George Aiken

Born 17 September 1823, in Glasgow, Scotland
Had arrived in Nelson, New Zealand, before July 1843
Married, Janet McFarlane Gardiner 23 September 1844
Died, 21 October 1894, Queensland, Australia.

I am indebted to Australian Aiken descendants for both improving the accuracy of this information and supplying most of the Australian information. Please note, there is no connection between this Aiken family and Mr. Alexander Aitken (that’s with a ‘T’) who was also a Nelson shop keeper & auctioneer (in Bridge Street) around the same time as George Aiken’s store and auctioneering activities in Trafalgar Street.


George’s early life (1823-1844)

Nothing has yet been found of George’s life prior to arrival in New Zealand. His obituary, written by his surviving Australian based descendants over fifty years later, simply stated he arrived in Nelson in 1840. This year is most unlikely as the first colonists (via the New Zealand Company) arrived in 1841 and there is no record (and these sailings are well documented) of an Aiken on any of these early ships. My assumption is that George independently (not part of the NZ Company settlers) made his way to Nelson and did so due to presence of the Gardiner family. Later, two of George’s bothers also independently made their way to Nelson.

Regardless of how he got to Nelson, he was there by July 1843 – which is when he put his name to a newspaper printed list of those subscribing to send a Deputation to Auckland (which was then the capital of NZ and home of the Colony’s Governor). The purpose of the Deputation was to seek the arrest of the Ngati Toa chiefs following the Wairau Affray. (Nelson Examiner, 29 July 1843)

By February 1844 he is residing in Auckland Point (near the Nelson port) and is a Shopman. (List of those qualified to serve a jurors, Nelson Examiner, 17 February 1844)

On 23 September 1844 he marries Janet McFarlane Gardiner. He is 21 and the bride aged 19. There is indubitably a connection through the Nelson Presbyterian Church as he and Janet’s father William Gardiner are very active in establishing a presence for the Church at this time. There is also a family connection – it appears that the Aiken and Gardiner families are already interconnected back in Scotland and later George’s younger sister, Janet Aiken marries Robert Gardiner in 1852 (in Scotland), and his younger brother Robert marries Ann Reid Gardiner in 1855 (in Nelson). The wedding is announced in the Glasgow Herald, 2 May 1845 as:

At Nelson, New Zealand, on the 23rd September 1844, by the Rev. C. L. Reay, Mr George Aiken, eldest son of Robert Aiken Esq., farmer, Dumbartonshire, to Janet, eldest daughter of Mr. William Gardner, rope maker, Nelson, all formerly of Glasgow.

George’s retail / auctioneering career (1845-1862)

It seems that George works as a clerk / writing clerk, then as a shopman, and by 1851 he establishes his own shop.

He is listed as a ‘clerk’ living in Waimea Road in the 1845-6 List of Jurors. He appears in the Rate Returns section of the NZ Gazette 1845 (page 29) as a “shopman” in Nelson. A year later he is a ‘writing clerk’ in Trafalgar Street in the 1846-7 List of Jurors.

He co-signs in 1848, along with just about every other Nelson resident, a petition for a “fair share of the public expenditure for roads and bridges” from the Governor. (Nelson Examiner, 9 Sept 1848)

His Australian descendants report he was involved in the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in Nelson. In 1848 the local Presbyterian community seeks to establish a proper Church building in Nelson. They purchase the land and commence fundraising via monthly subscription. On 15 July 1848 the Nelson Examiner lists George Aiken as one of the subscription collectors for Nelson Town and William Gardiner (his father in-law) for Waimea East.

In the 1849 Nelson Census he is listed at living in Suburban South, Nelson – his neighbor is his wife’s family – the Gardiners. His occupation is ‘Clerk’ but in the remarks it’s noted he is actually ‘Cordage drying’ (presumably for the Gardiner’s rope making activities next door) and he has 104 sheep.

In December 1849 he’s working at Auckland Point (near the port) and acting as a person from whom you can buy tickets for public addresses from the Presbyterian Church – which are held for the benefit of the Church building fund.

