Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 4, 2001
The Nelson Touch
The first Europeans arrived in Nelson on 2 November 1841. The New Zealand Company expeditionary party came in three ships, the Whitby, the Will Watch, and the Arrow, to prepare the area for the first settlers who were already on the water. On New Year's Day 1842 a sports meeting was held, possibly the first to be organised in New Zealand, which included the first organised game of cricket recorded in New Zealand.
It was played between the Company's survey cadets, who had brought bats, balls and stumps with them from England, and the artisans, who were the engineers and mechanics. The match was played on an area of ground in Collingwood Street which was known for many years as 'the Cricket Ground'. Boat and canoe races involving the local Maori were held on the harbour, and there was fencing and cutlass practice, musket firing, foot races and dancing to the music of fife, fiddle and drum.
In the spring of 1842, after several of the first settlers' ships had arrived, the young men of the town formed the Nelson Cricket Club. An announcement calling for members appeared in the Nelson Examiner in early November. The club was formed at a meeting held in a local hotel on 30 November 1842, with JH Cooper as secretary and GR Richardson as treasurer. The club's first field day took place at the Cricket Ground on Saturday 10 December 1842, 'wickets being pitched at two o'clock precisely'. This effectively refutes the generally held view that the Wellington Cricket Club match played between the Reds and the Blues on 25 December 1842 was the first organised game of club cricket in New Zealand.
The Nelson Examiner scored a unique distinction when it gave the first ever newspaper account of a cricket match in New Zealand. It reported comprehensively on a two innings match played between the Surveyors and All Nelson on 4 and 5 March 1844. The report concluded with the information that 'at six o'clock, the party with a few friends sat down to a substantial dinner provided by Mr Harley at the Carpenters' Arms where the evening was spent in a right merry fashion'.page 27
The first anniversary day celebrations were held on 1 and 2 February 1843. The first sailing regatta was held on Nelson harbour and there were various athletic contests. A horse race was held, after a track had been cut through the manuka scrub. The mounts were the riding horses of the landowners and gentry of the town.
Horse racing dominated the New Zealand sporting scene in the early days of European settlement and Nelson led the way. Although the first recorded horse race was held at Te Aro Pa, Wellington in 1841, Nelson was the first town to hold an annual race meeting, beginning in 1843.
The first permanent racecourse in New Zealand was established at Stoke in 1845. A full card of eight races was held, including a Ladies Plate, the stake for which was raised by public subscription from the ladies of the settlement. After the race meeting on 16 March 1848 the committee resolved to form itself into a jockey club, thereby becoming the first jockey club in New Zealand.
At this time a young man named Henry Redwood was an active participant in the Nelson racing scene. He had ridden several winners and he began to establish the New Zealand thoroughbred breeding industry. By 1851 he was making trips to Australia to buy bloodstock, bringing them back in cattle ships. In 1852 he imported the first notable sire to stand in New Zealand, Sir Hercules, which did more to establish the quality and reputation of the New Zealand breeding industry than any other sire.
In 1858, showing characteristic enterprise, Redwood became the first New Zealander to take horses from New Zealand to race in Australia. His three horses won major races there and were all sold to Australian buyers. The following year he repeated the exercise with similar success. Redwood established the famous Redwood Stables near Nelson and went on to become the doyen of New Zealand racing. He is known as the Father of New Zealand Turf.
The first New Zealand Stud Book was compiled by Charles Elliott in 1862 and was printed and published by the Nelson Examiner. The cost of publication was met by 54 subscribers who were listed in the book, which contained the pedigrees of 145 mares and 58 covering stallions. Volume two appeared in 1866.page 28
The first yacht club in New Zealand was formed in 1857. Following the annual regatta on Nelson Harbour, the Nelson Examiner reported that a number of gentlemen desirous of promoting yachting in this province had met on 25 March at the Trafalgar Hotel. After dinner, when the cloth had been removed and Mr Duppa esq. had been called to the chair, four resolutions were put and carried and the Nelson Yacht Club was established.
An extraordinary episode took place in 1864 after the Nelson Cricket team travelled by steamship to Wellington, where they played two games against Wellington. On the way home they stopped off at Picton and played Marlborough and then, as there was no shipping available to Nelson, they walked back to Nelson through the bush with all their gear. The walk took just over three days and included the climb up over the Maungatapu Saddle. This gives some idea of the difficulties of travel with which early sports teams had to contend.
