Topic: Nelson Historical Society, Nelson, New Zealand

Topic type:

The Nelson Historical Society meets monthly on the second Monday of the month at the Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street Nelson, New Zealand, at 7.30pm. $2 each, members of the public welcome. A guest speaker presents a historical topic each month.

Contact Us: Cathy Vaughan, Secretary, Nelson Historical Society, PO Box 461, Nelson, New Zealand


Facebook: www.facebook/.com/nelsonhistoricalsociety

Meetings: Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street, Nelson.  Second Monday of every month, 7.30pm.



Date: Monday 9 April 2018, 7.30 pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street (Next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Date: Monday 12 March 2018, 7.30pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street (Next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic: National treasure: The Nelson Provincial Museum Photographic Collection, conservation, digitisation and application.

Speaker: Darryl Gallagher, Curator Photographic Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum.

Date: Monday 12th February 2018, 7.30 pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street (Next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic: Histrionics Theatre Group - bringing history to life through theatrical dramatisations. You may have seen Histrionics at various events around the region throughout the WW1 Centenial and other heritage events. We will hear how the group came together, be treated to a short dramatisation, and view a video clip highlighting the group's education programmes.

Speakers:  Gordon and Penny Taylor, with other members of Histrionics.



Date: Monday 13th November 2017, 7.30pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic: Trooper Leonard Tarrant and the rededication of the Tarrant War Memorial

Speaker: Gwn Rees will discuss the discovery of the sadly neglected Motueka memorial to South African (Boer) War soldier, Len Tarrant, his research into Trooper Tarrant's life and medal, and the restoration and rededication of his memorial.


Date: Monday 9th October 7.30pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic: Albion Square - Mahinga Kai,Government Centre, Heritage landscape. The land in the central city now known as Albion Square was important to Maori and since the 1850s has played a significant role in the governance of the Nelson region.

Speaker:  Steve Bagley


Date: Monday 11th September, 7.30pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street (Next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic: Members Show and Tell.

Speakers: Several members will gove short presentations about a variety of intriguing sounding topics.  come and hear about: Nelson's Money - The Hardy Street Connection, My Criminal Past - Escapades of an Irish Criminal and Whaler, Tiny Treasures - a Miniature Mobile Memorial, A Short History of the Mouse Trap, Bullseye Founders - The Centre of It All and Old Nelson: a Postcard History.


Date: Monday 14th August, 2017, 7.30pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street, Nelson (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Speakers: Golden Bay writers Gerald Hindmarsh (Angelina) and Suzanne Clark (His father's will and Keep your head up my girl) and Nelson writer Alexandra Tidswell ( Lewisville) discuss with panel convenor Karen Stade the merits of historical fiction, or faction - that is, the blending of fact and fiction to present history in an alternative way and to a wider readership.

The authors' "faction" books will be available for sale on the night.


Date: Monday 10th July 2017, 7.30 pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street, Nelson (Next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Speaker: Carol Dawber, History writer

Topic: Writer and editor Carol Dawber will discuss her own Golden Bay books and others under the River Press imprint, with a focus on the photo-finish format and financial and practical involvement of the wider communityin recording local history. Waitapu to Waitui: a journey up the Takaka Valley is the fourth in her Golden Bay series.


Annual General Meeting

Date: Monday 12 June 2017, 7.30pm

Place:Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street, Nelson (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Speakers: Founders Park Book Fair- Angus McNeill and Karen Clark will talk about the background to how the event is arranged, how books are prices etc.

Book Sale: Nelson regional history books for sale at the conclusion of the meeting - come prepared with cash and cheque books.. Funds raised will go into the society's research and publishing fund. Donations of relevant books welcome.


Date: Monday 8th May, 2017, 7.30pm

Place: Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street, Nelson  (Next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Speaker: Peter Millward

Topic: Peter describes the process he used in researching WW1 veterans buried at Stoke's Marsden Valley Cemetery and what it can help to tell us about the phases of war during 1917. What started out as a project to map the RSA area expanded out to encompass veterans buried elsewhere in the cemetery.


