The Wairau Valley Cemeteries


Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd

In the town of Wairau Valley in Marlborough,  there are two main cemeteries which have been used over the past 160 years. One is tucked neatly between the community Church of the Good Shepherd and the other is positioned some four hundred metres west of the church along State Highway 63. There are some interesting, and not widely known, characters and stories from the Valley told through burials at the Churchyards.

Wairau Valley Church of the Good Shepherd

Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd. Wairau Valley. Image supplied by author

In 1870 there was a double drowning which claimed the lives of Charles Cleaver and Tom White. They were found by William Ockley in a ten foot deep stagnant pool near the river in each other's arms. It was thought that Charles’s horse had fallen in causing the injuries apparent on Charles’s body and Tom had gone in to try and save him. The pair were interred together and given what looks like a more modern headstone later on. Beside them is the grave of James White and his wife Lucy. James was the first headmaster of Beavertown School having been sent there from Nelson in 1859. Unfortunately, His persistence to get religion taught in school resulted in him being removed from his position in 1861. He then bought a property up the Wairau in about 1866 and remained there until moving in with his son. He died aged ninety in 1907 and was buried with his beloved Lucy who had predeceased him.The earliest burial in the churchyard is thought to be that of Selina Ann Timms, wife of Charles. Selina came out to New Zealand in 1841, arriving here in May of the following year. She was accompanied by her husband and three children. All three of her children are interred in the churchyard, however her husband is interred in Wakapuaka Cemetery in Nelson. She died in 1863 and her stone still stands today. Hers is one of three headstones in the churchyard from the 1860’s. The other two are dedicated to the memory of Joseph Bonnington and Art Kinsey. Joe was the first man to discover coal in Marlborough. He died at the age of 28 leaving behind a wife who would later remarry twice. Art had drowned in the Wairau like many others buried in Marlborough. He was also 28.

The Wairau Valley Cemeteries IMG 2986

Wairau Valley Cemetery gravestones. Image supplied by author

In front of these graves is the tall headstone of Mr. William Newman. Bill was a well known figure in the area, however he died when he was just forty nine after drowning in the Wairau. His sons perhaps were more well known as they founded the Newman Coach Company, likely inspired by Bill’s days of exporting goods to the goldminers at Wakamarina and Canvastown. Bill may have died young but his sons grew old and had bountiful careers.

Amongst the headstones that stand there are many vacant places in the churchyard, indicating a number of unmarked graves in the grounds. Thomas Carter is in one of those graves. Thomas  was a well known runholder and farmer who also was the third superintendent of the province of Marlborough from the 25th of March, 1863 to the 30th of July, 1864. He had come to New Zealand through California and Australia following the  various gold rushes at the time. He went on to own well known Marlborough properties such as Hillersden, Wantwood, Burleigh and Clarence as well as St. Helens in the Molesworth during the time of the Murder/Suicide in 1866.

Another unmarked grave is that of Bert Addison who went out shooting with a friend and accidentally lost his footing on a hill which set his gun off. His friend heard the gunshot then a moan and ran over asking what had happened. Unfortunately, there was no saving Bert who had accidentally shot himself at the age of 12. Many young people are interred in the grounds:  to make it past infancy in the 1800’s was a miracle to say the least.

Ann Barker is also interred in an unmarked grave. She was the eldest daughter of Annie Bartlett of Bartlett’s Creek, North Bank. Her father was Thomas Brookes of Nelson,  but she was raised by the Bartlett family whom Annie had married twice into. Ann herself was married to Edwin Barker whom she married at the family home at the age of just fifteen when Edwin was in his twenties. She bore him nine children before her death at the age of 35 in 1894.

Graves of previous Inn owners (such as the first John Wayman), farmers and housewives are the majority of those interred in the yard as well as the drownings which helped cement the name “The New Zealand Death” into history. But besides the drownings that occurred in the area there are also victims to events that weren’t as common an occurrence in the Province.

