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Notes on the Geography of New Zealand: Nelson

New Zealand has seven cities with a population exceeding 100,000. Nelson, with 65,000, isn't one of them. Call it a blessing.

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New Zealand: Nelson picture 1

What would be the logical name for the main street of a town called Nelson? One guess! No, no, no, it's not Lady Hamilton. Shame on you: we're on Trafalgar Street, with the view inland to Christchurch. The date is 1887. Make a note of the last building on the right, with the enclosed veranda.

New Zealand: Nelson picture 2

The church shown in the last picture was condemned in 1920 and demolished five years later. Work on its replacement began that year but was suspended in 1932. Work began again in 1957, but it was a new era. Farewell, marble blocks; hello, concrete faced with plaster and pulverized marble. The new church was completed in 1967.

The steps had been completed much earlier, in 1913. They were designed by a local architect, Arthur Reynolds Griffin, and they replaced wooden flights. The donor, Thomas Cawthron, had made a fortune supplying gold miners and then investing his earnings shrewdly. He asked for "a real good job, bold, massive and ornamental." He got it, too, though Griffin's architectural training consisted of a course from the International Correspondence School in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Griffin continued to practice until about 1960.

New Zealand: Nelson picture 3

Nave of the cathedral. So it's not Chartres. This is the 1950s.

New Zealand: Nelson picture 4

For ornament, you have come down to those granite steps.

New Zealand: Nelson picture 5

There are some interesting memorials in the church, however. The name Brunner hints at Swiss ancestry, though this Brunner was born in Oxford and emigrated to New Zealand when he was 20. Five years later he spent 550 days on a journey south about 300 miles to a point on the west coast near Paringa. For this journey, recorded in the journal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1850, he won the Society's Patron's Medal.

New Zealand: Nelson picture 6

The view from the steps; the building with the enclosed veranda survives here on the left. Despite the modern church, the town is banking on Victoriana.

New Zealand: Nelson picture 7

Harry's was formerly Chez Eelco, which opened in 1961 as Nelson's first place where you could sit and chat past 6 pm.

New Zealand: Nelson picture 8

Across the street, this was originally the Victoria Rose Hotel.

New Zealand: Nelson picture 9

Still on Trafalgar, this was originally a jewelry store. The architect was Arthur Griffin, he who designed the cathedral steps.

New Zealand: Nelson picture 10

A department store from the early 1920s. Only the ground floor was in use in 2015, and though there was talk about carving some apartments from the space above, there were also worries about earthquakes. The property was still in the family of the first owners, and one of them worried that the "the building is dangerous and we have to do something about it."

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