156 Nile Street


Milner House, Formerly “Sunnybank”, was built in approximately 1856 in the Georgian Style. It has a Category B Heritage Listing.

About the area

Like many other streets in Nelson, Nile Street takes its name from British military history. Nile Street is named after the Battle of the Nile, a major naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the French Navy on the Mediterranean coast off the Nile Delta of Egypt in 1798.

156 Nile st small

Sunnybank: The Milner’s Nile St house (Image: Nelson Provincial Museum Tyree Studio Collection: 181015)

Nile Street East and Nile Street West are separated by Church Hill. On early maps, Nile Street continued up the eastern hill as a narrow right of way, but now stops just past Mill Street. Around the corner from Milner House is Nelson’s Botanics Park where the first game of rugby in New Zealand was played in 1870.

History of the house

Originally known as Sunnybank, the house was built c1856 with the upstairs extension added in 1880. 

The Milner family
The Milners owned and lived in the house for five generations. William Milner was born in Belper, Derbyshire in 1836. His father (also William) and wife Hannah had a small farm holding near Belper.

In the hopes of finding a better life in the colonies, the Milners immigrated to New Zealand in the early 1850s and acquired land for farming in Taranaki. The parents remained in Taranaki however William’s elder brother Thomas moved to Nelson and set himself up as a successful draper and property owner. William joined his brother in Nelson and became an importer and merchant. They had premises in Trafalgar Street and Hardy Street and imported and sold items such as dresses, dress materials, hats, millinery, shawls, mantles, jackets, carpeting and ready-made clothing.

Milner photo

William and Anne Milner (Image: Nelson Provincial Museum, Davis Collection: 2063)

William Milner married Ann (Annie) Dodson Swanson from Thurso, Caithness, Scotland on 15 July 1868. Annie’s father Donald was a Nelson tailor. The couple went on to have eight children, six sons and one daughter. Another daughter was stillborn. William passed away from diabetes in 1883 aged just 45 and his widow Annie was left with little money to try and raise her large family. Annie is described as a strong-willed woman of strict principles and natural dignity. She always dressed in black and was hard of hearing, becoming stone deaf in later life. Her daughter, also called Annie, stayed at home to help her mother run the household and she too was deaf. Most of the Milner boys left school straight after primary school to find work and many of them went on to hold prominent positions in Nelson and further afield.

John (known as Jack) (1870 to 1926) was an accountant with Milner and Neale; William (1872 to 1949) became a partner with solicitors Rout and Milner; Harry (1874 to 1947), secretary to the Nelson Harbour Board; Francis (known as Frank) (1875 to 1944) a long-serving school principal and renowned educationalist who became friendly with Sir Ernest Rutherford; Charles (1882 to 1957), general manager for Kirkpatrick and Co. Another brother Arthur moved to Wellington.

Annie Milner (senior) died in 1934 and her daughter Annie remained in the house. Other members of the Milner family moved from Wellington to Nelson to help care for Annie in the 1940s and the house remained in the Milner family until it was sold in 1971.

Style and Construction

The original house was single story with four rooms, an iron roof and a lean-to kitchen. The Maitai River and old foot bridge were only a few steps from the gate and the house
sat up high with a wide lawn, garden and fruit trees in front and stables around the back. A driveway ran right around the house. The house sits on foundations of York stone originally used as ballast in the English sailing ships and dropped onto the Boulder Bank before being repurposed by local builders.

181015 Sunny bank 156 Nile st

Sunnybank: The Milner’s Nile St house. Nelson Provincial Museum Tyree Studio Collection 181015

The house is primarily Georgian in style. Developed in Britain during the reign of King Georges I-IV (1714 to 1830), Georgian is a restrained form of classicism. Georgian buildings are often rectangular with hipped roofs, small eaves, symmetrical facades with regular windows and ground floor verandas. Centrally located entries open into a hallway with rooms on each side.

magnolia tree

The Magnolia tree in bloom 1932. Nelson Provincial Museum Ellis Dudgeon Collection 209302

Architect Charles Edward Beatson, son of architect William Beatson completed plans for the second story extension with two bedrooms and a smoking room in 1880. Charles Beatson was trained by his father, who designed many of Nelson’s early buildings including the original Nelson College. William Beatson passed away in 1870 and Charles carried on with some of the projects his father had started including the reconstruction of the Union Bank and the Holy Trinity Church at Richmond. Charles later served as an assistant to the colonial architect and as colonial architect before setting up his own private architectural practice in Wellington. In later years he returned to Nelson and established a farm at Ngatimoti. 

 Some features of the current house:

  • The original flooring was in matai and kauri however it has since been replaced by American oak, a hard wearing wood (good for inside dogs!)
  • The mirrors in the dining room, reception and bedroom are original.
  • The large magnolia tree in the garden also has a heritage listing.

This information was prepared for the Nelson Cancer Society Heritage Homes Tour 2019.

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  • I could offer several corrections and refinements to this story on 156 Nile Street and the Milners.
    William and Anne Milner (nee Swanson) were my great grandparents, and my sister and I lived at 156 throughout our schooling, when our mother looked after Annie, daughter of William and Anne.
    For example, I believe the house was built no earlier than 1872. The original architect's drawings, (dated) which are on waxed fine linen in Indian Ink, were lodged with the Nelson Museum by me, about 2012.

    Posted by Tom Finlayson, 02/09/2020 11:37am (4 years ago)

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Further sources - 156 Nile Street




  • Lucas, D. & J, personal communication, March 2019

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