Wakefield's Libraries


From the Nelson Examiner, 23 July 1856

Local Intelligence

OPENING OF THE WAIMEA SOUTH LITERARY INSTITUTION. On Thursday last, the first building erected in Waimea South for a Literary Institution was opened.  A large number of persons were present at the interesting ceremony : J. Saxton, Esq., one of the representatives for the district in the Provincial Council, was in the chair.

Wakefield Mechanics Libraryresized

The first Wakefield Library in Pitfure Road

After the national anthem of "Rule Britannia " had been sung, respectably accompanied by some of the village musicians on the violin and violincello, the chairman addressed the company, and in stating the objects of the Institution, pointed out the rapid change which a few years had wrought in the district, and commending the exertions of the inhabitants of Waimea South, in founding a Literary Institution in their village.

Mr. J. Squire, a resident in Waimea South, then delivered a lecture on the " Progress of Literature." The lecturer went back to the earliest writers of which we have any record, and then gave a rapid sketch of the history of literature and the arts amongst the principal of the ancient nations, and in the early days of our own country. The subject was exceedingly well handled, and an intimation that the history of modern literature was reserved for a future lecture, was received with much satisfaction by the company.

After the meeting had been addressed by Mr. Muller, and Mr. C. Elliott, both of whom expressed their sincere satisfaction at the efforts which had been made in Waimea South to promote the intellectual culture of the people, the Chairman laid before the meeting the financial statement of the Institution ; by which it appeared that the building had cost £154. 2s. 1d. and, that towards this there had been contributed £133 6s. 6d.; leaving a deficit of £20 15s. 7d. The Chairman paid a well-merited tribute to Mr. Baigent, to whose exertions the success of the Institution is mainly attributable, and to whose liberality they were indebted for a gift of two acres of land on which this building had been erected. The library, the meeting was informed, contained at present three hundred and four volumes.

Tea was then served to about a hundred and fifty persons, all of whom appeared to have entered fully into the spirit of the proceedings of the day. The building stands facing the high road, a little below the church, and is a neat and comfortable room of good dimensions, built of cob. In addition to its value as a Literary Institution, such a building may be made to serve the object of meetings for local and parochial purposes, and supply a want which all country districts feel in having no suitable place where the inhabitants can meet to transact public affairs. We hope to see the example so laudably set by the people of Waimea South, followed by all the other districts of the province.

This was Wakefield’s first library or the Waimea South Mechanics Institute and Circulating Library as it came to be known. Built a little south of the Catholic Church in Pitfure Road, it was a result of the great importance placed on education by the first settlers, many of whom could not read or write, but saw an opportunity to better themselves in a new country. The nucleus of the institute was formed on board the settler ship Whitby on May 17th 1841 after Capt. Arthur Wakefield had set up classes on board.  Later, once settled, a meeting was held in the Wakefield church on Oct. 15th 1853 to establish the institute with the declared object of providing “rational amusement combined with intellectual instruction by the instrumentality of a library and classes for mutual teaching in literature and science.”

Jody and Library pics resized

The Niger with fold out map, a volume from The Family Library- Roger Batt

The original collection of 304 volumes contained 52 volumes of “The Family Library” now housed in the Tasman District Library. Published by John Murray, London, in 1832, it is a collection of books on a diverse range of subjects from “The Life and Times of General Washington” to “The Niger” and a work enigmatically entitled “Natural Magic”. By 1860 the original collection had grown to 600 volumes.

A tea party with musical entertainment was held each year to celebrate the foundation, as recorded in The Colonist on 10 January 1860 under the heading Wakefield Literary Institution, “The tea party went off as usual upon these occasions; the viands (ham sandwiches, cake, and bread and butter) were in abundance and everybody partook to their fancy.” 

The Wakefield Institute, as it came to be known, was well used and classes for all persons over 12 years were well attended. In the absence of a public hall, it was ideal for meetings, music classes, readings, as well as a library.  Opening hours were 7-9pm Tuesdays.  Music classes were held weekly. 

The Waimea South Mechanics’ Institute and Circulating Library which opened in Pitfure Road in July 1856 served the village and surrounding areas well for nearly 40 years.

In 1894 there was talk of moving closer to the centre of the village but nothing happened until 1912 when the Progressive Association arranged an exchange of land with Mr Joe Gibbs who took over the Institute’s land and building in exchange for a section opposite the western boundary of the school in Edward St.. The building on that site became the first Wakefield Public Library.  It had a library room with another room for meetings such as St Johns, Scouts and Guides, Plunket Rooms and for a short time housed the Kindergarten.

The library became an incorporated organisation and published a set of rules compiled by Joseph Gibbs, Walter Ralph Pearless and W.L. Bird – the three trustees.  Some of these rules were:

#  The subscription will be 15 shillings a family per annum for 4 books and 10 shillings an adult for 2 books

#  No person who is in a state of intoxication or who is uncleanly in person or dress shall enter or remain in the Library

#  No person shall lie down or sleep in the library

#  No person shall partake of any refreshments or smoke or spit or strike matches in or bring any animal or bicycle into the library.

Don Hutcheson, Wakefield Librarian

Don Hutcheson, Wakefield Librarian, Nelson Evening Mail, 1 Jan.1997

When the library opened in 1912 Miss Ada Bird was appointed the new librarian and was still in office when she died in 1941, having served for 29 years.  In that year the Waimea County Council took over the building and maintained it with a roster of librarians co-ordinated by Don Hutcheson.  It was his mother-in-law, Mrs Mabel Win who continued the tradition of long service following the death of Miss Bird for 25 -30 years into the mid-sixties.  Don then took on the role of librarian until his death in 2001.

When the new Wakefield Health Centre was opened in 1990, the Plunket Rooms on a prime corner site in Edward Street beside the Post Office became vacant.  It was then that the library moved for the third time into this building and although the Richmond Library had become free to all in 1989, it was felt that there was still a need for a library in Wakefield to serve the less mobile members of the district.  Mrs Peggy Martin became librarian following the death of Don Hutcheson in 2001 and Alexa Langford took over from her in 2007 until this year when Pam Dick and Wendy Gibbs accepted shared responsibility for a service which had begun in 1856.

Currently the library operates as a community library and is open once a week, Tuesdays 10.30 am to 11.30 am. Wakefield has indeed been fortunate – if not unique, as a small, New Zealand provincial town, to have enjoyed a library service for 157 years. Long may it continue.

It is interesting to reflect that just as today libraries are much more than mere book repositories, so the first library in Wakefield was also founded upon this principle and seen by the local townsfolk as a centre for learning and culture.

This story was first published in "Windows on Wakefield" a community newsletter for the town of Wakefield, Nelson. Also published in the Waimea South Historical Society book "The way we were".

Roger Batt 2015 (updated 2024)

Sources used in this story

  • Gibbs, Caroline, for the article from Nelson Evening Mail (1997, Jan 1) on her father, Don Hutcheson.
  • Opening of the Waimea South Literary Institution. (1856, July 23) Nelson Examiner, p. 2
  • Stringer, Marion J. (1999). Just another row of spuds: a pioneer history of Waimea South. [Marion J Stringer: Wakefield, N.Z,]:

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