Category Archives: Speaker of the Month

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.


The Manns at Messines

Following their visit to Messines Ridge in June  to commemmorate the battle 100 years ago in World War I, Colin and MaryAnn gave us a powerpoint presentation on the 24th October 2017  in the Tasman District Library.

Here is a selection of photos recording that experience.

Messines to sort 2 025

Messines to sort 2 050



Bookbinder Reveals the “Tricks of the Trade”

Rosie-Anne Pinney from Cambria Craft Bindery in Nelson conducted a bookmaking workshop in the Tasman District Library last week.

But that was not all.  She also explained the steps she would take to restore a bound book which was in need of repair.  Trained by a master bookbinder in Oxford, Rosie Anne who lives in Nelson, can now offer her skills to us in New Zealand.

She showed us how the pages were folded and stitched and  an example of a book she had restored with traditional book cloth.  She  even uses the older organic glues to match the original product.   In her workshop she also has available lead type which is matched to the original font when reprinting a title on the front cover.

The small group which attended were appreciative and were soon involved in making their own booklets using simple implements and following straightforward steps.

A simple A5 booklet with stitched pages using a template, an awl (not shown) to make holes, a diagram showing the direction of sewn thread and a printed cover (supplied ).

Never a Reluctant Sailor

When Colin William Mann, aged 20, No.710345, was called up to do his Compulsory Military Training in 1952 during the time of the Korean War it was with no sense of irritation or reluctance that he left his civilian life in Wellington and volunteered to join the marine section of the airforce based in Hobsonville, Auckland, because there was nothing he liked better than to be “messing about in boats.”
He joined the RNZAF Marine Section at the Hobsonville base for 3 months training in June 1952 as part of a “Motor Boat Crew Under Training.”
Following the overnight train journey from Wellington, a bus ride to the Base a medical and a clothes issue he was finally introduced to the barracks which he would share with 18 other young men for 3 months basic training followed by 2 weeks annual territorial camps from 1953 to 1958 with a final discharge in 1960.Scan

For the first 3 weeks life was an established routine:  rising at 6.00am, learning the orders to fall in, stand at attention, route marches, P.T., early barrack chores (bed making, wardrobe layout), lots of “square bashing”, marching to the mess for meals.  Some nights were compulsory film nights.  As Colin was a Basketball player he joined the Station Team for games on Wednesday nights in the city.  An early scheduled game would allow time to take in a movie in Auckland.  Rugby games were organised for Sunday afternoons as there was no weekend leave.  During this time there was only one rifle shoot – the exceptional amount of rain ruling out the beach exercise under war conditions.Route march

After 3 weeks of this basic training the group divided into their chosen sections.  The Marine Section began with roll call at 8.ooam followed by  learning about Air Force rules, rules of the sea, Morse Code with sound and flags, knots, splices and other small boating skills.  Then there was information about things new to him:  heavy moorings for aircraft and other requirements for securing seaplanes.  After lunch at 12.00 some afternoons were spent in the gymn.  1700 hours was early tea time followed by an evening in the barracks washing and ironing shirts, creasing trousers, cleaning brass buttons and rifles and generally getting ready for the 0600 wake up call.

Boat at moorings

Colin on board No. 313 – a Bilge Cabin Launch about 25ft. Good for towing and training trips for coastal navigation.

Colin decided to stay in the T.A.F./F. Force to do 2 weeks a year camps for 5 years training and became a Motor-Boat Crew Assistant.


Sunderland preparing to land

Now, 6 decades later and after discovering that Launch No. 88 on which he had crewed all those years ago was now being held by the Airforce Museum at Wigram in Christchurch, he was encouraged to write down his recollections of that time and together with photographs, maps and other information he has now produced a booklet  for his grandchildren and members of a generation who would have no idea of what CMT was all about.

Boat in museum

Colin and his wife, MaryAnn, with Safety Launch No. 88 used to clear landing zones and lay light buoys for night landings. A twin screw vessel capable of 25 knots.

We were privileged to hear Colin speak at our April meeting and enjoyed his relaxed wry humour in recounting some amusing episodes which he had experienced during that time.  Here is one example:  One morning as all the craft returned to the wharf after servicing a Sunderland, the 20ft launch fitted with a generator for charging the radar went to the inside of the wharf to tie up.  The high tide was on the ebb so the skipper endeavoured to hold on to the pile while he passed the rope around it to tie to the cleat on the deck.  Unfortunately for him, the very strong tide took the boat from under his feet, so to the highly amused onlookers he slowly slipped into the water.  He (and the launch) was duly recovered – somewhat wet but O.K.


