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Story: Scott, Thomas

Page 1: Biography

Scott, Thomas


Police officer, mail carrier, storekeeper, ferryman, hotel-keeper

This biography, written by Rob Knight, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Thomas Scott was born at Kilconquhar, Fife, Scotland, on 14 February 1816, the son of John Scott and his wife, Christian (Christy) Bisset. As a young man Thomas worked as a ploughman. On 30 December 1837 he married Ann (Annie) Wilson at Logie and with his wife and son emigrated to New Zealand as an assisted immigrant on the Olympus, arriving at Wellington on 20 April 1841. The Scotts' first child died on the voyage but seven more children were born in New Zealand.

There is no record of Scott's early life in the colony until September 1844 when he took over from Henry Burling the conveyance of the Wellington to Wanganui overland mail. He continued the service until it was suspended in May 1845. His application in April 1846 to join the Wellington Armed Police Force listed his status as 'labourer of Makara'. While serving in the police, under Major D. S. Durie, Scott was involved in the 1846 skirmishes in the Wellington district. One obituary claims that he personally captured the chief Te Kaeaea during the July 1846 raid on Taupo pa, Porirua, to arrest Te Rauparaha. He was awarded the New Zealand Medal in 1872 for his police service. In August 1848, while garrisoned at Waikanae, he owned a general store, which was run by his wife.

From October 1849 until his death Thomas Scott operated Scott's Ferry, near the mouth of the Rangitikei River. He and his wife also managed the general store and hotel associated with the ferry. Until the opening of inland coach and rail routes, Scott's Ferry was situated on the only route between Wellington and Wanganui. Consequently Thomas and Annie Scott hosted and provisioned many travellers. The hospitality and food at Scott's Ferry was renowned, mainly thanks to Annie Scott's efforts. One guest, J. G. Wilson, wrote of his first visit in 1873: 'Foxton was a dreadfully uncomfortable place in those days…but Mrs Scott's was a haven of rest. Here we had breakfast. A spotlessly clean tablecloth, a heaped up plate of fresh scones and fresh fish caught that morning, was a dish fit for a king's breakfast'.

The store served as post office, with Scott as postmaster. For a period he also acted as pilot for craft trading between Wellington and Rangitikei, and he exported produce from Rangitikei and imported supplies for the settlers of the district. The opening of a branch store at Rongotea in February 1881 probably precipitated his bankruptcy later in the year.

Thomas Scott is known in the Rangitikei region for his exploits as a contract mail carrier between Wellington and New Plymouth. However, there are few facts to support the legend. It is certain that Scott carried mail between Wellington and Wanganui in 1844 and 1845 and there is fragmentary evidence to suggest that he was responsible for an early inland mail service. Nothing more can be confirmed.

Scott fought constant battles: with the authorities, with floods and fire, with debtors, with a declining income, with a daughter's unwanted suitor and, latterly, with his own intemperance. These battles resulted in many small litigations and two major convictions: he was found guilty of assault and, after the hotel lost its licence, of 'sly grogging'.

Annie Scott died on 7 July 1879 and on 12 March 1881 Thomas married a widow, Charlotte Pringle Bromley, at Marton. Thomas Scott died on 16 January 1892 and is buried on the now abandoned site of the Parewanui Presbyterian church, which he had helped to establish. His widow and her son operated the ferry until it was taken over by the Manawatu County Council.

How to cite this page:

Rob Knight. 'Scott, Thomas', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1s2/scott-thomas (accessed 17 April 2024)