The Diary of William Nelson

TheWarwick Years.

Compiled for the benefit of Warwickians, Kiwis and others by Anthony James Leahy

William Nelson,1843 - 1932

Farmer, industrialist


William Nelson was born in Warwick, Warwickshire, England, on 15 February 1843, the son of Sarah Philbrick and her husband, George Nelson, a chemist and well-known manufacturer of gelatine and other meat extracts. William was educated at Warwick College and worked in a tannery, a cement works and then the family factory.

On 7 February 1863 Nelson and his elder brother, Frederick (Fred), arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, on the Devonshire with introductions to Henry and William Williams. After spending about six months tramping round the country, they met William Williams's son, James, in Napier and set off to work on his sheep run at Kereru. On the way the brothers encountered Colonel Jasper Herrick who commandeered them for the local militia and later employed them shearing. In January 1864 they purchased Poporangi, an adjoining property, and set about breaking it in. Shortly afterwards William Nelson returned to England, and on 5 October 1865 married his old sweetheart, Sarah Newcome Bicknell, at Llandrillo-yn-Rhos, Denbigh, Wales, then took her back to Hawke's Bay.

In 1866 William and Sarah Nelson set up house at Arlington, which Fred had taken over from Captain Alfred Newman, but low wool prices and a plague of grasshoppers made it impossible for the brothers to keep up the mortgage payments. William hitched his horse to his buggy (virtually all he possessed) and moved to the Mangateretere East block. He built The Lawn, named after the family home in England, at Clive but it was flooded out and had to be shifted to higher ground. He tried milling flax from the swamp on the property but once again falling prices defeated him.

In the early 1870s William Nelson took his family back to Warwick and joined two other brothers, George and Montague, in the family business, leaving Fred to carry on at Mangateretere. Over the next 10 years William learnt about meat preservation and industrial management and thought over the problems of combating low wool prices and disposing of surplus stock.

In 1880 William returned to New Zealand and with Fred established a tallow and canned-meat factory on J. N. Williams's land at Tomoana. It was designed for conversion to refrigeration, but Nelson bided his time and let others experiment with the new process. After the Dunedin successfully shipped the first cargo of frozen meat from Otago to London in 1882, the Nelson brothers and Williams moved swiftly to establish the new industry in Hawke's Bay.

The first consignment of frozen meat from Tomoana was shipped from Port Ahuriri in the Turakina in March 1884. In the next decade Nelson Brothers Limited, registered in London, won the largest stake in New Zealand's frozen-meat trade. William Nelson became general manager of the New Zealand head office at Tomoana, where a well-equipped freezing works and a small model village were established. Branch works were opened at Waipukurau, Gisborne, Woodville and Spring Creek. Despite farmers' fears of monopoly, and a preference for producer co-operatives, Nelson was able to command considerable loyalty and support from his suppliers.

Nelson resumed farming and with Fred acquired more properties to supply stock for the works. He soon had virtual control of some 5,000 acres on the flats and 30,000 acres of hill country. To improve the quality of meat exports he established one of the best Southdown flocks in New Zealand. He used his property at Chesterhope for training young men in farm work and management. From a 7,000-acre bush property, Whenuahou, he milled timber and obtained firewood for the furnaces.

A patriarchal system operated at Tomoana where William Nelson was regarded by his workmen as a friend. If men had grievances he was prepared to listen to them. During the 1890 maritime strike he was president of the Free Association of Employers and Workmen of Hawke's Bay, formed to keep Tomoana and Port Ahuriri open; it continued for some years as an employment agency. Nelson did not object to unionism as such but to outside interference. Hawke's Bay, he believed, should be proud that it had been 'long held up as the hot-bed of Conservatism', if this indicated 'the employment of labour at good wages, the retention of hands for years at a stretch, the feeding of "sundowners" [and] the finding of work for the unemployed'. Tomoana during this period was exceptionally free of industrial troubles. A shrewd judge of men, Nelson helped many to stand on their own feet, notably his young stockman, William Richmond, who set up his own meat-exporting business.

