The last quarter of the 19th century was a period of stability in Nelson, which had become the busiest provincial port in New Zealand and a major commercial centre for central New Zealand. There was a reasonable level of prosperity in the province and Nelson people were able to devote more time to recreational activities.
Originally known as The Mudflat Recreation Ground, Trafalgar Park was built on eight acres of reclaimed land by the Nelson Athletic Ground Company.
The Colonist newspaper of Saturday 21 April, 1888 published an advertisement for the grand opening of Trafalgar Park, ‘Grand opening, this Saturday afternoon'1, admission: one shilling. The Mayor formally opened the grounds at 2.30pm followed by a football match 'Fifteen V Eighteen', with players selected from the various town clubs. The First 15 won the rugby match by one point and the Nelson Rugby Football Club played its first match on its home ground against the Nelson Star Club on the following Saturday.
About 300 people attended the opening. The Nelson Evening Mail described the scene: 'The weather was simply perfect and the high tide surrounding the park on three sides had a charming effect: and all present who had never been in the ground before were loud in their praises of the excellent site.' The mayor said adverse circumstances had delayed having the grounds in tip top condition, ‘although any amount of trouble has been taken in it’.2
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On the following Monday there was a review of the rugby match where players were advised to 'play for their side, and not simply for their own glory'3.
Plans were already afoot to sow grass for a cricket pitch for the district’s main matches to be played there in the following season. Construction of a bicycle track was also due to begin. In addressing the crowd, the Mayor, Mr John Sharp extolled the virtues of outdoor sports: '(I ) always do my best to promote the welfare of manly sports of all kinds, believing as I do in the old adage, “too much work, and no play makes Jack run away.”'2
His Worship went on to ask the audience to support the directors of the company in developing the grounds: '…remember every shilling received will be laid out in the improvement of the ground ... beautifying, as well as improving in every way the Park so that practically you will be spending money for your own advantage"2.
Initial funds for the City Council to purchase Trafalgar Park in 1891 came from the remainder of a loan established to help Taranaki Land War refugees. The Trafalgar Park Purchasing Act 1891 states the Park would be used 'as a recreation ground and for other purposes connected with the athletic sports and other recreations of the inhabitants of the City of Nelson and the surrounding districts'. A year later in 1892 an endowment from Nelson businessman and benefactor, Thomas Cawthron was used to add more land to the Park.
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An Australian cricket tour just before World War II drew a big crowd to Trafalgar Park for a game against a local Eleven. The Mayor declared a half day holiday and extra trains were laid on to bring in the country fans. After a night of heavy rain, the game began at 2.30pm and the Australians were declared at tea time on the second day of play, winners by just ten wickets against the provincial side.
Saturday January 16 1954 was a big day for Trafalgar Park when school groups went to see the Queen. The visit from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip was Nelson's first from a reigning monarch. The programme stated:
'Sat, Jan 16: Some thousands of children will assemble at Park by 11am and will be entertained there during the day. Procession of Decorated Floats, leaving Tahunanui 10.30am for Trafalgar Park. Procession then followed by children through the town. Children returning afterwards to the Park.'
In the evening, the park was crowded with spectators for displays from marching girls, axmen, Scottish dancers, bands and the sword club.
An upgrade to Trafalgar Park that increased the seating capacity to more than 2,600 was completed in February 2008. Two new grandstands were built on either side of the Trafalgar pavilion that feature covered seating for 1,360 seats.
This story is an edited version of an article written by Joy Stephens and published in Wild Tomato, 2008. It uses information from diaries, letters and newspaper cuttings available at the Nelson Provincial Museum’s Isel Park Research Archives. For more information see http://www.nelsonmuseum.co.nz/ (updated December 2020)
Sources used in this story
Trafalgar Park Grand Opening (1888, April 21) The Colonist , 3
Opening of Trafalgar Park (1888, April 21) The Nelson Evening Mail, 2
Football (1888, April 23) The Nelson Evening Mail, 2
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Further sources - Trafalgar Park
Trafalgar Park Grand Opening(1888, April 21) The Colonist , 3
- Opening of Trafalgar Park (1888, April 21) The Nelson Evening Mail, 2
- Football (1888, April 23) The Nelson Evening Mail, 2
- End of the track (2018, January 13) Nelson Mail, p. 13
Nelson City Council reports (available from Nelson Public Library)
- Nelson City Council (2000) Draft management plan for Trafalgar and Rutherford Parks
- Nelson City Council (2008) Trafalgar Park - upgrade and development [ Prepared for Nelson City Council by Becca Carter Hollings & Ferner Ltd (Becca)]
- Trafalgar Park. Retrieved from Nelson City Council
- The Trafalgar Park Purchasing Act 1891. Retrieved from Legislation New Zealand: