Nelson Historical Society Our History
Frank Hinchcliff and John Marris packing the Tyree photographic collection for transport to Nelson Provincial Museum, May 1974. Credit: Nelson Provincial Museum. Geoffrey C. Wood Collection: 9969 fr2.

Our History

The Nelson Historical Society formed in May 1954 with the primary objective of collecting documentary material of historical interest to the Nelson and Marlborough Provinces covering the top of the South Island.

In July that year Rose Frank, the owner of the Tyree Photographic Studio, signed an agreement to hand over the historic Tyree Collection of glass-plate negatives to the society.

 Credit: Ken Wright Postcard Collection. 

As people became aware of the society’s aims, people began being offering items, particularly those related to the history of the Nelson Province. Soon its catalogued holdings also included manuscripts, documents, diaries, maps, deeds, artworks and letters, as well as the Tomlinson Collection of silver.

However this led to storage issues and the society began looking for premises in which to keep the material. In 1960 the Nelson City Council allowed the society to house its collection in Isel House in Stoke. Work on the heritage home in Isel Park enabled the society to receive on permanent loan from the Cawthron Institute the Marsden Collection of furniture, china and other items. In time the society opened Isel House to the public to view its collection for research purposes and offered research assistance. 

As early as 1958 the society entered discussions regarding the formation of a museum trust board, with members campaigning local authorities for support. In 1963 the Nelson Provincial Museum Trust Board was established, with historical society representation. Eventually the historical society and the Nelson Institute Museum agreed to hand over their respective historical collections to the trust board once a curator was appointed in 1965. In 1973 the society’s well-organised and catalogued collection became part of the newly built Nelson Provincial Museum, which opened in Isel Park, behind Isel House. 

The society’s logo is a drawing of the Nelson Provincial Government building (completed in 1861), which the society strenuously fought to save between 1966 and 1969, when it was demolished. The drawing is by Nelson architect and artist, Christopher Vine, who illustrated a society report in 1966 which lobbied the Government to save the building.

The Nelson Historical Society was also instrumental in the establishment of a Nelson branch of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and in the development of Broadgreen House as a publicly owned heritage property. 

With the advent of online resources, the society has been involved in various digitisation projects, including Papers Past, Nelson Photo News and its own Journals.

These days the society’s main focus is the history and heritage of the Nelson and Tasman districts. However the former Nelson Province’s shared history with its neighbouring province invites interest in, and even field trips, related to Marlborough history and heritage. 


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