In the February 1850 list of Juror’s (for 1850-1851) he is listed as a Clerk, living in Suburban South, Nelson. They must move around this time to Hardy Street as their third child, Elizabeth Reid Aiken, is born 27 May 1850, in the family home in Hardy Street, Nelson.

He appears in the Nelson Examiner on 11 Jan 1851:

Anniversary Meeting. — On the evening of the 24th December a very interesting Meeting was held in the Presbyterian Church, being the first Anniversary of its opening. Addresses were delivered by the Rev. Mr. Nicholson, who was called to the chair, and by Messrs. Aiken, Gardner, Campbell, Daniells, and McArtney. The Sacred Music was conducted by Mr. Charles Bonnington, with a skill, taste, and judgment which merited all approbation, and he was supported most efficiently by a party of friends, who are never backward with their aid on such harmonious occasion.

In the 1851 list of Nelson Juror’s he’s listed as a ‘Writing Clerk’, living in Waimea Road.

In late 1851 George opens the ‘Nelson Emporium’ – Nelson Examiner, 22 Nov 1851. George is then 28 years of age.

Left: an photograph published in the 1906 Cyclopedia of NZ for Trafalgar Street. I would imagine this image was taken towards the end of the decade. The corner of George Aiken’s Aucton room is just discrinable on the right – look for the small gap between the rows that is Hardy Street (then is lighter patch on the road) and the white building on the corner is the Auction room.

In the 1852-53, 1853-54, and again in the 1854-55 list of Juror’s for Nelson he is listed as being a storekeeper, in Trafalgar Street. He also appears in 1852 where he is listed as a petitioner for Nelson to be recognised as a Municipality.

In 1853 he advertises sailing and ticket purchases for the schooner Catherine. It is unknown if he has a commercial interest in the boat or just acts as the ticket agent – I would assume the later.

In September 1853 he appears in the Nelson Examiner advertising the contents of newly arrived cases of Toys and Saddlery, as George Aiken of the Nelson Emporium.

In 1855 he appears as the Secretary of the Decons’ Court (part of the Nelson Presbyterian Church) – Nelson Examiner – 27 June 1855.

In February 1856 Mrs Aiken of Hardy St is advertising for a female servant.

Also in February 1856 George opens a new building the “New Iron Store” in Trafalgar Street, Nelson. This building is described in the 1857 Rating Roll as a 20 by 40 foot 1 room building constructed in Iron.

In February 1856 Mrs Aiken of Hardy St is advertising for a female servant.

Also in February 1856 George opens a new building the “New Iron Store” in Trafalgar Street, Nelson. This building is described in the 1857 Rating Roll as a 20 by 40 foot 1 room building constructed in Iron.

In 1856 George starts advertising sales by auction – first at the Richmond Fair Grounds (Nelson Examiner, 27 June 1857) and then at his Trafalgar Street shops (Nelson Examiner, 8 July 1857).
He appears on the 1857-8 list of Jurors, as being a Storekeeper, at Nelson. This list of Jurors also shows John Aiken (younger brother of George) as a shopman – I assume in George’s store.

He applies for a license to run a Hotel in Trafalgar Street (Nelson Examiner, 22 April 1857). I have not been able to find either this being granted nor any record of him running a Hotel. He does, however, becomes a licensed auctioneer on 25 April 1857:

In March 1857 he seconds the motion to dissolve the Nelson Coast Steam Navigation Company. Given the circumstances it would appear that investors (and I assume George is among those) are unhappy with aspects of the Company. They are unsuccessful. The Company eventually raises more funding and purchases a steamer which by 1859 appears to be a successful venture.

Left: looking up Trafalgar Street at its intersection with Hardy Street, Nelson, circa 1860. George Aiken’s Auction House is not visible as it would be behind the cattle on the left hand side.

In the period 1856-1860 he appears in the Nelson Examiner in almost every edition, and generally several times in each, advertising his shop, his auctions, and slightly less frequently; house, section, estate, farm animals for sale/auction at varying locations around Nelson/Richmond/Collingwood.

