Matheson place names in New Zealand

Lake Matheson

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 is believed to be named after 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, 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 another Matheson Bay on Auckland Island, which is one of New Zealand’s subantarctic islands located at just over 50 degrees south.

There is also a Mount Matheson in south Westland.  This peak is 2,148 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 12 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.  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.

Here is a list of them from north to south.  The links take you to the spot on Google Maps or Google Earth.

Matheson Road, off Russell Road in Whakapara in Northland.  This road served the property of Donald Munro Matheson and his family.  Donald, known as Dan, was one of the original Nova Scotian migrants to Waipu.  There’s more about Dan and his family here.  The photo of the road sign shows some of their descendants.

Matheson Road in Wellsford, north of Auckland.  The road is almost certainly named after John Gilmer Matheson, who settled on the land in 1885.  His farmhouse still stands on the road named after him, and is now a historic rest home.  There’s more of this story here.

Matheson Bush Road just north of Leigh and only a few kilometres from Mathesons Bay.  This and the nearby Matheson’s Bush and Matheson Stream most likely derive their names from the same family as Mathesons Bay is named after.

Mathesons Bay, Leigh, north of Auckland (sometimes also Matheson Bay).  The Matheson family connection in this area originated with the brothers Angus and Matheson, Nova Scotians who arrived with relatives on the Spray, which brought Nova Scotian settlers to Waipu, and settled in the area.  You can read more about this family here.

Matheson Bay Road, Leigh, north of Auckland.  The bay is usually called Mathesons Bay, but the road leading to it is Matheson Bay Road.  (The Geographic Board has an uneasy relationship with apostrophes.)

Matheson Road, Red Beach, Whangaparaoa Peninsula, north of Auckland.  It’s not known who this road was named after.  The photo shows Donald Matheson, previous chair and life member of the New Zealand branch of the Clan Matheson Society.

Matheson Street, Papakura.  The next three place names all relate to the same family, of which Clan Matheson Society member Keith Matheson is a member.

Keith says that the land around this street in Papakura 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.

Matheson Road, Paparimu, Hunua, south of Papakura.  This road recalls the first 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.

The story of the Mathesons of Paparimu has been told in a book.  

Matheson Road, 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.

Now to the South Island.

Mathesons Road, Christchurch.  According to the Christchurch library, this road was named after Matheson’s Agency, the Christchurch branch of Matheson & Co, a London-based trading house especially associated with Hong Kong and Calcutta and the import of tea, silk and jute.  In New Zealand, Matheson’s bought and exported wool and flax.

Matheson Crescent, Albert Town, near Wanaka.  This name was chosen in 2005 for a street in a new subdivision to commemorate David Matheson, who was a transport pioneer in the district.  There’s more about him here.

Matheson Road on 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.  I haven’t been able to find it, and it doesn’t seem to 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.  

Norman hailed from Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, and took up a 200-acre block at Crookston in 1876 which he farmed successfully.  You can read more about Norman Matheson here. There’s a mystery involved.

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.  Again, apostrophes are frowned upon when places are named after people.

Matheson Road near Lawrence in Otago.  This is probably named after an early runholder on this land, one G Matheson (or Mathieson), as outlined here.

Matheson Road, Waikaka, north of Gore in Southland.  

On the war memorial that can be seen opposite are the names of Hugh Alexander Matheson and Angus Neil Matheson, sons of Angus and Margaret Matheson, who served and were wounded in the First World War, and Walter Hugh Alexander Matheson, who served in the Second World War.  I think the family property was in this road that bears their name.

Matheson Road at Knapdale, just north of Gore.  This road leads to just one farm, presumably once owned by Mathesons, but is so short that it doesn’t seem to warrant its own road sign.

Matheson Road off the West Otago Road just north of Waipahi, in Otago.  It’s spelt Mathieson Road on Google Maps, but Matheson Road on the sign post.  

This short road also goes to just one farm, which again we presume was once owned by the Matheson family.  

Matheson Road in Kennington on the outskirts of Invercargill.  The name comes from a family business that operated in this locality for several generations.  There’s a story about this business here, and the family’s story is told in the book The Matheson saga, which is reviewed here.

Matheson Road, east of Wyndham in Southland, near the Catlins Forest Park.

And this really has to be the southernmost Matheson place name in New Zealand (though not in the world as there are some in Antarctica).  Matheson Bay is on the north coast of Auckland Island, one of New Zealand’s subantarctic islands.

If you know more about the origins of those names, or know of other Matheson place names in New Zealand, please leave a comment below.

10 thoughts on “Matheson place names in New Zealand”

  1. Also, sorry I meant to say that the matheson road in that area does run from the Matheson house at Kyeburn along fencelines towards Macraes, so its likely nothing more than a farmers tractor route.. or old paper road as you say. we have a few on our property too that must have been dirt or private roads before land has been divided and sold etc. Let me know if you need any other info about that

  2. Hi there, my great great Grandfather Robert Matheson bought the land mentioned above at Waihemo Downs – Morrisons Kyeburn Rd in East Otago. He paid 9 pound for a sizeable farm, and raised 9 children in a two bedroom house there which still stands as a hunting cabin. Related Mathesons still live all over this district. I currently work at Waihemo Downs Station down the road – unbeknown to my family heritage until my Grandfather mentioned it.

  3. There’s also a book ‘The Knapdale run; its land and its people’ edited by Elizabeth Kerse (1984). You might see that in libraries.

    ScotlandsPeople is the place to go for Scottish birth, death and marriage records.

  4. Hi Kate

    Thanks for leaving this comment on the site. I can also publicise your request in a Facebook group, but it would be useful to have a bit more information. Was your g-g-grandfather David born in Scotland? Were the son David and son James born in 1856 in Scotland sons of your g-g-grandfather, or is this David actually your g-g-grandfather?

    Presbyterian archives have a Robert Matheson (36) marrying Jessie Laird (23) on 15 April 1885 in Knapdale parish. Don’t know if there’s any connection.


  5. Kate Patterson

    With reference to the Matheson Rd, Knapdale. My Gr Gr grandfather was David Matheson an original settlor in the Chatton district and secured one of the sections which formed part of the Knapdale run. Perhaps this raod rellates to them.
    There was a son David and a son James born 1856 in Scotland. If anyone has information regarding to James I would be very interested.

  6. Graeme Matheson

    William Matheson and his sister Mary farmed and lived in the West Otago area until he died in 1891 he and Mary are burried in the Tapanui Cemetery. Mary died after an accident with a half stable door that blew shut and hit her.(1885) Our family has always assumed the farm was in the Crookston area (could be wrong) Brothers Duncan (my greatgrandfather) and his brother Dugald Matheson farmed Tapanui Run 140b in 1871 (in 1874 Run 140b carried 1002 sheep on 8500 acres) Duncan returned to Kintyre to get married and Dugald moved to Canterbury in 1874

  7. Bill, I hope that’s not an omen, and nor is the sign pointing to the cemetery! I’ve just added one more photo, which also bears the phrase ‘no exit’.

  8. Bill Matheson

    Andrew, so many of the “Matheson” roads are “No Exit”. Is this an omen, good or bad, for we clan members?

  9. Hi

    Thanks very much for your comment; it’s good to learn more about this name. I’ve researched more about this family, drawing on John McLeod’s book “Sailors and Settlers”, and written a short piece about this interesting family.


  10. The Matheson Road in Whakapara off the Old Russel Road was named after my Great Great Grand father Donald Matheson who arrived on the Ellen Lewis. The original homestead was only torn down a few years ago

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