Demon drink in Nelson


Early Nelson was well served with public houses, despite the vigorous agitation for abstinence by the Temperance Movement. Patrons often had to travel long distances over difficult terrain and, as well as having alcohol, hotels had accommodation, meals and were popular meeting places in the community. The first publicans' licences were issued in Nelson in April 1842.

Demon Drink walk map (numbers relate to numbers in the story). Click image to enlarge
Wakatu Hotel (1)

In 1843 merchants Nathan and Joseph built large store rooms on land that is the current site of Westpac Bank, near the junction of Bridge and Trafalgar Streets. Alexander Perry converted the building to use as a public house, licensed as the Wakatu Hotel in 1845. The Colonist newspaper said “a visit to the Wakatu Hotel had been regarded by country residents as the one relief from their struggles, as they had always been sure of finding congenial company there”. The Bank of New South Wales bought the property and the buildings and their contents were auctioned off in July 1877. The buildings were purchased for thirty nine pounds by Thomas Harley, who had been born on the premises.

Wakatu Hotel. F N Jones Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum 28542
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The Freemason's Arms (2)

The Freemasons’ Arms was licensed in 1842 and became a centre for members of the Oddfellows Lodge, and the name was changed to the Oddfellows’ Arms. William Akersten took the licence in 1858 and changed the name to the Marine Hotel, reflecting his interests at the Port, where he had a well-known chandlery. Charles McGee took over in 1859 and let the hotel in January 1864 to George Potter. The new licencee, gave the hotel a new name – the Coach and Horses. The building was replaced in stages, with the Trafalgar Street frontage in 1870 and Bridge Street extensions starting in 1877. The hotel had its final change of identity in 1906, when it became the Central Hotel. It closed in December 1972. The building still stands and is presently used as a backpackers.

Harper's view, Coach & Horses Hotel, Nelson Tyree Studio Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum
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The Royal Arms (3)

The Royal Arms was licensed  in 1851-1857, then in 1865 Charles McGee rebuilt it as the 17-room Nelson Hotel. This hotel was destroyed in a disastrous fire in 1866 that started here and spread to all corners of the intersection, fanned by a strong wind. It was quickly rebuilt and the famous public meeting to form the Nelson Rugby Club was held here in 1868. During the 1890s the licence lapsed and the building was used by the Anchor Boot Company. Mrs Digby Andrews took it over and renovated it as the Ranfurly Boarding House. This accommodated sixty visitors and a balcony was added in time to provide a view of the Jubilee Day procession in February 1902. Mrs Andrews also operated a fruit and confectionery shop on the groundfloor in Bridge Street. In 1903 it changed owners to become the Metropolitan Private Hotel. In 1916 it once again became licensed, combining with premises next door in Bridge Street, to become the Royal Hotel. A hotel continues to operate at this site today.

The Mitre Hotel (4)

The Mitre Hotel was built in 1859. Another victim of the 1866 fire, it was rebuilt the same year and renamed the Criterion Hotel in the 1870s. It became the unlicensed Temperance Hotel by 1887, which lasted. The Silverton Service Station was later built on the site.  

Salvation Army Barracks/ Temperance Hall (5)

Salvation Army members were strongly devoted to the Temperance movement, feeling that alcohol was a root cause of social evil. Individuals were encouraged to sign the pledge to abstain from alcohol. The building had many changes from Salvation Army barracks, raincoat factory to furniture showroom. The building was demolished to become a supermarket.

Carpenters’ Arms (6)

This was the first hotel at the intersection of Bridge and Collingwood Streets. Built in 1843, Harley’s Carpenters’ Arms was a popular location for balls and dinners. The licence appears to have lapsed in 1851, when Harley moved to the Wakatu (in Trafalgar St). The present Wakatu Hotel was licenced by Fred Vause in 1900, in premises built in 1866 for H.V. Phillips’ Beehive Stores. The new venture was an immediate success, and the building was extended along the Collingwood Street frontage early in 1902. This provided eight further bedrooms upstairs and a large room downstairs, suitable for supper parties.

