The Naming of Nelson and its streets



On 22nd February 1841 the New Zealand Company in London announced that its second settlement in New Zealand (after Wellington) would be named Nelson, and that its establishment would be led by Captain Arthur Wakefield. The Company was honouring England’s recent war heroes, Field Marshal The Duke of Wellington and Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson.

The Street Naming Committee
On 12 March 1842 as the survey of the 1,100 one-acre sections of Nelson Town was nearing completion a public meeting was held to appoint a street naming committee. Sixteen men were appointed. The Committee were to listen to the inhabitants, and publish their decisions weekly. They were to “retain as far as practicable the native names of mountains, valleys, rivers, and other objects of nature; and that in the names of streets, roads, squares and other public places, care should be taken to perpetuate the recollection of events connected with the career of Nelson”.

The First Meeting
The first working meeting was held on 24th March with 29 names approved. The majority of the names related to Nelson’s career: Trafalgar, Nile, Victory, St. Vincent, Vanguard, Hardy, Collingwood, Hallowell etc.. Some were descriptive: The Market, The Fish Market, The Cattle Market, The Haven Road, Bridge Street. Two names recognised recent events: The Arrow Rock and Fifeshire Island. Only one Māori name appeared: Weimea [Waimea] Street. The Nelson Examiner of 26 March 1842 published the full list:

The Second Meeting
At the second meeting on 31 March 1842 Washington, Wellington, Tasman and Van Diemen were commemorated as were Lords Russell and Stanley (both Secretaries of State for the Colonies). Several of the early immigrant ships were recognised – Brougham St., Mary Ann St., Auckland Point and Bolton Roads, and there were some descriptive names: Mill St., Mount St., and Brook St.. Mindful of the instruction to use native names where possible, nine Māori street names were approved: Maitai Road, Manuka St., Weimea Road, Ngāti Tama St., Ngatiawa St., Kafia St., Tepea St., Emanu St., and Towaitowai St..

Ngāti Tama and Ngātiawa are tribes from Taranaki who settled in the region after the 1828-1832 conquest. Kafia (Kawhia, now Kawai Street) was the name by which Ngāti Koata of Rangitoto (D'Urville Island) were frequently known in the 1840s; initially from Kawhia they had settled at D'Urville Island and surrounding areas in c.1825 after forming a truce with Ngāti Kuia, the previous inhabitants. Tepea Street which appears on an 1842 map as Tipahi (and sometimes Tepahi) is a puzzle; the only possible interpretation is that “te pahi” refers to a camping site. Emanu Street (now Emano) was named after Wi Katene Te Puoho a.k.a. Te Manu, Ngāti Tama chief at Wakapuaka when the Company arrived. Towai-towai Street is now known as Toi-Toi St; towai is a native tree that grows north of Auckland; its close relative, kamahi, grows in the Nelson region.

The Third Meeting
At the third meeting on April 7 1842 another 29 names were chosen. Wakefield Quay was named after Arthur Wakefield, Shakespeare Walk and Milton Grove honoured two of England’s greatest poets, and a number of other British dignitaries were celebrated: Shelbourne, Grattan, Roseberry, Franklin (now Franklyn). A number of British place names – Hampden, Hastings, Cleveland, Gloucester, Cambria, Malvern and Grampians – were selected, as well as Tory Street after the New Zealand Company’s first ship to New Zealand, Murphy St after an early settler and Jenner Heights after a surveyor. Seven streets and roads were given Māori names: Motuaka (Motueka), Takaka (now Tukuka), Parere, Waikatu, Totara, Weka and Moutere Road. Motueka and Takaka were names from Hawaiki transposed on the first Pacific immigrants’ new landscapes, Parere is a mystery, and Waikatu may have referred to Wakatu, the traditional name for the Nelson area. Totara and Weka are probably descriptive; Moutere Road, which ran from Mill Street to Hanby Park, refers to an island.

Nelson’s Names
Nelson has a rich mix of names to reflect its heritage: Horatio Nelson–related names, names of important people, geographically descriptive names, Māori names, British place-names, and names with special meaning for the new immigrants.


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