A Snelson DataBase & Armory

Person Page 90

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Thomas Snelson1

M, #2236, Deceased, b. October 1787, d. after 1840


Main Events

  • Biography: Thomas Snelson was a convicted criminal. He was found guilty at Stafford Assizes on 12 March 1812, and sentenced to life imprisonment or to be transported to the Colony of New South Wales for life.

    Thomas is listed as arriving in Sydney on the "Earl Spencer" a ship of 672 tons, 56 crew and 16 guns on Oct 9, 1813.

    The Earl Spencer carried 200 male prisoners leaving England on 2 June 1813, 4 dying on the voyage and the rest disembarking in the new Colony of New South Wales. The ship was under the command of Master William Mitchell and Surgeon D. Mackenzie. It sailed under the escort of HMS Kangaroo and brought the first steam engine to Australia. The journey via Madeira took 129 days.

    The "Earl Spencer" was built on the Thames in 1803, registered in London.

    The ship achieved some notoriety when it was preparing to leave Australia for its journey to Ceylon and China with a cargo of 58 casks of blue whale oil and troops ( this is what the manifests say - can this be right ? ) in 1814. A search produced 28 escapees.

    I've always wondered whether this means the escaping person, i.e. the escaper, or the person from whom the escaping person is escaping; which person would in your opinion be " the ESCAPED person " ? Funny old language English, isn't it? I think the problem is that the verb ' to escape ' can be both a transitive verb and an intransitive verb; the former meaning to elude and the latter meaning to become free and run like buggery; so, if the escapee was running like a cut snake with a firecracker up his arse, then he is indeed an escaping convict; but if on the other hand the escapee is eluding, evading and attempting to avoid capture, then the escapee must be the person from whom the escaping person is escaping ..... that is, the warder ! But I digress.

    To continue ...... some escaping sods concealed themselves in barrels of flour and cheese and one fellow wrapped himself up in a spare jib in the sail locker ! What has got me baffled about this story ( from Robert Hughes' " The Fatal Shore " ), is the implication that the Colony was exporting flour and cheese in 1814 - this is silly; Hughes must mean that these items were the stores and provisions for the ship's return voyage ?

    Thomas appears in the 1837 census of convicts as being aged 43 ( therefore being born about 1794 ), arriving in the Colony of New South Wales in 1833 - ( this is a mistake as other records have his arriving on the Earl Spencer in 1813 aged 25 years ( making his year of birth about 1788 ). In 1837, he was on a Ticket of Leave at Bathurst.

    This means that he must have been born about 43 years before 1837, that is about 1894; this doesn't tie in with his being aged 25 when transported - his date of birth being either circa 1794 or 1788 - depending on which record we look at. The records of the Staffordshire Assizes say that Thomas was on trial on 12 March 1812 and that he was committed for that trial on October 21st 1811 when he was aged 24 years - making his birthdate between 22 October 1786 and 21 October 1787.

    I am still confused about dates of birth calculated from ages given by Thomas in the Australian convict records. From the Assizes it looks like Thomas the convict was born between 22 October 1786 and 21 October 1787 because he was aged 24 on 21 October 1811. When he arrived in Sydney on the Earl Spencer on 9 October 1813 he was aged 25 years and therefore born between 10 October 1787 and 9 October 1788. Doesn't that mean that he was born between the 10th and 21st October in 1787 ? I am sure that this is mathematically correct. I am not so confident about the quality of the records.

    There is a chance that he may be the Thomas William Snelson, son of Rev Jeoffry Snelson, Vicar of the Parish of Reigate. Charles J. Snelson is currently sleuthing this connection whilst I am trying to find out whether he married in Australia and what happened to him after 1837. We now know that he was convicted on several counts of petty larceny and burglary.

    He was originally committed for trial on 5 April 1809 charged with burglariously breaking into the dwelling house of William Whitworth of Willenhall and stealing a child's frock, a pincushion and divers other goods the property of Joseph Bird; ( on this charge he was acquitted ); also with burglariously breaking into the dwelling house of John Brevett at Willenhall, and stealing two hammers and divers other goods the property of the said John Brevett and George Yates, also with burglariously breaking into the dwelling house of Moses Mattox at Wednesfield and stealing a shirt and handkerchief and muslin curtain the property of the said Moses Mattox and also with burglariously breaking into the dwelling of Benjamin Cox of Wolverhampton and stealing two birdcages 24 keys and divers other goods the property of the said Benjamin Cox ( on this last he was condemned ). He was condemned on the last charge to death.

    He must have been transported somewhere because he was again on trial on the 12th of March 1812 No. 9 case to be tried states as follows " Thomas Snelson age 24 committed October 21st ( 1811 ) by the Rev A. E. Hoden for feloniously returning from transportation before expiration thereof without lawful excuse. Condemned. "

    We do know that when he arrived in Australia in 1813 that he was 5' 5" tall, of sallow/fair complexion and that he had hazel eyes.

    With this information to hand, I was puzzled that I could not find Thomas in the marriages or deaths in New South Wales. If he had been transported for life, then he may have been pardoned after 1830, but why did it take him from 1813 to 1830 to earn the right to his ticket of leave. Perhaps something else happened to him ?

    With these thoughts, I went to the State Archives Office. Herein lies the further riveting tales of " Thomas the Lock " !

    I found the following :-
    No sign of Thomas in Convict Deaths. No sign of Thomas in Convict Marriages 4/4549 1828-1879 …. but I did hit the Jackpot with : -
    ( 1 ) Snelson Thomas 1814 April 4,5 On lists of convicts to be sent to the Derwent per " Windham " ( Reel 6004; 4/3493 pp. 127, 135 ).
    ( 2 ) Snelson Thomas 1815 Oct 22 On list of prisoners to be sent to Newcastle per " Estramina " ( Reel 6004; 4/3494 p.235 ).
    ( 3 ) Snelson Thomas 1823 Oct 31 On lists of prisoners transported to Port Macquarie per " Lady Nelson " ( Reel 6019; 4/3864 pp 84, 446-7 ).
    Note that entries ( 1 ) and ( 2 ) use the words " to be sent " whereas entry ( 3 ) says " transported ". At this stage I believe that he may not have gone to Tasmania or to Newcastle at all. I think he was transported directly from Sydney to Port Macquarie.

    Incidentally, the Lady Nelson was under the command in January 1802 of Lieutenant John Murray, who surveyed the southern coast and discovered a great bay on the mainland near the head of the Bass Strait, which in due course became Port Phillip Bay : the harbour of the modern Melbourne - but sorry, I digress again.

    Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, lies on the Derwent River. Newcastle is 120 miles north of Sydney. Port Macquarie is perhaps 250 miles north of Sydney. Pretty desperate places in those days.
    There was a problem in the Colony. What to do with recidivists ? Chain gangs needed too many guards.

    The answer was the establishment of penal settlements whose remoteness would deter escape, whose severity and frightening unfamiliarity would instil salutary terror. The first penal outstation was Newcastle !

    By 1817, the convict population amounted to more than 500 prisoners. Newcastle in New South Wales was and is a coal mining town. Although the coal mining work was indeed terrible, worse working conditions existed. Lime was required for mortar to support the Sydney building program.

    The lime had to be burnt to make the mortar. The vast beds of oysters close to Newcastle provided a mineral lime for mortar not available in Sydney. The conditions were dreadful. The main preoccupation amongst prisoners was to escape. By 1820, the usefulness of Newcastle as a place of secondary punishment was waning because of the growing importance of the hinterland in the Upper Hunter Valley as well as the difficulty of containing prisoners in a remote but active commercial environment.

    Newcastle was thrown open to free trade and settlement in 1823 - the year Thomas was transported and sent to Port Macquarie. Its convicts stayed on; by 1827 there were 1600 convicts in Newcastle, but it was no longer just a jail for the twice convicted. Wait for it. That role was assumed by a new settlement started in 1821, 270 miles north of Sydney : - Port Macquarie.

    This was where they sent incorrigible, life sentence prisoners convicted of second offences. Discipline was severe. Possession of writing paper got the prisoner one month in the cells; trying to smuggle out a letter was worth 100 lashes. Escapes were common, but the local Aboriginal trackers were keen to catch the bolters. Black Australian bounty hunters.

    An examination of the last 1823 entry reveals that our Thomas might have been a naughty boy again. He was convicted at the Sydney Bench on 18 October 1823, of what I do not know, yet. The sentence column reads either " Review sentence " or " Renew sentence " . I cannot decipher the words, but the other evidence would indicate to me that he had been found guilty of something.