Colin demonstrates a manoeuvre with one of his flying boat models during his talk.









Rosie-Anne Pinney – Bookbinder

Our speaker for April, 2016, was Rosie-Anne Pinney, the new owner of Cambria Craft Bindery in Nelson.

Rosie-Anne ready to begin her talk.

Rosie-Anne ready to begin her talk.

Rosie-Anne’s talk covered the history of books and book-binding from Medieval times, the development in the use of materials:  parchment, vellum, paper;  illustration and decoration: illuminated manuscripts, up to Gutenberg and the use of moveable type. With this invention there were more books produced in 50 years than in the preceeding 1,000 years.  His first printed work was a Latin grammar book.

A book bound in calf skin with hand-tooled design, gold decoration, marbeled edges and clasps to keep the pages from wrinkling.

A book bound in calf skin with hand-tooled design, gold decoration, marbeled edges and clasps to keep the pages from wrinkling.

Then came Caxton in 1476 who set up the first printing press in London.  Gold  was used around the edges to protect the surface of the book.  In the 17th and 18th centuries pictures were painted over the edges that were not related to the contents.  Marbeling  was also used.  The books were stored on shelves with the page edges pointing outwards to show these effects.

Elaborate page edge scene decorations.

Elaborate page edge scene decorations.


What a bookbinder works with.

Mechanisation of book production came in the 19th century and then the Arts and Crafts movement followed as a reaction to this.


A particularly fine example of an elaborately illuminated cover design.

Rosie-Anne used a power point presentation to very effectively illustrate her talk.

We plan to invite Rosie-Anne to pay us a return visit next year to demonstrate the techniques she uses in her work.


One Lone Oak and Eighteen Children Later – the story of James Gibbs and Lone Oak Farm

St Nicholas church, Chawton - home of the mother and sister of Jane Austen.

St Nicholas church, Chawton – the village where Jane Austen lived for the last 8 years of her life with her mother and sister.

When James Gibbs left his native Alton/Chawton area in Hampshire on 2 November 1841 to embark on  a 13,000 miles journey on the Bolton to the other side of the world (arriving in Nelson on 15 March 1842), he could only have dreamed that today, 174 years later, one of his great grandsons would be enjoying life on the farm which he originally purchased.


Countryside near Alton


This man is thought to be James Gibbs – but is he? If any other family can claim him as their ancestor, please let us know.

There are few people who in their seventh decade can say “This is the only house I have (permanently) lived in.” Colin Gibbs can say that.  The house in question is a substantially renovated version of the third house at Lone Oak Farm named after the farm in England called Lonely Oak where James and his brother Isaac, who accompanied him, worked as agricultural labourers.  Colin is a fourth generation descendent of James and inherited the farm from his father Philip.  In a departure from tradition, the farm has never been passed down to the eldest son.


The third and current house at Lone Oak built in the early 1900’s from native timber milled at Kiwi and transported to the site by railway train and bullock wagon.

James settled first on section 34 suburban north Nelson (Wakapuaka) with his wife Anne and had two children George and Martha.  When Ann died in 1848 James decided to move south and purchased a block of 68 acres which formed the basis of today’s farm in Gibbs Valley.  However, following  a land compensation grant in 1862 for the failure of the New Zealand Company to provide sufficient land promised to the settlers in England, he eventually became the owner of 911 acres (today’s holding is 530) of fern-covered rugged hills and swampy flats which  in 1882  was valued at 3,100 pounds.  Not bad for a farm worker from Chawton!


The second house at Lone Oak built to replace the first lost to fire. While this was being built, the family slept under a tarpaulin strung between two walnut trees. Mrs Charlotte Gibbs is in the centre of the group.

In 1849 he had married Charlotte Verry with whom he had 18 children,14 of whom survived to adulthood.  Charlotte was aged 17 and 26 years younger than James.  Their wedding was one of the first to be celebrated in St Johns Church in Wakefield. By the time the first generation of Gibbs had passed on they had produced 124 grandchildren.

