Wreck of the Fifeshire 1842


The Fifeshire was one of the first New Zealand Company immigrant ships to arrive in the Nelson region; on its maiden voyage from London it carried 159 immigrants to New Zealand, 17 died in transit from fever on board the ship.1 The Fifeshire carried many famous Nelson names, such as the Poynter family.

The Fifeshire, wrecked on Fifeshire/Arrow Rock.The Fifeshire, wrecked on Fifeshire/Arrow Rock.
Click to enlarge

The Fifeshire was the first of the four New Zealand Company settler ships to arrive in Nelson; Lord Auckland, Mary Ann and The Lloyds, along with the Fifeshire, all left England on the same day.2 The day the Fifeshire arrived, through the original entrance to the Nelson harbour, is the day celebrated as Nelson Anniversary Day, 1 February 1842.3

The ship arrived in Nelson on the 1 February 18424 and discharged its passengers and cargo, before being cleared to leave for China on 27 February 1842.5 Captain F.G Moore oversaw the departure from port as James Cross, the regular pilot, was unwell.  The wind was very light, so the Fifeshire did not reach the entrance till the tide had been ebbing for some time. The Fifeshire had almost passed through the narrow entrance when the wind failed and the tide carried her onto the Arrow Rock.6

The Fifeshire lay right across the Rock, the Fore being dry, and the aft in dead low water. It was a disaster for the new colony.  It rested on two ledges at her fore and main chains (the broad thick planks projecting horizontally from a ship's side at her mast.)7

The ship could not withstand the strain on her back, and it was badly broken. On Tuesday May 10 1842 J.W Saxton remarked in his diary "We could see under some rocks near the entrance [to the Haven] The Fifeshire, a vessel which had just been lost there" 8. J.W Saxton was a famous painter, and came on the ship Clifford to Nelson.

Men scavenged the Fifeshire for materials to establish the new colony. On 12 October 1842, J.W Saxton remarked in his diary "Authorized Mr Fox to buy from a blacksmith an iron bolt from the Fifeshire as an axle." 9, and on 30 June 1845 he remarked "saw men at work on the Fifeshire which is said still to contain enough iron to build a brig."10

The new colony had problems finding raw materials, such as iron, with which to make the tools needed for construction, and wagons. Pieces of the Fifeshire were sold piecemeal to the settlers.11 To finally lift the Fifeshire from Arrow rock Mr Poynter, an important member of the Colony, brought floats for 10 pounds apiece.12

On 3 September 1846, the Fifeshire was lifted by the tide and the tanks from the Arrow Rock.13 It was then broken up on what is now called Haulashore Island and stripped for useful materials. For many years Arrow Rock wore the chains of the Fifeshire and the colonists looked on the rock and remembered the Fifeshire's fate. 14

Childs chair, made by Samuel Bryan Johnson.Childs chair, made by Samuel Bryan Johnson. Broadgreen House Archives (Chair in Collection)
Click to enlarge

The Fifeshire provided a lot of resources for the new colony. Mr Poynter, afterwards a magistrate, was the purchaser and he is said to have done very well out of the venture.15 The early colonists were great recyclers of the materials from the Fifeshire: some timbers being used for firewood16 others for the use of furniture. Broadgreen House has one such piece of furniture made from the Fifeshire timber. 

All the iron was stripped from the Fifeshire and used to make practical things for the colony. The Fifeshire's mainmast was used to construct the font for the St Thomas's Church in Motueka.

The Fifeshire also provided a point of contention for the new colony. On Friday 3 February 1846 J.W Saxton remarked in his diary "[Captain Wakefield] said he was not very prudent to put in the wreck of the Fifeshire but it could be taken out in England if they pleased." The above quote is what he wrote about a painting of the Nelson Haven in 1846, with the Fifeshire of course, still being stuck on Arrow Rock at the time.17 Captain Wakefield did not want such a blemish on the settlement, so a decision was made not to paint the Fifeshire in.

