A New Zealand district council is seeking descendants of a prominent local woman, who died a century ago, to help clarify a land ownership issue.

William Rathbone settled in Waipawa in 1859 and was a well-known wealthy merchant and landowner.

His wife, Lissie Rathbone, died in March 1918, 14 years after her husband, leaving behind a large estate.

Half of the estate went to charity, with bequests from the Lissie Rathbone Trust funding a maternity home, children's home, Plunket rooms, and a tower, spire and renovations at St Peter's Church in Waipawa.


The Lissie Rathbone Scholarship was also established in 1925 for charitable, educational or religious pursuits.

Now, Central Hawke's Bay District Council has placed advertisements asking for descendants of Mrs Rathbone, who was the last known registered owner of a swampy strip of land outside Waipawa, heading towards Ruahine, to come forward.

The land has been used for access to a neighbouring property for decades.

But now that the neighbours are looking to sell their land, the council wants to clarify exactly who owns the adjoining land and to clear up any access issues as part of Local Government Act requirements.

"The land is very small, isolated and not useful for much. It's not grazable, it's just a legal access question," says council land transport manager Shawn McKinley.

"We're just trying to do the right thing for one of our residents who's looking at possibly selling and moving to another place.

"If we could solve it once and for all, future owners of the property don't have to worry about having access."

Since the adverts were placed last week, one resident who thinks he might be related to Mrs Rathbone, has contacted the council.

Central Hawke's Bay councillor Sally Butler, who's written a book on the Rathbones of Waipawa, has also been in touch.

"The Rathbones were very well-known in the area and I'm sure we'll get some answers," Mr McKinley said.