Sydney King’s story is as confusing one as it is sad,  with his demise being at his own hands. Syd was an overall labourer having worked in mines for sometime before winding up being employed by Percy Larkin at the Glengyle Station as a cook for a few weeks prior to his death. Percy had known Syd for nearly a decade at this time and would’ve likely been keen to help the fifty year old and give him a place to stay that coming Christmas. Percy noticed that Syd was quieter than normal but didn’t think anything of it at the time, as it was not something too out of the ordinary. On Christmas Day, 1917 Percy was riding back to the station after dressing a sheep near Enchanted Creek. When about 800 metres from the station Syd appeared from the bush carrying a rifle. Percy called out to him as he stopped his horse “Have you seen anything?”, likely meaning if he had seen anything worth shooting to which Syd replied “I am just having a look around”. He then turned his back to Percy and placed the muzzle of the rifle into his mouth with his right hand. Percy was in shock at how calmly and quickly Syd went from talking to being dead on the ground.

Earlier in the day Danny Roberts had loaned Syd the gun and twice he had to stop Syd from using it on himself. Danny quoted Syd saying “It’s time we were out of this”, to which Danny told him no. Syd reassured his point and stated “Oh yes, This is what is wanted”. Syd managed to break free of Danny who was much older, but Danny insisted he go and meet up with Percy, which Syd agreed to do.

In those times suicide was treated very differently. Usually those who committed suicide were not  allowed to be buried within consecrated grounds,  however they were sometimes permitted to be buried just outside the grounds.  Syd however was buried in the grounds and marked by a very quaint marker.

Behind Syd’s grave is that of Frank Newcombe. Frank also passed from unfortunate circumstances. Frank was a farmer residing at Hillersden when he was doing something he likely had done many times before - rolling his field. The horse which was pulling the roller along was startled and threw Frank from his seat onto the ground and pulled the roller on top of Frank, ending his life at 62 years. His cause of death was listed as "skull fracture".

Perhaps the most famous of those interred in the Churchyard is Dr. Gordon Bell who was born in the Valley in 1887. He was awarded many distinguished honours for his work in surgery, his discoveries and teaching,  as well as a military cross for his service during the Great War. Although he died in Dunedin he was taken back to where he was born for burial and was interred alongside many of his family. The Bell family plot is possibly  the largest in the churchyard.

The Wairau Valley Cemeteries IMG 3008

Headstone of Henry Fleetwood Bonnington. Image supplied by author

Members of such families as Bonnington, Timms, Wadsworth and Bell make up the majority of the families that are laid to rest in the grounds. Many graves are unmarked but there are still many that are. The following is a list all of those with markers as at 9th June, 2020; the date indicates the date of death.