William and Sarah Nelson had five sons and four daughters; Sarah died tragically at The Lawn on 21 November 1883, at the age of 39. In 1884 Nelson Brothers acquired Robert Wellwood's property, Maxwell Lea, near Tomoana. It became the Nelson homestead after William's remarriage on 28 November 1884, at Te Aute, to Emma Caroline Williams, Bishop William Williams's daughter. She and William had a son and a daughter. Emma named her new home Waikoko after the placid lake William created amidst English trees. Emma died at Waikoko on 11 September 1921. William's third wife was Katharine Maud Orford, whom he married at Hastings on 16 September 1922. They had no children.

Nelson wanted a good English public education for his sons. He prevailed upon William Rainbow, an old Warwickshire schoolfellow who was working near Dunedin, to establish Heretaunga School for which he would provide grounds and a building in Hastings. It opened in 1882. In 1912--13 Nelson and others formed a company, purchased the school and moved it to Havelock North. It became a preparatory school, later called Hereworth. Nelson also formed a company to enable Annie Mabel Hodge, headmistress of a day school for girls in Hastings, to build a boarding school for girls, Woodford House, in the Havelock hills.

Nelson took a practical interest in local affairs but never sought public prominence. He was a member of the Hawke's Bay Club from 1864 to 1932 and patron of the Hawke's Bay Cricket Association and the Hastings Horticultural Society. He financially backed the bridging of the Ngaruroro River at Pakowhai. After the disastrous flood of 1897, when he was chairman of the Clive River Board, he developed his own plans for straightening the Ngaruroro River and for totally diverting the Tutaekuri River. From 1900, as a member of a private syndicate, he largely initiated and financially supported the reclamation of a swamp on Te Whare-o-Maraenui block, Napier South.

William Nelson is commemorated by a Nelson Park in both Napier and Hastings. Nelson strongly supported the work of the Hawke's Bay Agricultural and Pastoral Society and in 1912 sold them land at Tomoana for a new showgrounds. In 1933 the Society purchased Waikoko, adjoining the showgrounds. The William Nelson memorial pergola was built there in 1951. Those who knew Nelson, however, remembered him more for his personal qualities than his public benefactions. He had the faculty of forming strong, enduring friendships. The number of people to whom he gave sage advice, ready help and practical sympathy was legion. Staunchly Anglican, he followed his mother's precepts and passed them on.

In his 80s Nelson was still 'as alert as ever in mind and as quick of perception' and possessed both personality and humour. Photographed in the garden at Waikoko with his faithful dog Tiddles just before his death, he looks more like a working farmer and stockman than a business entrepreneur embraced by the landed gentry. William Nelson died at Tomoana on 16 November 1932, survived by his third wife and seven children.



Boyd, Mary. 'Nelson, William 1843 - 1932'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007




William Nelson of Tomoana

His Legacy to Hawke's Bay



William Nelson of Tomoana. His Legacy to Hawke's Bay. Compiled and written by RJ Paterson. Undated (c2001 family reunion). Private publication


William Nelson, who grew up in Warwickshire England, youngest son of George Nelson and Sarah Philbrick, arrived in NZ in 1863 aged 19 accompanied by an older brother Frederick.


He was responsible in the reclamation of land from Napier's swamps, and other businesses in the Napier and Hastings locality. The Father of Hawke's Bay he built his home Waikoko which is part of the A&P Showgrounds, near the former Tomoana Works

Some of the other houses which have belonged to members of the Nelson family are The Lawn; Mangapapa; Olrig House, Maraekakaho; Keirunga; Laureston, Woodville; Whakamarumaru; and Ormlie

232pp; black/w photos; map & plan; family trees; bibliography; maps on epps; hard covered book, gilt lettering; excellent condition brand new.


Believed to be privately published a copy of which is retained in the library of New Zealand


The Diary of William Nelson

TheWarwick Years.

The first entries being written when William was 11 years old.


6th January. Went to Warwick and bought the cocoanut, nuts and oranges. Gave Cox, Sam and David an orange. Had out the puzzle and Noah’s Ark.

7th January. Charles of age. Went to church twice and sat with Cox and Sam while they had the ale.

8th January. Pig killed. Charles’ birthday kept by the men in cheese and beer. Did some worsted work.

9th January. Wood work. Played at Bandy. Read the newspaper to Mama.

10th January. Finished the second kettleholder and read a book and played at Tipcat and writing my diary in my little book.

