William Wilson (mayor)

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William Wilson
Portrait of William Wilson
Painting of William "Cabbage" Wilson (probably 1867)
1st Mayor of Christchurch
In office
10 Jun 1868[1] – 16 Dec 1868[2]
Succeeded by John Anderson
Personal details
Born 2 April 1819
Castle Douglas
Died 8 November 1897(1897-11-08) (aged 78)
Resting place Linwood Cemetery
43°32′19″S 172°41′11″E / 43.5385°S 172.6863°E / -43.5385; 172.6863 (Linwood cemetery)
Spouse(s) Elizabeth (née Williams)
Profession nurseryman, businessman
Religion Presbyterian

William Barbour Wilson (2 April 1819 – 8 November 1897), also known as "Cabbage" Wilson, was the first Mayor of Christchurch in New Zealand in 1868.[3]

Early life[edit]

Wilson was born in Castle Douglas in Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland. He was the eldest child of Jane Thomson and her husband, William Wilson. He arrived in New Zealand in August 1850 at Port Chalmers on the ship Mariner, and travelled to Nelson, Wellington and Auckland before arriving in Lyttelton in late July 1851.[4][5] The Mariner left London on 7 April 1850 and arrived at Port Chalmers on 6 August 1850.[6]

He married Elizabeth Williams on 19 November 1856. His wife was the daughter of John Williams, who arrived in Lyttelton with his family in December 1850 on one of the First Four Ships, the Randolph. John Williams was found dead four days after arrival, having possibly died from heat exhaustion.[7] Her mother Isabella worked as a draper and had a shop on Colombo Street, Christchurch. Isabella Williams died in 1882.[8]

Their oldest son was William John (born ca. 1856), and their second son was Charles James.[9]

Professional life[edit]

In Scotland, Wilson was an apprentice as a nurseryman and worked as an overseer on estates.[5]

His first nursery in New Zealand, Bricks Farm, was next to The Bricks 43°31′31″S 172°38′42″E / 43.52540°S 172.64510°E / -43.52540; 172.64510 (The Bricks), a locality on the Avon River in central Christchurch. He bought up land in sought after areas for his nurseries and then operated them until the land became too valuable, and he subdivided it for development. At its maximum, he held 18 acres in the central city. He specialised in shelter plants and hedges and became the dominant nurseryman in Christchurch. He was one of the first in New Zealand to publish product catalogues.[4][5]

Apart from his extensive landholdings, he had a general trading company, a real estate and auctioneering business, a controlling stake in the Halswell quarries, and a half partnership in the trading vessel Rifleman.[5]

Political career[edit]

Wilson had an active political life. He was a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council on the 4th Council from June 1864 to May 1866, representing the Kaiapoi electorate. He then represented the City of Christchurch electorate on the 5th Council from June 1866 to March 1870.[10]

Headstone for Wilson and his son William John in the Linwood cemetery

Before 1916, elections for Christchurch City Council were held annually. He was elected onto the town and later city council four times: in 1862, 1867, 1868 and 1878.[11] In 1867, he was elected chairman of the town council.[3] The town council held a meeting on 10 June 1868 to elect its first mayor. In those days, the councillors elected one of their group as mayor, i.e. the position was not elected at large (by the voting public) as is the case today.[12]

The following councillors attended the meeting: William Wilson, James Purvis Jameson, T. Tombs, George Ruddenklau, Henry Thomson, W. A. Sheppard, W. Calvert and John Anderson, who chaired the meeting. Thomson moved that Wilson be elected as the first mayor of Christchurch, and Tombs seconded the motion. The chairman put the motion to the meeting and it was carried unanimously. With the meeting, the council had brought itself under the Municipal Corporations Act 1867.[1][12]

On 16 December 1868, the town council held its annual general meeting. Councillor Anderson was elected unanimously as the second mayor of Christchurch.[2]

Although Canterbury was an Anglican settlement, the first three mayors were all Presbyterian Scotsmen; Wilson in 1868, followed by John Anderson in 1869 and Andrew Duncan in 1870.[13]

Private life and death[edit]

Wilson was involved with several clubs and societies. For many years, he chaired the Christchurch Horticultural Society.[4] He was the first president of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam & Pigeon Club.[14] He was responsible for the construction of the first Town Hall in Christchurch's High Street.[4]

In 1876 Wilson was accused of fraud and as it was usual in those days, the court proceedings of well-known people were reported in fine detail in the newspapers.[15] He lost the case on all counts and this brought to an end Wilson's public life, with him resigning from his various roles.[5][16][17]

Wilson died on 8 November 1897. He was buried at Linwood Cemetery.[18][19]


  1. ^ a b "Christchurch". The Star (24). 10 June 1868. p. 2. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Election of Mayors". The Star (186). 16 December 1868. p. 3. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Chairmen and mayors". Christchurch: Christchurch City Council. Retrieved 10 February 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d The Cyclopedia Company Limited, ed. (1903). The Cyclopedia of New Zealand - Canterbury Provincial District. Christchurch. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Challenger, Charlie (22 June 2007). Wilson, William Barbour 1819 - 1897. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  6. ^ "New Zealand Shipping". New Zealand Society of Genealogists' Computing Group. 1988. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  7. ^ Greenaway, Richard L. N. (June 2007). "Barbadoes Street Cemetery Tour" (PDF). Christchurch City Council. p. 5. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  8. ^ Greenaway, Richard L. N. (June 2007). "Barbadoes Street Cemetery Tour" (PDF). Christchurch City Council. p. 52. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  9. ^ see photo of headstones in the commons category
  10. ^ Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer. p. 197. 
  11. ^ "Councillors of the City of Christchurch". Christchurch: Christchurch City Council. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  12. ^ a b "Ex Mayors". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand (Canterbury Provincial District). Christchurch: Cyclopedia Company Limited. 1903. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  13. ^ Greenaway, Richard L. N. (June 2007). "Addington Cemetery Tour" (PDF). Christchurch City Council. p. 30. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  14. ^ "Christchurch Poultry, Bantam & Pigeon Club Inc". Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  15. ^ "Civil Sittings". The Star (2597). 21 July 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  16. ^ "Supreme Court". The Star (2598). 22 July 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  17. ^ "Supreme Court". The Star (2625). 23 August 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  18. ^ "Death of Canterbury Pioneer" XXXI (265). Nelson Evening Mail. 8 November 1897. p. 3. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  19. ^ "Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database". Christchurch City Council. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Bishop
Chairman of the Christchurch Town Council
Office of Mayor of Christchurch established
First Mayor of Christchurch
Succeeded by
John Anderson