  • Selina Ann Timms; 4th June, 1863
  • Joseph Bonnington; 1st May, 1867
  • Evelyn Arthur Kinsey; 18th Oct, 1868
  • Henry Charles Cleaver; 11th Mar, 1870
  • Thomas Winsbury White; 11th Mar, 1870
  • Edythe Isabel Williams; 17th Jul, 1876
  • Thomas William Richardson Bell; 12th Oct, 1877
  • William Newman; 5th Nov, 1878
  • Jessie Nixon Williams; 14th Aug, 1879
  • William Pipe; 27th Jan, 1883
  • Thomas Onion; 14th Mar, 1884
  • John Slow; 5th Jul, 1889
  • John Campbell; 7th Feb, 1890
  • Samuel Timms; 1st Mar, 1894
  • Janet Bell; 10th Feb, 1895
  • William Bell; 26th Jul, 1895
  • Sarah Thomas; 15th Nov, 1897
  • Lucy White; 5th May, 1898
  • Henry Davis Williams; 26th Nov, 1904
  • Richard Timms; 21st May, 1905
  • Annie Elizabeth Bonnington; 21st Nov, 1906
  • James White; 5th Jul, 1907
  • William Irvine Bell; 29th Dec, 1908
  • Ann Slow; 5th Jan, 1910
  • Hannah Bonnington; 7th Aug, 1912
  • Henry Fleetwood Bonnington; 24th Jun, 1913
  • Annie Louisa Eves; 25th Dec, 1913
  • Evelyn Vorback; 13th Feb, 1916
  • Isabella Bell; 8th Jul, 1917
  • John Graham Sydney King; 25th Dec, 1917
  • Alice Bell; 18th Mar, 1918
  • James Bell; 9th Nov, 1925
  • William Bell; 16th Nov, 1927
  • Henry Wadsworth; 6th Feb, 1928
  • Frank Williams; 23rd Jun, 1928
  • Eliza Timms; 21st Jul, 1928
  • Annie Louisa Hooper; 13th Oct, 1929
  • Elizabeth Williams; 6th Feb, 1931
  • Edna Alison Smith; 29th Jul, 1931
  • Audrey Margaret Timms; 6th Mar, 1932
  • Maud Alice Hart; 29th Sep, 1933
  • Frank Guyon Newcombe; 9th Oct, 1933
  • Terence Malvern Smith; 11th Oct, 1935
  • Frances Mary Wadsworth; 1st Jan, 1937
  • George Howard Broadbridge; 31st Jul, 1937
  • Frederick Thomas; 6th Oct, 1937
  • Richard Ernest Timms; 20th Jun, 1938
  • Charles Davis Timms; 1st Dec, 1938
  • Eleanor Timms; 4th Mar, 1940
  • Emma Amelia Bell; 21st Jun, 1941
  • Frank Bonnington; 9th Feb, 1943
  • Trevor Alfred Wadsworth; 11th Sep, 1943
  • John Charles Hooper; 18th Jul, 1944
  • Alice Mary Broadbridge; 14th Jun, 1945
  • Charles James Barron; 22nd Sep, 1945
  • Ernest Henry Williams; 9th Nov, 1948
  • Noel John Schollum; 6th Mar, 1953
  • Mary Cecilia Timms; 31st Jan, 1955
  • Adeline Marian Pollock; 21st Mar, 1955
  • James Owen Anstiss; 10th Jan, 1956
  • Jessie Clark; 1st Nov, 1956
  • J. J. Clark; 30th Nov, 1956
  • William Thomas Pollock; 18th Jun, 1964
  • Janet Emma Bell; 28th Feb, 1966
  • George Howard Weir Broadbridge; 11th May, 1966
  • Marian Austin Bell; 2nd Jan, 1968
  • David Hart; 23rd Jun, 1968 Anne Smith Timms; 25th Jul, 1968
  • Dr. Francis Gordon Bell; 28th Feb, 1970
  • Jessie Eliza Hart; 9th May, 1970
  • Caroline Agnes Anstiss; 11th Aug, 1970
  • Thomas Jones; 1st Oct, 1970
  • Timothy Christopher Taylor; 25th Oct, 1971
  • Robert James Rentoul; 13th May, 1972
  • Sarah Collingway; 3rd Jun, 1975
  • George Lott; 17th Oct, 1975
  • Ernest Robert Williams; 4th Oct, 1976
  • Lesley Anne Moore; 3rd Jul, 1977
  • Thelma Mayce Timms; 7th Nov, 1978
  • Constance Pearl Douglas; 26th Jan, 1979
  • Ernest Samuel Lewis Timms; 3rd Aug, 1980
  • Myrtle Louise Schollum; 1st Apr, 1981
  • Annie Margaret Rentoul; 4th Sep, 1983
  • Marjorie Ethel Jane Jones; 24th Jul, 1985
  • Janet Arabella Low; 26th Dec, 1986
  • Hubert Frederick Timms; 28th July, 1987
  • Cyril Desmond Broadbridge; 25th Apr, 1988
  • Patrick Robert Aiden MacKenzie; 26th May, 1988
  • Raymond John Schollum; 4th May, 1992
  • Doris Lillian Neal; 7th Apr, 1995
  • Madeline Ross Williams; 1st Feb, 1996
  • Muriel Irene Lott; 10th Sep, 1996
  • Margaret Joan Fowler; 11th Nov, 1997
  • Edward George Neal; 29th May, 1999
  • John Watson Low; 3rd Mar, 2002
  • Swea Lenore Ross Raitt; 8th Jun, 2003
  • Leslie Francis Neal; 24th Feb, 2005
  • Hazel Elizabeth Stewart Broadbridge; 20th Aug, 2006
  • Ivan Alexander Fowler; 10th Nov, 2006
  • Kenneth Charles Anderson; 17th Mar, 2007
  • Leo Valentine Ryan; 7th Apr, 2007
  • Ganene Bianca Low; 9th Mar, 2010
  • Elspeth Mary Bell; 20th Jun, 2013
  • Geoffrey Herbert Rentoul; 5th Nov, 2014
  • Julian Lincoln Dillon; 14th May, 2015
  • Ian Murray Gleeson; 30th Aug, 2016
  • Margarita Anderson; 14th Feb, 2019
  • G. Llewellyn P. Raitt