It is likely that the first 'football' match in New Zealand took place in Nelson in 1860. A Nelson College old boy, writing for the 1910 Nelsonian when he must have been in his late sixties, relates the following account of the game of primitive football played in Brook Street Valley between a School Eighteen and the Rest of the School:
'After being marshalled into sundry positions and instructions given, we started play, and then the fun commenced in real earnest. The Rest of the School just simply swarmed over us like flies over a honey pot. No one was very particular about whether it was the ball or some schoolfellow's head, shins, or any other part of his body, so long as he got a kick in. The whistle shrieked, but our blood was up and we were not going to stop for such a trifle as that. After careering over and around the field, by the aid of the masters and coaches (they were hopelessly mixed up with us) they did manage at last to separate us, but we were panting for the blood of the Rest of the School. Result of the first spell: nil.
At the beginning of the second spell the tables were turned. The Rest of the School had extended themselves too much in the first spell, so down they went like nine-pins, but we could not get that ball through or over the bar, and the battle ended (so the referee said) in a draw. Final results: eighteen men bandaging legs, ankles, and heads, and the masters so ashamed of our dilapidated appearance that they gave us a holiday the next day to get over the battle'. This was the first recorded game of primitive football played in New Zealand.page 29
On 5 April 1867, on his sixteenth birthday, New Zealand born Charles John Monro left Nelson for England to further his education. Son of the illustrious pioneer doctor and politician, Sir David Monro, he had been educated at Nelson College where, in all probability, he had played in some early games of primitive football. In England he attended Christ's College, Finchley, where he was introduced to the Rugby School version of football and played in the school's 'second twenty-two'.
On his return to Nelson in 1870 he persuaded the Nelson Football Club, which was playing a hybrid version of football, and his old school to try the Rugby School game. With the support of the headmaster of Nelson College, JC Simmons, himself an old Rugbeian, Monro conducted coaching sessions for both teams. As a result, the first game of rugby in New Zealand was played on Saturday 14 May 1870 at the Botanics Reserve, Nelson, between The College and Town. There were eighteen players on each side.
The Nelson Examiner noted that the College team looked very well in their tight fitting shirts and blue caps, probably their gymnasium attire, including white knickerbockers. The Nelson Club did not look as well as their opponents as they had no distinctive uniform and probably wore their street clothes. Nelson Club won by two goals to nil. There were about two hundred spectators, including Sir David and Lady Monro, and a goodly number of the opposite sex.
Inspired by his Nelson success, Charles Monro journeyed to Wellington with his father, who was attending the sitting of Parliament. In Wellington he organised and coached a team consisting mainly of members of the local militia, most of whom had never played any version of football before.
Using his father's connections, Monro approached Julius Vogel, the Minister for Marine, and asked if the government steamer Luna, then on a lighthouse supply run in the area, could bring the Nelson team over to Wellington. There was no scheduled inter-island service in those days. Vogel kindly agreed and telegraphed Captain Fairchild, instructing him to call at Nelson and bring the Nelson team to Wellington.
On 12 September 1870 the two teams were driven out to Petone in a couple of Prosser's drays and they set up their goal posts on a dry stony area where the railway station now stands. The driver of the dray, Stan Prosser, was co-opted into the Wellington team, bringing their number to thirteen against Nelson's fourteen. Not surprisingly, Nelson won by two goals to one.page 30
The match was the first inter-provincial game played in New Zealand and Monro played an extraordinary part in it. He played for his home side, was opposition selector and coach, and the unofficial referee. He later wrote, 'There was no referee with his confounded whistle to check almost every heroic effort, but Lord how we did enjoy ourselves'!
As a result of this game, the Wellington Football Club was formed and rugby began to establish itself in Wellington and Nelson. In 1876 Nelson College played Wellington College at the Basin Reserve, the first inter-secondary school game of rugby in New Zealand.
Nelson also played a pioneering role in women's sport. In 1886 the first game of women's cricket in New Zealand was played at Riwaka when eleven Marahau girls played the girls from Riwaka. A dinner and dance was held, but unfortunately no other details were recorded. Apart from brief efforts in Picton and Waipawa about 1893, it was not until 1928 that organised women's cricket began in New Zealand.
