Nelson's Queens Gardens


Nelson's Queens Gardens have been a prominent feature in Nelson City for over a century. The development of the beautiful Victorian styled gardens first began on the 22nd of July 1887 with Mayor Fell ‘turning .. the first sod' and declaring the Eel Pond (as it was formerly know to the local Māori and the first settlers) to be the Queen's Gardens, in honour of the 50th Jubilee of the coronation of Queen Victoria.1 Before then, Eel Pond had become a nuisance. Over the last few years, citizens had been seeking for something to be done with the "intolerable nuisance". Francis Trask came up with the idea of transforming it into a beautiful garden and preparations began in 1887, with many members of the public contributing funds towards the reshaping and plantings.

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Pond in Queen's GardensPond in Queens Gardens, Nelson, 1890, [photographed in 1890 by Frederick James Halse] Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-010324-G
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The pond, however, remained a muddy eyesore for two years as the Council struggled to make it retain water until finally, in January 1889, the bottom and sides of the pond were sealed with tar and the pond filled.2 The official opening of the gardens was performed by Mayor Trask in the year 1891.3 

The gardens have been through many changes throughout the years. In the late nineteenth century, it was the tradition to plant rare and precious trees on special occasions. Nelson's Jubilee year in 1892, was marked by a number of trees being planted, confirming that the gardens were seen as a place of civic importance.4  In 1893 some forest trees were planted -  Mt Atlas Cedar, Camphor, Norfolk Island Pine and Weeping Cypress. These were noticeable features in early photographs of the garden.5

In 1895 the Priapos or ‘Cupid' Fountain and its pool were installed.6 The area was originally designated for a band rotunda, but that was never constructed. Mayor Trask's wife, Emily, gifted the Priapos Fountain to the Queens Gardens. She acquired the fountain from Mr Bletcher in 1894.It was made from an imported mould and concrete casts were then formed. The fountain consists of a concrete stand with four gold lions' heads set on a rustic stone base, with the ‘upturned bowl' rim and naked cupid on top. When the fountain was originally made and installed, only three of the four lions' jaws spouted water. The fourth was never connected to the piping, and that idiosyncrasy remains.

By late 1895, Mayor Trask's original vision had been achieved; Queen's Gardens had become "a beautiful garden" that extended "from Hardy to Bridge Streets and are not divided from those which surround the Government Buildings".8 This area was, and still is, called Albion Square.

By 1897, many citizens had presented birds to the Garden. These included a pair of pheasants, a pair of weka, a kiwi, a peacock, Chinese geese and parakeets.9 An aviary was erected in 1987 to house the paraphernalia of bird life in the gardens, and it even housed a hedgehog.10 The aviary was later removed and it is suggested that it may have been moved to Isel Park.11

Queen's Gardens 1903Queen's Gardens, Nelson with the Suter Art Gallery, 1903 [taken by Tourist and Publicity Department], Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/1-021323-G.
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In 1912, the Trask memorial gates were erected to honour the man who had the initial idea for the Gardens and who had devoted so many years to achieving this idea.12 The Pitt memorial gates on Bridge Street were also installed around that time, and were the start of the military theme that surrounded the garden for the next twenty years. A Turkish pontoon, captured by the 12th Nelson Company at the Battle of the Suez Canal, was placed on the southern side of the Rose Garden in 1915.13 Another WWI trophy, a German field gun, was installed alongside the pontoon around 1923.14 There were also two cannon; one of which was Nelson's original time signal cannon.15 These military trophies - along with the Boer War Memorial, which would have been visible across the rose garden, and the Pitt Gates and were dedicated to Albert Pitt a military man and commander of the Nelson military - showed that the people of Nelson had a strong sense of military pride, patriotism and loyalty to the British Empire. The Cannon were removed in 1943 and are now in Queens Gardens.15

The Boer War Monument was erected in Queens Gardens after the 1899-1902 war in Africa. It was ordered from Italy, along with 45 others to go around New Zealand.16 It served the purpose of preserving the pride and the emerging sense of nationalism from the turn of the century. The Monument also commemorates the life of the Nelsonians who gave their lives to uphold the British flag.

In 1923, a formal Rose Garden was made by the Horticultural Society to encircle the Priapos fountain.17  The Horticultural Society also built a fernery in 1927, in accordance with the original plans made by Mr A.F.T. Somerville in 1881.18 Nelson City Council  built a ‘rustic bridge' leading to the fernery. The bridges support beams were found to be rotting in 1984 and in 1986 the timber bridge that is currently there was installed.19 This bridge is a replica of the original.

Cupid FountainPriapos or Cupid Fountain, Queen's Gardens. Nelson City Council
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Campbell's Mill, situated in the southwest corner of the Queens Gardens, was one of the oldest buildings in the area, dating back to 1844. An old remnant of the mill house can still be found there and is now used as a building for the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.20 The old millrace was covered over on Alton Street in 1940, but the part within the gardens was kept open, and remains that way today as a ground level stream and one of the main water sources for the pond.

