Sunnyside and the Fells


The house called Sunnyside, located in Nelson's "dress circle", and completed in 1854, was built for Alfred Fell, a prominent, mid-19th century Nelson citizen. The house forms the basis of the larger, recently restored residence in Nelson, known, since 1896, as Warwick House.

Sunnyside, c.1860. Image supplied by author. Click to enlarge

In late February 18421 the Lord Auckland had brought Alfred Fell, a single man aged 24, to the colony of Nelson as a New Zealand Company settler, and in April of the same year Henry Seymour, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Fanny, also New Zealand Company settlers, arrived on the Martha Ridgway, which had docked in Wellington on March 30.

Barnicoat, J. Sketch of Messrs Sclanders, Graham and Fell (on right) on Lord Auckland, Nelson Provincial Museum
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An astute young man, and also backed by an uncle by marriage in England, Fell brought merchandise to New Zealand which he could sell immediately. He also purchased surplus stores from the ship that had brought him to New Zealand, beginning trading virtually as soon as he set foot on shore. Young men who had come to Nelson as surveyors of the New Zealand Company assisted Alfred Fell to build a whare. In return he provided storage for their belongings whilst they pursued their own occupations. In April, very soon after the arrival of the Seymours he wrote a letter back to England:

"The Suburban lands will be ready for selection in about 6 months; they are principally up the Waimea valley; reports speak highly of the district....As to myself I am well in health, never so well as before, and in high spirits, and I have not the slightest doubt I shall do very well; indeed I have done so already, and am now established as a wholesale merchant. I buy a great many goods of the ships and sell them again to advantage....Anything, no matter what, so long as it bears a profit. I am at present on the acre No. 64 on the surveyor's plan, but I am building a large store in Trafalgar St; I have taken a part for twenty one years; it will be ready in about a fortnight. My success will, I am sure, give you as much satisfaction as I can possibly have in relating it....2

Within a month of landing he advertised himself in the first issue of a new local newspaper, The Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, as Alfred Fell and Company,3 a company of Merchants and Commission Agents, and he was handling anything at all that could be managed for a fee or commission, or could be auctioned or bought and sold again for a profit: for example goods, chattels, cattle and livestock, land, wines and spirits. In another venture, as a land agency in 1843-44, a brief partnership was formed between John Barnicoat, who was a surveyor, Henry Seymour and Fell, the partnership soon becoming just Messrs Fell and Seymour which lasted until 1857.

"Inside the sheds, called "the Warehouse", in the corner on the right hand side of the door as you entered was a little white-pine Office partitioned off, with glass at the height of your head. This Office was always known as "the Glass Case", and in it my father sat and did all his business, there was no Club in those days and the leaders of the Town often used to meet there and talk things over... "The Warehouse" imported every kind of goods and stores, furniture, ironware, machines and tools, eatables and drinkables, all wholesale of course, and sold in bulk to the storekeepers and dealers. It also brought down from Australia whole cargos of horses and cattle, and sold them by auction." 4

Fell and Seymour purchased twenty acres of land in Nelson. The land ran from the Brook Stream in the east, the ‘Seymour Oak’ and Bronte Street to the north and back up the Brook Valley and part of the northern Grampians.  Fell's first real home, Wakatu Lodge, may have been built on this section, Part Town Acre 587 on the western side of Brook Stream, but may equally have been built on part of Seymour's entitlement. Seymour's home was Prestbury Cottage, perhaps built on part Town Acre 588 or 589.5

Prior to coming to New Zealand, Seymour had been the lessee of the Pittville Pump Room on the outskirts of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, and had lived in the nearby village of Prestbury, hence the name of his cottage. After building Wakatu Lodge, Alfred married Fanny Seymour on 26 October 1843.6

In late 1850 the Seymours returned to England for Henry to report to the absentee land holder investors of the New Zealand Company. The Fells now moved into Prestbury Cottage to better accommodate a growing family - four children by the end of 1850 - and when the Seymours returned from England on Christmas Day 1851 they moved into Wakatu Lodge.7

