Point. William, On the 31st of May, 1866, was united in marriage to Kathy at her father's residence by the Reverend Russell. George and his wife Hannah had come out to New Zealand on board the Clifford in 1842 with George’s parents and siblings. His biological mother had died two years before childbirth. She grabbed the midwife at her side and asked her to take care of her husband. And so, that midwife married George Wratt, George's father.

William Greig seems to have been less a manual labourer than his older brother James, taking up clerk work and office-type positions. He still held property along the Ōpaoa in 1886, when  he helped find the body of William Eden who was thrown into the river by an accidental explosion of dynamite.

Greig Bros Koromiko Store Around 1900 which William Greig managed

Koromiko Store Around 1900 which William Greig managed. Image supplied by author

Two years after being married, Kathy gave birth to her first child George William Greig in Blenheim and the following year she had a son named after William’s brother James Henry Greig. They had another three children after that; Archie, Art, and Bill, before removing themselves to Koromiko sometime between 1876 and 1879 where their only daughter was born on the 10th of April, 1879. William and his family are said to have resided to the rear of the Koromiko Store, which they operated during the latter half of the eighteen hundreds. This store was replaced by a more modern one before again being rebuilt as a service station. This service station still stands on the same site although is no longer in use as of about 1993.

Not long after settling in Koromiko Kathy gave birth to her seventh and last child on the 17th of December, 1881. Sadly, three months later the child passed away and was presumably buried somewhere in Koromiko, and on the 16 June, 1886 at the Picton Courthouse, the Resident Magistrate Mr. Allen committed Kathy Greig to the ‘Wellington Lunatic Asylum’. The newspaper report gives very little information as to why she was committed or on what grounds. Two local Doctors, Dr. Nairns and Dr. Scott signed off on the certificate for her to be institutionalised. She was probably first taken to Mt. View Asylum and was then taken to Porirua Asylum when the facility was in its infancy. She may have spent the remainder of her life here, although there is a story that she was dismissed from the Asylum, but because of the shame and anger she felt towards her husband she never returned to Marlborough. Interesting to note that Kathy’s mother Hannah (Ann) Wratt was also institutionalised at Mt. View Asylum although before Kathy.

William had his youngest child, Bella Greig, sent down south to stay with an ‘Aunt and Uncle’ in Oxford after Kathy was sent up North. Here she excelled in her schooling and played the organ for the local Presbyterian church during services and fundraisers before eventually returning to Marlborough, where she married Austin France of the prominent Picton France Family of American ancestry.

William seems to have become reclusive after this incident. He continued working from his Koromiko home, but at some point, he took up work for Mr. Henry Hawker as a clerk and bookkeeper at his store and slaughterhouse. Mr. Hawker's store was located in Factory Road, adjacent to where Pads & Paws is today and where William supposedly worked for some 10 years. Once Mr. Hawker left for Wellington William returned to clerking from home. 

William remained in Koromiko for the remainder of his life and continued to store keep until his death on 23 March 1899 at his home when he was 67. William was buried in the Picton Cemetery overlooking the town. A tiered marble cross was placed over his grave with a wrought iron surround, which has now fallen over. Across from his grave lies his daughter Isabella France who died in 1924 after a long illness. Her husband was meant to be buried with her but his second wife had him buried in Omaka Cemetery. Marguerite Fairweather buried her mother's ashes with Isabella France’s remains. Since then two plaques commemorating Isabella and Iris Moore, her mother, have been put in place. 

Greig Bros Archie Greig outside his Canvastown home in Greig Lane

Archie Greig outside his Canvastown home in Greig Lane. Image supplied by author

William's wife, Kathy, survived her husband by 15 years and died in 1914 at the age of 71 years. She was buried in a grave at Porirua marked only by a tree as were many of the pauper and asylum inmates' graves. William’s children all remained in Marlborough for the duration of their lives, except his son James who farmed in Canterbury. His sons Geo and Archie took up farming at Kaiuma bay and later took up Gold prospecting in the Wakamarina Valley. The road Greigs Lane in Canvastown is subsequently named after Archie Greig, who died in the Valley in 1944 and was buried in the Deep Creek Cemetery.

Williams' son George fared poorly in his early years. In 1904 he lost his son Ken and four years later his wife at the age of 27 leaving him with one son to care for named Archie. Archie was taken in by his Hart grandparents Henry and Laura.  In 1909 Laura treated Archie to a trip to Wellington for his seventh birthday. They sailed on the S.S. Penguin, which tragically sank on 12 February, with the loss of 75 souls, predominantly women and children and including Laura and Archie Greig. Laura's courageousness is recounted in a piece titled the ‘Hart family tragedy’:

Laura’s family heard of the little lady’s bright courage in the lifeboat where she was reported to have used a gentleman’s top hat as a bailer. But what shocked everyone was the fact that what had been considered preferential treatment for the women and children, in this case annihilated them. When Laura’s death was being registered it was discovered that Henry had made an error in her age, for she was only 48 when she died, and was in her 49th year.

Both of their bodies were recovered and given a joint funeral on the 17th and were buried in the Picton Cemetery. They were not buried together for Archie was interred with his mother and young brother. George did eventually remarry and have two children with one, unfortunately, being stillborn. His other son, named in honour of his son Archie, became quite well known in the district of Havelock where George spent the remainder of his life. He died one day after his 85th birthday in 1953.