He actively defends his commission income, in George Aiken v. Moses Coleman, George obtains his commission income after the vendor of a Horse who had engaged George to sell it then sells the Horse privately. (The Colonist, 19 March 1858)

I assume he maintains a very active role/involvement with the Presbyterian Church as he uses Rev. Calder surname when naming his seventh child, William Calder Aiken, born 21 April 1858.

In the 1858 Rates assessment George’s property has become large. He’s assessed at owing £8 15s 11d which at the rate of one penny farthing per pound equates to property assets of £1,616. (The Colonist, 30 November 1858)

In the 1859 ‘The Nelson Directory’ he’s listed as an Auctioneer. And, in the 1860 list of Juror’s he is listed as being a Nelson storekeeper.

I assume things are tough (or the competition is) for Nelson Auctioneers in 1859 as their number drops from six to three. It’s worth noting that George Aiken’s brother, Robert Aiken, has a management role at one of his competitors – N. Edwards & Co.

Then soon afterwards, George appears to move away from general shopkeeping and household item auctions. The following appears in the Nelson Examiner on 2 April 1859.

The beginning of the end…

I suspect things have started to get tough for George around this time.

In the 1858 rating roll he has leased out his Iron Store (Town Section 166 in Hardy Street) – but still occupying his Auction Room.

In October 1859 his Auction Room and Iron Store (both Town Section 166) are recorded as Unoccupied in the Rating Roll and with ownership now with Morrisson & Sclanders.

Yet, in November he’s advertising an Auction in his sale room in Trafalgar Street. (The Colonist, 11 November 1859)

He sells his quarter acre (town section 430) which was occupied by a Wooden Horse Stable around late 1859 – rating value of

His Nile street house (Wooden, six rooms, built 1856, Town Section 432, no longer visible as it is now occupied by a modern commercial building) is sold sometime between October 1859 and October 1860 to Rev. Biss. The property had a rating value of £ 350 in 1857. This house is notably close to the Presbyterian Church in Nile Street.

Around this time he moves his family to a smaller house at Town Section 660 (see below, now facing Rutherford Street). This is a quarter acre with a four room timber house constructed in 1855. It is owned by J Gardiner (I suspect a typo and its really W Gardiner, his father in-law). Rating value of £140. Interestingly, his brother, John Aiken, resides next door on his own quarter acre also in a four room timber house constructed in 1855 but with a rating value of £120. John has moved a short distance to Bronti Street by 1868. George Aiken remains at this address until 1872 (last rating roll he appears on) and I assume his departure coincides with the death of William Gardiner – the house owner.

Right: Rutherford Street, January 2011. It appears the houses on Town Section 660 have been replaced by the Chelsea Park Motor Lodge (partially visible on the right). However, there are a series of early settler houses remaining next to this address and it is safe to assume that George Aiken’s house would have been very similar to these and also facing the street in the same manner.

In 1860 he renews his auctioneer licence, he is again one of the three in town, (Nelson Examiner, 25 Jan 1860) and has a daughter, Henrietta Frances Aiken, born 26 May 1860 in Nelson. George is then aged 37.

In late May Nelson is drenched with ten straight days of heavy rain. There is wide wide spread flooding including that in Halifax / Nile Street Mr. Aiken’s bridges were entirely swept away. (The Colonist, 1 June 1860).

In August 1860 he is listed as a member of the Nelson Regiment of the Militia – Nelson Examiner 8 August 1860. This must have been a short involvement as no further mention of him is made and in the 1862 return which lists all members he does not appear.

The last advertisement he places appears in the 11 August 1860 issue of the Nelson Examiner.

Then bankruptcy…

Prior to August 1860 George’s advertisements have appeared, and often three or four, in each issue of the Nelson Examiner. After this date the adverts cease, he does not appear to be publicly connected with Church activities, nor does he appear in lists of Nelson gentlemen supporting candidates for Provincial Government.

George Aiken’s financial position is grim. The Nelson Colonist (24 November 1863) covers in brief the Insolvency Court hearing on 23 November 1863. There is no mention of how he managed to achieve this level of debt and his occupation is described as ‘storekeeper and auctioneer’.

Liabilities £ 2,561
Assets £    312
Deficiency £ 2,249


In August 1860 his brother’s firm is auctioning off his own personal effects – Nelson Examiner on 15 August 1860.

And, then on 18 August 1860 the following appears in the Nelson Examiner:

And, again on 22 August:

And on 5 September he at the Resident Magistrate’s Court. “G. Aiken (late auctioneer) was summoned by T. C. Batchelor, for £6 5s. 4d. Debt admitted by the defendant writing a letter to the plaintiff acknowledging the amount. Judgment for the amount with 3s. costs. (The Colonist, 7 Sept 1860).

And, on 15 September:

And, the finally, on 14 November 1860:

He appears to have found work as a Wharfinger:

This role I believe is best defined as

‘a person who is the keeper or owner of a wharf. The wharfinger took custody of and was responsible for goods delivered to the wharf, typically had an office on the wharf or dock, and was responsible for day-to-day activities including slipways, keeping tide tables and resolving disputes.’

He is in this role at least during November 1861 to January 1862 as he gives evidence in J.A. Langford v. Thomas Cawthron over a disputed shipment of five case of oranges (a case is worth £2 18s). George Aiken is the Wharfinger and gives evidence of five where receipted (The Colonist, 10 January 1862).

In 1863 he fractures his left elbow (Nelson Examiner until 22 September 1863):

And the bankruptcy keeps going…

And going… 14 May 1864

And going…

On 28 July 1864 his second daughter Jessie Marshall Aiken marries Nehemiah McRae. The marriage is performed by Rev. P Calder. The marriage listing of this in the Nelson Examiner, 30 July 1864, unusually for this type of notice does not mention George Aiken’s occupation.

In 1864 he bids for the three year lease for Nelson’s Government Wharf (Colonist, 9 September 1864). While he is unsuccessful he was close, the wining bid was £860, George’s bid £805 and the only other bid £550. It would interesting to know how he could have funded this annual expense as in November the pervious year he was over £2,000 in debt.

In 1865 he appears on the list of those supporting John Wallis Barnicoat for the position of Superintendent – Nelson Examiner 21 March 1865.

In the 1866 Nelson Rate demand is one penny per pound of property valuation. George’s Rate is listed as £1 which would equate his property ownership is now £240. (The Colonist, 6 March 1866).

In the NZ Directory 1866/7 (Stevens & Batholomew) he listed as a Wharfinger, Haven Road, with a residence of Waimea Street, Nelson.

In January 1867 he gives evidence as the clerk for Mr Robert Levien over disputed payment for a truss of hay (value £1 13s) which he had delivered. (The Colonist, 8 January 1867)

Initially, it appears he has returned to being a Commission Agent – as seen in the following from the Nelson Examiner 15 October 1867 – but I gather this activity is as the Wharfinger on behalf of the Wharf owner.

In December 1867 his eldest daughter, Margaret Aiken, marries in the residence of the brides Uncle, (Robert Aiken) Willow Bank, Canterbury.

George tries his luck in Picton – Marlborough Express 28 November 1868:

By 1869 he described himself as a Writing Clerk in Nelson – when witnessing the Will of William Gardiner (his father in-law).

The following appears in the Nelson Evening Mail – 3 September 1869. It should be noted that George’s house is around 300 metres from the Old Cemetery (now Fairfield Park) and William Gardiners house is around 2 kilometers away and over a hill.

He appears in the Rates set for 1870 with a ratable value of £240 (The Colonist, 17 December 1869)

On 1 April 1871, his wife dies at their residence in Waimea Road, Nelson. He’s now a 48 year old widower with dependant children aged; 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17.

The news gets worse… In November 1871 his house is sold in a mortgagee sale (Nelson Examiner, 11 Nov 1871).