By now, a large house was being built on Section 596 for Alfred. The builder is known to be a man named Goodall, possibly David Goodall of Riwaka, a ship's carpenter, and therefore capable of all phases of the construction, joinery and detailed finishing work necessary for such a grand residence. By early 1854, as the house was nearing completion, disaster nearly struck. The 1913 memoirs of Charles Yates Fell, the eldest son, born at Wakatu Lodge, and aged 9 at the time of the fire, suggest the house was finished:

"The house stood close against the steep hillside, the dense scrub overhanging the roof, and one night when Sunnyside was finished, but before we moved into it, a fire came along over the top of Flaxmore and we watched its progress anxiously. Next day with the dawn the danger became imminent, everything was taken out of the house, the whole town turned out, including prisoners from the gaol (then a big gang mostly run-away or would be run-away sailors.) These prisoners, with a large number of helpers, cut a wide path through the dense scrub at the back of Wilkie's and St John's (then Stephen's) and "Sunnyside", but before it could be completed the fire got round the end up the valley and swept roaring past the Cottage [Prestbury] the roof of which had been covered with wet blankets, and it was saved. Sunnyside caught fire in an upper room but the smoke was seen and the fire quickly put out. As a reward for their struggles all the prisoners were let off the rest of their sentences, which sounds very comical these days."8

The contemporary newspaper report9 is somewhat different in detail from this memoir and is more indicative that Sunnyside was still in the process of being built, though nearly finished.

Sunnyside with Wakatu Lodge (concealed left) and Prestbury, c.1854-55. Sarah Greenwood(?). Image supplied by author
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Gully, John, 1819?-1888. Gully, John, 1819-1888 :[Colonial home, Nelson Region - probably Wakatu Lodge, ca 1870]. Ref: B-139-022. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
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Following the completion of the new home which was called Sunnyside, the Fells moved in with their family, now five, with two more yet to arrive while they were in New Zealand. While still living at Wakatu Lodge Henry Seymour then completely rebuilt and enlarged Prestbury Cottage in brick, with exposed wooden studding. As a competent carpenter he did much of the work himself.10

Charles Yates Fell recalls the house:  "The Bush had one very tall white Pine which stood a straight stick with its head clear above all the other trees and he was always called "Saul".... It was just 120 feet high. He stood for years after we left N.Z. but was cut down by Sir David Monro when he lived at Sunnyside before the Edwards' time. Along the steep hillside between Sunnyside and Prestbury my Father cut a pretty walk just wide enough for two which he named "Lovers Walk"...and from it our Peacock used to launch himself into the air after screaming for a long time to tell his wives what he was going to do."11

[Barraud, Charles Decimus] 1822-1897 :[Brookstream and Sunnyside 1856?]. [Barraud, Charles Decimus] 1822-1897 :[Brookstream and Sunnyside 1856? River valley in the Nelson area 1856?]. Ref: B-007-010-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ.
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By early 1857 Henry Seymour had made a decision to return to England permanently, as his wife was in deteriorating health, so the partnership between him and Alfred Fell was dissolved in February 1857 and about 14 acres of his land around Sunnyside was conveyed to Alfred, except for 2.5 acres around Prestbury Cottage which remained in Seymour's interest.

Also in February 1857 the custom and doings of Alfred Fell and Co's mercantile business and the Trafalgar Street warehouse was sold to Nathaniel Edwards - who had formerly worked in the firm as a clerk and auctioneer. Fell transferred the office of ‘Fell and Seymour' - retaining the land agency business - to another office in Trafalgar Street over the road from The Warehouse, and informally retained the name ‘Alfred Fell and Co.' to enable him to progressively wind up their mutual affairs in it over the following months. Seymour's departure in April 1857 may have prompted Fell to set out on a similar path, as his yearly licence to auction was not renewed in April 1858.12 Charles Fell's recollection is that the decision to return to England was to enable a better education for the children - now seven of them, the eldest in mid 1858 being 13 and the youngest under a year.13

