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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 6, October 1980

The Fish Hatchery at the Eel Pond — (Queens Gardens)

The Fish Hatchery at the Eel Pond
(Queens Gardens)

The Acclimatisation Society was formed in 1863. When the second Annual General Meeting was held on 31 March, 1866, the secretary, Mr F. Huddleston, reported that Dr Muller of the Botanical Gardens, Melbourne, had sent him various birds, animals, plants, etc., and "24 specimens of the cork oak, some of which have been distributed to members of the Society. The remainder are thriving and will be disposed of at the proper season to the Provincial Government to be placed in the public grounds in which the Provincial Buildings stand." (It is very likely that the cork oak near Bridge Street is a survivor of those trees.)

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The setting up of the fish hatchery was the first objective of the Society. It was constructed in 1867 and three ponds were provided in connection with it. It was situated in the Government Building grounds facing Hardy Street. Permission to proceed with the scheme had been carried out by the Superintendent, Oswald Curtis. The building work was carried out by the secretary, Frederick Huddleston and the small hexagonal building still stands (1980) its exterior almost unaltered. In this small building he hatched out 800 brown trout ova obtained from Australia. Water came from Campbell's Mill lead which followed down Alton Street from the Brook Stream. However the waler was scanty when the stream was low. The Society was also concerned about the warmth of the water and attempted to get colder water from the city water supply.

Huddeston made a trip to Australia in 1868 when he spent almost two hundred pounds ($400) to procure and bring to Nelson a large selection of animals, fish, birds, trees, plants and seeds. It would be interesting to know if some of the trees in the grounds nearby were grown from plants or seeds which he introduced. (Though it is not possible to be definite it is quite likely that this is so. The City Council includes on its list of interesting exotic trees the following from the Provincial grounds: Italian Cypress, Cork Oak, Californian Big Tree, English Yew, Common English Elm, Bhutan Pine. The Cork Oak and the Californian Big Tree are estimated to be well over 100 years old.)

The first hatchings had been successful and brown trout continued to be hatched each year. The first licences to take trout were issued in October 1877 for fishing in the Maitai River and this was the only stream which could be fished for a number of years. Young trout were being liberated in various streams round the Province in 1882 as large numbers were being hatched each year.

Trout holding ponds and tanks were constructed in Hardy Street, on the eastern side of the old Technical School, in the late 1800s. The ground, then part of the Eel Ponds (Queens Gardens) was leased to the Society by the Nelson City Council. It was here that the second and final hatchery was built on the site of the concrete ponds, in 1929. The small stream of water feeding the ponds still came from the old Campbell's Flourmill supply. Several hundred thousand fingerling trout were hatched each year, e.g. 658,000 in 1935. It ended its existence as a hatchery in 1946 more or less on the advice of the Marine Department and their Fresh-water Fisheries officers. Before this millions of young trout destined for the rivers and lakes of the Nelson Province began their lives in this hatchery.

For a number of years the building was leased to the Nelson College Board of Governors, but was eventually sold by the Nelson City Council who compensated the Society for the value of the building.

As for the first building, it still stands in its original position. The inside was somewhat modified when the Nelson Anglers Club used it for their monthly meetings but the outside is virtually unaltered.