FRASER, Alexander and Thomas
(1800–68) and (1800–71).
Pioneer Wellington and Otago runholders and traders.
Alexander and Thomas Fraser were twin brothers who were born in Scotland in 1800. Very little is known of their early years except that they were coopers by trade. They came to Sydney in 1830 as assisted immigrants under an engagement to Messrs Tooth, and they worked for the firm for several years. Afterwards Alexander kept a public house in Sydney for a short time. In 1837 the brothers came to Kapiti, where they traded with the whalers and the Maoris. Early in 1839 they arranged with Te Rangihaeata to occupy Mana Island. Because they knew the complexity of colonial land tenures, they took the precaution of buying out the earlier European occupiers of the island. The brothers used Mana as a base for their whaling and trading ventures. For many years their schooner Twins traded with the east coast Maoris and used to call regularly at Ahuriri (Napier) long before that district was settled by Europeans. They also traded with the Taranaki and west coast tribes and with the South Island. In the early 1860s they added SS Wallabi to their trading fleet.
Shortly after the New Zealand Company established their Wellington settlement, Colonel Wakefield claimed to have bought Mana, along with other lands, from Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata. At this time he tried to buy the Frasers' interest in the island, but they declined to sell because they believed that land values would appreciate. Their occupancy was also contested by Henry Moering, a Sydney merchant, who claimed to have bought out the original European holders. A Court decision, dated 3 December 1850, which ordered the Government to issue Moering with a Crown title to Mana, proved impossible to enforce because the Frasers refused to allow the surveyors to land on the island. For this reason, and because of their high standing in the settlement, the Government took no further action and declined to interfere with their occupancy during the brothers' lifetimes.
In addition to trading, the Frasers became graziers and for many years maintained a large flock of sheep on Mana. In the 1840s they bought a sheep run at Taita, in the Hutt Valley, and later, they took up another at Porirua. In August 1853, following Kettle's survey, the brothers took up four sections in Otago. Two of these, in the Moeraki district, formed the nucleus of Runs 10 and 11 – the Kakaho and White Bluffs runs – which had a combined area of 30,600 acres. At the same time they applied for a much larger run on both sides of the Shag River in northern Otago. These holdings were stocked from their Mana flock. In 1857 they sold their Moeraki holdings for £18,000 and retired to Wellington. They leased their Mana and Porirua holdings and gradually disposed of their trading business. During their last years they lived quietly in Wellington where they became well-known financiers. When Alexander died at their home in Ghuznee Street, Wellington, on October 1868, his share in their joint enterprises reverted to his brother. Thomas died at York Farm, Rangitikei, on 18 October 1871, and was buried in Wellington.
When Thomas died, the Evening Post recorded that few private men were better or more favourably known in the colony than these unassuming brothers. Although they had come from obscure beginnings they succeeded as traders and became the first successful graziers in New Zealand. Neither brother ever stood for public office, but in the Wellington of their day they were respected for their unfailing good humour and scrupulous fair dealing. As neither brother married, after Thomas's death their estate – variously estimated as being between £30,000 and 40,000 – was divided between their nieces and nephews in Wellington.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- I.A. 1/113 (MSS),. National Archives
- O.L.C. 552–3 (MSS), National Archives
- Votes and Proceedings, Session 5 (1856), Otago Provincial Council
- Wellington Independent, 20 Oct 1868, 19 Oct 1871 (Obit)
- Evening Post, 18 Oct 1871 (Obit).