"In 1859 my father had made a decent competence, he had seven children and was himself still young. We all wanted education of which he, as a lad, had little, and so he gave up the business of "Fell and Seymour" to his former clerk, Nath. Edwards, let Sunnyside to Sir David (the Dr.) Monro, sold all the furniture and belongings, except a few books, and we all started off to Sydney in the Lord Worsley."14

Settlement in Nelson, looking south-east towards Sunnyside. Ref: 10x8-1117-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
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Fell continued to work on occasion for Edwards as an auctioneer on Edwards' licence. As the date for the Fell family's departure neared (3 January, 1859), Sunnyside and Prestbury Cottage were advertised for sale or let. Prestbury Cottage was sold to J B Wemyss,15 and a lease of Sunnyside was obtained by the Hon. Dr David Monro, MP for Waimea County.  In Fell's absence the lease was managed on his behalf by Nathaniel Edwards and Co.16 Nathanial Edwards later founded the Anchor shipping line.

In 1861, Fell's Nelson agent, Benjamin Oliver Hodgson, died suddenly so Fell returned to New Zealand to appoint a new agent for himself and the absentees,17 and a sale of Sunnyside was also arranged to Edwards, although Dr Monro remained until at least mid 1862.  It is not known just when Edwards' took residence, but during his occupancy, he added a south wing, behind the existing house, consisting of two battlemented towers, a square and a round one, with adjoining rooms. The work must have been to a lesser standard than the main house, as this large addition was removed some time after 1915, during Charles Pharazyn's ownership, because of its deteriorating condition.

Edwards later also built a three storey ballroom wing - the east wing - and a four storey tower (all still existing). The builder of the additions was a Mr James Henry.18 The property was insured for £130,000 (about $NZ13,700,000 today. Reserve Bank CPI Index 1866-2012). Once completed the house had about 50 rooms. To look after the extensive grounds, for a time the Edwards employed a live-in gardener Mr John Henry Bruns.19 

After Nathaniel Edwards died in 1880, aged only 57, his wife Mrs Anne Augusta Edwards (nee Nicholas) went to England.20 In 1887 all her household effects in the house were sold by auction,21 but the house remained as property of the Edwards' estate administered by his sons as a "Gentlemen's Boarding House", before being closed up for about ten years.

The Origin of the Warwick House name and later history

In the past, various possibilities as to the origin of this name have been put forward. One is that the name was derived from that of Warwick Castle in England. Another, and by all appearances the most credible, is that it was done to escape a name that had some considerable stigma attached to it. In 1863 a mental hospital called Sunnyside was built in Christchurch. Its original name was Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum but later became Sunnyside Mental Hospital, and then Sunnyside Hospital. However there is no evidence to support either case.

But there is ample evidence to show that it was just a simple name change for no reason other than the transference of the name Warwick House from one Nelson location to another. There was once a large accommodation building in Hardy Street, Nelson, opposite the museum (The Literary and Scientific Institute of Nelson). Prior to 1896 its name was Warwick House. From its opening in March 1885 it operated under the proprietorship of Francis Grimes (formerly of Trafalgar House, haberdashery and drapery) catering for individuals, families, boarders, and was later host to many personages of note and importance. The unfortunate Francis Grimes did not enjoy a long retirement as he died in June the same year. The sale notice describes the contents of the house very well. 21

It was taken for a dentist's practice until early 1888 when tenders were called for unspecified alterations by its new owner George Harper, a solicitor, who died a bankrupt in 1891.22

In July 1889 during Harper's proprietorship the residence had been graced with the presence of the Governor's wife Lady Onslow and their son Lord Cranley. It transpired that Lord Cranley was an early victim of an outbreak of typhoid fever in Wellington, so he and his mother were immediately moved to Nelson. For 12 months the boy hovered between life and death and his health was followed closely the newspapers. He eventually recovered.23

