Fellworth House


History of the house

Dignitaries, eminent scientists and many more, have passed through the doors of Fellworth House since it was built in 1876. The opulent 620 square metre home was designed for one of Nelson's early European colonists, John Sharp, by architect/builder John (Jimmy) Scotland who went on to design many of Nelson's Victorian buildings.1 The house is named after an old English family residence. 

John Sharp. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 176507
Click image to enlarge

Born in Kent, England, John Sharp (1829-1919) emigrated to New Zealand in 1843 and was initially clerk to New Zealand Company agent, Frances Dillon Bell. By the 1850s, John was resident magistrate and he was Nelson's sheriff at the time of the infamous Maungatapu Murders in 1866.2  John Sharp married Emma Bonnington in 1853 and they had four sons and two daughters.

Fellworth House. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Copy Collection: C2481
Click image to enlarge

He resigned from his official positions in 1871 and began trading as Sharp & Sons, real estate agents and auctioneers. The following year he bought into Kent Brewery and, by 1876, had a controlling interest in the brewery.3 John Sharp was clearly a successful businessman, paying £3000 - a considerable sum in those days - for the construction of Fellworth House.4 

Further civic and political duties followed, with John representing Nelson on the Provincial Council from 1874-1876 and as MP for Nelson City from 1975-1879. He retired from business in 1886 and served as Mayor of Nelson from 1888-1890.5

John married Emma Bonnington in Nelson in May 1853, they had four sons and two daughters.6  Sadly Emma was thrown from her carriage and killed in February 1886 and later John remarried.7

Fellworth House. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Copy Collection: C340. Click to enlarge

It is difficult to find out what kind of man John Sharp was. In his youth he was a fine cricketer. Later, he was a Freemason and served with the Nelson Volunteer Fire Brigade and the Nelson Volunteer Rifles.8  One record of his ‘voice' can be seen in a letter he wrote when Mayor, in 1889, to the Governor of New Zealand, Lord Onslow, in which he says: "I cannot state more feelingly than is expressed in today's papers how much our anxiety, and that of the whole colony, had been relieved by news of your son's convalescence."9 Whether that was mere social form, or written with true feeling is impossible to assess at this distance in time.

On 4 June 1919, the Evening Post announced that: Mr John Sharp, is dead, aged ninety.10

After John's death, Fellworth House was bought by the Cawthron Trust using funds bequeathed by Nelson merchant and philanthropist, Thomas Cawthron, who left nearly the whole of his estate (£230,000) for the establishment  of a scientific institute.  The Cawthron Institute was opened by Governor-General, Lord Jellicoe, in April 1921.11

Nelson City. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 9912. Click image to enlarge

Between 1920 and 1970, Fellworth House accommodated a series of laboratories, a library and a museum.12 Over the decades, it was visited by many dignitaries, including Nelson-born Sir Ernest Rutherford and HRH Prince Philip.13 Nowadays, the Cawthron Institute is New Zealand's largest, independent, community-owned research centre, with more than 180 scientific and technical staff.14

After the Cawthron Institute relocated to nearby Halifax Street, Fellworth became a wedding and events venue and a backpackers' hostel, until it was bought by Dave and Jill Harvey in 1999. By this time, the house was in a poor state and it took seven years of hard work to restore Fellworth House's faded glory.15   

Fellworth House is currently under the care and ownership of a family trust consisting of Aleksandra Markicevic, Miro & Valmai Djukanovic  and their baby son Sylis Spasoye Djukanovic; who share their slice of colonial history with travellers and as a centre celebrating learning and promoting health and well-being - echoing its journey to date.

The Architecture: Victorian Italianate

Fellworth House (2011).  Courtesy of owner.  Click image to enlarge

Fellworth House is a two-story Victorian Italianate-style historic house set in 7445sqm of gardens. Built entirely out of native timbers, rimu, totara, matai and kauri, the house has 52 Italianate roll-topped sash windows providing virtual floor to ceiling views.16

The Italianate style was a distinct 19th-century style based on 16th-century Italian Renaissance architecture. First developed in Britain in about 1802, the style of architecture continued to be a feature in outposts of the British Empire long after it had ceased to be fashionable in Britain. The homes were typically two to three stories in height, with flat or hip roofs, bay windows with inset wooden panels, corner boards and two-over-two double-hung windows.  The style became a popular choice for the small mansions built by the new and wealthy industrialists of the era.17

Built in 1879, the house is named after an old English family residence.  Fellworth House is a Category 2 registered property with the NZ Historic Places Trust .

Written for http://www.fellworthhouse.co.nz/ by Joy Stephens, 2012 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. Bell, J. (2007, July) Virtually original. NZ House & Garden,  p 110
  2. Lash, M.D. (1992). Nelson notables 1840 - 1940: A dictionary of regional biography. Nelson, New Zealand: Nelson Historical Society, p. 130-131
  3. Lash
  4. Fellworth House information
  5. Lash
  6. Lash
  7. Lash
  8. Lash
  9. Lord Onslow's Letter (1889, August 21) Colonist. p. 3.
  10. A Nelson identity (1919, June 4) Evening Post p. 7
  11. Crick, C. (2011, Feb) Fellworth House. Wild Tomato, p 42
  12. Crick, p 42
  13. Fellworth House information
  14. Cawthron overview. Retrieved from Cawthron Institute, 4 May 2012
  15. Bell
  16. Fellworth House information
  17. Italianate architecture. Retrieved from Wikipedia, 4 May 2012:

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  • I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.

    Posted by James, 01/01/2015 1:09pm (9 years ago)

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  •  unpublished. Fellworth House information held at Fellworth house

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