Development of tertiary education


The first European settlers brought a desire to better themselves and their children through education and vocational training. This vision became reality through various institutions in Nelson and Marlborough, which are combined today in the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT). 

Opening of 1911 Institute building with speaker (possibly FD Bell?), The Nelson Opening of 1911 Institute building, The Nelson Provincial Museum, FN Jones Collection, 6x8-33

An institute which was comfortable for young and old, where conversation was not prohibited, and where people were not bored was the wish of Nelson's forefathers when the third Nelson Institute building was opened in 1912. The Nelson Literary and Scientific Institute was formed by officers en-route to New Zealand, on board the Whitby in 1841. The first premises were opened at the foot of Church Hill on September 27, 1842.1

A move in 1850 to halve the subscription fee saw an expansion in membership. The Provincial Government wanted the Institute to incorporate a Literary and Mechanics Institute, and a new building was erected in Hardy Street  to meet the growing demand for adult education. The aim of the facility was: "the diffusion of useful knowledge by means of a library, reading room, museum, lectures and classes of instruction". Fire gutted the building in February 1906, but the third Nelson Institute building still stands and was the home of the NMIT School of Fisheries from 1991 until it was closed in 2011, when the building we deemed an earthquake risk.2

Nelson Tech College, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford Collection, 118112Nelson Technical College, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford Collection, 118112
Click image to enlarge

Meanwhile, in 1904, the Nelson Technical School was approved for a financial grant from the government and opened for classes in 1905. It was established in a two-story wooden building on the Albion Square side of Hardy Street. Courses in cooking, engineering, woodwork, plumbing and secretarial skills were offered.3 The Technical School was merged with Nelson College in 1930, with many part-time hobby classes and a few vocational courses being offered. Nelson Polytechnic officially became a technical institute in 1971, with 13 fulltime tutors.4

Nelson Tech College,sewing hats, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford CollectNelson Technical College, sewing hats, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford Collection, 118111/6
Click image to enlarge

From the beginning, it was felt that the polytechnic's future lay in the forestry, transport and fishing industries. Over the years new courses have been added, providing training for key local industries and services such as fishing, tourism and nursing. For the wider business community, the Bachelor of Commerce became the first degree programme in 1992.5 The polytechnic  (which is now known as Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology) has also played an important part in nurturing the development of arts and crafts in the region.6

Providing viable tertiary education options has long been a challenge. The 1980's saw Nelson Polytechnic expand operations into Tasman and Marlborough. Marlborough had been particularly neglected, and in 1983 the Blenheim Borough Council and the Labour Department set up a plant nursery to train young people for the horticulture industry. The Marlborough Youth Learning Centre was established in Seymour Street in 1984.7

In 1985 the Nelson Polytechnic and Blenheim Borough Council leased land in Budge Street from local horticulturalist, Ralph Ballinger. The $300,000 Ballinger Horticulture Centre was opened on July 20, 1986. Through the 1990s the Marlborough campus grew, with specialist aviation at Woodbourne Air Base and viticulture courses were established.8

A horticultural centre, offering horticulture and forestry courses, was established in Salisbury Road, Richmond in 1988. A new Primary Industries School was opened on a 4.5 hectare site in lower Queen Street in 1995.9 Most courses were relocated to Nelson at the end of 2006, and the centre was run by a partnership between a private company, Skills Update, and the Polytechnic, before again becoming the Richmond Campus of NMIT.10

A polytechnic campus was opened in Motueka in 1989, with more than 1000 students attending courses in the first year, but by 1993 the polytechnic had just 30 full-time students. The campus closed at the end of that year, with some courses relocated to Richmond or Nelson.11

In 2008 the Prime Minister, Helen Clark announced more than $8 million funding for a new arts and media building at the Nelson NMIT campus. This was followed by a new Hospitality training building, in 2010 and the announcement of a new Engineering building in 2013.12 

Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology timeline

1904 - Nelson Technical Institute, part of Wellington Technical College (est 1891) in  Hardy Street
1930 - Merged with Nelson College
1964 - Technical College opened, operated by Nelson College Council of Govenors
1971 - Nelson Polytechnic established as a separate entity.
1993 - Marlborough Campus opened
1995 - Richmond Campus opened
1998 - opening of the Athfield Architect designed Library Learning Centre13
2000 - Review and name change to Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology 
2006 - Richmond Campus closed - it has since been reopened for a range of short and  part-time courses.
2010-2015 - Opening of a number of new buildings on the Nelson campus, including the award-winning Arts & Media building and Applied Technology building

Joy Stephens, 2008 (with additions 2018) Updated 2022

Further information on the The 1904 Nelson Technical School

This is the building which still stands and is currently used by NMIT Fisheries School.