Date: Monday 10th April, 7.30 pm

Place: Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street (Next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Speaker: Lucinda Blackley-Jimson, CEO, Nelson Provincial Museum

Topic: Lucinda Blackley-Jimson refects on her first 18 months in the role, and the museum's startegic direction for the next five years.


Date: Monday 13th March, 7.30 pm

Place: Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Speaker: Debbie Daniel-Smith, Nelson City Council Arts and Heritage Advisor

Topic: Putiing Heritage on the map: Find out what drove the creation of the new Nelson Legacy Trail and how the launch of the Stoke link went on Anniversary Day 2017. Debbie will take you on the trail, revealing some of the stoires you'll discover as you walk or bike the route. Debbie will also tell us about what's in the programme for the forth coming 2017 Heritage Week, which is scheduled to be her last in er present role.


Date: Monday 13th February 2017, 7.30pm

Place: Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street East (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Speaker:Jessie Bray Sharpin, Nelson Provincial Musem

Topic: Stories of inspiring Nelson pioneering women. In 2017 Jessie undertakes her Masters of Museum Studies.Her research focusses on the writings of inspiring early Nelson women such as Sarah Greenwood and Sarah Higgins and many others.

November 2016

Date: Monday 14th November, 7.30pm

Place: Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street East (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Speaker: Lucinda Blackley-Jimson, CEO, Nelson Provincial Museum

Topic:Reflecting on the year at the helm of the Nelson Provincial Museum and looking to the future.


Date: Monday 10 October 2016, 7.30 pm

Place: Nelson Provincial Museum, Trafalger Street, Nelson

Topic: Maungatapu Murders. Wayne Martin, author of 150th anniversay, "Murder on Maungatapu- a narrative history of the Burgess gang and their greatest crime." will give a short floor talk. This will be followed by a viewing of the Nelson Provincial Museum's exhibition, "Murder on the Maungatapu: Trial and Executions". A light supper will be provided. The book will be on sale at the talk, price $45.00


Date: Thursday 15 September 2016, 7.30 pm

Place: Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Conference Centre, Beach Road, Tahunanui

Topic: Dilys Johns, Auckland University, will speak on "Interpretting 14th-15th Maori Canoes". Dilys will outline the discovery, recovery and ongoing conservation of two waterlogged 14th and 15th century canoes.

Door charge: $5.00 (light refreshments provided at conclusion of lexture)

RSVP: by 12th September (for catering purposes) 027 238 1819 or email:


Date: Monday 8th August, 7.30pm

Place: Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street East (Next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic: Nelson Railway - trials and tribulations. A talk by Bob Murray, General Manager of the Nelson Railway Society from it's beginings in the "Grand Tapawera railroad", to the present day. Nelson Railway in Founders Park and hopes for the future.

July 2016

Date: Monday 11 July

Place: Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street East (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic: Peter Millward will speak on the diaries of Cyril Sanderson Spears, a journalist at Nelson Evening Mail prior to World War I. These diaries also include his experiences during WWI.

June 2016

Date: Monday 13 June

Place: Nelson Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street East (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic: AGM. Speaker: Claire Craig, General Manager Central, Heritage New Zealand on " Heritage Conservation in New Zealand- Standing on Shaky Ground?

Date: Saturday 7 May, 10.30am

Place: Meet at Brook Waimarama Sanctuary Visitor Centre

Topic: A field trip to Brook Waimarama Sancturary to visit the Historic Dam sites. MacCrampton (former Engineer at Nelson City Council) and Amanda Young (Archaeologist) will give us the history of these dams and their importance as a water supply for early Nelson.

Date: Monday 9 May, 7.30pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street East (next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic:Sue Harris, long-time resident of the Brook Valley will talk on the history of the valley, the people and about her soon-to-be published book

April 2016

Date: Monday 11 April, 7.30pm

Place: Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street East (Next to Prince Albert Hotel)

Topic: Murray Sturgeon will speak on "The history of Nelson Pine Ltd"

March 2016

Field Trip: Sunday 20th March to Awaroa (members only, booking essential)

February 2016
Monday, 8 February 2016

Time: 7.30pm
Masonic Hall, 109 Nile Street (next to the Prince Albert Hotel)


Cheryl Carnahan and Bob McFadgen will speak about some of the
Nelson survivors and victims of the Marquette, which was torpedoed by a
German sub while on its way from Egypt to Salonika in October 1915. Bob
will talk about nurse Ina (Nellie) Coster and Cheryl about her great uncle
Albert Charles Jennings.

