Motupipi Library


The first library in Golden Bay / Mohua appears to have been the Motupipi Library, housed in the original school in the township of Clifton. Although accounts for library shelving date back to the early 1850s, it can be definitely determined that the library was in operation by 1861. This is the date of a publication entitled “The Catalogue of the books belonging to the Motupipi Library, in Massacre Bay, Province of Nelson, being made up to June 30, 1861”. 

Clifton Institute

1. The Clifton Institute. Photograph taken possibly late 1800s. Courtesy of Golden Bay Museum Ref: 1013838

The library held about 500 books and had about 14 regular members who paid annual subscriptions. Provision seems to have been made in the rules for other casual and short-term subscribers and the library holdings contained a vast range, from popular novelists Zane Grey, Frank L Packard and Jack London to the classics of Dickens as well as the proceedings of the Nelson Provincial Council and early Hansards. Early catalogues and minute books were completed in beautiful copperplate writing. 

The need for a purpose built library became apparent. In 1869 land belonging to Mr Charles Nicoll Snr was offered for a library, reading room and museum. Jabez Marriage Gibson (President of the Clifton Horticultural Society), James Baird (Secretary of the Clifton Public Library) and Arthur Shuckburgh Collins (Member of the House of Representatives) paid 5 shillings for it on the condition that the land was to be used solely for the benefit of the Clifton Literary and Scientific Institute and for the Clifton Horticultural Society. The Provincial Council granted the Motupipi Library Committee £50 for the construction of a building. What became known as the Clifton Institute, a wooden building with sculpted Tuscan portico and four white columns, opened on 24 October 1871. According to a Colonist newspaper article of 31 October 1871 ‘the interior is nicely lined and furnished with ranges of books, shelves, cupboards, &tc, &tc. It is the intention of the managing committee to use the building as a reading-room and give a series of lectures during the winter months. A small museum is also in contemplation.’


2. Photograph of plaque courtesy of Sally Gaffney.

By 1955 the building had fallen into disrepair. A committee attempted to restore the library to its former glory but the upkeep of the building proved too costly. In 1958 it was decided to dismantle the building and sell the contents; the money to go towards a proposed extension of the Tākaka Memorial Library. The building was pulled down on 5 July 1958 and sold to the Scouts who used parts of it to build a new scout den at the recreation grounds.

The old library was situated near the crossroads in Clifton on Boyle Street, a road that leads to The Grove. The site is now well marked with a large plaque.


Panel 2 Motupipi Library : From Heritage Golden Bay 2018.

Sources used in this story


  1. The Clifton Institute. Photograph taken possibly late 1800s. Courtesy of Golden Bay Museum Ref: 1013838.
  2. Photograph of the plaque in Clifton. Courtesy of Sally Gaffney.

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