Keith Hawke has just completed a project on Appo Hocton – the first Chinese immigrant to Nelson and New Zealand. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Appo’s life on film

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Local filmmaker Keith Hawke knew nothing of Appo Hocton before he started a project documenting his life.

“He struck me as being very interesting and very relevant,” Keith says.

Appo, first known as Wong Ah Poo Hoc Ting, was the first naturalised Chinese New Zealander, who arrived in New Zealand in 1842 after jumping ship.

He deserted his vessel while it was berthed in the colony of Nelson.

He stayed in Nelson, becoming the first Chinese immigrant in New Zealand. He became a housekeeper then set up his own business tendering for construction work. He was an alien so could not purchase property but then applied to become naturalised.

He bought land in Washington Road and what became Hastings Street, and built houses, living in one and leasing the others. He then built homes out in Dovedale and also married two different European women.

Appo was highly regarded as a Nelson pioneer and was one of 84 who attended a settlers’ luncheon to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

“It was a really fun project,” says Keith, who travelled to Guangzhou in China to try and track down where Appo was born.

“I couldn’t find it. We found the area but the likelihood is that his village was swallowed up with all the development.”

By the turn of the new millennium he had 1600 living descendants throughout the country.

The project was funded by the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust, which was set up as part of a government apology to the early settler Chinese community for imposing a poll tax on them.

If you want a copy of the documentary email hawkefilms88@icloud.com