Arthur Griffin and Nelson Hospital


The first hospital in Nelson was a primitive building, put up in the 1840's, attached to the barracks on Church Hill. The first permanent building was erected in 1853 at the corner of Rutherford and Examiner Streets. The hospital opened on its present site in 1869. This building was replaced in 1924-26 by a structure designed by Arthur Griffin. An almost complete reconstruction of Nelson Hospital occurred in the 1960's and 1970's when the provision of hospital and other health services in New Zealand were markedly improved after World War II. 

Nelson Hospital (c.1906) Retrieved from NZETC
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Three nurses homes have been built at Nelson Hospital and they reflected the changes in the nursing profession. The hospital's nurses were initially accommodated in the Administration Block of the first Hospital, when it opened in Nelson in 1869. In 1914-16, the first dedicated Nurses' Home, later known as Dalton House, was designed by A.R. Griffin (working with Crichton and McKay of Wellington), the architect of the 1924 hospital building.

The site chosen for this Nurses' home was on the south side of Franklyn Street, east of the now-closed section of Kawai Street. The foundation stone of Dalton House was laid on 12 February 1915 and it was duly opened on 5 April 1916. Until 2013, when it was demolished,  it was the sole remaining building on the main hospital site from before World War II.

Dalton House. Nelson City Council
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At the official opening of Dalton house1 it was described as follows: The new home is of two storeys, in ferro-concrete, rough-cast with tile roof and occupies a ground space of 110ft by 50ft. The inside partitions are mainly of trussite. Throughout the conveniences are of the most modern and everything that could be done to save labour and give comfort has been adopted. There are close on 30 bedrooms, those for the nurses being upstairs, and those for the domestic staff on the ground floor. By a system of folding doors the dining room can be converted into a recreation room 50 feet by 24 feet. Sitting-rooms, a library, bathrooms on both floors are provided. There are bins for wood and coal, under cover, and various devices which tend to save labour and running about. The appearance of the kitchen called forth general praise. All the rooms upstairs open on to balconies at the front and back of the building.

The original 1869 hospital building was replaced by a new building in 1924. In 1935-36 a two-storeyed annexe was built (of timber and rough-cast) adjoining the existing Dalton House Nurses' Home on the Kawai Street frontage. This annexe burned down in October 1938 placing a great strain on nurses' accommodation.  Dalton House (as it was named in 1953) ceased to be used to accommodate nurses when a new home was built across the road in 1946, and has been used for various hospital purposes since.

Franklyn Hall. Nelson City Council
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The replacement Nurses' Home was built on the north side of Franklyn Street and became known as the Barbara Taylor Home or Franklyn Hall. Such was the demand for nurses' accommodation that the building was extended in 1954.

A third building for nursing staff was started in 1958 and designed by James Hall-Kenny in the International Modern style. Hall-Kenny was also involved with the modernisation of the main hospital. The huge demand for live-in accommodation started to dwindle however when nursing training moved from being hospital based to polytechnics. By 1988 the buildings known as Franklyn Hall were called a staff hostel and the Hospital Board sold them in 1993.

Matron Susan Dalton

Dalton House was named after Susan Dalton (1836-1893) who was matron at the Hospital from 1850.

Matron Dalton began her nursing career at Addenbrooke House in Cambridgeshire before being secured by the Nelson Provincial Government to work at Nelson Hospital. She was given free passage to Nelson and an annual salary of £60 pounds plus board and lodgings guaranteed for two years. Matron Dalton had the reputation of being able to do the work of 15 nurses. Before retiring she would put her head in the ward door and call out: "Anyone want a drink, because I am going to bed!".

Matron Dalton did not survive an operation to remove a foot that had turned gangrenous and she died in August 1893 aged 57.2 Her obituary noted she had "earned the gratitude of not a few by her general kindliness and constant attention".  The obituary concluded, "There are many we are sure who will experience real sorrow at her decease."

