Dr. Francis Arnot Blackadder Bett (1873-1957)


Dr. F. A. Bett was born at Tapanui, Otago in 1873 and studied medicine at the Otago Medical School. He first came to Nelson on being appointed as Medical superintendent at Nelson Hospital. Returning permanently to Nelson in 1907, he joined a private medical practice.

Bett C4906

Dr Bett. Nelson Provincial Museum Collection: C4906

Dr. Bett married Jessie Andrew, a widow, in 1910 and their home was on the section now occupied by the Bett Apartments,1 Trafalgar Square Nelson. During the First World War he worked on the hospital ship Maheno.2

Dr Bett in his garden 1912 NPM Photo collection318456

Dr Bett in his garden c. 1912 Nelson Provincial Museum Photo collection 318456

Bett became fascinated by the stories of Nelson history that he heard from his patients, friends and acquaintances. Having been a keen stamp collector (his albums of first New Zealand issues are held at the Alexander Turnbull Library), he turned his attention to material relating to the early years of Nelson settlement.

Over the years he amassed a rich collection of unpublished and published material, much of which would have been lost without his efforts. It comprised the priceless records of individuals and businesses, and included items such as diaries, newspapers, maps, plans, paintings and photographs. Bett was said to sometimes take payment "in kind" from his patients, in the form of china or artwork, which contributed to the breadth of the collection.

Bett comet over Dr Betts house

Comet over Dr Bett's House, Nile Street, Nelson. Emily Harris. Nelson Provincial Museum Bett Estate Collection AC738

Bett 187915

Betts, house. Nelson Provincial Museum, Ellis Dudgeon Collection: 187915. The house known as Locksley was purchased by Bett in 1920 and demolished in 1961. It is now the site of the Bett Apartments

Dr. Bett bequeathed his collection3 to the City, but at the time of his death no suitable storage was available in Nelson. It was stored at the Alexander Turnbull Library until the Nelson Provincial Museum opened in 1973 at Isel Park. The Bett Collection became a core asset in the Museum’s Library and archives, and a senior official of the Alexander Turnbull Library once said that, thanks to the excellent foundation laid by Dr Bett's Collection, Nelson has a more comprehensive range of local source material than any other Provincial Centre.4

Dawn Smith 2020

Additional information from Nelson Notables.5

Dr. Bett was the son of the Rev. A. Bett, a Presbyterian minister in Tapanui. The family moved to Dunedin where Francis attended Otago Boys High School, excelling in sports and academically, becoming Dux.

He worked at a bank before attending Medical School and after graduation he worked in Christchurch, then studied at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, returning to New Zealand in 1903 to work in Timaru and then Christchurch Public Hospital, before working in Nelson. His private medical practice in Nelson was in partnership with Drs. P.O. Andrew and S.O. Lewis.

Jesse Bett, his wife, died in 1956 and Dr. Bett died on 13 July 1957. An obituary of him, as a "man of many parts"6 [PDF] was published in the Nelson Mail. He is buried in the New Presbyterian section of Wakapuaka Cemetery.7

Sources used in this story

  1. The apartments were built in 2019 and named in honour of Dr. Bett. The house, known  locally as Locksley, was purchased by Bett in 1920, remaining unaltered for nearly 90 years, before being demolished in 1961 when the site became a carpark for the 60 years before the apartments were constructed.
  2. Bett, Dr. F.A. (1916) Account of voyage from Albany, Australia, on HMS Maheno to Portsmouth and return via France and Egypt. Comments on the course of the war with experiences of casualties. Held Nelson Provincial Museum:
  3. Bett Collection and the past (1979, October) Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, 1(4), p.4
  4. The Nelson Provincial Museum & Library (1977, September) Nelson Historical Society Journal, 3(3), pp.12-13
  5. Lash, M. & Smith, D. (1992) Nelson notables, 1840-1940 : a dictionary of regional biography. Nelson, N.Z. : Nelson Historical Society
  6. Dr F.A.Bett was a man of many parts (1957, July 15) Nelson Evening Mail, p.8
  7. Nelson City Council,  Nelson Cemeteries Database:

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