    The shipping records reveal that he was one of " 44 male prisoners transported to Port Macquarie on board Her Majesty's Colonial Brig Lady Nelson ". The records show their respective sentences and the place, time of trial and original sentences extracted from indents of ships by which they arrived - 31 October 1823 . There were two other passengers, both female who were not convicts; they were travelling with their prisoner husbands. Neither is named Snelson. So, presumably Thomas was not married then.

    By 1830 Port Macquarie had become the home of the Specials - that is, the convict intelligentsia, educated troublemakers, amputees ( I can't resist this - I assume the amputee is the guy with the missing limb, not the surgeon ! ), the blind, crippled, the insane, one-armed stone breakers and drunks. To get this all into some perspective, Port Macquarie became the home for first grave offences; Moreton Bay ( Brisbane ) became the home for runaways from Port Macquarie; Norfolk Island - there was nothing worse; no island prison ever bestowed such hardship and viciousness on its inmates; no point of exile was ever established further from reason, openness or equity; no prison was so remote; Norfolk Island was 500 miles eastward out to sea from the remotest and most distant arm of the Empire; a trip to Norfolk Island was a single ticket.

    What does all this mean for our Thomas ? I think it means that there was a second sentence doesn't it ? What did Thomas do to be shipped yet again - this time to a hell-hole worse than the one he was already in. What sort of human being was our Thomas ? What happened to Thomas after 1823 ?

    I'm working on it, but the fact that he fades into oblivion after 1837 is a mystery - especially as he won his ticket of leave in 1830. Stand by. His ticket of leave was number 30/714 which was granted on 8 November 1830 some 18 years after conviction.

    The Ticket describes Thomas as having a ruddy complexion, sandy hair and hazel to grey eyes. It's amazing what a few years in the tropics can do to a man !

    He must have cleaned up his act to get a ticket of leave. TOLs were usually granted after four years good conduct on a seven year sentence. Presumably the convicts who had been sentenced for serious offences may have had to wait longer. They allowed convicts to work for persons other than an assigned master. They also allowed convicts to be free from forced government labour, but the Ticket of Leave convict was not permitted to leave the Colony of New South Wales; it was not a pardon, nor was it the equivalent to the modern day notion of parole. Thomas, with a TOL was still a convict, still a prisoner, still constrained by the system.

    The Ticket of Leave had to be renewed each year and could be revoked at any time. Many assigned convicts were unfairly treated by masters who maliciously preferred charges against them on the grounds of insolence, threatening language or some other such trumped up charge or fabricated allegations - the effect of which was to earn the prisoners 50 lashes and another year's sentence - and continuing servitude to the master. However, a Ticket of Leave once granted, allowed a convict to work for his own benefit and to acquire property on the condition that he resided within a prescribed area, attended a muster every few months and attended church weekly.

    More of this story has now been unravelled. A Conditional Pardon was granted on the condition that the grantee resided in the territory, state or colony as a freeman; that is, he had all the rights of a free man, with the exception that he was not allowed to leave New South Wales. Many did a bunk of course, and tried to get back to the owld dart to see their loved ones and family, friends and rellies. I wonder whether Thomas did this ..... maybe he wouldn't want to see them again - nor they he !

    Many disappeared without trace of course; being found outside the Sovereign State ( as it was then, before joining with the other sovereign states to form the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 ) was punishable by death. Quite a terminal judgement really, don't you think ?

    When the application for a pardon had been approved by the Secretary of State and certified by the Governor of New South Wales, the certificate was registered and the instrument sent to the clerk of the Supreme Court with a copy to the principle Superintendent of Convicts for passing to the convict .... at least, that's how I think the system worked. The sequence is interesting, as the Governor certified the Pardon before having it approved by the Secretary of State.

    I am still chasing the Pardon to try and get the grounds on which it was granted. I spent an hour or so at the Archives Office yesterday, but could only find the references to the granting of the pardon, and the fact that it is indeed our man, as the Vessel "Earl Spencer" is given. In case you hadn't gathered this before, in every reference to a convict, the same elements of data are given as identification, as follows :-

    Name ( Thomas Snelson )

    Date of Arrival in Colony ( 1813 )

    Ship ( "Earl Spencer" ).