Susan Dalton. Nelson Provincial Museum.
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It is unclear the exact years that Mrs Dalton was Matron at the Hospital. Records have her as Matron from 1850-52 but also as Matron when the new hospital opened on its current site in 1868. Her obituary noted she held the position of Matron and head nurse at Nelson Hospital for many years and estimated it to be between 25-30 years. She is buried at Wakapuaka cemetery.

Barbara Taylor was matron of the Nelson Hospital from 1933 until 1952. The Matrons at the Public Hospital were Miss S. Brown 1921 - 1933 and Miss Barbara Taylor 1933 - 1952.

Arthur Griffin 

A. R. Griffin was the son of John Holis Griffin, who lived at Waiwero.3  He was connected by marriage to William Beatson, Nelson's foremost colonial architect.  David Guthrie Beatson, William Beatson's son, married Helen Griffin, A. R. Griffin's aunt.  He married Marther Warnic.

Griffin was employed by the building firm of J.D. and L. Robertson,  for whom it is possible he designed buildings.  He studied architecture through the International Correspondence School, Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States, beginning in 1902.  From 1902 to 1903 he received certificates showing completion of the various courses comprising the architectural certificate.4 Businessman Thomas Cawthron became his patron and it was through this association that he designed the Cawthron steps leading to the Cathedral.

Griffin practised architecture in Nelson from the early 1900's to about 1960, with the last twenty or so years, largely spent in retirement.  He lived at 18 Ngatitama Street, Nelson, which he designed and subsequently altered as and when fees for large projects were paid.  He was architect for a number of buildings in the Nelson/West Coast region.  

The main Nelson hospital building was his largest commission of which the Nurses' Home was part. It was completed in 1925.5 

Other buildings and structures designed by Griffin include:6

  • Schools at Rockville, Westport Technical, Birchfield and Summerlea (later moved to Granity) for the Nelson Education Board (1908);
  • Home for Old People, Nelson (1908);
  • School at Wangapeka (1909);
  • Additions to the school at Wakefield (1909);
  • The Carnegie Free Public Library, Hokitika (1908), the project was won in a design competition;
  • Nelson Institute, Hardy Street, (1911-12);
  • The Church steps, Nelson (1912-13);
  • Wesleyan Church, Stoke, (1915);
  • 50 Rutherford Street, Church Hall, alterations (ca 1920);
  • ? 109 Rutherford Street, (ca 1920) possibly designed for J. W. Robertson who were the building contractors.
  • 238 Trafalgar Street (ca 1920);
  • 157 Bridge Street originally E W Pidgeon's Service Station (ca 1930);
  • 280 Hardy Street extensions to former Baghdad restaurant (1933);
  • 274 Hardy Street (ca 1930);
  • 284 Trafalgar Street, (c 1930);
  • 241-247 Trafalgar Street, " The Ritz Louis Kerr Ltd" (ca 1930);
  • 105 Trafalgar Street, "Stroud House", (ca 1930);
  • Methodist Sunday School, Stoke (1931)
  • Whakarewa Home, Nelson (1936);
  • Trathens, Trafalgar Street, (ca 1930)
  • 324 Trafalgar Square, Plunket and Rest Rooms , (1936);
  • Anchor shipping offices, Port Nelson
  • Neal and Haddows, Trafalgar Street;
  • Church in Queen Street Richmond.
  • Houses in Brougham Street, Richmond Ave (for his brother), in van Diemen Street (for H. McLean), and in Ngati Awa Street (for the Hodgsons)
  • Trask Memorial Gates, Queens Gardens

2013. Updated May 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Nurses home officially opened (1916, April 19) The Colonist p.1 
  2. Death (1893, August 5) The Colonist, p.3
  3. Brereton, C.P. (1947) No Roll of Drums. Wellington : AH and AW Reed. p.150
  4. Pers com. Ivan Hill 1 August, 2008
  5. Low, D. (1972) Salute to the Scalpel. [Nelson] : D. Low, p.1
  6. Information from Auckland School of Architecture, Shepperd Archives, and Bowman, Ian (1992) Nelson CBD Heritage Inventory,  for the Nelson City Council

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