Story: Redwood, Henry

Page 1 - Redwood, Henry

Redwood, Henry

1823–1907

Farmer, politician, racehorse breeder

This biography was written by Mollie Dickinson and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Henry Redwood was born in the parish of Tixall, Staffordshire, England, on 24 January 1823. He was the son of Mary Gilbert and her husband, Henry Redwood, a farmer. With their nine children and son-in-law, Joseph Ward, the Redwoods sailed for New Zealand on the George Fyfe in June 1842. Henry, then aged 19, was already an experienced farmer and had ridden and raced his own horse. After a difficult voyage the family arrived at Nelson on 12 December 1842.

For the next 20 years the Redwoods farmed in Waimea West, 15 miles from Nelson. The early years were a fight for subsistence: ducks, quails, larks and wild pigs were frequently shot. In 1843 Henry junior established a butchery in Nelson, providing the market with mutton, beef and butter.

On 23 January 1845 he married Elizabeth Reeves, née Palmer, a widow, at the Redwoods' cob-built home, Stafford Place. They were to have two sons and a daughter. At Waimea West Henry built a new home, Hednesford, and stables of home-made bricks. He was a progressive farmer, one of the first to use a threshing machine and a steam plough. In 1863 Redwood moved with his family to Marlborough and settled at Spring Creek in the Wairau River valley. He was elected to the Nelson Provincial Council representing Waimea West in 1863 and the Marlborough Provincial Council representing Tuamarina in 1868. In 1865 he founded a flour mill at Spring Creek.

The Redwoods were stalwart supporters of the Catholic church. The family had attended Mass in Nelson, usually travelling on foot, and they had daily services at home or in the shearing shed or cow byre, as work demanded. They were hosts to all visiting clergy, including Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier. Later, Father Antoine Garin became a close family friend and Henry's youngest brother, Francis, became archbishop of New Zealand.

Henry Redwood was prominent in sporting circles, serving as steward for the Nelson Jockey Club from 1848. An excellent shot, he became the Australasian champion for pigeon shooting; he also sailed his own yacht, the Torea. His great love was racing, however, earning him both locally and in Europe the title of 'Father of the New Zealand Turf'. At Hednesford, he established the first stud in New Zealand. Probably in 1852, the brig Spray brought in the stallion Sir Hercules along with 20 mares and fillies. Their progeny won races on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Redwood bought stock from Australia and France, later returning some of the offspring. On 4 March 1863 his mare, Ladybird, won the first New Zealand Champion Race against horses from Australia as well as New Zealand. In all, Redwood won the Wellington Cup and Dunedin Cup twice, the Canterbury Cup three times and the Nelson Cup and Marlborough Cup four times each. His colours, black jacket and red cap – carried for seven years by his son, Joseph (Joe) – were well known and his victories popular. He was a man of integrity and all his horses ran to win, although he seldom made money. For some years he raced in partnership with Hugh Stafford, and later with G. G. Stead. He was known for his sternness to his stable boys and his kindness to his horses. In Sydney he successfully raced Strop, then sold him. Not satisfied with the horse's treatment he bought him back, at a loss, to give him honourable retirement in Nelson. Henry Redwood's stud was considered to be 'outstanding', and as valuable 'as could be found in any British colony'.

A genial, burly man, with a beard like a mop surrounding his face, he had a fund of racing and pioneering stories, loved argument and could quote passages of Shakespeare. Elizabeth Redwood died on 5 July 1891. Full of years and honour Henry Redwood died in Blenheim on 9 November 1907.