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Story: Richardson, Effie Newbigging

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Richardson, Effie Newbigging


Landowner, litigant

This biography, written by Max D. Lash, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Euphemia (Effie) Johnstone was born probably in 1849 or 1850 in Kilmeny parish on the island of Islay, Argyllshire, Scotland. She was the daughter of Susanna Newbigging and her husband, Robert Johnstone, a farmer. Effie's father had died by the time she was six and her mother was running the farm. Effie was still on Islay when she was 11. In the early 1860s she emigrated to New Zealand with her mother and probably other members of her family. Her mother remarried in 1865 and died near Hokitika in 1883. Little is known of Effie's life during this period except that she worked at some stage as a barmaid.

On 8 January 1884 at Palmerston North, Effie Johnstone married Ralph Richardson, a solicitor and landowner from Nelson. The couple were to have two daughters, Effie Louisa and Ralphine Zealandia Regina (known as Queenie). Ralph Richardson died in December 1889, and his father subsequently sent for Effie and her daughters to live on his country estate in England. They were to be out of New Zealand for 18 years, spending most of the time in France where the two girls were educated. During this period they were supported by rents from various land-holdings in the Nelson province, including the Maitai run, which had passed in trust to Ralph Richardson's daughters. Effie was sole executrix of the estate, with tenancy for life.

In 1908 the three women returned to Nelson where Effie Richardson purchased a town property called Muritai. However, her priority was to regain management of the Maitai run. As the leases on the land expired she allowed only a few to be renewed and took over running the rest of the property. She also purchased adjoining holdings, and before long controlled a large tract of land extending within the town's boundaries, with riparian rights to the Maitai River. Richardson was extremely jealous of the family's rights as owners of the land. This seigneurial attitude caused resentment, and for several years she was to be involved in lengthy legal battles and disputes with lessees, local bodies, adjoining property owners and the public at large.

On the Maitai run confrontations abounded. Wandering dogs were shot and trespassers sent fleeing. To keep the run intact Effie Richardson studied legal arguments and procedures and represented herself in court actions. Over the years she had numerous arguments with the headmaster of Nelson Boys' School, F. G. Gibbs. During her absence overseas Richardson's tenants had allowed Gibbs and others access to the Maitai Valley and Gibbs's pupils had learnt to swim in the river, especially in Denne's Hole. Ralph Richardson had also let boys from Nelson College use the swimming areas known as Big Hole, Willow Hole and Black Hole.

As Richardson began subdividing, fencing and reletting the land in 1909 she gave notice that, other than at Big Hole, the public was banned from picnicking, camping and swimming on her property. Various groups in the community regarded her actions as an infringement of public rights. In February 1911 the Nelson City Council petitioned the government, requesting that a portion of the Richardson estate be acquired as a reserve. This move was backed by the Nelson Chamber of Commerce. The following month Gibbs invited confrontation by sending boys to Denne's Hole, the Richardson's dairy water source. Then in April, because roadside fencing prevented access to certain areas, the Waimea County Council issued proceedings against Richardson. She was fined one shilling without costs.

By the end of the year the Nelson City Council had decided to buy the land for recreational purposes and to ask the government for a pound for pound subsidy. Effie Richardson and her daughters were concerned that the council wanted to purchase only the river flats of the Maitai run. This would have deprived them of suitable land on which to grow feed and left the hill country without water. From August 1911 through to 1914 Richardson endeavoured to sell the whole run to the government, but failed. In March 1914 the Nelson City Council announced its intention to take land for pleasure or recreation grounds under the Municipal Corporations Act 1908, and the Public Works Act 1908. The land included Denne's and Sunday Holes and some 16 acres north of Richardson's farm entrance and the city boundary. However, many citizens were unwilling to pay higher rates to purchase another recreation area, and a protest against the acquisition was sent to the governor, Lord Liverpool.

In January 1916 the government, on the basis of the report of a magisterial enquiry, informed the Nelson City Council that a proclamation to acquire the land would involve the payment of £700 compensation, which cabinet did not feel justified in paying because of the war. The council nevertheless urged the government to issue the proclamation and in March a modified purchase more favourable to the Richardsons was approved, and the Maitai became a significant recreational area for Nelson. Effie Richardson's legal ownership of the land had never been in dispute. The issue in question was how far public advantages should override private rights.

While Effie Richardson was occupied with protecting the family's rights over their land, the practical farm management passed to her daughter Ralphine. During the 1920s Effie became increasingly frail. She died at Nelson on 27 December 1928, survived by her daughters, who never married. Ralphine Richardson farmed the Maitai run until her death in 1969.

How to cite this page:

Max D. Lash. 'Richardson, Effie Newbigging', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3r15/richardson-effie-newbigging (accessed 14 August 2022)