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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1, October 1974

Notes on Nelson Place Names

Notes on Nelson Place Names

page 33

This section discusses the origins of some of the lesser known names on Nelson maps.

Short contributions from readers are invited.

Lake Sylvester is named after Samuel James Holden Sylvester (1899–1931), the only child of pioneer English parents who settled on a farm in the outbacks of Hawkes Bay.

"Sylvie" or "Sam" as he was known to his friends and associates was the epitome of a "character". Mildly eccentric, a man of all occasions, gentlemanly, courteous, generous and humorous. Nevertheless he was a most forcible and forthright person, a loyal friend, scornful of vacillation and weakness (of character) and monumentally intolerant of humbug and self-importance, and not in the least backward in saying so in forcible and picturesque terms.

His strength and endurance were remarkable and some of his trips and feats were legendary in his time—e.g. carrying his pack and bicycle over one of the minor alpine passes; later, with the aid of an axe, shovel and wire strainer he took his old car over places that would now be possibilities for four-wheel drive vehicles. One of his old associates still recalls with awe that on a field trip when accommodation was short Sylvie slept out unperturbed under an old truck, surrounded by five inches of snow!

He attended Canterbury University College near the end of World War I, going on active service and getting as far as England when the war was finished. On his return he majored in geology and for some years acted as laboratory demonstrator where his keen analytical mind and wide knowledge made a strong impression on the students. In the university vacations he worked on the geological survey and in the mid-twenties was in the Mt. Arthur-Cobb area. His superiors describe him as a most able, methodical and painstaking geologist who would have gone far in his profession. He was particularly suited to fieldwork with his untiring energy and strength allied to his acute perception and thoroughness. At the time of his death he was a Junior Lecturer.

Sylvester himself used to describe how on such surveys particularly difficult and objectionable geological features were facetiously and temporarily named after various members of the party. One theory is that Lake Sylvester was originally named after an early morning dip in it.

It was a great tragedy when he was drowned with a companion in 1931 when attempting to sail a small boat from New Plymouth to Lyttelton, an action that was strangely out of character.

J. O. Kidson.

page 34

Gouland Downs are named after Henry Godfrey Gouland who was born in London in 1801.

He became a business man and in 1841 he bought two allotments in Nelson. In 1847 Gouland arrived in Wellington in the ship London. In November 1847 he walked from Nelson through Top House and the Wairau Plain to the mouth of the Wairau River to interview William Budge. On the way the only people he spoke to were George McRae, John Kerr, Dr Cooper (Top House), and William Sweet (Hillersden). In April 1848 cattle and sheep from Sydney for H. G. Gouland were landed at the mouth of the Wairau River. He took up land between Spring Creek and Tua Marina, and the river crossing there became known as Gouland's Ferry. In 1863 the Gouland's Ferry Post Office was opened in Hathaway's Ferry Hotel.

Gouland, like many others, failed as a runholder and he was appointed Magistrate at Collingwood for the goldfields from 1857 to 1860. During his period as Magistrate Gouland was granted a grazing lease over the area now known as Gouland Downs (and now well known to trampers walking the Heaphy track).

From Collingwood he transferred to Lyttelton as Immigration Officer in 1861. He revisited England in 1865 and on returning bought sections in Waimea Road, in the city of Nelson.

Gouland died in Nelson in November, 1877.

Gouland Downs, Golden Downs and Gordon Downs, sometimes confused (especially by newcomers), have their origins briefly described in the "Wairau Field Trip" on p. 11 of this journal.


Canaan and Canaan Downs. Amidst the weird outcrops and sink holes of the "Marble Mountain" region of the Takaka Hill road a side road leads northwards through the mountainous Canaan Valley. After about eight miles of rough road it ends in a prehistoric dry lake bed, now an area of rolling native pasture known as Canaan Downs.

It must indeed have seemed a "Land of Promise" to early European settlers about a century ago, so they named it Canaan and found other landmarks for contemporary biblical names including Pisgah Mount (3,526 feet)—after the peak from which Moses was permitted only to view his long sought country—and a miniature Jordan "Creek" as well.

Maoris appear not to have inhabited the Canaan region, the valley having a damp, cold climate for much of the year. There is an air of mystery about it too, probably enhanced by the strange noises from rock falls and water movements in numerous underground limestone caverns; and these holes give a forbidding appearance to the many large sink holes into which livestock can easily fall and be killed.

The valley, however, has great interest and charm for those keen on nature and who are prepared to walk and explore.

In addition to the many birds there is a wide variety of plants, page 35some, especially shrubs, being of unusual interest; and smaller animals, notably the large native land snails (Paryphanta) are still to be found.

As well as the strange marble outcrops, there are many mineral deposits in the granite region, some being uncommon and of real beauty, but most are not plentiful enough to be of real commercial value. There are numerous fossils.

There are many large caves, notably Harwood Hole with its shaft over 650 feet deep and awesome in its immensity. For details see "Abel Tasman National Park" Handbook.


Wairau Valley and the Alpine Fault

The Wairau Valley occupies a fault line. The rocks in the mountains to the north are quite different from those on the other side of the valley. In fact these rocks have more in common with the rocks and formations which occur in the Eglinton Valley and at the head of Lake Wakatipu, some three hundred miles away. Geologists consider that once they were joined and have since moved apart along the line of the Alpine Fault which runs up the west side of the Southern Alps and curves round the northern spurs of Mt Robert to run down the Wairau Valley.


Nelson—"The new Lord Nelson plays it cool."… from "Post Man's Diary", South Wales Evening Post, Swansea, Glam.

The new Lord Nelson will still be George to his friends.

The Hon. George Nelson, who inherited one of Britain's most famous titles on the death of his brother, spent yesterday unsure of many things, but certain of one. That the title won't change him.

In fact he went to work in his Swansea accountant's office and, after a heady day of TV and press interviews, stayed modest enough to say: "I think people are impressed by the title—I'm very proud of it myself, but it doesn't make any difference really." Sentiment

Lord Nelson, ex-licensee of the Hanbury in the city centre, is great-great-great nephew of the renowned Horatio Nelson, England's heroic victor of the Nile and Trafalgar.

Apart from the title, however, all that has been passed down from his illustrious ancestor to the present Lord Nelson is a silver snuff box.

A Government pension stopped many years ago and the 3,411-acre estate with its 18th century mansion in Wiltshire, was sold in 1948 to pay off mounting death duties.

Lord Nelson knew the family home well.

"I lived there for long periods as a boy," he told me. "It was a beautiful place and a great shame we couldn't keep it. Just about everything has been sold over the years."…

Lord Nelson and his Swansea-born wife, Wynn, live in Bishopston.

August 10, 1972