The most famous Matheson place name in New Zealand is Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier on the west coast of the South Island. This picturesque lake has featured in tourism publicity, on countless postcards and on postage stamps at least four times.
Lake Matheson takes its name from Murdoch Matheson, who ran cattle on the Cook River Flats in the 1870s and opened a store and butcher’s shop 15 km away at Gillespie’s Beach to service the gold rush. Today the area boasts the Matheson Café and ReflectioNZ Gallery.
Also well known to clan members is Mathesons Bay, just south of Waipu in Northland. This bay (technically without an apostrophe) takes its name from brothers Angus and Duncan Matheson, who in 1857 arrived as part of the Waipu migration on the Spray. After settling at Waipu they and other family members moved the short distance to the bay that was later to bear their name, as it was a better location for their successful shipbuilding business. You can read more about this intrepid family here.
There is also a Mount Matheson in south Westland. This peak is 2148 metres high, and sits at the eastern end of the Strachan Range above the headwaters of the Otoko River (which flows into the Paringa River).
We also know of 11 Matheson Roads, and one each of Matheson Bay Road, Matheson Bush Road, Matheson Way, Matheson Crescent, Matheson Street, Mathesons Corner Road and Mathesons Road in New Zealand. Here’s a list of them from north to south (the links take you to the spot on Google Maps or Google Earth). One is in Northland, seven in Auckland, one each in Hawkes Bay and Canterbury, four in Otago and four in Southland, which apart from Northland being a little under-represented is probably a fair reflection of where Matheson immigrants settled in the 19th century.
Off Old Russell Road in Whakapara, Northland. This road served the property of Donald Munro Matheson and his family. Donald, known as Dan, was born in Nova Scotia in 1850 and arrived in New Zealand at the age of nine on the largest and last of the ships carrying settlers for Waipu: the Ellen Lewis. Dan was the youngest of nine children migrating with their parents Kenneth Matheson and Flora McKenzie (two more daughters had stayed behind in Nova Scotia). The family lived first at Waipu and then at Maunu near Whangarei, before moving in 1867 to Hikurangi where they were the third settler family in the district. They cleared a bush block in Valley Road and ran a dairy farm, and Kenneth also operated a sawmill at Hikurangi.
Dan Matheson married Antonie Heyber, whose family came from Breslau in Germany (now Wroclaw in Poland), and they had 10 children. Two sons served in the First World War: Kenneth Murdoch Matheson was killed in action on the Somme in October 1916, and Donald Munro Matheson was wounded in France but returned safely to New Zealand in 1919 (and lived until he was 94).
In Wellsford, north of Auckland. The road is almost certainly named after John Gilmer Matheson, who settled on this land in 1885 and occupied a block of land that includes where the road is now. His land ran approximately from what is now Batten Street, down Rodney Street to Station Road, and roughly up a line ending below the present Wellsford town water supply reservoir. In 1891 John Matheson married Isabella Kirton and they had five daughters, but John died in 1902 aged only 39. Isabella continued to run the farm while raising a young family. In 1908 she married Philip Curry, an Australian working on the nearby railway, and they had three daughters. The Matheson and later Curry farmhouse still stands on the corner of Matheson Road and Olympus Road, and is now the Heritage Rest Home. More than 90 years after she was born, John and Isabella’s daughter Linda was a resident in this rest home that was once her family home. There’s more of the story here.
Matheson Bush Road just north of Leigh and only a few kilometres from Matheson Bay. This and the nearby Matheson’s Bush and Matheson Stream probably derive their names from the same family as Mathesons Bay is named after.
Matheson Bay Road, Leigh, north of Auckland. (The bay is called Mathesons Bay, but the road leading to it is Matheson Bay Road.) The Matheson family connection in this area originated with Angus and Jessie Matheson, Nova Scotians who arrived on the Spray and settled in the area.
Red Beach, Whangaparaoa Peninsula, north of Auckland.
Matheson Street, Papakura. The next three place names all relate to the same family, of which Clan Matheson Society committee member Keith Matheson is a member. Keith says that the land around this street belonged to the McClennan family, and Emma May McClennan of that family married Keith’s uncle James Matheson. Following her death James subdivided the land, in the early 1960s.
Matheson Way, Waiau Pa, near Kingseat, on the south of the Manukau Harbour. This probably relates to the estate of Kenneth Matheson, another of Keith’s uncles. The property was subdivided into blocks in the late 1980s. This small road is home to Matheson Estate Olive Oils.
