Marsden House


Marsden House was built on Nile Street East in 1923. The land on which it sits has a longer history.

The section, Town Acre 438, was purchased on 12 January 1843 by Dr Joseph Foord Wilson and Thomas Marsden. In December of that year, Bishop Selwyn visited Nelson, with plans for a church school.1

Marsden House. Nelson City Council
Click image to enlarge

The church purchased part of Town Acre 438, adjacent to Nile Street, from Dr. Wilson for the school building. By the time of the Bishop's next visit to Nelson, in 1845, a handsome brick school house had been built.2

The school was added to by Bishop Hobhouse and completely rebuilt by Bishop Suter in 1881. It was, however, closed in 1895 after Suter's death and the building gradually deteriorated during the next seventy years. Various buildings, including a parsonage, occupied the rest of the section.

In 1861 Mr. Lightfoot took a 21 year lease on a portion of land, on the north side of the school fence, to build a dwelling house suitable for a schoolmaster. It was to include the ground adjoining the north and east sides of the schoolroom. A cottage, known as Selwyn Cottage, was built. By 1883, however, after the lease had expired, the cottage was empty and badly in need of repair. Bishop Suter undertook to pay £15 p.a. to maintain it, as long as he occupied it. It was to provide accommodation for committee meetings, for the Diocesan Secretary and Diocesan purposes generally and it continued to do so for the next forty years.

On another part of Town Acre 438 Thomas Marsden had built a cottage. Here his children James and Frances were born: James in 1844 and his sister in 1847. The family later moved to the substantial property at Stoke, known as Isel, but maintained their close involvement with the Anglican Church.

When Frances died, on 12 March 1918, she bequeathed her estate to the Nelson Diocesan Trust Board. Bishop Sadlier, since coming to Nelson from Melbourne in 1912, had felt the work of the Diocese much hampered by the deteriorating condition and cramped quarters of the Bishop's Cottage. He immediately took advantage of Frances Marsden's bequest.3

The following year the architects' plans were ready and on 22 March 1922, the contract for building Marsden Church House was signed by the Nelson Diocesan Trust Board and Robertson Brothers. The architects were W. Houlker and H. Rix Trott.

Marsden House interior.
Click to enlarge

The cost for the building was estimated to be £7553. The specifications were for totara or matai floor joists, a stage of Oregon pine, eves of matai, rimu joinery, heart matai window frames and totara sills. All interior woodwork was to be exposed; the hail, roof trusses, supports, beams and panelling were to be stained with permanganate of potash, oiled and varnished, and the diagonal roof and boarding were to be stained and oiled, and the staircase railings French polished. It remains as a glorious example of neo-gothic woodwork.

Marsden House with Bishops School. Click image to enlarge

On the 31 May 1922 two foundation stones were laid for the new building. Mr. James Wilfred Marsden laid the stone on the site of his birth 76 years before. The Archbishop of New Zealand, the Most Rev. Churchill Julius DD LiD dedicated the stone, assisted by the Bishop of the Diocese, the Rt. Rev. W.C. Sadlier. The Provincial Grand Master of the Nelson and Marlborough District, R.W. Stiles, also laid a stone for the Masonic Order.

A year later, on 16 May 1923, a large assembly took part in the formal opening ceremony.4

Marsden House remains today as a striking neo-gothic building. On 22 January 1973 the Diocesan Trust Board transferred ownership to Francis, Patrick and Stephen Day, a family-run funeral home business.  In 1974 the Day family firm moved to its new headquarters, after the building was reconditioned to meet its new requirements and reinforced against earthquake damage. The small school room beside it remains as the historic Bishops school.

2012 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1.  Local intelligence (1844, February 24) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p. 408
  2. The architecture of Nelson public and private (1864, June 28) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p.2
  3. Bishop Sadlier's Report to Synod, 1920 [Anglican Archives]
  4. The Nelson Diocesan Gazette [Anglican Archives]

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Further sources - Marsden House


  • Day, F. (2008) Marsden house and a family history preserved. [Nelson, N.Z.] : Marsden House [held Nelson Public Libraries]
  • Also see references in the Bishops School story

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