Old Nelson: postcards from our past


Trafalgar St from from Church Hill: an afternoon scene looking north from the Church Steps, sometime about 1915-16. Motor cars mix with bicycles, sidecars, landaus and other horse traffic. On the corner with Hardy St (at right) can be seen the photographer’s own small car; strapped to it is the ladder used for his street views. RP F. N. Jones

Old Nelson – a postcard history 1900-1940 by Rob Packer and Barney Brewster, published by Nikau Press, became available for sale in our local bookstores just before Christmas 2017.  On March 1st, 2018 its co-authors spoke to our society’s meeting and offered some insights into its production.  The images and text reproduced on this site are with their permission and that of the publishers.

To those who have grown up in Nelson, the settings of most of the postcards will be very familiar but the clothes, modes of transport, the crowded nature or emptiness of some of the street scenes are greatly changed.  Yet if you look at the two young men crossing Bridge Street on page 13,  with their slicked- back hair, and stovepipe trousers showing a fashionable amount of ankle -( their socks might have been shocking pink or ming blue) – straight out of the late 1950’s.

To quote from the book’s blurb:  “On the edge of Empire then, the Nelson region was also on the cusp of modernity, as will be seen in this first selection from a notable private collection of postcards.  They do say that the past is another country, and how foreign this one looks, yet familiar too.  It’s surely Nelson town and country, but how very different the shoreline was then!  And not just the seafront, unsurprisingly.  Old wagons raise dust old ships and trains belch smoke – and young people play in the street.  Hatted gents and ladies go about their business (or leisure) by horse cab or bicycle, or breeze about in quaint old cars.  Not that they were quaint then – they were quite the latest.  As for the antique fashions, every six year old wonders if these long-gone people realised at the time that they were living in the olden days, but we surely know  better.”

Hardy St looking west. Note the mix of horse drawn, motorised and people pedal power.

The postcards are not solely focused on Nelson and its immediate environs.  There are cards from Murchison (the earthquake ones), Golden Bay, the Waimea and the Moutere.  Most are from the F. N. Jones collection.  Some record famous events: the first aeroplane to land in Nelson/Stoke and Motueka, the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927 (later to be King and Queen), others natural events (a hail storm in 1911) and men training for war as well as the peace celebrations which finally followed.

A striking scene at high tide about 1914. Close to A. Miller’s sawmill on Miller’s Acre, the timber scow Orakei is moored where the main street meets a ford and a footbridge (cyclists failing to dismount for this were fined). The vehicle ramp for the river crossing looks too steep and later photos show it fenced off. Behind the houses is the impressive brick edifice opened in 1906, while further on, Tattersall’s Stables advertises horses and vehicles for hire. (Hounsell series)

When asked what guided their choice from the hundreds in Rob’s collection the reply was simple, “We chose the ones we liked.” So in each case the motivation for inclusion was some personal connection – a great way to ensure that this collection is full of life, made more meaningful by Barney’s commentary on each one which often draws attention to details which he was able to see more easily on the original negatives.

This is a fascinating overview of life in the Nelson Province in the first half of the 20th Century.

The first aircraft to land in Nelson the pilot had no flight plan and the Avro540K had to land for more petrol. “Its unexpected landing in Mr Marsden’s paddock caused a sensation in Stoke and very quickly there was a large assemblage at the scene,” the Evening Mail said. The plane soon took off again to the applause of onlookers who lined Songer St. Behind them is the Methodist Church, while the Turf Hotel is at right. RP F. N. Jones

Nine divers line up at Black Hole, about 1910-15. Two dogs frolic beyond the horse and the rowboat. The bridge just visible is pedestrian only; vehicles crossed at the ford alongside. Segregated bathing is the norm; the girls have Girlies’ Hole (used for College sports), above the Nile St bridge. RP F. N. Jones.

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