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. A nurseryman by profession, he had large landholdings in Christchurch. His reputation was dented by a fraud conviction, and when he was subsequently elected onto the city council once more, five councillors resigned in protest.

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.[3][4] The Mariner left London on 7 April 1850 and arrived at Port Chalmers on 6 August 1850.[5]

He married Elizabeth Williams on 19 November 1856;[6] she was 20 at the time of their wedding, 17 years his junior.[7] 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.[6] Her mother Isabella worked as a draper and had a shop on Colombo Street, Christchurch. The Wilsons had 13[4] or 14[7] children, and Isabella Williams would later testify that he began beating her by the time she was pregnant the second time: "He beat me black and blue."[7] Their oldest son was William John (born ca. 1856), and their second son was Charles James.[8]

Professional life[edit]

In Scotland, Wilson was an apprentice as a nurseryman and worked as an overseer on estates.[4]

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.[4] Wilson lived at The Bricks for his first five years in Christchurch.[9] Next, he owned the block of land bounded by Cashel, Madras, Lichfield and Manchester streets; this was later known as Bedford Row and is its name to the present day.[10] 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.[3][4] He later held land in the suburb of Waltham.[11] Apart from his extensive landholdings, he had a general trading company, a real estate and auctioneering business, a controlling stake in the Halswell quarries (purchased in 1876[12]), and a half partnership in the trading vessel Rifleman.[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.[13][14] He lost the case on all counts and this brought to an end Wilson's public life, with him resigning from his various roles.[4][15][16]

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 despite being a Christchurch resident.[11][17] He then represented the City of Christchurch electorate on the 5th Council from June 1866 to March 1870.[17]

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.[18] In 1867, he was nominated for a position on the city council by a current city councillor, the publican George Ruddenklau.[19] In the subsequent council meeting, it was again Ruddenklau who nominated (or seconded; sources differ) Wilson as chairman of the town council, and he was declared elected without other nominations being put forward.[20][21][22] 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.[23] 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][23]

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.[24]

Wilson stood for election to the city council once more in 1878, i.e. after his fraud conviction.[25] At the candidates' meeting, Wilson argued with the current mayor, Henry Thomson, who acted as chairperson at the meeting, about the order of proceedings.[26] Three positions were available contested by eight candidates, and James Gapes, Wilson, and Aaron Ayers were returned.[27][28] Over the next day, five of the existing councillors handed in their resignation in protest over Wilson's election: William Pratt,[29] William Radcliffe,[30] George Ruddenklau, James Jameson, and Alexander William Bickerton.[31][32][33] Radcliffe tried to withdraw his resignation, but this was not accepted by the mayor.[33] Five new councillors were elected in a by-election the next month.[34] Councillors were elected for one year at the time, and Wilson retired at the September 1879 election, when he did not stand again.[35][36]

Private life and death[edit]

Wilson was involved with several clubs and societies. For many years, he chaired the Christchurch Horticultural Society.[3] He was the first president of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam & Pigeon Club.[37] He was responsible for the construction of the first Town Hall in Christchurch's High Street.[3]

After he split from his wife, he tried to break into her house, but was stopped by Dr John Frankish, his brother-in-law. Wilson was arrested soon afterwards.[7]

Isabella Williams died in 1882.[38] Wilson died on 8 November 1897. He was buried at Linwood Cemetery.[39][40]


  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 c d Mr. William Wilson 1903, p. 105.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Challenger, Charlie. "Wilson, William Barbour". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  5. ^ "New Zealand Shipping". New Zealand Society of Genealogists' Computing Group. 1988. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Greenaway, Richard L. N. (June 2007). "Barbadoes Street Cemetery Tour" (PDF). Christchurch City Council. p. 5. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c d Price, Anna (4 February 2016). "City's first mayor died penniless". Christchurch Mail. p. 4. 
  8. ^ see photo of headstones in the commons category
  9. ^ "The Barbadoes Street Bridge". The Press. XXXII (4422). 2 October 1879. p. 3. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  10. ^ Greenaway, Richard L. N. (June 2007). "Linwood Cemetery Tour" (PDF). Christchurch City Libraries. pp. 23–25. Retrieved 6 February 2016. 
  11. ^ a b "Mr. W. Wilson". The Press. LIV (9879). 9 November 1897. p. 2. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  12. ^ "Local and General". The Star (2530). 3 May 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  13. ^ "Supreme Court". The Star (2593). 17 July 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  14. ^ "Civil Sittings". The Star (2597). 21 July 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  15. ^ "Supreme Court". The Star (2598). 22 July 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  16. ^ "Supreme Court". The Star (2625). 23 August 1876. p. 2. Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  17. ^ a b Scholefield 1950, p. 197.
  18. ^ "Councillors of the City of Christchurch". Christchurch: Christchurch City Council. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  19. ^ "Nomination of City Councillors". Lyttelton Times. XXVII (1889). 9 January 1867. p. 2. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  20. ^ "Town and Country". Lyttelton Times. XXVII (1891). 11 January 1867. p. 2. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  21. ^ "City Council". The Press. XI (1304). 11 January 1867. p. 3. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  22. ^ "Chairmen and mayors". Christchurch: Christchurch City Council. Retrieved 10 February 2010. 
  23. ^ a b Ex Mayors 1903, p. 105.
  24. ^ Greenaway, Richard L. N. (June 2007). "Addington Cemetery Tour" (PDF). Christchurch City Libraries. p. 30. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  25. ^ "Municipal Election". The Star (3254). 11 September 1878. p. 3. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  26. ^ "The Municipal Election". The Press. XXX (4096). 12 September 1878. p. 3. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  27. ^ "City Council". The Press. XXX (4097). 13 September 1878. p. 1. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  28. ^ "Christchurch". The Press. XXX (4097). 13 September 1878. p. 3. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  29. ^ Mr. William Pratt 1903, pp. 110f.
  30. ^ Mr. William Radcliffe 1903, pp. 110f.
  31. ^ "Christchurch". The Press. XXX (4098). 14 September 1878. p. 4. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  32. ^ "The Star". The Star (3257). 14 September 1878. p. 2. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  33. ^ a b "City Council". The Press. XXX (4100). 17 September 1878. p. 2. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  34. ^ "Municipal Election". The Star (3277). 8 October 1878. p. 2. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  35. ^ "City Council". The Star (3561). 9 September 1879. p. 3. Retrieved 5 February 2016. Wilson's last meeting 
  36. ^ "City Council". The Press. XXXII (4405). 12 September 1879. p. 3. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  37. ^ "Christchurch Poultry, Bantam & Pigeon Club Inc". Retrieved 23 March 2010. 
  38. ^ Greenaway, Richard L. N. (June 2007). "Barbadoes Street Cemetery Tour" (PDF). Christchurch City Council. p. 52. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  39. ^ "Death of Canterbury Pioneer". XXXI (265). Nelson Evening Mail. 8 November 1897. p. 3. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 
  40. ^ "Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database". Christchurch City Council. Retrieved 22 March 2010. 


  • Cyclopedia Company Limited (1903). The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : Canterbury Provincial District. Christchurch: The Cyclopedia of New Zealand. 
  • Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer. 
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