Four Spirits Corner

The junction of Collingwood and Bridge streets became known as Four Spirits Corner. The name was adopted in the 1930s because there was something relating to spirits on each corner - two hotels - Wakatu and the Royal Arms, a petrol station and the Temperance Hall, where spiritual guidance was available. Bridge Street was the main road into the city before Queen Elizabeth II Drive was built on reclaimed land to form the State Highway.

The petrol station was the Silverton Select Service Station, which opened on the northwest corner in the 1930s. Hotels had occupied the site earlier. The Mitre Hotel was built after the 1866 fire, followed by The Criterion Hotel later becoming the Temperance Hotel 1887-1912.

The Miners’ Arms Hotel (7)

This hotel was built in 1855, and Henry Jasper was an early landlord. It was rebuilt in 1883 by which time its name had been changed to the Panama Hotel. The Panama closed in July 1976 and the building is now used as legal offices and shops. Roughcast cement covers what was once a wooden exterior and a large basement cellar is a reminder of its early use.

Commercial Hotel, Nelson Tyree Studio Collection. Nelson Provincial Museum.
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Commercial Hotel (8)

A small brick building  built in 1842 housed the Commercial Hotel, licensed in 1851 by J. Winterburn. In 1883 this was replaced by a two storied wooden building. A brick extension was added to the Hardy Street frontage in 1907 and the wooden portion was replaced in 1936. Renamed the Hotel Nelson, it stood until 1986 when it was demolished. It had a number of famous visitors including the young Queen Elizabeth on her first New Zealand tour. It is now the site of the Nelson Provincial Museum.

Victorian Rose Hotel, now Vic Mac'c Brewbar.Nelson Provincial Museum.
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The Victorian Rose (9)

Now known as the Vics Mac’s Brewbar, this is a good example of adaptive reuse of a heritage building. Built in 1889 for the NZ Insurance Company, it was taken over in 1916 by solicitors and used as legal offices until 1979 then as council offices. It was converted into a public bar and restaurant in 1992.

Fifeshire House (10)

This was built circa 1911. Originally Fifeshire House was the homestead of the Harley family for over fifty years and called Raglan Villa. Charles Harley and his family eventually owned five hotels, a malt house, a brewery, a cordial factory and some hop plantations. Their Raglan Breweries was located right next door where the Rutherford Hotel now stands. Joseph Auty Harley, Mayor of Nelson from 1949 to 1956, and his family were the last generation to live in Raglan Villa.

2013 (updated 2024)

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  • More on the Dominion Hotel (or Golden Fleece). My Uncle took over the Dominion in about 1960, and sold it to Kevin Gibbons when he retired in 1972. The previous proprietor was Jack Kennedy. During the time that my uncle and aunt owned the Dominion, it was a real family hotel, with my uncle and aunt’s son in law, Murray Partridge being the barman, and all my extended family used to come to Nelson and stay there for holidays. I have many happy memories of times spent with my cousins playing together at the hotel, playing cops and robbers at night in the Cathedral gardens, (wouldn’t do that today!), going on picnics to the beach and Rabbit Island, and spending time at the swing park on the hill behind Houston Motors. We loved all the staff, who were like part of the family. “Shorty” Lester was the cook, and she created delicious meals on the big coal range in the kitchen. In those days, it was quite common for retired elderly gentlemen who had no family to live at hotels, as they had company, a warm bed, and good meals, not to mention being able to have a few beers and then toddle off upstairs to bed when they had had enough. I have fond memories of a couple of these long term permanent residents. They were real characters, and were considered part of the family.

    Posted by Christine Burn, 01/11/2016 11:54am (7 years ago)

  • Good story but what about the Dominion Hotel, once known as the Golden Fleece, which used to stand on the corner of Nile and Rutherford St? It was owned by my uncle, Jack Stackhouse, in the 1960's. Ed. If you have information on this Hotel we would love to add it to the story.

    Posted by Christine Burn, 19/10/2016 9:44am (7 years ago)

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