MR. WILLIAM NELSON
“FATHER OF HAWKE’S BAY.”
STORY OF A GREAT CAREER.
One of the most outstanding figures to Hawke’s Bay passed to his rest this morning after a life of useful service such as it has been given to few men to enjoy, in the person of Mr William Nelson, ‘‘Waikoko,” Tomoana. The late Mr Nelson lived to see the fruition of many of his great plans for the development of the Province, and many years will yet elapse before the imprint of his powerful personality fades. The whole of Hawke’s Bay will mourn the departure of a true leader of men, and offer to the surviving members of his family the most heartfelt sympathy in their great loss.
Born in the Old Country, in Warwickshire, on February 15, 1843, the late Mr. Nelson played many parts. It was there that, in his early youth, and subsequently on revisiting his native land, he gamed experience of industrial concerns and their organisation that stood well to him later on when he came to establish undertakings of like character in this new land. Engaged first in big cement works and afterwards in a gelatine factory, he got some insight into the best methods of directing the energies of both men and machines, also into the practical application of science. Valuable as this experience must have been, it is to a natural talent for organisation, combined with unconquerable courage and an indomitable will to achieve, that his greatest successes must be attributed. Beyond this there was a keen and farseeing eye for hidden possibilities in projects overlooked by others.
FARMER AND MILLER.
It was away back in the ’sixties that Mr. Nelson and his brother, quite recent arrivals in the colony, took up land in Hawke’s Bay, then almost entirely in the rough of Nature. It was characteristic of the man that he sought no piece of easy country, but established himself in what was then the far way back of ‘‘Kereru;’’ a broken tract that nobody else particularly wanted. Then followed farming ventures on more eligible areas – ‘‘Arlington,’’ near Waipukurau, ‘‘Whenuahou,” mostly ‘‘bush” land, in the Takapau district, ‘‘Titoki,” out from Waipawa, “Tuki Tuki,’’ near Havelock North, and “Mangateretere,’’ near Hastings. After the well known company of Nelson Bros., Ltd., was formed he had virtual control of some 5,000 acres on the flats and 30,000 acres of hill country, including ‘‘Hakowhai,” “Dartmoor,” ‘‘Apley,” ‘‘Omatua,” “Eskmount,” and “Glengarry.” Half a century back most of this country was in the making, and it was William Nelson who undertook the making of it when there were but few ready to take on the job. Now practically all has passed into other hands that are reaping benefit from his pioneering enterprise and capacity for hard work and hard thinking.
But Mr. Nelson’s industrial activities in the far-back days were not by any means confined to pastoral pursuits alone. He was only in his early twenties when he started the first flax-mill of the district at Mangateretere. Then, later on, he took a hand in turning to account as a sawmiller some of the big forest areas of the then province. It was due to his support, too, that the well known engineering house of Niven and Co. secured its first footing and established itself at Port Ahuriri, whence it has branched out to several other centres and so become a concern of Dominion-wide importance.
THE TOMOANA WORKS.
It is, however, in connection with the meat works at Tomoana that the name of Nelson is best known in Hawke’s Bay. Their beginning was the outcome of a sustained period of depression compared with which that we are now passing though with so much complaining might be called lush prosperity. Wool, then about the exportable product of the sheep, was down to next to nothing and the carcases were practically unsaleable, legs of mutton being hawked round at 6d apiece. In some parts, where flocks had outgrown available pasture were driven over the cliffs into the sea to get rid of them. It was then, some 50 years ago, that Mr. Nelson, in association with the late Mr. J. N. Williams, beat as always on making the best of a bad job, started the erection of boil-down and meat-preserving works at Tomoana. These helped materially to alleviate distress, though giving no great promise of immediate reward.
Two or three years later came the dawn of a new era for New Zealand sheepfarmers, when a Dunedin shipment of frozen mutton was landed in London in satisfactory condition. Mr. Nelson was not slow to recognise what this meant, and forthwith he set about the institution of refrigerating works at Tomoana, and a few years later at Gisborne also, For many years the Tomoana works, rapidly extended, had the Hawke’s Bay field pretty well to themselves, serving the growers of both mutton and beef well and liberally. But it is not to be thought that from this turning of the corner all went easily and smoothly. Hard times recurred, with a country-wide financial panic, and even the sturdy shoulders bearing the heavy burden of Tomoana’s responsibilities were very nearly borne to the ground. Sheer grit and determination, aided by the well earned good will of the farming community, pulled the concern and the district through the slough of despond, and the sun of prosperity, with only occasional cloudings, has thenceforth shone upon them.
Then, it was in connection with the meat export trade that Mr. Nelson realised the need for further shipping facilities. The institution of the Tyser Line of cargo-carriers, with substantial reduction in freight charges, quickly followed. This eventually expanded into the well known ‘‘C. and D.” Line, still rendering fine service to the primary producers of New Zealand.
HIS WORKMEN’S FRIEND.
No better instance can be found of the value of cordial relations between employer and employees than in the case of William Nelson. It was all very simple. Those who worked willingly and well with and under him were just his friends. That was all there was to it, and no undertaking of its size suffered less from industrial troubles, or got more faithful and cheerful service, than did Tomoana under his control.
Then, again, it was largely due to Mr. Nelson’s initiative and financial backing that a big area of unsightly sea-soaked swamp was transformed into the site of what is now the site of the smiling suburb of Napier south. Few, probably, of the youth of the present generation who so earnestly contend in their games upon Nelson Park are even aware that it was the man from whom it takes its name who was mainly instrumental in literally making their playground for them.
Mr. Nelson never sought prominence in public places, yet rendered many public services in local affairs. Among them may be mentioned the practical interest he took in the plans for the flood prevention on the Heretaunga Plain. In days that are long past measures he conceived and in many case saw carried out on the destructive rivers undoubtedly save the settlers of this region many tens of thousands of pounds. Indeed, it might be well if, even at the present day, some greater avail were made of advice based on his life-long observation of the vagaries of the Ngaruroro and the Tutaekuri.
Education, too, commanded his close interest, and it was he who founded the Heretaunga School for boys at Hastings nearly 50 years ago. This institution still continues under the name of Hereworth at Havelock North, where also is to be found Woodford House, perhaps the best known school for girls in the Dominion. Of this, too, he was one of the original promoters.
“THE PEACEFUL EVENING.”
And then, after all this has been said, the surface has only been skimmed, for much of William Nelson’s influence on the destinies of Hawke’s Bay lies deep his personal and private relations. These can find no place here, beyond saying that their name legion who would gladly testify, many of them from the spirit-land, to what sage advice, the practical sympathy and the ready help have meant to them of a man who in this respect never let his left hand know what is right hand was doing.
And now, “after life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well,” having entered into his well-earned rest. There abide, however, the grateful memories that will ever cluster around an honoured and respected name. To those of the family and friends who mourn their loss, the sympathy of the whole of Hawke’s Bay and many places beyond will be extended. Mr Nelson is survived by his widow and four sons and three daughters – William Henry Nelson (Woodville), Mr Geo. Nelson (Havelock North), Mr Oswald Nelson (Mangateretere), Mr Lionel Nelson (Wellington), Mrs J. C. Lane (Havelock North), Mrs Harold Russell (Flaxmere, Hastings), and Mrs Hector Smith (Ormlie, Korokipo).
The late Mr Nelson was the oldest member of any club in New Zealand, and has been a member of the H.B. Club, Napier, since 1864.
Photo caption – THE LATE MR. WILLIAM NELSON