In 1902, Stead Ellis began lobbying the government to provide a technical school for Nelson, a move that was being repeated all around the country by individuals with a personal interest in education. When central government reneged on providing the land, Ellis, who was secretary to Nelson Education Board, went to Nelson City Council. The council's initial offer of a 50x100 feet block here in Hardy Street was increased to 60x148 feet, and the land for the school was transferred to the board. However, the council insisted on a building that was worth at least £1000. It seems they wanted something worthy of their donation of the land.

Stead Ellis, who was a trained architect, set about designing the technical school building. This was his chance to design something with a little more grandeur than the run-of-the-mill new schools he was responsible for throughout the Nelson province. By the end of 1904, the government had approved the plans and sanctioned a building grant. John Scott Jnr won the contract with a tender of £1124/10/- and construction took place in 1905.

Classes began on the evening of 18th September 1905. There were 375 individual enrolments over 13 separate classes. Within three months, there were 23 classes. A science laboratory was added in 1908 and an art room in 1911. Given that in 1900 nine out of ten New Zealanders went straight from primary school to their first job, the school's success was not surprising. There was virtually no technical training within a country that needed tradespeople. Students who did continue to secondary school studied mainly academic subjects. During Nelson Technical School's first years, classes were held mostly at night to allow students to work by day and earn a much needed income. 

Taken from the Nelson City Council Interpretation panel, text by Janet Bathgate

Updated 2022

Sources used in this story

  1. Brereton, C. (1948). History of the Nelson Institute: A chapter on early years of education. Wellington, N.Z.: Reed. pp.23,62
  2. Brereton, pp.30,35,56
  3. Hurrell, G. (1996). Our Polytech: a 25 year history of Nelson Polytechnic 1971-1996. Nelson, N.Z.: Nelson Polytechnic, p.5.
  4. Hurrell, p.5,6-8
  5. Hurrell, pp.6-8,85
  6. Ballinger, R. (2007). The sea and the soil. Christchurch, N.Z.: The Caxton Press, p.169 
  7. Ballinger, p.170-171; Marlborough campus. Retrieved 23 October 2008, from NMIT:
  8. Hurrell, pp.72,122
  9. Tenant found for Richmond Campus (2007, August 16, Ed. 2). Nelson Mail, p.3
  10. Hurrell, p.83,104. Note - it has subsequently reopened.
  11. Stickley, M. (2008, 26 July). Polytech wins $8m in funding for arts. Nelson Mail.
  12. Gatley, J. (2012) Athfield Architects. Auckland: Auckland University Press, p.242

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  • I have a clarification for your story regarding NMIT.The page suggests that NMIT no longer uses the Richmond Campus. This is not correct; I was a full-time student there from June 2015 - June 2016. While the Trainee Ranger programme (of which I was a student) is the only one where students are based at the Richmond campus full-time, NMIT also runs short and part-time courses there. The signs say NMIT, the computer lab uses NMIT logons, so I'm pretty sure it is still a NMIT campus unless things have changed drastically in the last few months!(By the way, it's a really nice campus! Special features include a smoko room, table-tennis table, grass quad with picnic benches, fire-fighting tower, and greenhouse.)
    Ed. this information has since been amended

    Posted by student, 14/03/2017 4:41pm (7 years ago)

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Further sources - Development of tertiary education




Held Nelson Provincial Museum

  • Lash, Max. (14.9.1992). Nelson Institute history. Nelson Historical Society lecture NHS 29 [NPM]
  • Nelson Institute. (1842-1966). Records. AG 306 [NPM]
  • Nelson Philosophical Society. (1886-1889). Notebook. AG 292 [NPM]
  • Nelson Philosophical Society. (1883-1957). Records. AG 1 [NPM]
  • Nelson Technical School. (1920-1926). Financial records. AG 218
  • Robinson, John Perry. (31.10.1859). Conveyance to Nelson Institute. UMS 1416 [NPM]
  • Rolls, Wendy (1995). Nelson Polytechnic School of Nursing. qMS ROL [NPM]

Held Marlborough Museum

  •  R.E.A.P., Marlborough Academy, NMIT., Marlborough Historical Society, 1990-
  • Research box: EDUCATION - TERTIARY EDUCATION (MARL): Marlborough Polytech,
  • Viticulture Training, Wine Exhibition, Marlborough Museum, 2009-

Web Resources

 Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology website:

 A number of private institutions also provide alternative training for school leavers, these include: