William Barbour Wilson (1819-1897)


We can thank William Wilson for the beauty of the trees in Christchurch....... and sadly! for the introduction of gorse. A man larger than life involved in the development of the city - a nurseryman, busnessman and local politician. This obituary was written 8th November, 1897:

William Barbour Wilson was born, on 2 April 1819, at Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland, the eldest child of Jane nee Thomson and her husband, William Wilson and brother to Robert Wilson. He was apprenticed as a nurseryman in Scotland, and became an overseer on estates in Ireland.

He arrived in New Zealand on the Mariner on 6 August 1850, and travelled to Nelson, Wellington and Auckland, arriving in Canterbury in late July 1851. He married Elizabeth Williams, at Christchurch, on 19th Nov 1856; They had 13 children. Some known are:

i Dau Wilson b: 05 Jun 1863 in Lichfield St, Christchurch

ii Lawrence Wilson (b: 1866 in Christchurch) Mar: 24 Oct 1911 in Christchurch to Annie Ethel Cockburn (b: Abt. 1866 )- their children  Lawrence Neil Barclay Wilson b: 1913 and  Averil Ethel Wilson b: 1914

iii Emily Colville Wilson (b: 08 Sep 1868 in Christchurc ; d: 1924 in 56Y)

iv Eleanor Jane Muriel Wilson (b: 29 Jul 1871 in Christchurch; d: 1966 age 85Y) Mar: 03 Oct 1894 in Christchurch to Richard Walker Anderson b: 1860 Died: 1941 in 81Y Three family - Richard Leslie Anderson b: 1896 ;  Kathleen Muriel Anderson b: 1897,  and Denis Sidley Anderson b: 1909

v Leonard Marriott Wilson (b: 29 Jan 1873 in Christchurch; d: 1948 age 75Y)

vi Ethel Cora Wilson (b: 20 Nov 1875 in Christchurch; d: 1968 age 92Y)

Wilson's first nursery, from 1851 to 1856, was adjacent to the The Bricks wharf on the River Avon. His Christchurch Nursery (approximately 18 acres at maximum in 1857) straddled the south-east entry to the city., along Ferry Road and High Street. His nursery stock was selected primarily for timber, shelter, and hedging purposes, and Wilson did much to encourage planting for shelter.

He played a major role in initiating effective methods for importing tree seed in a viable state, and was also significant in the introducion into Canterbury of conifers, which dominated his stock from the 1860's onwards. Despite extensive competition, Wilson remained the dominant Canterbury nurseryman until 1873. His writings on horticulture were limited, but his 'Garden calendar' appeared for many years in the Southern Provinces Almanac. It was published as a pamphlet, New Zealand garden calendar, in 1878, together with his 1864 arricle on 'The introduction of trees, flowers, and fruirs into Canterbury'. His business catalogues were among the first issued in New Zealand.

Wilson's landholdings were considerable: in 1882 he held over 1,700 acres in country lands, and owned property in Christchurch which was valued at over 15,000. His Cashel Street nursery site had already been sold in 1877 for 24,557. Wilson frequently used land for nursery purposes until it became too valuable for further use; it was then subdivided or leased. His other business ventures included a general trading company; a real estate and auctioneering business; a controlling interest in the Halswell quarries; and a half partnership in the trading vessel "Rifleman".

Wilson was very active in political and public life. He was elected to the provincial council in 1864 and 1866, serving until 1870, and to the city council in 1867, becoming chairman in that year. In 1867, when Christchurch came under the Municipal Corporations Act 1867, he was elected as the first mayor. Wilson was the chairman of municipal subcommittees responsible for the first landscaping of the River Avon in 1862, and for the redesign in 1867 of the earlier, abortive designs for tree planting in Fitzgerald and Bealey Avenues in 1867. He was president of the Christchurch Horticultural Society (1866-70 and 1874-76). In 1876 Wilson was accused of fraud in the handling of a trusteeship, and he lost the case on all counts. This appears to have brought about the end of his public life.

Physically Wilson was large and dominating, 6 feet in height and 17 to 18 stone in weight. He was known as 'Cabbage Tree' Wilson. His ability with words made him both a person to be feared and a figure of fun. In political debate his repartee often won the day, although his verbal excesses sometimes became a subject of ridicule. He died 8 Nov 1897 at Christchurch.

Ref; - Photograph of a painting of Willam Barbour Wilson in 1867, when he was appointed Mayor - beneath image: W Wilson 1st Mayor, Christchurch
Private Enterprise in Canterbury; Mr Wilson's Nursery Gardens
Lyttleton Times 16/2/1865
Challenger Studies of Pioneer Canterbury Nurserymen
William Wilson, Royal NZ Inst. of Hort. Annual Journel No6 (1978) 139-162
A M Hale - Pioneer Nurserymen in NZ, Wellington 1955
R C Lamb "Early Christchurch 1963

  16 Feb 1865 - Lyttelton Times 

Website address - http://www.winsomegriffin.com