Thomas Hanmer (1827-1892) is mostly known as the man which Hanmer Springs is named after – even though he never settled there. He was the first to survey the area in 1852.
Named “Te Whakatakaka O Te O Ahi Tamatea” by the Maori, to the Europeans it was a good route to drive their cattle down from the Marlborough region to Canterbury. Greenstone was found in abundance in the area and as the Maori used Greenstone as currency, it was always a popular area.
The hot springs were discovered by William Jones, a stockman from Culverden who had noticed an odd looking fog in 1859. Thanks to the isolation, the springs remained untouched for 20 years.
In 1879, iron changing sheds were erected and a manager appointed. As bathing was done in the nude, either a pair of pants or a skirt were hoist up a flag pole to let those heading over what sex was using the pool.
In 1881, the government purchased 2560 acres surrounding the springs. By 1914, the pools were noted for their healing element and a sanatorium was built. It burnt to the ground and was replaced with the Queen Mary Hospital in 1916. The hospital dealt with mentally damaged soldiers from World War I, nervous disorders and alcoholic rehabilitation. It was closed in 2003 despite the public outcry.
Thomas Hanmer was lucky to escape with his life when he failed to board the doomed ‘Maria’ which was sailing to Australia in 1851. On board was William Deans who was heading to ‘Homebush’, Sydney to purchase livestock for Homebush – the Deans’ new farm in the Malvern Hills, Canterbury. Thomas was horrified as the ‘Maria’ sunk just off the coast of Wellington. Only a boy survived and William Deans’ body was never recovered. It was Thomas who travelled down to Christchurch to tell John Deans the news of the drowning.