    A late entry - I have found the following entry in the miscellaneous correspondence of the Secretary of State and the Principal Registrar of Convicts :-

    " Pardon No. 39/426, Dated Nov 1 1838 ( repeat 1838 ), Name Thomas Snelson, Ship " Earl Spencer ", Master Mitchell, Year of Arrival 1813, Native Place Wolverhampton, Trade Smith, Sentence Life, Year of Birth 1788, Height 5' 5", Complexion Ruddy, Hair Sandy, Eyes Grey."

    Submitted for the signature of Sir George Gipps Secretary of State Duplicates returned signed 31 December 1838 Approved by Despatch No. 101 26 July 1839 for collection by Individual on Payment of the Stated five shillings and sixpence. "

    Who said freedom didn't have its price ? The price is 5s 6d.

    What a sad story. I wonder what influences from his homelife brought Thomas from Staffordshire unwillingly to this hostile land; where would we all be if it wasn't for the labours of the convicts and pioneers ? This is still frontier country; what is it that drives us willingly in the late 1900's to the ends of the world ? Oh Thomas, if you could see this country now, what would you think of it ?

    In February 1993, Charles and I went together to the NSW Archives Office to see whether in a few hours we could find anything else. We found (1) Convict Marriage Banns 1826-1841 Nil (2) Register of Convicts Applications to Marry Oct 1842 to Feb 1851 Nil (3) Port Macquarie List of Convicts at the Settlement 1822-1830 :- "53.3 Snelson Thomas 16,12" . (4) List of Convicts Transported to Port Macquarie on board his majesty's colonial brig Lady Nelson with their respected sentences annexed thereto and also their original places, times of trial and sentences extracted from the indents of the ships by which they arrived in the colony. Sydney New South Wales 31 October 1823 :- "Thomas Snelson Bench Sydney 18 October 1823 Renew Sentence Locksmith Earl Spencer Stafford 12 November 1812 Life."

    In December 1993, I found in the New South Wales Gazette the announcement of the Conditional Pardon. In a letter from the Colonial Secretary's Office dated 16th December 1839, is a reference to Despatch number 101 dated 25th July 1839 from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in which Her Majesty's Conditional Pardon dated 1st November 1838 is granted to some 80 or so people, including "Snelson Thomas, Earl Spencer". [:CR:].
  • Birth: Thomas Snelson was born in October 1787 in Staffordshire In the record for 12 March 1812, Thomas is given as being aged 26 years making his birth date between 12 March 1786 and 11 March 1787. From the convict records, we can see that Thomas records his year of birth as 1788 on at least two occasions ( 8 November 1830 and 26 July 1839 ).2
  • Courtcase: He; 21 October 1811; Thomas Snelson's unlawful return from transportation The allegation was that he had " feloniously returned from transportation before expiration thereof without lawful excuse. Condemned ".

    It is possible of course that he never got further than the hulks on the first occasion. Some prisoners spent all of their sentences on the hulks .... this would still be referred to as "transportation" perhaps. The hulk records are listed in the Guide to the AONSW, p267.
  • Crime: He; 3 November 1811; Stafford; buglariously entered the house of Thomas Deakin ( Dakin ) When taken, Ben had bags containing 720 pieces of copper coin valued at 3 pounds and another with 1440 pieces value 3 pounds along with two promissory notes total value 2 pounds.

    The citation reads[ITAL:] " ... and with force did did steal and carry away, did feloniously and burglariously did break out to get out ...[:ITAL] "3
  • Residence: He resided in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, about 1812.4
  • Courtcase: He; 12 March 1812; Stafford Assizes; the theft of copper coins worth five pounds Benjamin Walters was sentenced to 14 years - his native place being given as "Derbyshire" - and his occupation as labourer, aged 20 years. He was eventually given a conditional pardon # 1491.

