In 1853, Appo Hocton became the first person of Chinese descent to gain New Zealand citizenship. As carter, builder, roading contractor, then exporter, he was an industrious and respected resident of early Nelson.
Hocton left China at the age of nine to work as a cabin boy on an English sailing ship. He travelled widely, and by 1842 held the rank of steward aboard the Thomas Harrison bound from England to Nelson, where he jumped ship.
He found work as a housekeeper with Dr Thomas Renwick who had been ship’s surgeon on the Thomas Harrison, who was also making a new life for himself in Nelson. Within two years, Hocton had saved enough to buy a bullock and dray, and began a carting business. He expanded this to three drays, and by 1849, he had ten bullocks.
After gaining New Zealand citizenship in 1853, Hocton was able to buy his own property. He purchased land in Washington Valley, where he built a cottage for his family on Washington Road, as well as four cottages on Hastings Street, which he rented. By 1872, he was also exporting dried fungus and scrap iron to China.
Hocton married twice. First, in 1856, to Jennifer Rowling, a neighbour who had been widowed two years earlier. Rowling had a five-year-old son, William. Hocton is widely believed to have been the boy’s father. As well as being family lore, William showed a striking resemblance to Hocton.
Jennifer Hocton died from tuberculosis in early 1865. Later that year, Appo Hocton married Ellen Snook. Together they had three children, Louis, Albert and Eirena. They also adopted another child, Olive Clara Schroder.
In 1876, Hocton sold most of his property in Nelson, buying 485 acres in Dovedale, Tasman. Tragedy struck in 1879. Louis and Albert had taken a rifle to bag a rabbit they had spotted. Louis aimed at the rabbit, but just as he pulled the trigger, Albert ran in front. The eleven-year-old lad was killed.
Hocton built a family home before going on to build another seven homes for his children and grand- children. Not only was he one of the first to start growing hops in the area but he also apparently attempted to grow tea in his front paddock.
Hocton died in 1920 (possibly aged 103), after a life of extraordinary vigour and enterprise. He had numerous descendants, many of whom still live in the Nelson/Tasman region.
Developed in association with The Nelson Provincial Museum Pupuri Taonga o Te Tai Ao.
Images (clockwise from top left:
Appo Hocton, Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 91262
Appo and Ellen Hocton seated outside their house in Dovedale. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 76248
Ellen and Appo Hocton’s children, 1876, Nelson Provincial Museum, W E Brown Collection: 13045
Appo Hocton, 1876, Nelson Provincial Museum, W E Brown Collection: 13043
Mrs Ellen Hocton (nee Snook), 1876, Nelson Provincial Museum, W E Brown Collection: 13044
Hastings Street, Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 31724