More about the Mathesons of Mathesons Bay

Mathesons Bay is named after two families that settled there in the 1850s.

Angus Matheson owned a half-share in the Spray, the fourth and smallest of the ships that left Nova Scotia with Highland Scot settlers who ended up at Waipu in Northland.  He departed in January 1857 with his wife Jessie and their child Isabella, his brother Duncan, sister Christina and their mother Isabella; a pipe-smoking widow who lived on beyond 90 years of age.  Angus served as First Officer on the voyage.

The Spray travelled south through the Atlantic to the Cape of Good Hope, and shortly before arriving at this first landfall Angus’s wife Jessie gave birth to their second child, Alexander, during a storm.  After leaving Africa the ship stopped on the New South Wales coast to repair further storm damage, and again at Russell to wait out a passing storm.  It finally reached Auckland after a voyage of 168 days.

After a few weeks in Auckland the passengers moved on to join their compatriots at Waipu.  Christina married her first cousin Donald Finlayson, who had arrived on the first ship of the Waipu migration, the Margaret.

Not all settlers stayed at the fast-growing settlement of Waipu and some moved to neighbouring districts, with Angus and Duncan Matheson taking up land in 1859 at Leigh, Omaha Bay, in a small bay that was to bear their name.  They chose this as a better place to set up their ship-building business, a continuation of their operation at Baddeck in Nova Scotia.

Angus and Jessie lived in a house on the banks of Koheroa Creek, near the shipyard, had nine more children.  Two sons, Duncan and Norman, followed in their father’s footsteps and became ship captains.

Soon after arriving in New Zealand Angus’s brother Duncan married his first cousin Catherine Finlayson (sister of the husband of Duncan’s sister Christina; it does get complicated), who had come to Waipu on the Highland Lassie.  Duncan probably preceded his brother to Omaha, and began by living in a tent on the beach.  This was followed by a nikau frond hut, and later a wooden cottage on the opposite side of the creek from his brother’s house.  Duncan and Catherine had two sons and two daughters.

As well as building ships Duncan sailed them, around New Zealand and across the Pacific.  He even returned to Nova Scotia in 1875 to take delivery of a ship built there, which he delivered to New Zealand laden with timber and other cargo.  He sailed it around New Zealand on behalf of a syndicate of owners, which included himself, until it was wrecked near Westport in 1887.

According to C S Clarke, an early settler in the area:

“The brothers Duncan and Angus Matheson came to Omaha in 1859 settled and built houses each side of the Koeroa creek.  In partnership they commenced ship building on the beach just below their houses.  I came to Omaha in October 1863 and they had a schooner on the stocks, her ribs or frames were all up and the brothers were away at Pakiri pit sawing the planks.  She was launched in 1864 and christened by Miss Lizzie Anderson and named the “Saucy Lass ” she was built to the order of Captn D. H. McKenzie, father of the present Chairman of the Auckland Harbour Board.

New Zealand Herald 30 March 1882
New Zealand Herald 30 March 1882

“Afterwards Capt Duncan [Matheson] on his own account he built the following schooners at the same shipyard, “Coquette”, “Rhine” & “Three Cheers” when the latter was being rigged in Auckland something slipped or gave way and a yard fell from a height crushing Capt Duncan to the deck he was taken to the Hospital but he was so smashed or crushed that the Drs could do nothing but inject morphia to deaden the pain, we were living in Auckland at the time and he was boarding with us, and when he did not come home for dinner that night we were shocked when we heard of the terrible accident, he died in hospital and was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery, Symonds Street.

“Captn. Angus Matheson came to Omaha in 1859, his eldest son Alexr was born at sea on the voyage from Nova Scotia he was a highly educated man, understood navigation, was a great reader, and was one of the first subscribers to the Omaha Public Library in 1870.  He chartered a large schooner named the “herald” and ran to the Bay of Islands bringing coal from the Kawa Kawa coal mine which had just been opened, afterwards he commanded a vessel running to the South island.  In 1879 he built a Cutter for Tenetahi named the “Rangatira” she won several prizes at the Auckland regatta, she was ultimately wrecked at the Great Barrier Island, Tenetohi would have lost his life, but his wife Rahui dived for him and brought him ashore.  Capt Angus died at his residence, Omaha and was buried in the Leigh Cemetery.  He was highly respected.”


McLean, John (2010)  Sailors and settlers: the migration of Highlanders from Nova Scotia to New Zealand in the 1850s and 1860s.

Smith, Vern (2014) Some material on the history of Leigh.  (Notes copied from manuscripts by his great-grandfather C S Clarke: