The Nightingale Library Memorial


The first library in Tāhunanui was housed in a cupboard at the back of the Town Hall  when Tāhunanui was administered by a Town Board. By the 1930's it was apparent that, due to a growing population, this arrangement was inadequate.

When Nellie Nightingale died in July 1943 she left funding for 'a library and rest room to be known as ‘Nightingale Library Memorial' to be erected in Tāhunanui. The trustees were instructed that the said library and books etc. should be vested in a Board of Trustees or Local Body having jurisdiction over the territory where the library was situated.

However, it was some time before Mrs Nightingale's three trustees were able to execute the wishes of the testatrix.  In January 1973, forty years after Mrs Nightingale had died, the Nelson City Council was advised that the value of the bequest was assessed at $134,000. It had come from mortgage holdings and the sale of the Telegraph Hotel at Tākaka.

Nellie Nightingale Library Memorial (2001) - Mrs Nightingale's house just visible beyond. Photo supplied by author
Click image to enlarge

The Tāhunanui Progressive Association, urged the council to comply with the deceased's wishes. Council were reluctant to proceed saying the situation at Tāhunanui had changed since 1937 and the bequest was ‘an example of how time and its changes can ravage the best of intentions'1

This provoked a lively public response and two days later a niece of Mrs Nightingale's called on the Council to meet its' obligations and a meeting of Tāhunanui residents was called for.  A further report by council staff in April 1973 stated that the value of the bequest was likely to be $150,700 but that the funds would only become available in stages, with the final amount due in 1977.

By this time two of the three trustees had died, leaving solicitor Mr James Williams as the sole trustee. Williams had sought suggestions from the Council as to the most effective and practical use of the bequest "today, bearing in mind the original wishes of the donor". The Council advised the trustee that it felt the most suitable use for the bequest would be in limited library and restroom facilities to be incorporated in a community centre.

In June 1974, Mayor Roy McLennan put up the proposal that the Nightingale Bequest might be employed in a multi-purpose building at Tāhunanui that would incorporate a new headquarters for the Nelson Repertory Society. The Tāhunanui Action Committee's executive met for an inaugural meeting after this and members expressed support for the use of the bequest for a multiple use community building. However their new chairman, Mr B S Greig, had reservations about abandoning the original intentions of the bequest.

In October 1975 the Action Committee issued a statement deploring the lack of action on the bequest. The Nelson Mail2 wrote a large article generally critical of using Mrs Nightingale's bequest to meet her expressed wishes.

Some in Nelson had concerns about costs of managing the recent Melrose House bequest, and made the comment that the funds would be better used in upgrading ‘existing library facilities.'3 At that time the only existing library facilities in Tāhunanui were the loan books stocked in Alister St. John's barbershop and he supported the new proposed facility.4

In October 1975 the trustee, Mr J. Williams, met with representatives of the Civic Trust, Tāhunanui Action Committee and the Nelson City Council and five recommendations were agreed to for the use of the bequest to provide a limited library service for Tāhunanui.

In December 1975, Bisley Walk was suggested as a site for a Nightingale Library centre.The plan was that the existing Plunket rooms, conveniences and bus shelter would be removed and incorporated in the new building.  The architect was Alex Bowman

The project dropped out of sight for nearly two years but work finally started in 1978. The first wall panels clad with Moutere river stone were cast on site6 and most of the outside walls were in place by April.7

In September Zonta in Nelson presented a cheque for the purchase of Large Print books for the library.

The building was opened on 8 December 1978 by Mayor Roy McLennan who accepted the building formally from trustee, Mr. J D Williams. A formal deed had been signed transferring the completed complex to Council, which then assumed the responsibility for future maintenance and conduct of the complex as a library and rest room.

Adrian Eden, aged 10, helped the Mayor to fill the empty shelves with some of the $20,000-worth of new books.8  Twenty-five years later Adrian and Roy McLennan met again to cut the Jubilee Cake in 2003.

Abridged from "In Search of Nellie Nightingale" by Ken Meredith, 2003. Updated 2021

Sources used in this story

  1. Embarrassing gifts (1974, March 20) Nelson Evening Mail. Editorial. 
  2. Nelson Mail (1975, August 27) 
  3. Nelson Mail (1975, November 20) 
  4. Nelson Mail (1975, October 10), p.1
  5. Nelson Mail (1975, December 12) 
  6. Nelson Mail (1978, January 20) 
  7. Nelson Mail (1978, April 3) 
  8. Nelson Mail (1978, December 9) p.14  

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Further sources - The Nightingale Library Memorial



  • Meredith, Ken (2010) In search of Nellie Nightingale. Unpublished manuscript [held Elma Turner Library]

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