Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1989
The Saturday morning flea market is a colourful and well-entrenched part of the Nelson scene.
For early settlers from Britain, a town market had been part of their way of life.
It is, therefore, not surprising that nostalgia for market days brought a desire to recreate them in the new country.
An attempt to establish a market in Nelson was made by William Fox, in May 1845. At his suggestion, Donald Sinclair, the Chief Police Magistrate, announced that a weekly General Market was to be held every Saturday until further notice (1). The site was on town acre 220 on the north side of Bridge Street, between Trafalgar and Collingwood Streets.
The market was to be open from 9am to 9 pm and the public were invited to avail themselves of an establishment 'so much calculated for the advantage of all classes'.
The Nelson Examiner drew its readers' attention to the advertisement, and hoped that 'as the measure is calculated to be highly beneficial to the consumer and the producer,' it would receive every encouragement.
The location was thought to be well-chosen, as Bridge Street, at that time, was the main thoroughfare. The market's success is not known, but it was, perhaps, shortlived. Fifteen years later, the opening of another market was heralded as a first!
In May 1859, the Nelson Provincial Council set up a select committee to confer with the Board of Works, with a view to the selection of a suitable site for a market in Nelson.
The committee reported back in June that the most eligible site was town acre 152, with a frontage to Hardy and Vanguard Streets.
It was at that time occupied by Joseph Webb (2).
The report was adopted, but little other progress was made.
In March 1860, Mr Dodson asked the Provincial Solicitor what steps had been taken to carry out the previous session's vote, that a weekly market be established.
Henry Adams replied that the £500 voted had been paid over to the Board of Works, but that great difficulty had been experienced in procuring a suitable site.
The Provincial Government had granted the Board a lease of the Fish Market reserve. He believed that it was intended to erect the market immediately, although, in his opinion, it would be considerably out of the way.
The site was near the salt-water culvert, and is now occupied by the Citipower depot.
The design for the market-place was drawn up by me Provincial Engineer, and the tender of £419, from James Henry, was accepted for the work.
In addition, a copy of the Market Regulations in force in Melbourne was obtained, as a guide for the Board in determining its own regulations. It was felt that they could be adapted and simplified, to suit the more humble market which was being inaugurated in Nelson. (3).
The by-law drawn up by the Board of Works, to regulate the operation of the market, was published in the Gazette of 17 October 1860.
It included provision for the appointment of an Inspector whose duties included:
- – collecting all toll & dues
- – appointing places for the deposit of goods, wares and merchandise in the market
- – allocating drafting yards to parties bringing stock for private sale or auction
- – prohibiting the sale of any articles which he considered noisome or offensive
- – preserving order, regularity and cleanliness within the market. This duty included the power 'to cause to be summarily ejected therefrom, or to be apprehended and lodged in the nearest lockup or police station any person making a riot or disturbance, or cursing or swearing, or using any gross or indecent language, or being guilty of gross or indecent conduct with in the precincts of the market'.
A fine, not exceeding forty shillings, would result from a conviction for such behaviour.
People were to be able to reserve a shop or stall on a regular basis, on payment of a fee.
Those without a reserved position would pay a shilling for use of a stall. If they didn't want a stall, a fee of a shilling for a cart, threepence for a wheelbarrow and twopence for a basket would be due.
The opening of the market was to be announced by the ringing of a bell. After half an hour, the bell would ring again, at which time stalls not taken up by their regular occupier, could be used by those without a reserved space.
At the end of October 1860 The Colonist noted that the market building was completed and that it would be opened in about three weeks. The market-place consisted of 'a row of six neat, enclosed shops, suitable for the sale of almost every variety of merchandise; and under a roomy corridor or verandah, in front of the shops, are several open stalls, that will no doubt be occupied by greengrocers and others. A large space in front of these shops and stalls is surrounded by a close-boarded fence, six feet high; and in this space vendors of produce or other merchandise who do not wish to make use of the other accommodation can take their stand'.
The offices of the Board of Works occupied part of the building.
The opening was eagerly anticipated, a feeling put into words by the Nelson Evening Mail on 23 November:
'Next Saturday will be notable day for our almanac-makers; for on that day the first Market-place in the Province of Nelson, and we believe in New Zealand, will be opened for the sale of horticultural, grazing, farming and other good things for the human stomach. We trust that there will be a full attendance of buyers and thus give our city somewhat the appearance of a country town on market days, which scene remains so vividly pictured in the memory of all who are old enough to remember it'.
Advertisements appeared in the newspaper for the produce that would be on sale. This included strawberries, new potatoes, green peas, rhubarb and vegetables of all kinds.
There was also to be a butcher's shop.
Mr Fulton of the Victoria Hotel, next-door to the market, anticipating extra patronage, advertised a 'market ordinary' at one o'clock each Saturday.
On opening day the new market was well attended by intending purchasers, although vendors were a little slow off the mark. The Colonist commented 'The hour of opening was fixed at eight o'clock, but this was an erroneous calculation, for it is well known that Nelson folks do not think of commencing business so soon in the morning; and consequently, although matrons with their market baskets were waiting for the gates to be opened it was near ten o'clock before many of the stalls were opened'.
Business was brisk, with vegetables being readily disposed of and the demand for strawberries far exceeded the supply. A few head of dairy stock and a cart mare were also offered for sale.
It was hoped that vendors would occupy their stalls at an earlier hour in the future, as the general public appeared to be well-pleased with the market and were inclined to support it (4).
In common with the earlier venture, the market's ongoing success is not known.
Edwin Hodder commented late in 1861 that it was well-supplied with meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetables, but that it was too far from the town to command much business (5).