Wed, Jan 24, 2024 12:08 PM

All aboard the Bolton reunion


Staff reporter

A chance meeting at a Marlborough Sounds bay sparked an idea for a reunion for descendants of those who arrived in New Zealand on the emigrant ship, Bolton. Kate Russell talks to organisers about why the gathering is so special.

A gathering is being organised for the descendants of passengers who travelled to Nelson 180 years ago on the emigrant ship Bolton.

Val Trow, who is a descendant of one of those passengers, Thomas Hopgood, decided to organisie the event after the idea had been “whirling around in her brain” for some time.

The Bolton was the sixth emigrant ship to reach Nelson's shores, landing on 15 March 1842.

“I’ve always known the Bolton, to me, was awfully special,” says Val.

She says the idea for the reunion, which will be held on 17 March this year at the Hope Hall, was sparked when fellow Olive Estate resident and marine artist, Paul Deacon, showed her a drawing he had done of the Bolton.

“It got me thinking if there were any other descendants around from the Bolton.”

Then on a New Year’s trip to Okiwi Bay, she met a lady from Tauranga who told her she had ‘deep roots’ in Nelson and her pioneer ancestors came on the Bolton with the first hop plants.

“I said, ‘Really? Oh, that’s fantastic.’”

That’s when Val thought it was about time to get together a group of people for the Bolton and she proceeded to put a post up on the ‘Top of the South Island, New Zealand History’ Facebook group.

“I got a very positive response. Everyone seems to agree that it’s a great idea.”

Val’s descendants, the Hopgoods, were one of 50 families on the ship.

Thomas and Jane Hopgood were on board with their children Sarah, Anne, Jane, Eliza, Stephen, George, and young Thomas – whom Val descends from.

“They went down to Spring Grove where they cut out their farm and they had acreages there growing crops. They were there for many years.”

The Newman family (who started Newman’s Coach Lines) were also on the ship, and two of the Hopgood girls married two of the Newman boys, according to Val.

Other names on the passenger list, which can be found at Port Nelson, are Andrews, Bright, Cate, Higgs, and Tyrrell - just to name a few.

The Bolton was a barque built in Liverpool and launched in 1822. It made at least three voyages carrying immigrants to New Zealand for the New Zealand Company.

The voyage to Nelson was four months long with the 540-tonne ship departed from Gravesend, England, on 29 October 1841.

In a description of the voyage written by Sarah Higgins (nee Sharp), the ship encountered a terrible storm in the Bay of Biscay.

“The sea was mountains high. It commenced on New Year’s night, it kept on for three days and three nights, we were battened down below,” she said.

It broke all the bulwarks on the side of the ship with even the pigs going overboard and the captain’s wife being washed out of her cabin. The masts were broken in two, the sails had gone and nearly all the top deck disappeared.

A French ship appeared and stayed with the Bolton for three days to help with temporary repairs. From then on it was a calm trip to Wellington where it arrived on 28 February 1842. It remained there for 13 days while more permanent repairs were carried out.

On 13 March she sailed from Wellington to join a convoy and arrived in Nelson, anchoring outside Nelson Haven. Passengers were ferried ashore, rowing past the Fifeshire which was wrecked on the rock leaving the haven on 27 February.

During the voyage, 16 deaths occurred (mostly children) and there were eight births.

Val says, so far, she has had over 150 people show interest in the reunion.

“I thought I might get about 50 locals, you know, but I’ve had people from Alexandra, Tauranga, New Plymouth, Australia and England … some can’t come but they are interested. It’s just gone mad.”

She says the day will consist of a ‘meet and greet’, a BYO picnic lunch, and an open mic session where people can share their stories and memorabilia.

“I’ve got the big old Ansonia clock in our family that came from the ship, so that’ll come,” says Val.

“People will have their own stories, and how their people thrived when they got here – that’s the interesting bit, how we’ve all made good. We are here today because they decided to come to Nelson, and that’s the best thing of all.”

Email Val at to register your interest.

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