At Paparimu, Hunua, south of Papakura. This road recalls the original survey of 1869 and the original block purchased by James Matheson, Keith’s great-grandfather. The land is still in family ownership. James sold on it to his son John, and then it was sold successively to John’s son Hugh, to Hugh’s son Keith, and then on to Keith’s son Grant who still holds the title to this land. That’s quite an amazing piece of history.
Off SH50 just north of Tikokino in Central Hawkes Bay. According to their great-granddaughter clan member Pat Wheeler (née Matheson), this is named after Joseph and Mary Ann Matheson, who migrated with their four children to New Zealand from Australia in 1894. They bought 2,400 acres and named it ‘Loddon Valley’ after the area they came from in Victoria, Australia.
Mathesons Road, Christchurch. According to the Christchurch library, this road was first mentioned in The Press on 12 July 1870, when the residents of what was then called Matheson’s street petitioned the council (successfully) to have shingle laid on the footpath on one side of the road. The name first appears in street directories in 1887.
Matheson Crescent, Albert Town, near Wanaka. This name was chosen in 2005 for a street in a new subdivision to commemorate David Matheson, who arrived in Wanaka in 1892 and worked as a musterer and shepherd. In about 1915 he went started a carrying business in partnership with William Trevathan. Initially working with six- and eight-horse wagons, the men carted produce from farms to the nearest railhead. They bought a solid-rimmed Dennis truck with a top speed of 25 km/hr, which is shown loaded with bales of wool from the Stuart and Kinross farm at Wanaka.
Matheson and Tevathan were the first carriers in the district to change completely to motor lorries. The business was sold to Don McLeod in 1939 and later bought by Reid Transport. It is now known as Upper Clutha Transport.
Macraes Flat, Otago. Clan member Diana Campbell-Barnaby (née Matheson) advises that this road may be related to her grandfather John Matheson. He took up sheep farming nearby at Hyde, married Sarah Bruhns, and they raised a family of four sons and became very involved in the Hyde community.
Google Maps shows a Matheson Road near Morrisons (on SH 85: the Morrisons-Kyeburn Road), but it seems to exist on paper only. It doesn’t meet SH 85. I think it’s a paper road only, and is in fact an extension of Matheson Road near Macraes Flat. Can any locals shed light on this?
Matheson Corner Road runs from Matheson’s Corner, just north of Crookston on the Gore/Raes Junction road, to the small township of Heriot. The corner took its name from the adjacent farm of Norman Matheson. (Note that the road is Matheson Corner Road on the signposts, but Mathesons Corner Road (without an apostrophe) on the topographical map and on Google Maps.)
Norman hailed from Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, and took up a 200-acre block at Crookston in 1876 which he farmed it successfully. Following an accident he went to live in Dunedin where he received medical treatment, but he died there in 1899 from complications related to the accident. You can read more about Norman Matheson here.
Near Lawrence, Otago. A 1949 history of Lawrence and surrounds, Tuapeka – the land and its people, describes the early land allotments and refers to Run 52C: “The extent of the 20,000 acres of Run 52C can be well judged from the position of its boundaries, which are given as being within three miles of Lawrence, about the same distance from Waipori, and a few hundred yards only from Waitahuna”. The map suggests that this would include where Matheson Road is now. The book goes on to describe how Run 52C was divided up into uneconomically small units in 1878: “The new settlers included John Rose, the McCormacks, G Mathieson (sic), and D J McDonald”. So that might be the explanation for the road’s name. It’s not clear whether the road name or the book accurately record the settler’s name (or perhaps both, as the settler himself may have not been bothered about spelling).
In Waikaka, north of Gore in Soutland.
At Knapdale, just north of Gore in Southland.
In Kennington, Invercargill. The name comes from a family business that operated in this locality for several generations. John Matheson established a fellmongery and wool-scouring business in 1888, first in partnership with a Henry Brockett at Woodlands, then on his own account and from 1894 on the banks of the Waihopai River at Kennington, where Matheson Road now is.
Two sons joined the business, James and Thomas, but both were killed in action during the First World War so another son, George, left his engineering training and joined the family business (J Matheson & Co). After the premises was destroyed by fire in 1950 George’s only son, John Matheson, left his accounting job and joined the firm. A new company, Matheson International, was formed and diversified into yarn and carpet making, but in the late 1970s and early 1980s it was taken over by UEB Industries. Two fires destroyed the buildings at about that time, but some wool processing operations continue on the site.
J Matheson & Co continues with investment and agricultural activities, and another generation of the family is involved; Wayne Matheson, a Clan Matheson Society committee member. The story of this family is told in The Matheson Saga, which is reviewed here.
East of Wydnham in Southland, near the Catlins Forest Park.
If anyone knows about the origins of those names please leave a comment below.