From Cabin Boy to Respected Citizen – the remarkable story of Appo Hocton 1817/22 to 1920


On 24th July members were treated to an address by Diana Clark, the great- granddaughter of Appo Hocton (Wong Ah Poo Hoc Ting) – Nelson’s first Chinese immigrant.

Appo came from Canton which he left when he was 9 years old.  He began work as a cabin boy and worked his way up to being a steward on the Thomas Harrison which arrived in Nelson in February 1842. Food was scarce during the voyage and Appo helped the adolescent boys of the Winn family by smuggling them food – a favour not forgotten.

When the boat left after 16 days in port, Appo was not on board.  He had decided that Nelson was the place for him.  After several days “at large” on the Port Hills, he was eventually taken into custody, charged with desertion and placed in a “House of Correction” for 30 days.  Dr Renwick who had come with him on the voyage paid his fine and employed him as his housekeeper.

In the 1849 Census it was recorded that he could read and write English, he lived in a thatched roof house in Bolton square and did contracting work on the roads.  At this stage he could not buy land as he was classed as an “alien.

A case was put to the Governor of NZ and in 1852 he became the first naturalized New Zealander.  Now he was able to buy land and build houses – which he proceeded to do.  Some of his Nelson cottages are still standing:  40 Washington Road and 38 Hastings Street. Later he built 7 houses for his family in an area of Dovedale that became known as “Chinatown.”

Despite the strong anti-Chinese sentiment prevalent in the 1880’s,  Appo’s standing in the parochial Nelson community was not diminished.  He was accepted as a hardworking and astute citizen with a bright, charming personality, a regular attender at the Anglican church who always placed half a crown in the collection plate and something of a novelty as there were no other Chinese immigrants in Nelson.

Eventually the Hocton name died out as Appo’s descendants were mainly girls.  He lost one boy tragically in a shooting accident.  On reaching 100yrs he received a certificate from the Prince of Wales.  When he died of senile decay in 1929  at the age of 103, sitting in his armchair, his obituary described him as “a gentleman.”

Karen Stade's book on Appo Hocton

Karen Stade’s book on Appo Hocton

More fascinating details about Appo’s life can be found in the book about him written by local historian Karen Stade and available from the Nelson Provincial Museum, Town Acre, for $20.00

Diana’s address, which was accompanied by photos and other visual aids,  was very well received.  It was exciting to have the great-granddaughter of the man himself speaking to us.

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