George has left Nelson by May 1872, as his no longer entitled to vote in Nelson as he is no longer a householder – while it’s possible he is being accommodated elsewhere in Nelson (as a Guest) I think it is much more likely he has already moved to Greymouth. (The Colonist, 3 May 1872)

In May 1872 the husband of Jessie Aiken dies. Jessie is then 25 years old, two months pregnant and has four children under the age of 7.

Around this time his last local relative, his brother Robert leaves Nelson.

In March 1873; George has definitely relocated to Greymouth and employed as a ‘writing clerk’, and he is still in some financial difficulty.

TAKE NOTICE that GEORGE AIKEN, formerly of Nelson, in the Province of Nelson, but now of Greymouth, in the County of Westland, writing clerk, a debtor, did, on the twenty-first day of March, 1873, file in the District Court of the County of Westland, holden at Greymouth, a deed of arrangement with his creditors, bearing date the fourteenth day of March, 1873, and made between the said debtor of the first part; Joseph Auty Harley, of Greymouth aforesaid, brewer, as trustee, of the second part; and the several other persons, creditors of the said debtor, of the third part. A. R. GUINNESS, Solicitor for the debtor. Grey River Argus, page 3, 22 March 1873

All persons who have claims against Mr. George Aiken, of Greymouth are requested to send them to the Office of Mr. George Harper, Trafalgar street, Nelson not later than May 1, 1873. The Colonist, 29 April 1873

TAKE NOTICE that an application will be made to the District Court of the County of Westland, holden at Greymouth, on THURSDAY, the TWELFTH day of JUNE, 1873, at Ten o’clock in the forenoon, at the Court House, Greymouth, for a declaration of the complete execution of a Deed of Composition dated the 14th day of March 1873, and made between GEORGE AIKEN, formerly of Nelson, in the Province of Nelson, but now of Greymouth, aforesaid, Writing Clerk, a debtor, of the first part; Joseph Auty Harley, of Greymouth, aforesaid, Brewer, as trustee of the second part; and all the Creditors, of the said George Aiken of the third part. A. R. GUINNESS, Solicitor for the said debtor. Grey River Argus, page 3, 11 June 1873

In August 1873 he is at resident in Tainui Street, Greymouth. At this address he hosts the wedding of his daughter Elizabeth to Robert Austen Young.

Left, Men on Tainui Street, Greymouth, circa 1875. A Methodist church and a (fire tower?) are in the background. Water behind the men suggests there may have been a flood.

In 1881, then aged 58, he effectively retires to North Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia. Where he lives with with (or near) his three sons who are already settled there. It is there he dies in 22 October 1894.

Obit, Mr George Aiken (born, Glasgow 1823, Died Queensland 1894), Source: The Colonist (November 6, 1894)
“DEATH OF AN OLD NELSONIAN. – We regret to chronicle the death of one of our most respected citizens, in the person of Mr George Aiken, sen, (formerly of Nelson), which occurred suddenly at his residence, North Bundaberg, at 3.30 p.m. yesterday, (says Bundaberg ‘Mail,’ Queensland, of October 22nd). In the morning the deceased gentleman had complained of a difficulty of breathing to his youngest son, but it passed off, and he partook of a hearty dinner, as usual. Shortly after three o’clock, when conversing again with his son apparently perfectly well. A cold perspiration came over his body, and Mr Aiken, jun., at once offered to send for the doctor, but that passed off, too, when suddenly the difficulty in breathing again came on, and in two minutes life had fled. (The) deceased’s only words being “Oh George, George.” Dr Thomas was at once summoned, and arrived before four o’clock, but life was extinct. Mr Aiken was one of our earliest Australian colonists. He was born in Glasgow in the year 1823, and had therefore more than reached the allotted span. He arrived at Nelson, New Zealand, in 1840, and took an active part in the settlement and progress of his adopted home, his descendants to the second and third generations being scattered over the Colony in various parts. In 1881 he came to Bundaberg, and has lived with his three sons here since then, except for a few months four years ago, when he visited the old scenes of his early colonial life.”