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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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stands on the shores of Nelson Haven, a sheltered inlet at the head of Tasman Bay separated from the open sea by a natural breakwater about 8 miles long. The city extends over small flats southwards from Nelson Haven and is enclosed on all quarters, except the north, by hills. Tahunanui and Stoke are the suburbs. A branch railway formerly ran to Glenhope (59 miles south-west), but the track was taken up in 1956. By road Nelson is 73 miles north-east of Blenheim and 81 miles north-east of Murchison. It is 101 miles westwards by sea from Wellington. After centralisation of shipping was introduced in 1943, the port was used only by coastal vessels and tankers until 1951, when improvements made it possible for overseas ships to load and unload. Goods handled in 1964 totalled 292,677 tons. Motor spirits are the main import, while fruit, frozen meat, and timber are exported directly overseas. The Nelson Harbour Board also maintains the small coastal port of Mapua, which exports mainly fresh fruit. Inside the mouth of the Motueka River there is a small port, also exporting fresh fruit. There is a privately owned cement-loading installation at Tarakohe, in Golden Bay. Nelson, Motueka, and Golden Bay are fishing ports. Nelson Airport, 3 miles south-west of the city, is used by freight and passenger aircraft.

Rural activities of the district include hop and tobacco growing, small-fruit farms (mainly raspberries), dairying, fruitgrowing (apples, peaches, and pears), vegetable growing (mainly peas and tomatoes), and sheep farming. Forestry plays a large part in the economy of the province. There are 68,000 acres of exotic trees in the Waimea county. Golden Downs (46 miles south-west) is the second largest State forest in New Zealand. There is a wide range of minerals in the region, the main ones being asbestos, clays and feldspars, dolomite, limestone, marl and marble, magnesite and talc, serpentine and dunite, and wollastonite. Nelson is a servicing centre and holiday resort, and its climate has made it a favoured place for retirement. Nelson's secondary industries include meat freezing, sawmilling, tanning, cordial and aerated-water manufacturing, fruit and vegetable processing, jam, biscuit, and confectionery making, cool storage, and general engineering.

Nelson is noted for its educational institutions. Nelson College was established in 1856 and Nelson Girls' College in 1883. The Cawthron Institute is the largest private applied-research institution in New Zealand. It was endowed by Thomas Cawthron, a Nelson citizen, who left £240,000 for the purpose. Soil science is its main work, but it is also concerned with plant chemistry, trace-element research, fungus disease, insect pest and noxious weed control.

Tasman Bay was discovered by the Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman, who anchored near its eastern shores at or near Admiralty Bay on 25 December 1642. Captain Cook sailed across the mouth of Tasman and Golden Bays in 1770 and named them Blind Bay. In January 1827 the French commander, d'Urville, spent several days at what are now called Astrolabe Roads, a few miles north of the port of Motueka. The first party of Nelson settlers, under Captain Arthur Wakefield, arrived in the ships Whitby, Will Watch, and Arrow on 9 October 1841. On 20 October Nelson Haven was found and chosen as the place for the settlement. In the following year more immigrants arrived. Some went to Golden Bay, others spied out the land up the Waimea Valley, along the shore of Tasman Bay, and along the Motueka River. Here the bush was lighter and they carved out small holdings and ultimately established small mixed farms. Further agricultural land was required and surveyors were sent to the Wairau Valley to prepare the way for settlement. The outcome was the “Wairau Affray” (q.v.), when Wakefield's party was overwhelmed by Te Rauparaha. This tragedy retarded the growth of Nelson for several years.

A new impetus to expansion came in 1857 with the discovery of gold at Collingwood, followed in the mid-sixties by the great rushes to the West Coast. The influx of miners greatly stimulated the progress of agriculture and for many years this part of the Nelson district was the major source of foodstuffs for the new communities further south. By the 1880s the orchard yields were sufficient to establish fruit-preserving and jam-making industries, and early in the following century an export trade in apples commenced. In 1858 Queen Victoria ordained that Nelson be a bishop's see and constituted it a city by letters patent. Nelson, however, did not attain borough status until 1874. The city is named in honour of Admiral Lord Nelson.

POPULATION: 1951 census, 20,497; 1956 census, 22,503; 1961 census, 25,321.

by Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington.


Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington.