Newspaper Article 1967 – Death of well-known provincial historian

Death of well-known provincial historian

The eminent historian and chronicler of the early settlement of Hawke’s Bay, Mr James Gordon Wilson, Netherby, Hatuma, died at Waipukurau yesterday, in his 85th year.

He was the author of many publications and because of his unique knowledge of Hawke’s Bay, in particular, he played a major role, with his writings, in preserving a record of the early days of the province.

Mr Wilson was the chief contributor to the official Centenary of Hawke’s Bay, published in 1915, and among all his works, it is thought this one gave him his greatest pleasure.

Among the many publications with which he is credited, the following are probably the best known: History of Hatuma (1951), History of Umutaora (1956), Maharakeke School Jubilee (1962), Road to Porangahau (1962), Tikokino School Centennial (1966).


There are also many unpublished notes and writings in the family’s possession which add up to a veritable treasure of historical interest.

It has long been a tribute to Mr Wilson that his writings have been accepted as authoritative and reflect a true account of life and conditions in those pioneering times.

Mr Wilson never sought public recognition and was personally very reticent. However, he was a prolific writer and his correspondence ranged over many parts of the world. During his lifetime, he contributed to countless other publications and was a newspaper correspondent for many years.

He set himself the task of recording the histories of the first white settlers in Hawke’s Bay and the cutting up of early stations. He knew every farm and station in the province and in many cases also knew the owners themselves.


Some of Mr Wilson’s greatest pleasure derived from being able to pass on his information and he was always ready to share his knowledge with students and others working on historical research. His lifetime interest in history is also reflected in his extensive library, one of the most comprehensive on the history of Hawke’s Bay.

To ensure that it remains intact, arrangements were made some years ago for it to remain among his family’s possessions.

Mr Wilson was born in Temuka and had part of his education there, completing it at Dannevirke when he moved there with his parents in 1891.


While his parents were farming at Umutaoroa in 1902, Mr Wilson’s mother drew a section of land on the Takapau plains.

The 647-acre block at Hatuma, named Netherby, was purchased in 1907 and from that stage on Mr Wilson divided his time between the Umutaora and Hatuma properties.

In 1923 he married Isabella Cochrane, formerly of Canterbury. Mr Wilson was the sole surviving member of the group which founded the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Meat Company freezing works at Whakatu.

He was a former secretary of the Hatuma Domain Board and served as a school committee member for some years.

Mr Wilson is survived by his wife, two daughters, Mary and June, and three sons, Graham, David and Peter.

Photo caption – Mr Wilson … many publications on Hawke’s Bay history.

Original digital file


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Date published

20 March 1967

Format of the original

Newspaper article


  • Isabella Cochrane
  • David Wilson
  • Graham Wilson
  • James Gordon Wilson
  • June Wilson
  • Mary Wilson
  • Peter Wilson

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