11th January. Went to Leamington and Harry White came home with us. Did some net and went on to see the Militia.

12th January. Went to Warwick with Mama and bought nails and a hammer and some more books and some balls and did some netting.

The last entry was on 3rd November with a note referring to his school timetable. The diary continues again on 1st January 1858 2 years later.


26th January. Made some bullets and went rifle shooting. (William left school in June of that year and started work in July 1858.

On Sundays William went to church in the mornings and evenings at Nuthurst Chapel.

Photograph of Nuthurst Chapel 2007 by Peter Coulls (added April 2011)

20th July. Had my first day in the office. Went to Warwick and turned handles. Went shooting with George in the evening and unpacked my boxes from school. (note by William Nelson: this is an exact copy of my Diary made at the end of 1859 and beginning of 1860).


1st January. Chapel morning and evening. Went to tea at Katesgrove with Mont.

2nd January. Tan yard. Tea’d at Kategrove. Doing odd things all day. Mont went to work at Buckersbury first.

3rd January. Carrying. Ragging skins all day.

4th January. Carrying. Finishing welts and ragging.

5th January. Carrying. Finishing welts. Ragging horse hides. Writing in the evening.

7th January. Carrying legs all day. Making bacon toaster. Later: Cleaned clock at night. Oiled clock

February. Greasing and hanging up kipps. Stuffing and scouring horse hides. Slicking off and bruising legs. “This was William’s description for two months when on 1st January he started work at the tan yard. Carrying, bruising and stuffing and doing all the nasty jobs.

19th March. Transferred to Stockton Cement Works.

20th March. Stockton at 8.30. In the office a little while, mixed samples of cement.

21st March. Fitted up my steam gauge and had it to work. Read “Boby on Cement”

July. Gearing. Grinding Lime day after day grinding cement, paid men, cross bar broken in large stone, gearing driving wheel, grinding stone. Dad gone to London at 7.30am. Dad went to Warwick all day, engine patterns.

(Dad believed to be ref to his brother Charles).


27th June. Stockton all day. Grinding lime. Blowing off water. Home at 5.30. Two miss Bicknell’s to tea and supper. Walked home with them, eldest nice lass. Ellen’s second born (George Henry’s wife).

26th July. 30 teeth out of grinding wheel. Stripped little driving wheel. Repaired little driving wheel grinding stone.

28th July. Southam Church morning and afternoon. Showery.

29th July. Stockton at 10.30. Repaired driving wheel. Grinding lime. Home at 5.30. Fred Welcham and Cottam to dinner. Rifle shooting. Mr clough here in the evening. Great fun. Fine

30th July. Stockton at 10.30. Grinding lime. Home at 4. Dinner and started in the trap with Cotham. Picked up welchman at the house and Clough at Burbury, then on to Shuckberg. Arrived on the ground about 6.10. Walked about with Welchman while the other fellows danced in the park. Met at the Black Boy at 9.15. Started home at 9.40. Home for 10.5. Dropped all my friends on the road. Fine.

31st July. Stockton at 10.30. Grinding stone. Home at 5. Dinner. To tea with our family to Mrs Smith’s. S.B., E.B., H.B., (Sarah, Ella and Hetta Bicknell) M.W., S.S., Mrs S., Miss E., W.S., H.G., F.W., Tea and supper. Home at 11. Stormy

3rd August. Stockton at 10.30. Home at 1.30. Rode down to Leamington in the afternoon. Had my hair cut. Home to warwick to tea. Stopped at the Lawn. Dad (Charles Nelson) and Emily down in the trap. Fine.

12th November. Mill all day. Had my boiler fitted up. Later: Finished boiler fitting after dinner. Rode my horse down to Warwick ay 4.30. Left the steam up for the first time. Snowed. Road very slippery. Hard frost.

30th November. Stockton at 10. Mill in the morning. Not working. Home at 2. Working at boiler. Put little engine to work.

29th December. Dad and Mont went to Armigers.(Charles Nelson and Edward Montague Nelson).


11th January. The Lawn at 7.

17th January. Charley and Emily gone to Magic Lantern.

28th February. Engine all evening.

3rd March. Meeting at Stockton Steam Flour Mill.

28th March. Meeting of shareholders at the Craven. Dad there nearly all day.

