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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 7, Issue 2, 2010

Dr. Bush’s Windmill And Town Acre 234

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Early shot of Nelson with Dr. Bush’s windmill clearly visible.

Early shot of Nelson with Dr. Bush’s windmill clearly visible.

The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 182269.

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Dr. Bush’s Windmill
And Town Acre 234

“The Nelson Examiner described it as ‘an ornament to the town’.”In February 1841, at the invitation of B.E.Duppa, Dr. G.F. Bush became a member of an elite society, the Second Colony of New Zealand, a group of gentle- men who intended to emigrate to Nelson. From this elevated level of patronage (and despite protests from the New Zealand Company’s emigration commission- ers), the Company’s directors appointed Bush surgeon superintendent of the barque Lloyds. In this position he became responsible not only for the health of the emigrants given free passage to Nelson, but also for their physical, religious and moral care.

The Lloyds sailed from Gravesend on September11, 1841 with the wives and children of the Nelson Expedition men, who had departed on April 27 aboard the first ships. The ship carried 139 children, 73 women and one male servant aged 15.

The voyage was a disaster. The vessel was inadequately victualled, particularly with food suitable for young children and, before she reached Cape Town, the passengers began to suffer from scurvy.

Dr. Bush appears to have been uninterested in their welfare, and eventually 65 children died of whooping cough and gastro-enteritis. Worse, Bush acquiesced when the Master, Captain William Green, got amongst the women and “Eventually about a dozen or so wives lived openly and miscellaneously” with those members page 16 of the crew who quickly followed his example. In Arthur Wakefield’s words the vessel became “a floating bawdy house”.1

After the Lloyds arrived in Nelson on February 15, 1842 and the scandal became known, the colonists were stunned. Wakefield refused to sign the documents releasing payment to the master or the surgeon, whom he publicly called a “prevaricating vaurien”, or to sign the form to release the balance owed to the ship’s owners.2 Indeed, Bush, having lost the bounty of £1 per head for the passengers who arrived safely in Nelson, found himself in debt to the New Zealand Company. The subsequent hearing is described by Allen as “a farcical enquiry, whereat all concerned were whitewashed”.3

Dr. Bush set up in practice in Nelson and in late 1852 built a wooden smock mill on town acre 234, which he had purchased for £15 from the New Zealand Company on July 23 that year. The section, in Trafalgar Street North, was in the salt marsh on the bank of the Maitai River. At that time, Trafalgar Street ran into the estuary just to the north of a line between Wakatu Lane and New Street, and the 20 or so town acres north of that were inundated by the sea at high spring tides.

The windmill was designed by J.W.C. Beauchamp, an architect and civil engineer of Shakespeare Walk, and commenced operation on January 1, 1853. The Nelson Examiner described it as “an ornament to the town”. In competition with the Nelson Flour Mill Company, whose mill at the junction of Tasman and Bridge Streets was powered by water from the Brook, Bush’s windmill was never profitable and appears to have ceased operation in 1862, with its failure blamed on the lack of a strong wind of long duration.4

In 1856 Bush had tried unsuccessfully to float a company to purchase the mill and take over its operations. The proposal included deepening the river and building a jetty on a site just below the Trafalgar Street bridge, to allow ships to berth and service the mill. Dr. George Bush died on December 5, 1865 and his estate sold the mill.

The new owner was John Scott, a builder and contractor of Scottish descent, who came to Nelson in 1857 via Melbourne and Wellington. He set up his timber yard, saw mill, sash and door factory and workshop at the windmill. The woodworking machinery was driven by a steam engine, with the boiler said to be at a distance from the windmill. Despite this precaution, the windmill was destroyed in 1867 by a fire thought to have been caused by a spark from the boiler’s furnace.

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Under the headline FIRE AT THE WINDMILL, the Nelson Evening Mail reported its destruction on September 19, 1867:

“About ten minutes before 9 o’clock this morning, the town was aroused by the pealing of the fire bell and also the bell at the Catholic station, and it was speedily discovered that the old mill on the flat, which has so long constituted one of the most distinctive features of the city, was in flames. The alarm was, we believe, given by Mr W. Hargreaves, who immediately ran to the fire bell, and almost as soon as it had been set ringing, the small engine was taken out and brought to the spot. Mr Cooksey was first to arrive at the engine house at the Government Buildings, and immediately harnessed his horse to the large engine, and with the assistance of a large number of the fire brigade, brought it down to the scene of action. The flames by this time had gained such ascendancy that any attempt to subdue them would have been utterly futile; the efforts of the brigade were therefore confined to preventing the destruction of the two sheds adjoining, which contained the steam planing- machine, and a large quantity of cut timber, by playing upon the corner of the workshop which surrounded the mill, and which abutted upon them. In this they were fortunately successful, so that the destruction of property was confined to the mill itself. The wind, too, which was very strong at the time, blew from the east, and thus materially aided their efforts. The old mill, which was speedily enveloped in flames, raging most fiercely, presented a very striking spectacle, which, had the fire taken place at night, would have been magnificent in the extreme.

At seven minutes past the whole structure, sails and all, came down with a tremendous crash, leaving only one spectral pole standing in the midst of the ruin. An immense number of people was congregated on the spot, and we are happy to state that every assistance was rendered Mr Scott in removing the timber, &c, by the bystanders. We need hardly add that the Brigade exerted themselves as effectively and energetically as usual, and a plentiful supply of water from the Maitai being at their command, they were thus enabled to confine the destruction of property to the old mill; the loss of which however, as a memorial of the early days of the settlement, will be much regretted, especially by the older inhabitants of the city. No accident, as far as we have been able to learn, occurred, and within an hour after the discovery of the fire he city had resumed its usual tranquility. We believe that no doubt is entertained that the fire was caused by a spark from the steam planing-machine in the adjoining shed, as the fire broke out in the upper story of the mill, and the workmen had time to remove their tools, &c, from the lower part. Mr Scott, who had purchased the mill from the executors of page 18 the late Dr. Bush, was insured by the New Zealand Insurance Company for£800.