William’s other son of the same name was another interesting character. He left New Zealand a few years after his father's death and went to Canada where he crossed over to the United States and made his way to Bandon, Oregon where he worked in sawmilling. For two years he served with the British Military during the First World War before returning to Oregon where he continued to work as a saw miller and a general farm hand and helped several local families who adored him greatly. Bill was naturalised and never returned to New Zealand, having died in August 1955.

The Greig Brothers of Dillons Point Early Settlers of Beaver Station

The Grieg Brothers of Dillons Point. Image supplied by author

James Henry Greig and his family

James Henry Greig Of Dillons Point  was Williams' older brother by a few years. He, like William, was born to Robert and Elizabeth Greig in Perthshire, Scotland, and had about six siblings. James would have been in his mid-twenties when he immigrated with William to New Zealand and William only slightly younger (About 23). What James did prior to settling is unknown. Likely agriculture labouring or working as a hand or general worker. Nevertheless, the pair eventually resided at Beaver Station, as the area was called then, and farmed the area and worked for the businessmen of the area such as James Sinclair and Henry Seymour.

On 23 February, 1857 James was married in a double wedding to Catherine McCallum, second daughter of Donald and Mary McCallum at Rose-Bank, Wairau Valley by the Rev. T. D. Nicholson, the first presbyterian minister of Nelson and Marlborough. The other party married was Catherine's sister Christina to Charles McDiarmid Fulton. In 1859, both he and his brother signed the petition to make Marlborough a separate province from Nelson as did many other local pioneers, as taxpayer money was going to Nelson infrastructure rather than Marlborough.

In 1860, James offered a one pound reward to anyone who would provide information into the whereabouts of his blood-red working bullock named ‘Captain’, branded with an anchor on its rump and in the same year, was carting timber from ‘Big Bush’ to Blenheim at three shillings per hundred feet due to the poor conditions of the roads. Captain, James’s bullock, may have met his fate the next year (1861) as James met with an accident at ‘Big Bush’, Now Grovetown. As he was leaving the bush a tree fell upon his two leading bullocks killing them instantly. James had only just finished tending to their harnesses. It would seem James or his brother William owned land at Big Bush, as in 1876 his brother's son was born there.

In 1868, James’s daughter Eliza passed away aged only seven years. She was buried in the Omaka Cemetery in a plot now bordered with concrete in the Old Section, opposite the Hospital side of the road. This is where it is believed James and his first wife are interred. There is only one headstone in this plot dedicated to his son Hunter. James farmed in the Lower Wairau possibly in the “Big Bush” area, as in 1868 he was Chairman of the Big Bush school.

On the 2nd of December, 1870 Catherine passed away at Ōpaoa at the age of 33 years after having seven children with the eldest being 12 at the time of her passing. Two years later James remarried to Margaret Raymond.  The pair had a daughter named Catherine the following year on February, 9th 1873, and had five children after this one; Jessie, Eliza, James, Alice, and Hunter. James seems to have appeared in court a few times in regards to owed debts of his and was fined a few times.

James farmed at Dillons Point for all of his 40 years in New Zealand. The Greig farm was located on the southern boundary of Dillons Point,2 bordering the Ōpaoa River.  In 1888 James was advertising a farm in Dillons Point that consisted of 75 acres of good land, a house, and a garden. Whether this was his home is not clear, but his brother William wrote up the advertisement and placed it in the newspaper. He doesn’t seem to have been able to sell this place despite its great positioning next to the Ōpaoa River. Ships would park alongside the bank of the river next to his property and used it as a loading ramp for both cargo and passengers. In 1893 the S. S. Neptune was advertised as leaving for Wellington from Mr. J. H. Greig's farm.

On the 22 January, 1895 James Henry Hepburn Greig passed away after a short battle with cancer at the age of 66. His funeral took place the following day and he was buried in Omaka Cemetery with his first wife and daughter Eliza. Of the 13 children he had in his lifetime, he only outlived his Eliza. His second wife moved into town where she lived at Charles Street with her children. She did not remarry and lived in Blenheim up until her passing in 1923 at the age of 82 years. Margaret and James’s youngest son Hunter served with the Seventh Contingent during the Boer War. Of the 11 Marlburians who died in the Boer War, Hunter was the only one whose remains were able to be brought back to his home in Marlborough due to the fact he did not die from illness until he was in the Wairau Hospital. Disease was one of the main causes of death amongst soldiers during the war. He was given full military honors with a gun salute and was buried with his parents and sister in Omaka Cemetery. He was aged only 21. His name appears on the Tuamarina Boer War memorial and a headstone was erected by the New Zealand Soldiers Grave Guild in the family plot over Hunter.

William and James’s lives represented two different aspects of life in early New Zealand. James was a robust and hard-working man, inclined to take on more physically demanding jobs. William was more reclusive, taking up office type of work. Both raised large families and are the ancestors of many in Marlborough and other areas of New Zealand. It is characters like the Greig brothers who helped build Beaver Station into the town of Blenheim.


Sources used in this story

  1. Nelson Examiner in March of 1857
  2. Holdaway, B.N piece on Dr. Lewis Horne, the early Blenheim doctor, in the Nelson and Marlborough historical society journal,

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  • Thank you for this interesting story. I am interested in discussing the hand coloured cabinet cards (or CVDs?), is it possible to make contact pls? Hopefully you can see my email address even tho it says it will not be published

    Posted by Peter Alsop, 24/01/2022 8:31pm (2 years ago)

  • A brilliant account , I love hearing about our families history , thank you Thomas Fairweather

    Posted by Marie Paul nee Greig , 24/09/2021 4:57pm (3 years ago)

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