2nd April. Met my mother at Harbury in a cab.

8th April. First day for S.F.C. (New flour mill opening).

11th April. Had 12 loads of wheat in.

6th May. Took possession of Mansion (Moved into his own house)

7th May. Up at 5.45. Opened Mill. Dressing. Grinding stone. Worked the stones in mill till 8.30am.

19th May. Drove down to Leamington in the trap with Emily and Mont. Called at Orford Lodge for Sally and her sister at 12: Dad and Wife came home from exhibition.

13th August. Up at 6. Mill till 6pm.

20th October. Walked to Exhibition. Met Charlie, George, Fred and Mrs Philbrick there.

21st October. Met Fred at Ridgway’s at 11. Met Charlie and Emily at Bucklersbury at 1 (Nelson’s offices in London). All went down to see the Devonshire. Went down to frank firth’s  (Charlie, Fred, Emily and self) to dinner. They had nothing but tea for us, so we tea’d instead. Mr, Mrs and G Smith were there. Home by the 11.10 train from Lewisham. Gloucester Terrace at 12 for bed.

23rd October. Met Fred in the city at 10.30. Went with him and Mont to Hackney to call on Aunt Jones. Back to London Bridge by 2, intending to go to Crystal Palace. Rained so we did not go. Bucklersbury at 2.15. Went dow with Fred to see the Devonshire. All of us went to dinner at Gloucester Terrace at 6. Talking all evening. (William’s Mother living at Gloucester Terrace)

25th October. Cab’d with George and Emily down to the City and met the brothers there at 12 o’clock. Took a glass of sherry, and then went and had lunch together. Richard Whitfield came in. Had my hair cut then returned to 14. Said goodbye to Emily, Charlie and George. Mont came with us (Fred and self) to London Bridge by 1, and to Gravesend at 2.15. On board the Devonshire for New Zealand by 2.40. Mont left us at 3. Dinner at 4. Made our beds. Stayed on deck till 9, then to bed.

26th October. Voyaged to New Zealand.


William returns to England.

15th February. Left Folkstone for London and got in at 7. Drove to 1 Albert Road. Found the house empty.

16th February. Cab’d to Gloucester Terrace after breakfast. Left Paddington at 12. Stayed at Reading with my mother till 4.45. Went on to Warwick by 6.15. Drove to the Lawn to spend the night. Heavy fall of snow.

17th February. Walking about the place with Sammy all morning. Drove up to Southam for Mrs Goodman, dined with the fields. Called on Mrs Mollady in the afternoon. Talking to Sanders in the evening. Tom Blyth and M.G. down to Southam.

18th February. Walked over to Stockton with Charlie, Tom and Mont. Home to dinner at 2. Smoking and talking all evening. Showery.

23rd March. Stockton all day by myself. Charlie gone to London.

27th March. Began new engine. Working all day

31st March. Met the hounds at Kenilwoth Castle on Dianna. Took a fox from the Chase wood.. Ran him for 3 ½ Hours, then lost at Tile hill. Fine. Mother returned to London.

19th April. Rode Walker’s mare down to Warwick in morning. Up to Warwick in afternoon.

20th April. Started to ride the mare back to Southam in the afternoon. Got split in the Emscote Road, so picked myself up and had to be put into bed with a bran sack and a bruised back.


28th September. Left London at 12 noon, dinner at the Lawn. Southam with Charlie at 9.30.

29th September. Rode over to Stockton in the morning. Drove Barney down to Leamington in the afternoon, on the Lawn and back to dinner at 6 to Southam.

30th September. Rode over to R.F.W’s by 9.15. down to Warwick to dinner, Chester by 7.30pm. Called at dingle Bank, back to the hotel by 1am.

1st October. Llandrillo by 9.10 am. Church in the morning.

2nd October. Bangor with S.N.B. (Sarah) by 9.15. Home at 5. Fine.

3rd October. Called on Rev. Roberts, Llandudno at 3.30. Met my brothers at 4.30. Lived at the Adelphi. Fine.

4th October. Up to Great Orme in the morning. Drove with Charley and Mont and F.R.W. Left at 8.30, and walked to Llandudno to supper. Fine.