The first game of women's hockey in New Zealand was played in Nelson in 1897, probably between teams of local Maori and European girls. In the same year the first women's hockey club in New Zealand, the Wakatu Maori Ladies' Club, was formed. Two years later, in 1899, hockey was introduced into Nelson College for Girls, mainly because the weather was too wet for croquet or tennis.
Just after the turn of the century two rather bizarre episodes occurred relating to Nelson sport. In December 1904, at the annual gymnastic contest between Wellington College and Nelson College, held on this occasion in Wellington, there were very sharp differences of opinion over the judging of the contest by local Wellington judges. These differences were exacerbated by a report which appeared in the Nelson Evening Mail. The outcome was that all sporting activities between the two schools ceased until 1925. This was indeed unfortunate, as the two schools had the longest rugby playing association in the world, and many other close sporting contacts.
Women's hockey tournament, Nelson versus Wairarapa 1924. (FN Jones Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum, FNJ1/2 60)
Nelson's geographical position contributed to its sporting isolation. When the New Zealand Women's Hockey Championships were held in Nelson in 1910, such was the dearth of outside sporting contacts that shops and the business community closed their doors to enable staff to watch the games played by the Nelson team.
The first radio sports broadcast in New Zealand took place in Nelson on 28 April 1923. The occasion was the Australasian single sculling championship on Nelson harbour between Paddy Hannen, the New Zealand champion, and Alf Felton, the Australian champion, for a purse of 500 pounds.
By today's standards, the broadcast was a primitive affair. Nelson had yet to receive a station licence or a call sign, and special permission had to be obtained to broadcast the race. Wilkins & Field Hardware loaned a small, battery powered five-watt transmitter to the local sea scouts, who stationed themselves with it on a borrowed launch which followed the rowers around the course.
The commentary, if it could be called that, was transmitted to a receiving station on the wharf near the finishing line. From there it was broadcast over a public address system for the benefit of the large spectator gallery, and to the small number of private radio sets located in the district. It was a year before Nelson received reticulated electricity and the whole effort was achieved through battery power.
The three commentators, identified as Messrs Field, Wheeler and Innes, gave a sequence of disjointed one liners at three or four minute intervals during the race. The initial commentary was punctuated by questions: 'Are you getting this Mr Croucher, Richmond? Are you getting this Mr Griffiths, Stoke? Are you getting this Motueka?'. The race description included comments such as 'both very even very steady; one and a half miles covered; now past the mile post from home, both keeping the same speed; their oars touched and they rowed on; give us a wave if you have received our talk'.page 33
Hannen was declared the winner after Felton, who crossed the line one metre in front, was disqualified for cutting Hannen off. There was no emotion or excitement in the commentary and there was such minimal narration that the whole forty-five minute broadcast was able to be recorded, word for word, in the Nelson Evening Mail on 30 April 1923. None-the-less it was an historic occasion, the forerunner of an enterprise that was to be pioneered and established by broadcasting notable, Alan Allardyce, in the years that followed.
After this historic event Nelson seemed to drift back into the sequestered tranquillity of the provincial way of life. However, the best was yet to come in terms of sporting achievement. The 1950s was a decade of outstanding performances by Nelson sports people. It began when the Tawhiri, skippered by Noel Brown with a Nelson crew, won the Canterbury Centennial Yacht race being the only yacht to officially finish. Ten lives were lost, making it New Zealand's greatest sporting tragedy.
Nelson road cyclists, led by Nick Carter and the Howes brothers, were the outstanding performers in New Zealand road cycling. The men's hockey team had a vice-like grip on the Norden Cup, symbol of minor association hockey supremacy, while the Nelson cricket team had a monopoly on the Hawke Cup. The men's and women's indoor basketball teams were amongst the best in the country, and Nelson was the venue of the annual New Zealand beach car racing championships.
New Zealand representatives included All Blacks Bill Clarke, Guy Bowers, Nev McEwan, and Rex Pickering, cricketers John Guy and Ian Leggatt, and there were various national representatives in other sporting codes.
The New Zealand sporting scene was beginning to change dramatically. The big action was shifting away from provincial towns to the metropolitan cities. Nelson, however, had made a contribution to the establishment of New Zealand sport out of all proportion to the size and significance of the town. If all this sounds a bit one-eyed, like Lord Nelson, it should be noted that the author is a Nelsonian.