We cannot conclude this notice without an expression of our thankfulness that this fire occurred in a location where its ravages were necessarily very much restricted; had it broken out in a more central part of the city, with the high wind which prevailed at the time, it is impossible to say what might have been the result.”

The report overlooks the obvious: that to operate a steam planing machine a boiler is needed to supply the steam and a fire is necessary to produce steam. No doubt Scott used timber off-cuts to fuel his boiler and it appears that the upper storey of the windmill was ignited by sparks carried from the boiler chimney.

One of Scott’s early contracts was the Port Auxiliary Fire Brigade Hall on the corner of Russell Street and Haven Road, where the Haven Road Store now stands. It was well-utilised, and in June 1876 it was being used by the Central Board of Education as a day school, the Marine Lodge of Good Templars (a temperance lodge), on Thursday evenings, the Naval Brigade on Tuesday and Friday evenings, the Anglican Sunday School each Sunday afternoon, the Wesleyan Church for Sunday evening services and the Port Rowing Club. It was rebuilt by Scott in 1879 as the Port Hall on precisely the same site and was tenanted by exactly the same organisations. The Colonist of January 9, 1891 recorded that “The Port Hall has been purchased by the Bishop of Nelson. Those who built it by means of scrip [debentures] will receive6/- per scrip”. The hall appears to have still been in use in 1911.

During his 40 years in business, Scott constructed most of major buildings of the city and district, including the Provincial Government Buildings in Albion Square, the Bank of New Zealand, the Bank of New South Wales, the Nelson Mental Asylum, the Stoke Orphanage, the Wakatu Boating Club’s boat shed (now The Boat Shed) in Wakefield Quay and the Whakarewa Orphanage at Motueka, as well as the resi- dences of prominent citizens.

Scott also did large business supplying wooden boxes to Nelson companies, including S. Kirkpatrick & Co’s jam factory, and kahikatea boxes for packaging tea. Over a period of years his yard used over 200,000 linear feet of timber just for the tea boxes. He became prominent in Nelson affairs. The Colonist of December 9, 1897 records that he was a City Councillor, a member of the Licensing Bench and Vice President of the Wakatu Boating Club.

John Scott died at the age of 65, on December 8 1897. Flags in the city were flown at half mast and a cortege of 30 carriages followed his hearse to his burial.

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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1906, Vol. 5 records that Scott’s business had “the most complete woodworking machinery in the province” and that his estate continued the business under the management of William Claydon, who had been in Scott’s employ since 1882. The business continued to do well, with the Colonist of January 21, 1905 recording: “Lowest tender for erecting the Technical School was £1124.10.0 by the builder John Scott”.

The date of 1904 above the entrance to the Technical School building is the year of the Government grant to establish the school. It was disestablished In 1936, with the girls transferring to the Nelson College for Girls and the boys to Nelson College, where a new technical block was built.

The old school was then used mainly for night classes administered by the Nelson College Board of Governors, which managed the three schools. The author remembers, as a third former, cycling from Nelson College to the Technical School for two periods of engineering then returning for a period of physics, and, as an adult, teaching technical engineering subjects there to adults and apprentices three evenings a week.

Until the Nelson Intermediate School opened in 1951, pupils in Forms 1 and2 from the eight Nelson and suburban primary schools also attended the Technical School for Manual Training: the boys for woodwork and the girls for cooking.

Advertisement from the Nelson Evening Mail, January 20, 1905.

Advertisement from the Nelson Evening Mail, January 20, 1905.

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Replica of Or Bush's windmill at Founders Park. Image courtesy Nelson Mail.

Replica of Or Bush's windmill at Founders Park. Image courtesy Nelson Mail.

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Scott’s estate later built the Nelson Rowing Club shed at 326 Wakefield Quay, later owned by the Iron Duke Sea Scouts and now known as The Boathouse. John Scott’s executors sold the business to Andrew Miller who, as a lad, was employed by Scott, probably as an apprentice. He worked as a builder in Motueka for several years before returning to Nelson and purchasing the business, which he ran until his death at the age of 65. He operated his saw mill in a red painted wooden building on the eastern side of the property and lived next door at 41 Halifax Street. The author delivered the newspaper to Miller’s family in 1938/39.

His obituary records that, in his younger days, he had a keen interest in music, being a ‘violinist of no mean order’.5 He was an early member of the Nelson Harmonic Society and later the leader of its orchestra. While in Motueka he was the conductor of the Motueka Brass Band and the Motueka String Band.

It was during Andrew Miller’s ownership of section 234 that the land, empty of buildings and largely vacant for many years, became popularly known to the citizens of Nelson as Miller’s Acre. In 1939 the Nelson City Council raised a loan of £7,250 ($14,500), to purchase Miller’s Acre as a site for a town hall and civic centre6, but neither project ever eventuated.


1 Allen, R M. Nelson: A history of early settlement. Wellington: Reed, 1965. p.87.
2 Nelson Examiner, March 12, 1842, p3.
3 Allen, op.cit., p88.
4 Allen, op cit, p367.
5 Nelson Evening Mail, April 3, 1926. Obituary, Mr Andrew Miller.
6 Nelson Evening Mail, July 19, 2008. Letter from Seddon J. Marshall.