    The contact here is Karen Hughes on Soft-Tech BBS.
  • Courtcase: He; 12 November 1812; Stafford, Staffordshire; " his return from transportation before expiration of his time " He was sentenced to death but this was commuted to transportation for life.6
  • Occupation: He was an as a locksmith in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, before 1813.
  • Transporta: He; 2 June 1813; from England on the convict transport ship, on the ship the "Earl Spencer", to Australia
  • Transporta: He; 9 October 1813; and arrived the penal colony of New South Wales on
  • Transporta: He; 4 April 1814; least he is listed to be sent, on the ship "Wyndham" to the Derwent, in Tasmania
  • Transporta: He; 22 October 1815; least he is listed to be sent, on the ship "Estramina" to Newcastle
  • Residence: He resided in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia, about 1823.
  • Courtcase: He; 18 October 1823; a decision that he serve out his original life sentence
  • Transporta: He; 31 October 1823; on the ship "Lady Nelson", to Port Macquarie
  • Residence: He resided in Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia, about 1827.7
  • Residence: He resided in was living, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia, about 1827.
  • Ticketofle: He; 8 November 1830; was granted a Ticket of Leave by the Bathurst Bench, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia; The Ticket of Leave # 30/714 states that Thomas is allowed to remain in the District of Bathurst.8
  • Publicatio: He; 1 November 1838; in a Register of recommendations for Conditional Pardons9
  • Pardon: He; 26 July 1839; Pardon # 39/426 was granted by the Governor Sir George Gipps knight, conditionally remitting the remainder of the sentence passed at Stafford on 12 March 1812, " provided always and on condition that the said Thomas Snelson continue to reside within the limits of this Government for and during the space thy original order of transportation otherwise Thomas Snelson shall be subject to all the paind and penalties of reappearing in Great Britain and Ireland for and during the term of thy original sentence as if this remission had never been granted ". Signed George Gipps 1 November 1838.10
  • Death: He died after 1840.


Census 1814Thomas Snelson Id #2,236 (Convict) was at home on Census night 1814 at the Muster as a convict "off stores" assigned to a Mr. Lord, Sydney; 1814 General Muster of NSW, published by the ABGR, entry 5163 S(ydney), Thomas (S)Nelson Earl Spencer C(onvict) Off (stores) to Mr. Lord ... he was Simon Lord, magistrate.

Original Documents, Source and Citations here11
Census 1825Thomas Snelson Id #2,236 (Convict) was at home on Census night 1825 at the Convict Muster PRO Reel 66A, Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia; The Muster Record seems to state that he is serving 7 years of an extended sentence at Port Macquarie .... but maybe my eyes deceive me ?

Original Documents, Source and Citations here
Census 1837Thomas Snelson Id #2,236 (Convict) was at home on Census night 1837 at the 1837 Convict Muster, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

Original Documents, Source and Citations here12
  • Last Edited: 6 July 2021 12:41:19


  1. [S561] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Gazette, Source Element: R3-5020
  2. [S936] Charles Elson Jeoffrey SNELSON, Why Convict Thomas Snelson is Thomas William Snelson 1782-?? Source Element: R3-8381
  3. [S1076] Karen Hughes, Ben Walters
  4. [S245] Stafford Assizes 1809 & 1812 - Recorded by Wendy, R3-5010
  5. [S1156] Convict Indent - Thomas Snelson, Ship "Earl Spencer" - 1813, Source Element: Thomas Snelson, Age 26, Native Place Stafford, Trade Locksmith, Tried at Stafford Assizes on 12 March 1812, Sentenced to Life Imprisonment, Height 5' 51/2", complexion Sallow, Hair Dark Brown, Eyes Hazel, Ticket of Leave 30/714, Left England 2 Jun 1813 arriving 9 Oct 1813.; AO NSW ref 4/4004, Reel 393
  6. [S1160] Criminal Register - Thomas Snelson, PRO Reel 2755, Source Element: AO NSW, PRO 2755
  7. [S556] Convict Records - NSW State Archives Office, Source Element: R3-4962
  8. [S1157] Ticket of Leave - Thomas Snelson, Bathurst - 1830, Source Element: The Bathurst Bench made the recommendation for the granting of the ToL #30/714. Card Index 1810-14, Index 1824-27 ( COD 470, F752 ), T/L butts.; AO NSW ref 4/4076, # 914
  9. [S1158] Register of Recommendations - Thomas Snelson, Condtional Pardons - 1838, Source Element: CPs 1826-46, Index F824, 828 pg no 106 Fiche 826; AO NSW 4/4437, # 777
  10. [S1159] Conditional Pardon - Thomas Snelson, Sydney - 1838-40, Source Element: Conditional Pardon, # 39/426 is actually signed by George Gipps and dated 1 November 1838. Governor Gipps then certifies " that Her Majesty's gracious approbation and allowance of the conditional pardon has been sighted to me by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 26 July 1839 ", and the entry made in the records on 1st January 1840. So the actual date of effect is hard to see.
  11. [S1154] General Muster of NSW - Thomas Nelson, Sydney - 1814, Source Element: [BO:In 1822 there is an entry A13953 for Mary McMarty, free by servitude, from the ship "Surprize", sentenced to 7 tears transportation, being the wife of Thomas Nelson, Windsor ":BO]; "5163 S Thomas Nelson Earl Spencer C Off Stores To Mr. Lord"; General Muster Of NSW 1814, , , State Library Of NSW - Family History Section, The "S" means resides at Sydney; the "C' means Convict.
    Memo: Comments: [BO:In 1822 there is an entry A13953 for Mary McMarty, free by servitude, from the ship "Surprize", sentenced to 7 tears transportation, being the wife of Thomas Nelson, Windsor ":BO]
  12. [S1155] Convict Muster - Thomas Snelson, Bathurst - 1837


