We’ve been thinking about 34 Nile St, Nelson for a long time now, consulting street plans, Post Office Directories and electoral rolls in our efforts to trace the movement of Harris family members on the site 1862-1925. We know that the family arrived in Nelson in three instalments. Sarah Harris sailed 11 April 1860 from New Plymouth with daughters Catherine (20), Frances (18), Mary (14), Augusta (11) and Ellen (9). The Harris women were part of the influx of refugees pouring into Nelson after the outbreak of war in Taranaki. We don’t know where Sarah and her daughters stayed: perhaps with friends or in the shared accommodation (known as the Barracks) that was provided by Nelson authorities and administered jointly by Taranaki and Nelson provincial officers. We know that Mrs E Harris drew government rations for her family and there is official correspondence about Kate Harris’s rations in light of her capacity to earn a living. (‘I have in consideration of representations made to me by Mrs Harris, allowed her rations for her daughter Kate,’ Provincial Agent William Gray wrote to Taranaki Superintendent George Cutfield, 29 Nov 1860). Edwin Harris joined his wife and daughters in Nelson 7 December, sailing by the steamer Airedale and shortly afterwards advertising his professional services:
Mr. Edwin Harris, Engineering Surveyor and Draughtsman (pupil of, and many years assistant to, the late celebrated James M. Rendel, Esq., Civil Engineer, President of the Society of Engineers, F.R.S., &c., &c.), will be happy, during his stay in Nelson, to give LESSONS in Land Surveying, Levelling, and Architectural, Mechanical, Landscape, and other DRAWING.
Address, Mr. A. Moore’s Waimea-road, near the College, or the Examiner Office. December, 1860. (Nelson Examiner 22 Dec 1860: 2)
The advertisement appeared again 29 December. It seems likely that Mr A Moore of Waimea Rd is Alfred William Moore (1834-1912), the young man who would marry Kate Harris in 1863 and return with her and their first child Alfred Henry to Taranaki the following year.
We don’t know how successful Edwin’s new enterprise was, or when he was able to move the family into 34 Nile St, but by 1864 he was advertising a business located at his home address:
Mr. Edwin Harris’s SCHOOL OF DESIGN, Nile-Street East, Trafalgar Square (Nelson examiner 30 Aug 1864: 2)
The ad appeared five times August-September. The following year, in July 1865, Emily Harris arrived home after her four-year sojourn in Hobart, and the family transition to Nelson was complete.
Fast forward almost 160 years, a grey and drizzling spring Saturday morning in Nelson, travellers opening the gate and arriving on the verandah of present-day 34 Nile St. A knock on the door and when it opens there is Belinda Fletcher and her partner Jason McCormick, ready to show us through the renovated bungalow that has stood on the site since it was erected in 1928 by local builders Fawcett and Butler. We talk land titles and possible orientations of the previous house, wondering where Emily’ studio was and whether the small parcel of land she added to the rear of the section was for a studio or a schoolroom on the property. The answers to these and other questions will have to wait until Belinda can find out more from early land transfer records. For now, it is enough to get our feet on the ground at 34 and feel the slope of the site, its orientation in relation to the cathedral, Church Hill and the other houses that stand alongside in Nile St. A photo at the front gate and we are back in the car en route for a family birthday over the hills in Marlborough. With us, a memento from Belinda’s garden at Nile St, is a posy of ferns and pale blue iris. Thanks Belinda!
Lead writer: Michele Leggott
Research support: Makyla Curtis, Betty Davis