William Bishop - Early Nelson Settler


William Bishop (born 1817 and died 1884), my grandmother’s father, arrived in New Zealand from Bath in 1843 on the barque London (388 tons). William would appear to be the oldest male and traditionally would inherit - why he decided to leave England is not clear but the worldwide depression was deepening.  

Later records show William's occupation as chemist/shipping agent. He had a shipboard romance and, in September 1844, married Anna Torne Fife and they established themselves in Nelson, where William had pre-purchased sections under the Wakefield Plan. Some aspects of these sections were unsatisfactory, for example one was on a cliff. William sold these and purchased sections elsewhere.1

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Charles Heaphy The home of Mr & Mrs William Bishop, Maitai Valley [1844] Alexander Turnbull Library Ref: A-144-011

The book Heaphy mentions the couple's friendship with the young draftsman, Charles Heaphy, resulting in Charles painting their home. The painting is entitled, “The home of Mr and Mrs William Bishop, Maitai Valley 1844”. William it is said, did own a section in the valley but the house is more likely to have been in Nile Street.3 My Aunt Helen had the painting on her wall most of her life but later bequeathed it to the Alexander Turnbull library. Heaphy also painted the small oval portrait of Anna Bishop in 1844 successfully, they say, conveying her demure appeal.

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Charles Heaphy Anna Bishop [1844]. Alexander Turnbull Library Ref A-144-012

William Bishop  apparently had a Chemist's shop in Bridge St and a copy of the local newspaper (Nelson Examiner, 1843) includes an article by William Bishop, describing an excursion to the source of the Maitai river. A further document records a Petition to Parliament, 1844 by William Bishop and others to show their disagreement with Governor Fitzroy‘s judgments on the Māori/settler clash known as the Wairau Affray.

A family followed soon after William and Anna's marriage,  with William born in 1845 and Agnes Clunie born in 1846, both born in Nelson. Another boy was unfortunately still-born in Sydney in 1848. They must have been investigating opportunities as the next record of the couple is an advertisement  in 1847 for the sale of the home occupied by William Bishop in Tory Street Nelson.

A shift to Wellington followed, with the births of Annie 1849, Diana 1851, George Fyfe 1853, John Clunie 1856, Allan 1859, Henry Augustus 1861, Andrew Clunie 1864 and Helen Maude Mary 1870, my grandmother.

Wellington Harbour history records William Bishop as having shareholding activities in the New Zealand Steam Navigation Co, NZSNC, in 1866. Returns from this coastal shipping venture were inadequate and the most vocal criticism was from William Bishop, resulting in him being appointed Chairman and Managing Director of the young company.

The world-wide recession was slowing business, causing further inadequate returns leading to a demand for the company to shut down and the shipping to be auctioned - including the ‘Rangatira’ part owned by William Bishop. William still wished to be involved and entered a syndicate to build the small steamers the Tui and Huia (102 tons). These traded successfully, but generally boats were getting bigger and a new company floated the New Zealand Steam Ship Co NZSSCo, building the ’Ruapehu’, 118 m long and of 4200 tons. Again, William was shareholder earning modest returns, despite the depression, which is generally dated from 1880 to 1890.

The last child Helen Maude, born in 1870, later met and married James Nicholls in Wellington. She eventually became my grandmother.  She was an excellent piano player and ran the house end of the Waipukurau farm with quiet efficiency - all we Nicholls grandchildren treated her with care and awe.

2019 (updated August 2020)

Sources used in this story

  1. Allan, R.M. (1965) Nelson: a history of early settlement. Wellington, N.Z. : A.H. & A.W. Reed  
  2. Sharp, Iain (2008) Heaphy. Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland University Press  
  3. Charles Heaphy The home of Mr & Mrs William Bishop, Maitai Valley [1844] Alexander Turnbull Library Ref: A-144-011 

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