Ethel Snelson1

F, #2248, Deceased, b. before 25 May 1886

Main Events

  • Birth: Ethel Snelson was born before 25 May 1886 in Otago, Newcastle, New Zealand.
  • Christening: Ethel was christened on 25 May 1886 in Otago, Newcastle, New Zealand.
  • Last Edited: 6 July 2021 12:41:25


  1. [S87] Society Of Australian Genealogists Microfyche


Agnes Mary Snelson1

F, #2249, Deceased, b. about 1840



Family: Frederick St. John Akers (b. 28 January 1845, d. 7 March 1881)

Main Events

  • Name: Agnes Mary Snelson was also known as Agnes Mary Akers.2
  • Christening: Agnes Mary was christened in the local parish church, Ashby de la Zouch.
  • Biography: Agnes Mary Snelson and "Miss H. Snelson" were on the 'Southern Cross' together. Whether this was Henrietta or Hannah, I know not. There was also a "Mr. Akers" on board - Fred presumably ? [:CR:].
  • Birth: She was born about 1840.3
  • Residence: She resided in Ashby de la Zouch in 1851.4
  • Immigration: She immigrated to England the "Southern Cross", Wellington, New Zealand, on 16 January 1867.5
  • Marriage: Agnes Mary Snelson and Frederick St. John Akers were married on 19 November 1867 in St. Peters, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand.2
  • Last Edited: 6 July 2021 12:41:28


  1. [S984] Letter from Paul Chapman dated 16 October 1993
  2. [S627] Letter from Ian Matheson Archivist of Palmerston North, Source Element: R3-5401
  3. [S719] Letter from Molly Akers dated 16 August 1992
  4. [S5598] Census 1851 Leicestershire James Snelson Coachbuilder, Census Type: Film
    Census Place: Market Street, Ashby de la Zouch
  5. [S87] Society Of Australian Genealogists Microfyche


George Mathew Snelson1

M, #2250, Deceased, b. about 1837, d. 31 October 1901

Person Exhibits

George Mathew Snelson 1837-1907



Family: Louisa Matilda Buck (b. January 1844, d. 15 December 1919)

Main Events

  • Christening: George Mathew was christened in the local parish church, Ashby de la Zouch.
  • Biography: Mayor and founding father of Palmerston North. He was an auctioneer and estate agent.

    [ITAL:]His gravestone reads :- " In grateful recognition of the many public services rendered to this community by George Mathew Snelson, born at Ashby de la Zouch, England, died 31 October 1901. "
    Georgina, James, Bonnie and I visited the town on Saturday 20th December 1991, and we were impressed by the layout of the vast Square and the civic and shopping area of the central business district. Somebody ( probably the Government Surveyor John Tiffin Stewart of whom more later ), had a great deal of foresight and vision.