Warwick House continued to be used off and on as premises for a dentist's and a solicitor's practice. It was even offered as a site for a Central School for Boys. It finally became a doctor's practice rooms, but on the same day that it was announced in the Nelson Evening Mail (5 October 1896) that ‘Dr Gibbs may be consulted at his rooms at Warwick House, Hardy Street,' there also appeared an advertisement in The Evening Post which conclusively establishes the origin and the date of the change of the name of Sunnyside to Warwick House.24

Evening Post 5 October 1986, from Papers Past
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Mrs Annie Redworth (nee Prosser) was the widow of Joseph Redworth, a carpenter, who died of a sudden illness aged 47 on 12 January 1884. Immediately following his death she began letting rooms, first at Manuka St, ‘with use of piano and bath',25 and finishing up 12 years later in 1896 with a lease of Sunnyside from the estate of Nathaniel Edwards, changing its name to Warwick House. It is not known to the writer if the estate of Nathaniel Edwards financed the renovations or if they were completed at Mrs Redworth's expense, but it is possible some of the work to divide the house up into apartments was done at this time. In its time with Mrs Redworth it was a temperance establishment, and much praised.26

The house Sunnyside, [c.1920] Nelson, also known as Warwick House. Jones, Frederick Nelson, 1881-1962 :Negatives of the Nelson district. Ref: 1/2-026305-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
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In February 1910, after 14 years as the proprietress of Warwick House, the auctioneer Alfred Gould advertised the sale of all Mrs Redworth's surplus household effects. It was evident she was moving somewhere smaller. Of possible further interest, by June 1901 during the tenure of Mrs Redworth, Warwick House was used as the site for the official daily recording of Nelson rainfall, barometric pressure and sunshine hours, the last reading apparently occurring 6 March 1907.27 Annie Redworth died in 1920 aged 81.28 And in July of 1910 Warwick House and its large estate was put up for sale by the Edwards family.

It did not sell immediately. Over the next few months Warwick House was subdivided off and the estate broken up into 35 additional sections fronting onto existing streets and a planned new street; Seymour Avenue. It was then re-advertised in 1911. Further promotion was needed a year later when the new street was officially opened, evidently after a slow response to the earlier offering. Warwick House was bought by Charles Pharazyn. They nearly lost it in 1915.29 

Warwick House had always attracted its share of notables, but in 1920 it missed out on the plum. On his tour of the Empire in 1920 after the First World War, The Prince of Wales on his visit to Nelson was originally programmed to stop off at Warwick House, but the final arrangements saw him directed instead to go to the Commercial Hotel which was reserved for his exclusive use.

What Happened to the Fell Family?
Brook Street Valley, Nelson [1962]. Tyree Studio:Negatives of Nelson and Marlborough districts. Ref: 10x8-0106-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
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Three of Alfred and Fanny Fell's family later came back permanently to New Zealand to live. Charles Yates, the eldest, who returned to Nelson in early 1870. He teamed up in a law partnership as Fell and Atkinson, which many years later became Fell and Harley. In an interesting coincidence, William Harley and his wife and family lived at Alfred Fell's old home Wakatu Lodge.

The third son, Alfred George returned in 1871, was a merchant in Blenheim, a borough councillor, and its Mayor for several years, and later lived at Picton where he had a malting business as well as other enterprises. He was also Mayor of Picton for some years. He married Alice Budge the daughter of William Budge, a New Zealand Company surveyor who came to New Zealand on the Will Watch and surveyed the Waimea. Walter, the fifth son was a doctor in Wellington, married Margaret Richmond, daughter of J.C. Richmond M.P..

Others of Alfred and Fanny's family who remained in England or went elsewhere in the world were:

  • The second son, Henry Seymour who came back briefly to New Zealand in partnership with his brother Alfred George but returned permanently to England to become a minister of the Church. He married Mary Cormack;
  • Arthur, the fourth son, who became a solicitor, businessman and politician in England and was knighted in 1918 in the service of Lloyd George's government. He married an Austrian Baroness, Annie von Rosenberg;
  • Fanny who married William Pope, a solicitor in Devon;
  • Edward Nelson, the sixth son, a mining engineer who spent time in Siberia and Canada. He married Anne Mumford Palmer the daughter of a New York judge, and founded the town of Fellsmere in Florida;
  • Henrietta (Hetty), the only child of the family who was born in England, who married a Devon solicitor, Henry Rundle.

Alfred Fell died on 2 November 1871 and Fanny on 2 November 1901.

The writer, Richard Mildon, Manawatu, would be very pleased to receive additions or corrections to any of the above information.  (Line of descent: Isobel Mildon, nee Fell -Walter Selwyn Fell - Alfred George Fell - Alfred Fell)

Additional information prepared for prepared for the Nelson Cancer Society Heritage Homes Tour 2018 [PDF]

2013. Updated May 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. There is some divergence of opinion as to the actual arrival date of the Lord Auckland at Nelson. Having arrived at Wellington on February 7 (which many sources incorrectly give as the arrival date at Nelson) and sailed for Nelson on 18 February, arrival dates at Nelson haven are quoted by authoritative sources variously from 23 February to 27 February. The writer tends to favour the 27th as the day she dropped anchor in the Haven, perhaps after arriving outside on the 26th and anchoring, waiting for favourable conditions for entry.
  2. Letter From Nelson, April 29 1842. From A Colonist's Voyage to New Zealand, Alfred Fell.
  3. Nelson Examiner
  4. Fell, Charles Yates [1901] Reminiscences of early life in New Zealand [Memoirs, 1913]
  5. This information is gleaned from unclear photographs of registers of Crown Grants to Seymour and Fell (Ferrier) and is acknowledged to be uncertain as to accuracy.
  6. Married (1843, November 4) Nelson Examiner
  7. Fell
  8. Fell
  9. Alarming fires (1854, March 25) Nelson Examiner, p. 5
  10. Fell
  11. Fell
  12. Nelson Examiner, 1 May 1858. Advertisement.
  13. Charles Yates Fell, b.1844 Henry Seymour Fell, b.1846 Alfred George Fell, b.1848, Arthur Fell, b.1850; Frances Fell, b.1852 Walter Fell, b.1855 Edward Nelson Fell, b.1857 Henrietta Fell, b. (England) 1860.
  14. Fell
  15. Advertisement (1859, March 29) The Colonist, p.1
  16. Fell
  17. Charles Yates Fells 's notes give the date as 1862, but the appointment of Curtis Bros with Power of Attorney for Fell and Seymour was September 23 1861, so 1861 is a more likely date of return. This is confirmed by the fact that the house he let in Shelbourne St also came available for re-letting on the same date. Curtis continued as the partnership's attorney until March 1870 when C.Y. Fell returned to Nelson and assumed that office for Fell and Seymour in NZ. Alfred Fell died 2 November 1871.
  18. Nelson Evening Mail, 12 August 1908.
  19. The Colonist, 28 February 1910.
  20. She died there in 1922.
  21. Nelson Evening Mail 16 June, 1885
  22. Nelson Evening Mail 5 April, 1892
  23. Nelson Evening Mail 19 May, 1887.
  24. The Evening Post, 5 October 1896
  25. Various newspapers of the time.
  26. The Colonist 4 April 1901
  27. Nelson Evening Mail 12 January, 1884.
  28. The Colonist, Returns of weather statistics from June 1, 1901
  29. The Colonist, 15 May 1915

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  • Hello Richard - big thank you and a tiny correction. Firstly, to say thank you for posting this article on Sunnyside and the Fell Family. It is great to have so much information on a convenient website, and I greatly enjoyed reading it.
    One little detail: You note that W Salter Fell married Margaret Richmond, but you suggest that Margaret was the daughter of J C Richmond which is not correct. Margaret was the third daughter of Judge C W (William) Richmond and his wife Emily, nee Atkinson. JC Richmond was Willliam Richmond's younger brother, and therefore Margaret's uncle.

    Posted by Chris Hector, 24/05/2024 12:31pm (2 months ago)

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Further sources - Sunnyside and the Fells




  • Fell family. Archive at the Nelson Provincial Museum

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