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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 1, 1987

19th Century Nelson Hotels

19th Century Nelson Hotels

page 24

The first publicans' licences were issued in Nelson in April 1842. There had been considerable public agitation to legalize a trade which had begun to flourish outside the law. Eight licences were issued and another six the following year. All were within the town, except for one at Motueka.

Some of these first public houses lasted only a year or two and left little evidence of their existence. The Ship Inn of J. Collins, The Shamrock Inn of T.K. Warburton, the New Zealand Tavern of Thomas Bright and William White and William Miller's Tavern come into this category. The Auckland Hotel of Richard Mills, in Nile Street East, became a private boardinghouse in 1844.

Others with a short life-span were the Nelson Hotel of William Wright, at the junction of Bridge Street and Haven Road and Edward Ellerm's Lord Collingwood Inn, in Bridge Street. In 1843 the Lord Collingwood Inn was bought by T.K. Warburton and he added a ballroom, which was the scene of a select ball on New Year's Day 1844.

Warburton had also held the licence for the Commercial Hotel in Bridge Street. In 1843 the Commercial was taken by J. Cockburn. It was described as extensive premises and included a billiard room.

Also in Bridge Street was the Caledonian Inn of William Murray. Murray added a theatre at the rear, which was the scene of plays, public meetings and, in September 1843, a most successful fancydress ball.1 Murray retired in 1844 and the former hotel was sold.

The Wakatu Hotel, the best known of the early public houses, stood on the north-west corner of Trafalgar and Bridge Streets. It had been built in 1843, by the merchants Nathan and Joseph, to replace their store at Auckland Point. They sold-up in August 1843 and the building was leased to James Williams, who continued to use it as a store and auction rooms. In October 1844, Williams absconded in debt to Alexander Perry, another merchant, who then rented the building.2 Perry converted it for use as a public house, and it was licenced as the Wakatu Hotel early in 1845. The first landlord was John McDonald, a gardener of Brook Street.

The Wakatu Hotel, described as commodious premises, included a billiard room and was an important social centre in the early days of the settlement. It was the scene of many public and private meetings and testimonial dinners. When it closed, The Colonist noted that a visit to the Wakatu Hotel had been regarded by country residents as the one relief from their struggles, as they had always been sure of finding congenial company there.

The Bank of New South Wales bought the property in 1877 and advertised the buildings for removal. The buildings and their contents were auctioned on 13 July 1877. The contents, which included spittoons, found a ready market and the buildings were purchased for thirtynine pounds by Thomas Harley, who had been born on the premises.

Next door to the Wakatu Hotel in Bridge Street stood the Galatea Hotel, built in 1868. Thomas Askew was the first landlord. The licence was taken by Mrs Russell in 1873 and the name changed to the Exchange Hotel. The Exchange closed on 17 September 1951 and its licence went to the Metropolitan Hotel.

The Freemasons' Arms, on the north-east corner of Trafalgar and Bridge Streets, was licenced in 1842 by F.A. Lloyd. It became a centre for members of the Oddfellows Lodge, who held their meetings there. Thomas Sullivan, a central figure in the Lodge, held the licence from 1846 to 1854 and, in 1847, the name was changed to the Oddfellows' Arms. It was the venue for Lodge dinners and for their charity occasions for widows and orphans. In 1856, the Oddfellows built their own hall and transferred their activities to it.

page 25

William Akersten took the licence in 1858 and changed the name to the Marine Hotel, reflecting his interests at the Port, where he had a well-known chandlery. Akersten advertised that Lloyd's Register, Marryatt's signal books, charts of New Zealand and many works of reference in nautical matters, would always be found on the table of the Captain's Room.

Andrews' Coach and Horses Hotel, 1890's. Tyree Collection NPM.

Andrews' Coach and Horses Hotel, 1890's. Tyree Collection NPM.

Charles McGee took over in 1859 and the Marine Hotel was advertised to let in January 1864. George Potter, the new licencee, gave the hotel a new name – the Coach and Horses. The building was replaced in stages, beginning with the Trafalgar Street frontage in 1870. This was added to in Bridge Street in 1877 and there were later extensions along Trafalgar Street.

The hotel had its final change of identity in 1906, when it became the Central Hotel. It closed in December 1972 and the licence went to the new Rutherford Hotel. The building still stands.

The third corner of that intersection to see an hotel was the south-east, where the Gardeners' Arms stood. In May 1843, William Johnson's application for the licence of the Gardeners' Arms was refused, on the ground that disorderly and riotous proceedings had been frequent there, during the past year. In June the premises were offered for sale, with the explanation that Mr Johnson, having acquired a rapid fortune, was retiring to Waimea, in order to turn his attention to agriculture.

The 1845 census lists William Johnson once more at the Gardeners' Arms and, in 1846, a St Patrick's Day ball was advertised. No reports of disorderly proceedings followed.

Alexander McGee held the licence in 1849 and, during that year, the name changed to the Anchor Inn.

page 26

George Taylor took the Anchor Inn in 1852. In November 1854 he advised that the building was to be replaced and that he trusted, in a short period, to be able to provide superior and comfortable accommodation for both man and horse. The new building deserved a new name and, the following March, Mr & Mrs Taylor advertised that their new and extensive premises, the Trafalgar Hotel, would be open in a few weeks.

