Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 5, 1993
Dr. Thomas Renwick, a Scot, arrived in Nelson in 1842 and became prominent in community affairs there. In 1848 he purchased Dumgree in the Awatere, where William Brydon worked for him. Brydon's daughter was the first white girl born in the Awatere. Dr Renwick bought the Delta Dairy property at Waihopai from Edward Green. Brydon had successfully developed this farm for the Hon. Constantine Dillon and Green had acquired the property after Dillon's untimely death by drowning.
Howard Lakerman, assistant to the surveyors Cyrus Goulter and Joseph Ward, suggested to Renwick that a portion of his land should be surveyed into town sections. Six acres were allotted for a church and a school. Names of battles, generals and English villages, such as Oudenarde, Clive, Havelock, Clyde, Alma, Picton, Anglesey and Uxbridge were adopted for street names.
Travel was difficult and often dangerous; the country being rough and swampy, with areas of bush and no roads or bridges. Blenheim, or Beaver, was still a swamp, with Mr Sinclair's home the first house there. The town was named after its founder and benefactor and for many years was called Renwicktown.
John Godfrey, one of the earliest residents in the locality, had squatted on 20 acres belonging to Dr Renwick and put up an accommodation house, the Wairau Hotel. It was better known as the Sheepskin Tavern, as its walls were largely composed of sheepskins. Renwick allowed Godfrey to fence off the section where the Sheepskin Tavern stood, and to remain there for a peppercorn rental. A plaque in Uxbridge Street, near the Renwick Bowling Club, records the spot where the Sheepskin Tavern stood.
Following provision of an accommodation house for travellers on foot, horseback or bullock wagon, other businesses were set up. Gustaf Bary, who married Sarah Blaymires, established a store on the corner of Uxbridge and High Streets, which was later carried on by his sons. He collected butter from outlying farms, processed it and exported it to England. His store was a two-storey wooden building.
On the opposite corner, across High Street, was Watson's furniture and hardware store. The first wheelwright was MacAllister. Robert Watson, a blacksmith, also acted as a vet and he drowned in the Wairau River while returning from Northbank, where he had been attending to a valuable horse. Walter Watson, known as Daddy, was a builder, undertaker, and a man of many parts who, in his latter years, became a gold prospector. He employed W Boyle as a blacksmith and George Coward and Tunnicliffe as wheel-wrights. Daddy Watson's sons joined him in his business as plumber, painter, cabinetmaker, picture framer etc. Reuben Watson ran the store and grocery business for a long time until Kelly bought it. The blacksmith was alongside the store.
Reuben Watson's distinctive house with the orange tile roof can still be seen in Anglesea Street. A number of houses built by Watson stand today, sturdily built and of good timber. Those of the late Mrs William Mills, in High Street, and Graham Brooks were built by Watson. Daddy Watson married Elizabeth Joyce of Picton in 1877. Herbert Watson, a teacher, started what became the Renwick Museum, as he had a great interest in preserving early history, both Pakeha and Maori. He also devoted much energy to the Presbyterian Church and wrote the Renwick News for the Marlborough Express.
Following the death of Robert Watson, his business was bought by John Vorbach, who had worked for him as a blacksmith, and he later married Watson's widow. Vorbach had travelled to Australia and then on to New Zealand, and had lived in several places, including Havelock. He tried gold prospecting at Bartlett's Creek, Northbank, before page 38settling in Renwick. An excellent blacksmith, he invented various farm gadgets such as a potato digger. Percy Brooks, who used to work for Vorbach, still lives at Renwick. Harold Reeves was a wheelwright and McKay and Fraer were blacksmiths. The Tapp brothers ran a wool scour, and William Tapp remained in Renwick as a butcher and stock buyer after his brother bought Fulton's wool scour, at Bohally in Springlands. Ben Rawlings had a baker shop on the site of the present Vicarage. Arthur Litchfield had a store opposite the school, just east of the stream that crosses High Street. Goff had a shop, and O'Sullivan's small shop was opposite the Renwick Arms, which was better known as the Top Pub. Ray Fraser and Frank Power had a small shop opposite Shaw's Hotel, until Fraser moved into the larger store which had been Bary's. The Renwick Dairy now occupies the site of Fraser and Power's shop. Millard was a saddler. Houldsworth was another storekeeper. Ray Fraser used to take a van every Friday evening to Langley Dale, to the station hands' quarters, have a meal there, and sell goods, clothes, tobacco and papers to the men.
Howard Lakerman built the Wool Pack Hotel on the corner of Clive (now Brook) Street after the Sheepskin Tavern was destroyed by fire. He also added a store and a hall. Captain John Shaw, ex skipper on Sam Bowler's trading ship, gave up the sea in 1868 and leased the Marlborough Hotel in Blenheim for a year. Moving to Renwick, he built a two-storey hotel and a billiard saloon where the Woodbourne Tavern now stands. Later, a replacement hotel was built which burnt down in 1925. The Shaw family owned Shaw's Hotel until 1938. Charles Watson established the Globe Hotel, after the tragic fire which destroyed the Wool Pack and killed two people. Later the Renwick Arms Hotel was built.
John Newman of Cowslip Valley, Omaka, and Sam Eves, his son-in-law, who had squatted on the property until Newman obtained legal rights to it, established a herd of dairy cows. They ran a flour mill on the banks of Omaka River and Eves also made baskets, which he sold in Renwicktown.
William Brydon, the first settler in Waihopai, arrived in Nelson in 1841 with Wakefield's party, and his wife and daughter joined him in 1842. They specialised in cheese and butter making. After Dr Renwick's death, Brydon bought Delta Dairy. His home was on the far side of the present West Coast Road at Comely Bank. Much of this land is now in vineyards. In 1854 the first race meeting was run in Brydon's paddock, and people came from great distances to attend. Mrs Goff was a daughter of William and Johanna Brydon. There was a horse-breaker named McIvors, and Mead, Jellyman and Flanders were waggoners.
Renwicktown was a Presbyterian settlement and the Reverend Thomas Dickson Nicholson, the first minister, had reached Otago on the "John Wycliffe" in 1848. The first preacher in Otago, he continued on to Wellington, where he also preached. Nicholson crossed to Nelson and established the first Presbyterian church there in 1853. He covered vast areas on foot, visiting his people and preaching. In 1854 Nicholson preached at Altimarloch in the Awatere. In 1857 he resigned from Nelson and came to live in Renwick, establishing the first church in the Wairau. Robert Thomson built the church and manse from pitsawn timber, carried on bullock wagons from the Big Bush (Grovetown). Rev Thomas Nicholson taught school until 1861, when a school was built with William Moore as the teacher. The Manse, known as The Tower, and the original church were built on the land donated by Dr Renwick.
At one time Presbyterian, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches were close to each other. Now the Roman Catholic church is in Clyde Street, and the Anglican church is in High Street. Rev Mr Butt was the first Anglican minister. Rev T.D. Nicholson was an advocate for separation from Nelson. It is interesting to note the distances Nicholson would walk or ride to take a service, or to preach. To Waitohi (Picton), to Hutcheson's page 40store in Grovetown, or to Mr Sinclair's home on the bank of the Opawa. Even out to the Awatere, crossing rivers and frequently being in wet clothes. His health suffered and he retired to Shakespeare Bay in Picton. He died of ill-health in Picton, aged 46, in 1864.
The Pioneer Church was later used mainly as a Sunday School, as a larger church was required, and was moved to the site opposite the School. J.B. Wemyss lived in the Tower and ran a wool-scour and, after his death, Grannie Wemyss lived there. She was the widow of a soldier in the Crimean War and received a war pension from the U.K. Government of two shillings and sixpence a week.