    A monument in the Square reads
    [ITAL:]" The foundation stone was laid on 9 August 1902 to mark the foundation and 25th Anniversary of the incorporation of the Borough of Palmerston North - the office of Mayor being held by George Mathew Snelson etc ".[:ITAL]

    At the Public Library, I discovered evidence suggesting that his wife was aged 75 and the entry relating to her burial suggests her age at 63. This is somewhat confusing, as other records indicate that he was aged 33 years when he arrived in the colony in Wellington from England in 1861 - making his date of birth circa 1828. This would also mean that he was aged about 73 when he died. I have a copy of her death certificate which indicates that she was 77 years old when she died in 1919.

    He spent his first nine colonial years ( 1861 to 1870 ) in Wellington in the ironmongery establishment of E.W. Mills & Co and then, encouraged and assisted by Mr. Mills he decided to try his luck in the yet to be established township of Palmerston - at the time, an almost unknown wilderness.

    The town site had previously been identified and planned by the aforementioned Surveyor John T. Stewart in 1866. On 30 December 1870, Palmerston received in the person of George Mathew Snelson its first substantial citizen.

    His was the first building to show itself above the flax and scrub of the Square.

    According to most authorities and historians George was in more ways than one, the first citizen of Palmerston, being a man of sterling integrity, unbounded energy and absolute faith in the town's future. He became a leader of every movement for progress and the benefit of the citizens.

    George Snelson and his wife Louisa Matilda showed the greatest courage in risking their all in this precarious venture, but having made the decision, they stuck unswervingly to their selected course and cast all their efforts into helping their fellow pioneers through early difficulties, hardships and development. In turn, they elected him as their first mayor and to every other civil dignity the township had to offer over a period of 30 years.

    In February 1901, he decided to contest for the position of Mayor for a fourth time and was installed as Mayor on 8 May 1901. He was Mayor in 1877-79, 1883-84, 1889-92 and finally in 1901.

    He had arrived to set up business on The Square in December 1870 and was the first to settle there. When he made the journey from Foxton to Palmerston he came by canoe and bush trail. George has been described as the Father of Palmerston North and was the leading figure in the affairs of the bush community. He was Mayor for four separate terms, a real estate agent, postmaster, auctioneer, lay preacher in the Anglican Church, Chief Magistrate of the Borough, general storekeeper, warden and then later Chairman of the Manawatu Highways Board ( the first local body in the Manawatu ) and Palmerston Schools Committee as well as the first captain of the Rifle Volunteers.

    He was appointed Bishop's churchwarden, conducted services and carried out the Minister's functions for the three years that the town was without a Vicar. At the Bishop's request to name the first church, Mr. Snelson called it after All Saints in the parish of Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire. Mr E.W. Mills of Wellington donated the bell and Mr. Snelson sent home for the books and altar cloth. He was appointed the first chairman of the elected Palmerston North Hospital District in 1894. He was the first secretary of the Manawatu & West Coast Agricultural and Pastoral Association.

    He came to Palmerston as a poor man and he died a poor man - yet the early success of Palmerston was in many ways due to his efforts.

    [ITAL:]"Never Ending, Still Beginning"[:ITAL] is the title of a centennial history of All Saints Church by R.P. Wigglesworth, indexed by Mike Foster. The index contains the entry

    " SNELSON Geo Churchwarden 1875/85, d.1901 aged 64 p74".

    I am indebted to Tom Miller in Ontario, Canada for this gem. Soon after he arrived, he had an iron store built on a section he purchased on the western side of the Square adjoining what is now in 1991 the site occupied by the DIC Ltd, using materials he had brought up from Wellington - by ship to Foxton and the sledge to Palmerston.

    The store was constructed of galvanised iron nailed to a wooden frame. This store became the focal point of the small bush settlement and by the end of 1871 had been replaced by a more substantial wooden construction - a replica of this building has been erected next to the Museum opposite All Saints Church - proudly bearing the name in very large letters [BOLD:]" G. W. SNELSON "[:BOLD].

    Soon, others began to arrive, and as there were only four rooms in the hotel built after George's arrival, the overflow was hospitably entertained in the back of his store. (

    Later, Snelson's store was purchased by Mr. John Waldegrave who re-erected it on the corner of the Square and Main Street as the Royal Hotel. That site eventually became occupied by the Commercial Hotel ). One journalist wrote that [ITAL:]" the principal store in Palmerston is kept by a Wellington man, Mr. Snelson, who appears to be doing a thriving trade. He is perhaps the most popular man in the place and deservedly so as he is indefatigable in his efforts to promote its advancement. "

    [:ITAL]When Snelson decided to stake his future in Palmerston, the only evidences of civilization in the Papaioea clearing were Stanley's "pub", Menzies' whare ( a Maori hut or home ) in Rangitikei Street, the surveyor's two slab huts and rows of survey pegs largely hidden by the prevailing fern and scrub. Snelson's only assurances of obtaining a living in the future were his farsighted sagacity and the Government's nebulous promise of some kind of communication with the outside world that would encourage settlers and enable the export of the only commodity the district had to offer, timber.