However, James’ good fortune was not solely due to the failures and inadequacies of the New Zealand Company.  He was an astute farmer and a very hard worker. An article in the Auckland Weekly of May 1950 details how James earned his first real money since coming to the valley.  “From the unpromising hills covered with fern, scrub and tutu, steers which he had raised himself were broken into a team of working bullocks. With these he ploughed the hill slopes which faced the sun.  Then he sowed wheat which grew well in the ashes of the fern.  Harvesting was a tremendous task.  The wheat was cut with a sickle and thrashed with a flail.  It yielded 1,000 bushels which sold for 500 pounds.”

When hop growing began in the Motueka area, manuka poles were used to train up the vines.  Having an abundant supply of manuka, James would cut and prepare a load of poles, load up the bullock dray and with his team drive through the night to deliver them to farms in the Moutere.

Gradually bullocks gave way to horses and horses to tractors.  But it was aerial top-dressing of the farm with superphosphate in the sixties which brought the farm into full production.  Today sheep and beef cattle are the main income earners.


An aerial view of Lone Oak (Colin and Marilyn Gibbs) and Pitfure farms (owned by Andrew and Wendy Gibbs).

For James Gibbs and other pioneer settlers like him the dream of a better life, owning your own farm and being your own master, did become a reality.  New Zealand provided him with the opportunity to do well but without his strength and consistency of purpose it just as easily might have come to nothing.  I am sure he would be very proud to know that his descendants have treasured his legacy and built on it.  Today they are reaping the benefits of his past labours.



Colin and Marilyn Gibbs for notes and photographs.

Marion J. Stringer, “Just Another Row of Spuds” 1999.




Climbing your family tree at Ancestors Attic

Our speaker for the month of May this year (2016) was Judith Fitchett – committee member for the NZ Society of Genealogists Nelson Branch. She has spoken to us before about her visit to Britain as an “Oxford Aunt.”

This time she was closer to home, talking about the different websites and resource books specifically devoted to genealogy which are housed in the society’s Nelson branch rooms called Ancestors Attic in the Trafalgar St Hall, 67 Trafalgar St, Nelson.

The group itself meets at 7.30pm on the fourth Monday between February and November at Nick Smith’s Hall, Corner Waimea & Quarantine Road, Annesbrook.

Judith Fitchett explaining the helps available at Ancestors Attic for building a family tree.

Judith Fitchett explaining the helps available at Ancestors Attic for building a family tree.

Ancestors Attic




ALL GUTS – NO GLORY : The Author Speaks

The guest speaker at our meeting on March 22nd was Cheryl Carnahan March History meet 2016 006 the author of All Guts – No Glory March History meet 2016 003– a history of the role nurses and chaplains played in World War I with a particular focus on  Nelson.  (Almost 60 nurses and 14 chaplains came from the Nelson area.)  She was assisted by Bob McFaddenMarch History meet 2016 010 who presented some very interesting information about the hospital ships Maheno and Marama.  Cheryl also  acknowledged the assistance she had received from a team of researchers from the Nelson Genealogical Society.

This detailed and well documented work has filled a gap in our knowledge of the special part nurses played during this terrible time and of the hardships they endured.  Having to put their uniforms under their mattresses at night to prevent them being stiffened by the cold is just one example.  It was rather suprising, however,  to hear about the attitudes of New Zealanders towards them when they returned  and the reluctance to acknowledge their important role in World War I.

Mention was made of the sinking of the Marquette (not a hospital ship)  when 10 nurses lost their lives and how Ina Coster survived for 10 hours in the water.

Strict rules governed the appearance and operations of hospital ships.  They were painted white with a wide green stripe running from bow to stern.maheno-postcard  Three large red crosses were painted in prominent positions along the sides but they were unescorted and carried no guns.  The Maheno was in Anzac Cove in August 1915 and later transported 320 convalescing soldiers back to New Zealand.  Overloading was not uncommon – during the Somme offensive some carried up to 3 times the number of wounded that they were designed for.

Members were able to purchase signed copies of the book at the end of the meeting.

It is currently available in bookshops.

Archaeologist Amanda Young Digs Deep

Nelson’s resident archaeologist was our guest speaker on Tuesday 1st April.  Amanda Young,  who works under contract mainly to local authorities, spoke to our members about her work.

Amanda Young, Nelson's archaeologist, begins her address.

Amanda Young, Nelson’s archaeologist, begins her address.

Our audience were intent listeners.

Our audience were intent listeners.

She used some “digs” she has been involved in to illustrate her remarks and in the process dispelled a few myths about demolition companies and logging contractors.

Her work is governed by three acts of parliament:  Heritage NZ Act 2014, Resource Management Act 1991 and the Protected Objects Act 1975.  She explained the process by which the ownership of  precious artifacts is determined, the role of the Maori Land Court in this and how Europeans can be granted guardianship rights.

The Globe Hotel revealed its additions and alterations when the outer walls were stripped away.

The Globe Hotel revealed its additions and alterations when the outer walls were stripped away.

Wooden sarking had been re-used on interior walls of the Globe.

Wooden sarking had been re-used on interior walls of the Globe.

Contrary to common beliefs sometimes demolition companies tried to steer owners away from wholesale demolition when they uncovered exceptional workmanship and instead would advocate earthquake strengthening.  Demolition was not always the least expensive option.

Logging companies were sometimes required to preserve historical tracks through plantations and they generally took care to do this.

One of her concerns was that recent legislation had not strengthened the

The Buxton house in Collingwood street could not be saved or re-sited.

The Buxton house in Collingwood street could not be saved or re-sited.

Rubbish dumped under the floor of the Buxton house.

Rubbish dumped under the floor of the Buxton house.

Rob Packer beside the brick lined well under the Buxton house.

Rob Packer beside the brick lined well under the Buxton house.

hands of preservationists but had placed more power in the hands of the landowners.  Sometimes buildings couldn’t be saved because the local authorities by-laws were not sufficiently robust to prevent wholesale destruction and she urged people to take notice of when amendments or additions were being made in this area and to have their say if they wanted European buildings in particular to be preserved.

A transfer printed mug which miraculously survived intact under the foundations.

A transfer printed mug which miraculously survived intact under the foundations.

A range of old bottles - a common find - especially next to a pub.

A range of old bottles – a common find – especially next to a pub.

Vice President Wayne Price presents Amanda with a parting gift.

Vice President Wayne Price presents Amanda with a parting gift.

Amanda proved to be an interesting, fluent and enjoyable speaker who easily kept her audience involved for an hour.  We plan to ask her to speak to us again next year about more of her work.

The Two Karens Present: “Pasta, Prayer and Promise”

23042015 News photo: Martin de Ruyter/Fairfax NZ Authors Karen Stade, left and Karen Price with their book Pasta, Prayers & Promise the story of Nelson's Italian Community.

23042015 News photo: Martin de Ruyter/Fairfax NZ
Authors Karen Stade, left and Karen Price with their book Pasta, Prayers & Promise the story of Nelson’s Italian Community.

On Thursday 30th July, 2015, Karen Stade and Karen Price presented members with  a valuable insight into their new book on the Italian community in Nelson. This substantial work has been five years in the making and the colours of the dust jacket – red and olive green hint at the subject of their work.  Pasta Prayer & Promise

Tomato growing in the Wood area was not the first activity of the immigrants in the 1860’s.  Fishing they could do well and Peter’s fish shop in Hardy Street was a later version of similar restaurants begun in those early years.

Not all had the intention to settle in Nelson.  Some stayed because their passage to more distant ports was not possible.  Some had been elsewhere first: the Americas and Australia.  They brought a variety of skills with them.  The de Faveros were stonemasons from Northern Italy; market gardeners generally came from the south.  As street musicians they brought some culture and colour to brighten the lives of their Anglo Saxon compatriots.  The Peter brothers (Joseph, violin; Vincent, flute) were  accompanists for  the silent movies.  Later they were joined in NZ by John who played the harp and their widowed mother.  They set up their tomato garden in 1915.  During the First World War they were great patriotic fundraisers for the Italian Red Cross and the War Widows and Orphans’ Fund.

Chain migration occurred.  The young men would come first and get established and then later the women, children and grandparents would follow.  Some things, especially food, were hard to get used to but once they arrived they reverted to the recipes they knew from their homeland and growing tomatoes were a necessary ingredient for these.

In World War II things became harder for the Italians because Italy had aligned itself with the Axis Powers.  Classed as “enemy aliens”, every Italian over the age of 16 had to be interviewed so that their “risk” to NZ’s security could be determined and were graded A-E (A being the highest risk)  Their mail was censored and listening to short-wave radio was forbidden.  They faced restrictions on buying property and where it could be bought.  Enduring name calling and glasshouse breaking were just two of the crosses they had to bear – inflicted by those needing someone to blame.

As with all migrants, they have succeeded, however, in adding a necessary diversity to Nelson which was at the time a very Anglo-Saxon settlement in terms of culture and customs.