5th October. Drove to  Llandrillo Church with Mont, and to Conway with S.N.N. (Sarah his bride). Breakfasted at the castle. Chester with S.N.N. at 7pm.

6th October. Windemere at 4.30. living at the Windemere hotel. Fine

14th October. Round the Vale to Lorton (very very pretty).

16th October. Crossthwaite Church in the morning. Drove to Ullswater, through Mattendale. Had the best steak and bitter beer that I have ever heard of. Raining all day. 34 miles.

25th November. Stockton in the morning fixing Allen Engine.

27th November. Started Allen Engine. Working at it all day.

6th December. Engine all day.

7th December. Talking to Mont in the morning. Mother and he left for London.

11th December. Albert Road by 6pm. Found my mother very ill and charley up. Up nearly all night.

12th December. In the City all day. Maria and Ellen up in the afternoon. Mother about the same.

13th December. In the City in the morning. Dinner at 3. Charley left at 5 for Southam. Mother better.

14th December. Mother much better. In the City in the morning. Agricultural Hall with George for an hour. Mother died at 9.15pm.

19th December. Drove over to Warwick by 11. Buried my mother at 3pm at Milverton, Dr Dickens performing the service.


William and his wife leave for New Zealand.

3rd March. Charing Cross at 9.30. On board the Kaikoura at 1pm. Charlie, George, Mont and Ellen came down with us and left at 3. Slept on board for the first time. Our part consisting of Mr and Mrs W Nelson, Mr and Mrs Townsend, A and J Giblin.


William returned to England where he joined his brothers, George and Montague at Emscote Mills before making his final move to New Zealand in 1879 on the Sorata.

Diary Extracts added November 2010








Compiled for the benefit of Warwickians and Others by Anthony James Leahy


Rediscovering the Gelatine Factory



The Gelatine Factory

A comprehensive account 1899

from Round About Warwick


George Nelson



Nelson's Emscote Mills 2009



T B Dale


Charles Nelson's

Cement Works at Stockton


The Nelson Brothers


William Nelson


George H Nelson


Sir E Montague Nelson

E M (Sam) Nelson


A Visit to

Messrs. G. Nelson, Dale & Co. 1880



Nelson Works

Tomoana New Zealand


Guy Montague Nelson

Nelson Village

Charles St, Warwick


The Lawn at Emscote


Nelson's Lozenges

 packaging & adds

Nelson's Club

Isinglass Wars

Swinborne v Nelson


Nelson's 1950's

Warwick Advertiser account 1953



Descendants of George Nelson


George Wyatt A city trade jubilee



Nelson's Heritage Walk


Gelatine and its uses


Davis Gelatine


Sir E Montague Nelson's Scrapbook Circa 1882

Nelson Gym

Nelson Patents


The Nelsons of Warwick Timeline





Walter Nelson




Home Comforts


Mary Hooper



Mary Hooper Letters

 Mary Hooper Book Collection


Nelson's Home Comforts

Mary Hooper


Wives and Housewives

Mary Hooper


Little Dinners

Mary Hooper


Cookery for Invalids

Mary Hooper


Every Day Meals

Mary Hooper


Hints on Cookery

Mary Hooper

Good Plain Cookery

Mary Hooper


Handbook for the

Breakfast Table

Mary Hooper


Weekly Telegraph

Cookery Book

Mary Hooper

Our Dog Prin

Mary Hooper

Ways & Tricks of Animals

Mary Hooper


Lily's Letters from the Farm

Mary Hooper

Charles Wentworth Wass

Round About Warwick

Mary Hooper Books Wanted

Fleur De Lys

The Pie Factory at Emscote

Nelson Story

In Brief


Nelsons Story


Nelson's Home Comforts

From Beginning To End


Cookery & Home Comforts

Mrs Wigley

Rock's Royal Cabinet

Leamington & Warwick 1880



Anthony Leahy



Anthony Leahy


Art & Photography

Anthony Leahy


A Major Arcana

Kathleen Forrest


The Drumroom

Anthony Leahy






Compiled for the benefit of Warwickians and Others by Anthony James Leahy




 A Walk in Warwick





Book Wanted Handbook For The Breakfast Table

Book Wanted Wives and Housewives A Story For The Times


3 The Butts


Sky Blue Heaven