    During 1876, the new Town Board performed well considering its limited powers and jurisdiction, but the people under George Snelson's active leadership petitioned for the proclamation of the township as a borough. Snelson explained to the townspeople how this could benefit the local population. Money raised by the borough could carry a subsidy of two pounds for each one pound, rates could be levied, a jail could be built, itinerant peddlers selling rubbish controlled, the Square cleaned up and a real township established.

    To the universal satisfaction of its inhabitants, their town was proclaimed a borough on 12 July 1877 and Mr. G. M. Snelson was proclaimed by the Governor as its first Mayor after being elected by the people unopposed. The population had 247 entitled voters when they voted George into office for the first time.

    Within a short time after his last election as Mayor in 1901, he was reported as being ill and died in office as Mayor in his fourth stint in that position on 31 October, a poor man but leaving the town of his adoption greatly enriched as a result of his unselfish sacrifices in time and work. A memorial service was held on 4 November 1901 at the congregational church perhaps organised by his wife who also commenced the Snelson Memorial Fund.

    My family and I saw the Memorial Plate in the All Saints Church which he helped to found which was unveiled on 30 October 1922. It reads :

    [ITAL:]" To the Glory of God and to Perpetuity the Memory of George Mathew Snelson Lay Reader and Church Warden A Consistent Benefactor of this Church and Parish He was the First mayor of Palmerston North and Promoted its Welfare by All Means in his Power 1901 Laura Matilda Snelson his Wife and Helpmeet who Died in 1919. "
    His name appears in a book about The Fitzherbert Bridges 1877-1987, available from Rosina Palmer, Mouse Cottage, Mt Stewart, R.D.9, Palmerston North 5321. [:CR:].
  • Birth: He was born about 1837 in Ashby de la Zouch.
  • Occupation: He was an auctioneer about 1860.
  • Immigration: He immigrated to England the "Earl of Windsor", Wellington, New Zealand, in 1861.2
  • Marriage: George Mathew Snelson and Louisa Matilda Buck were married on 6 July 1865 in Wellington, St. Pauls, New Zealand.3,4
  • Residence: He resided in Fitzherbert St., Palmerston North, New Zealand, about 1885.5
  • Death: He died on 31 October 1901 in Palmerston North, New Zealand.6
  • Burial: George Mathew's remains were buried in November 1901 in Terrace End Cty, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
  • Probate: The estate of George Mathew Snelson was probated on 23 August 1907.
  • Probate: The estate of George Mathew Snelson was probated on 23 August 1907 at the Lands & Deeds Office.


Census 1851George Mathew Snelson Id #2,250 (Principal) was at home on Census night 1851 at Market Street, Ashbt de la Zouch

Original Documents, Source and Citations here7
  • Last Edited: 6 July 2021 12:41:25


  1. [S584] From Stones to Stores 1846 - 1870 - The Story of Palmerston, Source Element: R3-5149
  2. [S614] G.C. Petersen, Palmerston North - A Centennial History, Source Element: A.H.& A.W. Reed, Wellington, New Zealand
    Source Element: City Corporation, Palmerston North
    Source Element: R3-5365
  3. [S478] Death Certificate of Louisa Matilda Snelson, Source Element: R3-2951
  4. [S87] Society Of Australian Genealogists Microfyche
  5. [S615] The Birth of Palmerston North by Ian Matheson, Source Element: Published, Evening Standard
    Source Element: Palmerston North, 1972
    Source Element: R3-5369
  6. [S814] Letter from Marion Douglas Simmons (nee GREY ) 10 Dec 1992, Source Element: R3-7241
  7. [S5598] Census 1851 Leicestershire James Snelson Coachbuilder, Census Type: Film
    Census Place: Market Street, Ashby de la Zouch