Newspaper Article 1951 – Tribute to Pioneer




Memorial Tablet Unveiled at Tomoana


“Waikoko. This was the home of William Nelson, leader in enterprise and founder of the freezing industry in Hawke’s Bay, 1884. Pioneer of the past, public benefactor, 1843-1932.”

This is the inscription on the tablet which adorns the memorial archway at the entrance to “Waikoko” at the Tomoana showgrounds, and which was unveiled yesterday.

In introducing the main speaker, Mr C. Douglas, the president of the Hawke’s Bay A. and P. Society, Mr F.N.H. Beamish, said that the memorial was not entirely one erected by the A. and P. Society. It was erected by the public of Hawke’s Bay. “It is fitting and proper that it should stand at the entrance of a home in which Mr Nelson lived and in the midst of the gardens he planned and loved so well,” said Mr Beamish.

Mr Beamish read a cable from Mrs Nelson in England, and also extended a welcome to the descendants of the Nelson family who were present. He expressed regret that illness prevented Mr Henry Nelson from being present, but said that Mr George Nelson was deputising for him.


“We are here to honour the memory of a great man, a man of vision, a man who has probably contributed more than any other person to the prosperity and wellbeing of Hawke’s Bay and its people – William Nelson,” said Mr Douglas, who is a past-president of the society. “The memorial tablet which is about to be unveiled describes Mr Nelson as a leader in enterprise. The fertility of his brain, and the courage and determination behind it, that brought his enterprises to fruition, were amazing.

“First and foremost, he was the founder of the freezing industry in Hawke’s Bay. It was in 1882 that the first shipment of frozen meat from New Zealand went out from Dunedin and landed successfully in London. Mr Nelson, who had long been studying that problem, immediately sprang into action, and within two years he had erected and equipped the first freezing works in Hawke’s Bay at Tomoana, and the first frozen mutton from our own province was on its way to Britain. What that small beginning has developed into at Tomoana and Whakatu you all know, and what the frozen meat industry has meant to the prosperity of Hawke’s Bay and of New Zealand is of world-wide knowledge. We are here to do homage to the man who laid the foundation.


“But that, though the most outstanding, was only one of the many products of Mr Nelson’s fertile brain. Shipping was difficult in these early days. Freights were high and ships were scarce. It was essential that the meat at Tomoana be lifted promptly and regularly, so Mr Nelson proceeded to London with two of his lieutenants, Robert Dobson and Captain Todd. There he entered into negotiations with Mr Tyser, a large ship-owner, and the net result was that the Tyser line of refrigerated ships to New Zealand was instituted, with Nelson Bros. as its agents and the first head office of the line in Napier. The Tyser line was the father of the Port line, now one of the great shipping lines trading between New Zealand and Australia and Great Britain.

“William Nelson was one of the founders and was chairman of directors of the well-known engineering firm of J.J. Niven and Company, which commenced its operations and still operates at Port Ahuriri, but now has branches throughout the Dominion”.

Mr Douglas said it was Mr William Nelson’s vision and support that enabled the late Mr J.H. Edmundson to establish in Napier the Acetone Illuminating and Welding Company, an industry entirely new to New Zealand. He was chairman of directors for its first 17 years, and now it too had branches throughout the Dominion and was an important factor in the industry of this country.


But what the people of Napier had most reason to be grateful to Mr Nelson for was the reclamation of Napier South. “Memories are so short that already many people give all the credit for that reclamation to the earthquake,” said Mr Douglas. “Nothing of the kind! Twenty-five years before the earthquake a syndicate of four men – William Nelson, George Nelson, Charles Kennedy and George Latham (and whatever William Nelson was in, he was a leading spirit) – had transformed an impassable swamp, apparently blocking for ever the future expansion of Napier, into a smiling suburb and attractive residential area, with those fine playing fields, Nelson Park and McLean Park, in its midst.

“To come back to Hastings and Havelock North,” he said, “William Nelson was practically the founder of both the Heretaunga School (now Hereworth) and Woodford House School for girls, because it was his encouragement, backed by his finance, that enabled the originals of both these institutions to be established.


“These were only some of Mr Nelson’s activities,” continued Mr Douglas. “I have made no mention of his pioneering in flax-milling and saw-milling, of his pastoral pursuits, nor of his invaluable work in river flood protection, all of which have left their mark on the history of Hawke’s Bay. It was in this garden that he walked and ruminated and that many of his great enterprises had their birth.

“Do not let me leave you with the impression, however, that Mr Nelson’s whole life was bound up in commercial industries and public affairs. That was far from the case. He had a rich sense of humour and a warm and generous heart, and many a man and woman has had reason to be grateful to William Nelson for a start in life or for being helped out of a difficulty. It was a source of great satisfaction and pleasure to him that this society established its showground alongside his domain, and he told me a number of times that he hoped, when he had gone, that the society would acquire the old house and garden.


“That is why the committee of the Hawke’s Bay Agricultural and Pastoral Society wanted to erect this memorial archway in his own garden. It stands here to commemorate, not his death, but his life. Twice a day for nearly 50 years William Nelson walked along this path between his study at the house and his office at Tomoana, and we would still like to remember him as he would have walked under this, his memorial archway,” he concluded.

Mr George Nelson, who unveiled and dedicated the memorial tablet, expressed appreciation on behalf of the Nelson family to the society in so recognising the life work of the head of the Nelson family.

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Newspaper article

Date published

October 1951


The Daily Telegraph


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


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