The Rotary Club installed a decorative waterwheel in 2005 in the approximate location of the original Mill. The wheel is meant to symbolise the Rotary organisation, rather than alluding to the Campbell Mill.

More recently, the Sentinel, a steel sculpture by Nelson artists Dominique de Borrekens and Grant Scott, was installed in the pond in 1998.21 The work was inspired by the base of a Nikau Palm frond. It refers to the waka and ships, which brought waves of people to Aotearoa New Zealand and honours the Nelson settlers who planted these beautiful gardens over 100 years ago.22

In 2002, feature lighting was installed to highlight the special trees and objects in the gardens. It is a beautiful thing to witness at night.23

The most recent addition to Queens Gardens is the Huangshi Chinese Gardens. Situated on the site of the former caretaker's house, on the Tasman Street side of the gardens, the garden was developed to commemorate Nelson's relationship with its ‘sister city' Huangshi, China. The Gardens opened on November 14 2007.24  Some controversy was raised about whether the Garden fitted with Queens Gardens as a heritage Victorian public garden. The garden is however in accordance with the interest of the Victorian founders; of creating a history of their new town. The Chinese Garden is a beautiful addition to the Queens Gardens and balances nicely with the features already established in the garden.

Queens Gardens is a striking place to take your family on a day out in the sun. For generations, Nelsonians and visitors have been coming to the Garden to have picnics, feed the ducks, or simply to take a break from the city atmosphere. My father grew up in Golden Bay and remembers "going to the Gardens before [he went to] the dentist and feeding the ducks". Queens Gardens is the in the heart of Nelson city and has been for many years. It has an effect on the lives of countless numbers of Nelsonians. Whether it be in the earlier part of the century, on an outing with the family to promenade around the beautiful new garden, or in more modern times, as a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, Queens Gardens is an important place for Nelson and its colonial history.

Alyssa Langford, Nelson College for Girls, 2009

Additional information about the origins of the garden

(taken from Nelson City Council Heritage Plaque in Queen's Gardens - text by Janet Bathgate)

The Queens Gardens was viewed as a source of treasured food by Māori. In its natural state the swamp was full of favoured eels. Eels still survive in the pond today. As part of the original survey of the Nelson township by the New Zealand Company, the swamp was set aside as Reserve H. An 1844 survey map shows the Reserve as containing an 'Eel Pond', a school building to the north west, and a meat market to the north east. By 1845 the Nelson Flour Mill Company's mill stood on the south west edge of the Reserve, drawing water from the Brook Stream along a flume. The same source of water fills the garden pond today.

In 1856 the Crown gave Reserve H to the Nelson province, but not until 1880 was it gazetted for recreational use. It was during the celebrations of Queen Victoria's 50th Jubilee in 1887 that councillor Francis Trask expressed the wish that the Reserve be converted into "a lovely garden for the pleasure and delight of the citizens" while Mayor Charles Fell turned the first sod of the future "Queens Gardens".

Updated: April 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Brinkman, E. (2005) A Study of The Queens Gardens - Nelson's Heritage. Nelson, N.Z. :  Ellen Brinkman. p. 11.
  2. Brinkman, p. 10
  3. Brinkman, p. 11
  4. Brinkman, p. 11
  5. Tritenbach, P. (1987) Botanic Gardens and Parks in New Zealand, Auckland [New Zealand] : Excellence Press 
  6. Tritenbach
  7. Queen's Gardens:
  8. Brinkman, p. 11
  9. Brinkman, p. 90.
  10. Brinkman, p. 90.
  11. Tritenbach
  12. Brinkman, p. 12.
  13. Brinkman, p. 93.
  14. Brinkman, p. 93.
  15. Beaumont, L. (2012) Queen's Gardens landscape conservation plan. Nelson : Nelson City Council [available Nelson Public Libraries] and re. disposal of Cannon: Council Minutes 1943 no. 36103 & 36495 
  16. Brinkman, p.  93.
  17. Brinkman, p. 12.
  18. Brinkman, p.  10.
  19. Brinkman, p.  12.
  20. Nelson City Counci Heritage Panel at Queen's Gardens.
  21. Queen's Gardens:
  22. Queen's Gardens:
  23. Brinkman, p. 11
  24. Nelson City Council plaque at Huangshi Chinese Gardens.

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Further sources - Nelson's Queens Gardens



  • Brinkman, E. (2013) The Queen's Gardens and their Royal connections. Nelson Historical Journal, 7 (5), p.19


  • Nelson City Counci Heritage Panel at Queen's Gardens
  • Nelson City Council plaque at Huangshi Chinese Gardens

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