The name of the Rock

Arrow Rock was named by European settlers after the storeship Arrow, which arrived on November 1 1841, the first New Zealand Company ship to arrive in what was to become Nelson. It was captained by Arthur Wakefield.18 However, following the wreck of the Fifeshire on the Rock, it became known colloquially as Fifeshire Rock. In 1958, a painting by M.Cooke titled "Fifeshire Rock and Bay" caused much argument. Many declared the rock's correct name was "Arrow,"19 but the the rock continued to be referred to as Fifeshire Rock. In 2013, the name of the rock was officially confirmed as Arrow Rock, when a new public information panel was installed by Nelson City Council on the waterfront.20

The original Māori name of Urenui, was considered inappropriate for the new settlement.

Andrew Marriott, Nayland College, 2010.
Updated May 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Fifeshire. Nelson Early Settlers database, Retrieved from Nelson Provincial Museum:
  2. Fifeshire
  3. Horrock, S. (1971) Historic Nelson. New Zealand: A.H and A.W Reed Ltd
  4. Brett, H., The Fifeshire. New Zealand Text Centre( NZETC), http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-Bre01Whit-t1-body-d234.html
  5. Brett, H., Fifeshire wrecked. NZETC,
  6. Brett, H Fifeshire wrecked.
  7. Baumfield, J. (2004), Arrow/Fifeshire Rock [personal notes]
  8. Saxton, J.W. (1841) Journal of an intended voyage to New Zealand in the Ship Clifford , Diary Vol 1, Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial Archives. Retrieved May 10th 1842
  9. Saxton, J.W. 12th October 1842
  10. Saxton, J.W. 30th June 1845
  11. Horrock, S. Historic Nelson.
  12. Journal of an intended voyage to New Zealand in the Ship Clifford 1841, Saxton, J.W, Diary Vol 2, Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial archives. 29th July 1846
  13. Saxton, J.W., 3 September 1846
  14. Baumfield, J., (2004)
  15. Brett, H., Fifeshire wrecked.
  16. Journal of an intended voyage to New Zealand in the Ship Clifford 1841, Saxton, J.W, Diary Vol 3, Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial archives. 17th August 1847
  17. Saxton J.W., v.1, February 3 1846.
  18. Horrock, S. Historic Nelson.
  19. Baumfield, J., (2004)
  20. Dunn, S. Fireshire Rock rebranded (2013, August 29) Nelson Mail on Stuff:

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  • Was a piano unloaded from the Fifeshire or rescued from the ship. Trying to verify a story I've been told

    There is no mention of a piano being on Fifeshire in the newspaper reports of the day although many settlers did bring pianos with them in 1842 such as the one at Broadgreen House. .ed

    Posted by Suzy Hall, 08/12/2023 10:01pm (5 months ago)

  • My Great Great Grandfather and his family arrived on the Fifeshire in 1842
    Thomas Cleverly, his Wife Hannah and 3 children. Unfortunately Hannah and a newborn son died just before
    The ship came into port.

    Posted by Jan Greig Nee Cleverley , 27/04/2021 7:19pm (3 years ago)

  • My Great Great Grandfather John Poynter arrived on the Fifeshire,with his first Wife (they had no children) he was Resident Magistrate in Nelson. His second Wife Ann KING (My Great Great Grandmother) was the Daughter of James and Elizabeth KING (My 3rd Great Grandparents) who arrived in Nelson on the William and Alfred in 1849.

    Posted by Marie BURN, 20/05/2017 7:33pm (7 years ago)

  • you have not got my book square rigged sailing ships visiting nelson 1841 to 1914 in you list of books with information on the fifeshire,, it has research information not found any where else. Ed. thank you. I will remedy that

    Posted by Peta Raggett, 30/01/2017 9:12am (7 years ago)

  • my ancestors were on the Fifeshire when it landed in Nelson. I saw a picture of model. would like to get good photo of model, or find out where pete raggett got plan details to build model.i build model ships myself.Ancestor name was Richard and Sarah Panter. i have original letters written by then on their arrival and stay till 1845, when they left for South Australia

    Posted by john conrad, 13/07/2016 10:16pm (8 years ago)

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Further sources - Wreck of the Fifeshire 1842



  • Fifeshire Rock myth crumbles (1996, March 23) Nelson Mail, p.12
  • Saxton, J.W, (1841 ) Journal of an intended voyage to New Zealand in the Ship Clifford Diary vols 1,2,3, Bett Collection, Nelson Provincial Archives.

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