Brian McIntyre at the gravestone of William Henry Wallis and Stephen John Lane who were murdered at Top House in 1894. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Restoring dignity to local history one grave at a time


After four years and 50 cleaned gravestones, Brian McIntyre’s wife now calls him the “cemetarian”.

You can find him up on the slopes of Wakapuaka Cemetery armed with bleach, a wire brush, sandpaper and paint – helping restore some dignity to gravesites that have been lost to time.

“Some of them are looking really pretty sad,” Brian says. “Covered in lichen, looking really run down.”

Often the local sheep are the culprits, stepping over gravesites and cracking the headstones.

Brian started up the popular Facebook page Top of South Island, New Zealand History last year and has since been responsible for sharing the stories of the region’s history.

Through that he has been asking people about their recollections of characters in Nelson’s past, which led him to tracking down their final resting places.

Wakapuaka is now home 16,000 gravesites and, while it is council-owned land, the maintenance of gravestones is left up to family members.

However, for many there are no family left. So, Brian decided to do it himself.

“They are people, they deserve some dignity.”

He has cleaned up the grave of early settler Thomas Brunner, the victims of the Maungatapu Murders and is currently doing the victims of the Top House murders, who were killed in 1894.

Early photographer F.N Jones is next the list.

Brian is even going to the lengths of putting in gravestones where they were previously unmarked.

He has found the grave sites of former local characters Archie Gascoigne, who wore cowboy clothes and a 10-gallon hat around Nelson, and Olly Strange, who was known for sitting on the Church Steps knitting balls of wool.

Both had no record of where they lay but Brian found them and has been donated materials to give them a gravestone.

“It’s really fantastic,” Brian says.

He knows the work will be never done but is enlisting the help of the Menzshed to teach them how to do it.

“As you get older you start to appreciate history more,” he says. “They are not looked after that’s the sad part about it and once they are gone, they are gone.”