Nelson Post Office


Nelson Post office with vehicles NPM File

Nelson Post Office Nelson Provincial Museum F N Jones collection 321241

The first Post Office in Nelson operated from a tent set up by the New Zealand Company on Church Hill (Piki Mai) in the early 1840s. A 'proper' post office was built on Bridge St. near the Nelson Mail office in November 1864 despite protests about it being too swampy in that part of town. By 1881 the building needed repair and as the telegraph had appeared in 1866 and had its own building in Upper Trafalgar St it was decided that it would be convenient to house the services together.

Nelson Post Office 1928 30 NPM File

Nelson Post Office 1928. Nelson Provincial Museum F N Jones 309932

Nelson Clock Tower

Nelson Clock Tower on NCC building. NCC image



By the turn of the century a much larger Post Office was needed and the site at the corner of Trafalgar St and what was then Haven Road (now Halifax St) was chosen for an elegant two-storey brick construction with slate roof and a domed clock tower. Again there were protests due to the swampiness and distance from the Central town area.  It opened on March 1906 and cost £210.¹ 

Earthquake building standards led to this building being demolished in October 1970 to make way for a sturdier and many said, uglier, building on the same site. The site was used as a carpark for many years while battles ensued about the height and design especially of the tower. 

The first model unveiled in 1974 had seven storeys and a white tower.  Battles ensued about the size, with the height and design of the tower made to accommodate the original clock faces and bells from the 1906 building which had the same mechanism used in London's Big Ben, with four faces and five bells.² In 1977 the City Council condemned the design and there were further court actions about the size as it did not conform to the Town and Country Planning Act regulations. Work finally started in July 1981 but the Post Office was not completed until 1983.  The unusual tower is due to the legal constraints on the height.

The future as a Post Office was short-lived after the Labour Government reforms of 1987 saw the postal service split into three businesses and the post office service deregulated. The building was put up for sale in 1989.

Nelson City Council bought the empty Post Office for $3.8m in 1991 and it still houses the Council today. The clock tower continues to be controversial with calls to display artwork to cover the sombre grey surface.³


Sources used in this story

  • Brown, Margaret C. (1987, 21 March) 'A Post Office saga' Nelson Evening Mail
  •  Neal, Tracy (2013, 13 July) 'A tale of too tall - history of odd shaped city tower explained' Nelson Evening Mail, p.1
  •  Gamble, Warren (2021, 27 March) 'How arty city ended up with 'ugliest' building'. Nelson Evening Mail, pp. 13-1 
  • Post Office history one of agitation in Nelson Nelson Evening Mail c.1983

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