Mrs Taylor had secured the services of an experienced French cook, which would enable her to provide dinners in a superior style. An active and efficient tavern waiter had also been engaged and visitors could depend on receiving attention and civility. In conclusion they trusted that the Trafalgar would, like the illustrious battle which gave it name, not be forgotten by the 'men of Nelson'. This building stood until 1907, when the Trafalgar Hotel became an elaborate three storey structure. (See cover). The end came in 1965, when the building was demolished.

The intersection of Bridge and Collingwood Streets was also well-supplied with hotels. The earliest, in 1843, was Charles Harley's Carpenters' Arms, on the south-east corner. Quite a social centre, it was often the location for balls and dinners. The licence appears to have lapsed in 1851, when Harley moved to the Wakatu, although the building stood until 1866.

The present Wakatu Hotel was licenced by Fred Vause in 1900, in premises built in 1866 for H.V. Phillips' Beehive Stores. The new venture was an immediate success, and the building was extended along the Collingwood Street frontage early in 1902. This provided eight further bedrooms upstairs and a large room downstairs, suitable for supper parties.
Commercial Hotel, corner Trafalgar and Hardy Streets, c. 1880. NPM.

Commercial Hotel, corner Trafalgar and Hardy Streets, c. 1880. NPM.

page 27Next door to the Wakatu in Bridge Street was the Windsor Castle Hotel, which was built in 1866 and closed around the turn of the century.

The first licence on the south-west corner of Bridge and Collingwood Streets was that of the Royal Arms in 1851. It appears to have lasted only until 1857.

The Nelson Hotel of Charles McGee was built on the site in 1865, with 17 rooms, but was destroyed in a disastrous fire on 7 August the following year. The fire began in the Nelson Hotel and spread to all corners of the intersection, fanned by a strong wind.

Tenders were called for a new building in October 1866 and the Nelson Hotel rose again from the ashes. During the 1890s the licence lapsed and, at the turn of the century, the building was being used by the Anchor Boot Company.

The building was purchased by Mrs Digby Andrews, who renovated it as a boardinghouse. The Ranfurly Boardinghouse could accommodate sixty visitors and a balcony was added, as an open air resort for them. It was completed in time to provide a view of the Jubilee Day procession in February 1902.

Mrs Andrews also operated a fruit and confectionery shop on the ground-floor in Bridge Street.

In 1903 it was taken by Mrs P. Harrison and the name changed to the Metropolitan Private Hotel.

In 1916 it once again achieved a licence, combining with premises next door in Bridge Street, to become the Royal Hotel, which continues today.

The building with which it combined, had been known all along as the Royal Hotel. It was there by 1857, when Charles Gentry held the licence. Destroyed in the 1866 fire, it was also rebuilt, and Joseph Porthouse was licencee for several years.

The Mitre Hotel, on the north-west corner of the intersection, was built in 1859. Another victim of the 1866 fire, it was rebuilt the same year and was renamed the Criterion Hotel in the 1870s. It had become the Temperance Hotel by 1887, which must have gladdened the heart of the Temperance Hall over the road. It lasted until 1912.

Further along Bridge Street, the Thistle Inn stood between Harley Street and Provincial Lane. It was built in 1855, was still there in 1876, but had gone by 1887.

The Provincial Hotel was built in 1868 and named for the Provincial Government building across the road. James Graham was the landlord for several years. It was one of many hotels in Nelson built to a similar plan, with the entrance at a corner.

The Commercial Hotel stood on the south-west corner of Trafalgar and Hardy Streets. Licenced in 1851 by J. Winterburn, it was in a small brick building which dated from 1842. In 1883 this was replaced by a two storied wooden building. A brick extension was added to the Hardy Street frontage in 1907 and the wooden portion was replaced in 1936. Renamed the Hotel Nelson, it stood until 1986 when it was demolished.

Opposite it, on the north-east corner, stood the Masonic Hotel. Built of wood in 1850, it was destroyed by fire on 7 November 1867. It was replaced by a two storied brick building and its rather harsh appearance was softened by the later addition of stone facings. The Masonic Hotel was demolished 16 April 1955.

The Bank Hotel stood next door to the Masonic in Hardy Street and was destroyed in the 1867 fire. The building was owned by Edward Everett and had been built in 1859. Originally the location of the Nelson Club, it had become an hotel in 1865.

The Miners' Arms Hotel, built in 1855, was on the north west corner of Hardy and Collingwood Streets. Henry Jasper was an early landlord. The hotel was rebuilt in 1883 and, before this, its name had been changed to the Panama Hotel. The Panama closed in July 1976 and the building is now used as legal offices.

page 28
Masonic Hotel, c. 1902. Tyree Collection NPM.

Masonic Hotel, c. 1902. Tyree Collection NPM.

Note: The remaining city hotels will be covered in the second part of this article which will appear in the next edition.


Allan, R. p.145–6.

Saxton, J.W. 12 Nov. 1846.


Allan, R.M. Nelson . Reed, 1965.

Nelson Board of Works. Rating rolls 1857–76. NPM.

Nelson Breweries Ltd. Archives 1865–1972. NPM.

Saxton, J.W. Diaries 1841–51. NPM.