Pleasant Point Cemetery, Timaru District
The tombstone is old and so weathered that the inscription is barely readable, but beneath it lies John “Jock” Fraser, one of the pioneers who founded the city of Nelson. Resting with him is his wife Mary (Booker) and daughter Jessie. He would marry four times, father 13 children and, along with his sons, accomplish more than one “first’ in New Zealand. Jock was born about 1813 in the Scottish highlands county of Inverness, son of James Fraser. The name of his first wife is unknown and she possibly died in childbirth when his eldest son, Hugh Fraser, was born in 1832.
Much of Jock’s early years remain a mystery but by the time he reached his third decade he took the bold step of signing on with the British New Zealand Company as a laborer to help found a new settlement in Nelson, New Zealand. He traveled first to Edinburgh where on November 9th, 1840 he married his 2nd wife, Margaret Robertson, at the Parish of St. Paul’s. He then made his way to London where on Sunday afternoon, May 2nd 1841, his ship, the Whitby, carrying the surveying party for the new settlement, departed for New Zealand to the sounds of a 21-gun salute. He was one of 59 laborers aboard the ship. Wife Margaret remained behind until the settlement could be established and family sent for.
After a four month voyage the ship arrived at the Wellington settlement on September 8th, 1841 and then made its way to Blind Bay (today known as Tasman Bay), where expedition leaders searched for land suitable for the new colony, settling on the site of a Maori fishing village, Whakatu. It's believed that John/Jock was the first man to step foot on New Zealand's south island wearing a highland kilt.
John Fraser and the other expedition members began the process of building the Nelson settlement. A forge and sawpit was established near the far side of the Maitai River. By January 1842 they had built more than 100 huts in preparation for the arrival of the first settlers.
On February 9th 1842 John’s wife Margaret arrived in New Zealand aboard the ship Lloyds. Around 1845 Jock and family loaded up their possessions into a dray pulled by a bullock and moved to the Motueka Valley where his son James was born. In 1850 John's eldest son, Hugh Fraser, arrived from Scotland on the ship Mariner (departed London). John’s wife Margaret died 18 Oct 1852 from consumption and was buried at Hallowell Cemetery. A few years after Margaret’s death (about 1853) the Fraser family moved to Wairau where John worked as a shepherd on land he leased from Mr. Dillion, at Leithfield Station.
John Fraser had a short 3rd marriage to Helen McEwen, who died within two years of the marriage. Their marriage was published in 3 June 1854 edition of the Nelson Examiner, ‘At Alice Brae, Nelson, on the 20th, by the Rev. T.D. Nicholson, Mr. John Fraser, of Waihopi, Wairau, to Miss Helen M’Ewan, of Nelson’.
On March 17th, 1856 John married his fourth wife, the young widow Mary (Booker) Clarke in Nelson.
The book ‘Turn Back The Clock’, published in 1968, states ‘In 1857 two Scotsmen, Hugh Fraser (son of Jock) and Alex McMurdo, keen to take up land in New Zealand, travelled into the back country of Canterbury in search of sheep…’ Ronald (Alexander) McMurdo and Hugh were the first to drive stock from the Nelson area to new holdings in the MacKenzie Country.
John and his son Hugh would own several of the large sheep runs in MacKenzie County – Ben Ohau, Black Forest Station and the Mount Cook Station. Paraphrased from the Timaru Herald, Friday, 10 Jul 1925 “The Original Run Holders” by T.D. Burnett: The Fraser men were the only highland Scots to settle a sheep run in MacKenzie Country prior to 1860.
Being highland Scots, the Fraser enjoyed their whiskey. They cultivated one acre per annum by hand, on which they grew barley and distilled their own whiskey. The Haldon Station diary, dated 22 August 1868, has an entry stating that they had received one gallon of whisky from the Fraser’s.
It was at Hugh Fraser’s Black Forest Station that the first recorded sheep dog trails took place. On 3 February 1869 the Timaru Herald reports, ‘The first of what is to be hoped will be an annual trail of sheepdogs, took place on Friday at Mr. Fraser’s run, Black Forest, MacKenzie country. ‘
In May of 1876 Mary (wife of Jock Fraser) and their 18 year old daughter Jessie died within a week of each other and were buried in Pleasant Point Cemetery (Timaru District). Marborough Express, Volume XI, issue 829, 5 Jul 1876, Page 3: Deaths: Fraser - On May 16, at Timaru, Mrs John Frazer, of fever. On May 21, at Timaru, Jessie, daughter of John Frazer, of consumption, aged 20.
Jock lived until 14 April 1893 when he died at the Timaru Hospital. His funeral notice was published in the Timaru Herald on 17 April 1893:
“FRASER - The friends of the late Mr. John Fraser, are respectfully invited to attend his funeral, which will leave the Timaru Hospital at 11 o'clock this Morning, for the Pleasant Point Cemetery, which will be reached about 1 o'clock.“