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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 4, December 1959

Bett Collection and the Past

Bett Collection and the Past

page Four

Life in Nelson and district in the early days can be reconstructed in some detail already from material contained in the F. A. Bett Collection of books, manuscripts and other printed matter, and when the collection is finally housed in Nelson the opportunities for research will be extended.

Together with the records of various kinds already gathered by the Nelson Historical Society, including the irreplaceable Tyree collection of early Nelson photographs and negatives, the Bett material will form a local historical record unique in New Zealand.

Interest in having the collection permanently housed in Nelson has been stimulated by moves now being made to persuade the City Council to buy the old Marsden homestead at Stoke for the project.

Wide Range

The preliminary list of manuscripts in the collection prepared by the Alexander Turnbull Library, shows that the material available ranges from details of early government in the province to scores of details of how the inhabitants of an earlier age lived and conducted their private affairs.

The first item on the list is an abstract of lotteries, held at the Nelson races in 1859, with a list of bets in a general lottery which carries the signatures of prominent Nelson settlers. Then follows in alphabetical order, the entry: "Acland, Lydia, letter to her brother John Barton Acland, February 7, 1937."

Such contrasts, giving promise of much interesting reading and research, occur frequently in the catalogue. Official correspondenee going back to the days of the New Zealand Company, which made the first plans to settle the Nelson district, and the Provincial Council are recorded with many more human documents, the private letters of early settlers to each other or to relatives in England.

Clues to Inhabitants

Some are still remembered as public figures, but others remain unknown except in the letters they have left describing the lives of their neighbours and themselves in another era.

Records of early immigrant ships which came to Nelson, and detailed passenger lists, give clues as to how the population of the infant cathedral city was compounded. Land. court and mercantile documents of varied kinds give other glimpses of the people who formed the community a century and more ago. and in later decades merging into the present century.

What pictures of a long forgotten social scene are conjured up by such an entry as "Invitation to dance in Mr Kerr's barn, November 24, 1843," and another invitation to dance at the Wakatu Hotel about the same time. Both were sent to John Waring Saxton, copies of whose diaries from 1841 to 1851 are also in the Bett Collection.