October 2015

Date: Monday 12 October 2015

Time: 7.30pm

Place: Masonic Lodge, Nile Street, Nelson

Topic: Nelson School of Music: Past Present and Future

Roger Taylor (Chair SoM Trust) and Susannah Roddick (Trustee).


November 2015

Date: Monday 9 November 2015

Time: 7.30pm

Place: Masonic Lodge, Nile Street, Nelson

Topic: Dr Mike Johnston: Hochstetter's Nelson Diaries 1859  

The geologist Ferdinand Hochstetter visited New Zealand in 1859 as part of the Austrian Novara Expedition. Hochstetter was asked by the provincial government to investigate whether Dun Mountain contained any copper and to report on the Aorere and other goldfields. His diaries contain pertinent observations on such things as people he met, standard of hotels and ships, the weather and many other miscellaneaous topics. Both reproduced diaries will be available for sale on the night of the talk.




The objects of the Society are:
(a)    To gather and record the history of the northern part of the South Island in order to educate the public and foster understanding of our heritage.
(b)    To promote public awareness of that history by organising meetings, field trips to places of historical interest, and other similar activities.
(c)    To undertake, encourage and support research into historical matters, including the publication of the outcome of such research.
(d)    To be a strong advocate for greater awareness and preservation of historical values.


Members receive a quarterly newsletter and a journal of historical topics is published annually.


History of the Nelson Historical Society

The Nelson Historical Society was established in 1954 following concerns about the potential loss of irreplaceable historical Nelson material through lack of appropriate accommodation in the region.  Preparations were being made for the extensive collection of Dr Francis Bett to go to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. 

While praising Dr Bett's efforts in amassing such a significant record of Nelson's history, the Nelson Evening Mail called for 'community endeavour' to provide suitable accommodation for it in the region and for the staffing needed to look after it.  The paper challenged Nelsonians not to let the Bett Collection slip through its fingers.

The newly established Nelson Historical Society aimed to collect and preserve local records and, ultimately, to achieve a good-quality storage facility in Nelson and its members got underway immediately with ambitious collection and storage plans.   Fortunately it was offered the rent-free use of three rooms at the back of the ANZ Bank in Hardy Street to store the material collected.

The society's formation came just in time for one of the most important regional historical records - the Tyree Photographic Collection. Rose Frank bought the Tyree Studio in Trafalgar Street in 1914 having worked for the Tyrees since 1885.   In 1948 the Alexander Turnbull Library bought 11-hundred Tyree plate glass negatives that Rose had stored in a strongroom at the back of the studio.  With the formation of the Nelson Historical Society in 1954 she gifted the remaining negatives - between 11-hundred and 12-hundred - to the society, just before her death in October that year.  The collection was not just of Tyree negatives but also those from other local photographers including Brown and Bloch.

The idea for a regional repository to house records from government departments and local bodies, in addition to the material the society was set up to collect, was mooted at the time of the society's formation.  It was suggested such a repository be  part of the Nelson Institute.  But by 1956 it was decided that the long-term responsibility for such material was beyond the resources of a voluntary organisation, whether it be the institute or the historical society.  As well, the need for suitable accommodation for the Bett Collection was still to be resolved and further impetus for something to be done came with donation to the city of the Tomlinson Collection of antique silverware.  The collection was to be administered by trustees until the society had suitable premises for it.

The historical society's management committee began researching museum governance and decided to work for the establishment of a trust board with representation from local authorities in the Nelson region.  In the meantime, the society urged the Nelson City Council to acquire Isel House, which might be made suitable if the Bett trustees approved its use.  Approval was given in principle in 1959 for the establishment of the Nelson Provincial Historical Trust Board.  The council acquired Isel House in 1960 and the Nelson Historical Society moved much of its collections into it and opened to the public, though the Tyree, Bett and Tomlinson Collections were kept separately while discussion about permanent, purpose built accommodation continued.

It wasn't until the middle of 1963 that the Nelson Provincial Museum Trust Board was finally established. It was decided to construct a museum in stages and the lease of a suitable area of land in Isel Park was to be negotiated with the Nelson City Council. Meanwhile, the society implemented an earlier resolution to transfer ownership of its assets to the trust board on 31st March 1965.  This coincided with the board's take-over of the Nelson Institute Museum. At the same time the Nelson City Council took over responsibility for the Nelson Institute Library - the forerunner of today's city library.

The new Nelson Provincial Museum was opened behind Isel House in 1973, with the Nelson Historical Society's collections absorbed with those of the Nelson Institute to form the basis of the museum's collections and archives today.  The Tyree glass plate negative collection, which had remained in the old strongroom in Trafalgar Street, was finally moved to the new museum in May 1974. The new museum also allowed the Bett Collection and the Tomlinson silver to come 'home', the Bett Collection on permanent long-term loan.

Subsequently of course the Nelson Provincial Museum's exhibition hall has moved back into the central city to Town Acre 445, where the original Nelson Institute building and museum was, though the Isel Park facility remains the home of its collections and archive library. 

The first decade of the Nelson Historical Society was dedicated to the collection of artefacts and archives and the establishment of the Nelson Provincial Museum Trust Board.  With its aim now achieved, the society turned its attention to assisting with the material it had handed over to the new museum.

But collecting archives wasn't the only thing the society was and still is involved in.  It had also been active in supporting the retention and protection of historic buildings and sites in the province, including the Tophouse Hotel and the Hallowell Cemetery in Shelbourne Street.  In fact, the Nelson Historical Society was instrumental in the establishment of a Nelson branch of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1954. In a case of coming full circle, the disestablishment of regional committees of the historic places trust in 2012 saw the merger of the local branch committee with the Nelson Historical Society. 

However, it was the threat to the Nelson Provincial Government Buildings in Bridge Street that gave the society a new impetus. The building was completed in 1861 for the provincial government and housed the courthouse and various government departments.  But by 1966 the old wooden building was in serious need of major renovation and the Government was proposing demolition.  The historical society and the Nelson committee of the historic places trust agreed an attempt had to be made to save it.  Much time was spent by the society lobbying the government and making representations to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Internal Affairs and the city's Member of Parliament.  It also asked the city council to accept a government offer of the building and $60,000 on its behalf, and a proposal was made to form a civic trust to raise further funds.  However, the council refused the offer and the building was demolished in August 1969.  The demolition remains one of the worst examples of wanton destruction of the region's heritage.  The society subsequently adopted the Nelson Provincial Council building as its logo.

Other projects the society has subsequently gone into bat for or financially supported include having a serving member on the committee set up to organise the restoration, furnishing and running of Broadgreen House, the preservation of Bishop's School, the maintenance of the Belgrove Railway Windmill, support for a memorial to Ernest Rutherford, and the restoration of the Higgins cob cottage at Spring Grove.  In the 1990s attention turned to lobbying the city council in attempts to prevent the demolition of the BB Jones Building (originally the Auckland Drapery and Clothing Company) on the corner of Trafalgar and Hardy Streets, and the Glasgow Building and the 1903 council chambers, both on Trafalgar Street.  Despite this and other public calls for their preservation, the BB Jones building and the council chambers were both demolished, although the Glasgow Building became the Victorian Rose pub.  It continues to lobby the region's councils on heritage issues and buildings.

The society's role in supporting the research and publication of local history has not been forgotten and as well as its annual historical journal, it has supported the publication of a number of books and booklets, including The Nelson Provincial Council (by H.F. Allan), Street Names of Nelson (B.E. Dickinson), Nelson Notables (edited by Max Lash) and the society's own history, The First 50 Years (by Dawn Smith, from which this brief history is derived).  It also runs the annual Jeff Newport Memorial Prize, a secondary schools history essay competition.  Other books have also received the support of the society including Phil and Natalie Wastney's Early Tide to Wakapuaka, Shonadh Mann's thesis on F.G. Gibbs and a history of Nelson's Italian community by Karen Stade and Karen Price.

The society continues to actively support the work of the Nelson Provincial Museum and is jointly working with it to commemorate the centennial of World War I, 2014-2019.


Information Last updated October 2015


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