The stories of the people who have been interred in the little churchyard at Wairau Valley are an important part of Marlborough’s history and they reflect what lives were generally like in such places as the Valley.  Passing through the town of Wairau Valley one can easily spot the Churchyard tucked beneath the shade of the small church and towering pine trees, yet 200 metres west can be found the small graveyard of the Catholic faith in the area.

The Catholic Cemetery

Founded in 1882 the Catholic cemetery currently has five standing headstones with possible other burials in the grounds. These are the stories of those who have headstones. 

The earliest stone is that of Mrs Eliza Onion nee Southall. Eliza was born in Brewood, Staffordshire, England in the early 1830’s and presumably came to New Zealand with her husband Edmund. The pair had eight children and resided in the Wairau Valley from the early 1860’s. At age 58 Eliza  passed away at her home and was interred in the Catholic Cemetery. Her husband died fourteen years later and may have been interred in either one of the Wairau Cemeteries.

Buried next was her daughter of the same name. She had been born in about 1867 and went on to marry Charles, a member of the prominent Timms family, in 1886. The pair had three children before Eliza passed five months after her mother at the age of twenty four.

The next burial was that of young Eric Rennell. Eric died of Peritonitis on the 16th of August, 1905 when he was just aged nine years. His father was employed by W. Tapp at the time and had used the medicine provided from the doctor but Eric did not recover.

Mrs. Richard Timms was born Elizabeth Connell on the 5th November, 1853 in Moorfield, London. She was married in 1869 and had eight children with Richard, raising all in the Wairau Valley. She died on the 13th of July, 1915 and was interred in the Catholic Cemetery even though Richard was buried in the Anglican churchyard a decade prior to her own death. Richard has a tall stone in the Churchyard amongst other Timms family graves, different from any other in the grounds.

The youngest headstone is that of a nephew of Mr Percy Larkin of Enchanted Creek, Wairau Valley. His name was Edward Sutherland and was son to an Ashburton man who was well known about the town. He was only 32 when he passed away at his residence in the Valley where he had resided for some decades. He had enlisted at the outbreak of the Great War and underwent training until he was discharged due to an ailment of the lungs. In his Obituary it states he had been residing in the Wairau for about twelve years which would make his arrival in the area about 1912. About fifteen months prior to his death he had traveled down to Christchurch to attend the funeral of his mother where he unfortunately contracted Influenza which greatly affected his already weak lungs. On the morning of the 22nd of July, 1924 Edward passed away at the age of 32 years. A Requiem Mass was held at St. Mary's Church by the Very Rev. Dean Holley and his interment took place soon after.

Twenty years after the burial of Edward the cemetery closed to burials. A small unassuming gate sits at the front of the property in which the cemetery now sits, with a sign that reads; "THIS IS THE SITE OF THE ORIGINAL WAIRAU VALLEY CATHOLIC CEMETERY 1882-1944 WITH RESPECT WE REMEMBER ALL WHO ARE BURIED HERE. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE."

June 2020

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  • Iam interested in discovering more about Percy Larkin who was my husband's great uncle. We have a lovely photo of him and his wife Mary on the verandah of their home at Enchanted Creek, plus a couple of other shapshots of Mary and another group photo mentioning a Roy (dont knnow where he fits in) In your article you mention Edward Sutherland who I presume was the son of one of Mary's sisters.Mary grew up in Riccarton Christchurch, but I know little of her family. As you will have gathered I am a hobby "genie" and have compiled a history of the Larkin family dating back to London in the late 1700's.

    We are coming down to Blenheim mid April to attend a passing out parade at Woodbourne - youngest grandson Nathan Larkin has joined the airforce. Would be intereste to perhaps hear from you or someone helpful in researching Percy Larkin at this time.

    Posted by Noeline Larkin, 27/03/2021 11:31am (3 years ago)

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