Ellen, later known as Nellie, was born in Auckland on the 24th February 1876. She was the daughter of Thomas and Alice Jones.
She was 32 when she married Albert Nightingale on St Valentine’s Day in Wellington in 1907, and they continued to live there for some time. She was working as a second-hand dealer at the time and Albert was a French polisher, like his father.
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Nellie adopted a child from the Alexandra Home in Wellington a few years after marrying Albert. It is said that Nellie received a payment of thirty pounds for this act of charity and she invested this sum in a suitcase and goods to sell door to door through the streets of Wellington.
By 1911, Nellie had a second-hand shop at 118 Taranaki Street and Albert probably used the back of the shop for his polishing business. They lived at a number of Wellington addresses. By 1914 Albert had given up the polishing business to become a taxi proprietor. This move eventually led to the couple owning the entire Black and White taxi network in Wellington. By 1915 Nellie had opened up a business as a Motor Garage at 125 Lambton Quay. Six years later the business was operating as A.B.C. Motors (N.Z.) Company Limited.
As the wartime years were succeeded by the ‘roaring twenties’, the pace of life in the Wellington motor trade may have become too demanding, as the couple left Wellington for Taranaki. Nellie became the proprietor of the Normanby Hotel at Normanby before moving to the Opunake Hotel. The hotel may have been inherited from her publican father.
In the late 1920’s they moved to Takaka in Golden Bay at the top of the South Island. Albert and Nellie ended up owning twenty-two acres of flat farmland adjoining the famous Globe Hotel at Waitapu. Nellie became the Licensee of the Globe Hotel.
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Nellie’s adopted daughter, Myrtle, then aged 22, joined them in the hotel business and must have been of great assistance to the older couple. Just who ran the dairy farm is uncertain, but Nellie’s niece recalls that milk from the farm was used in her dad’s shop.
Sadly, Albert died in Nelson Public Hospital on the 1st of May 1931. Nellie and Myrtle stayed on in Takaka and Nellie started to accumulate real estate over the ensuing years, buying the Junction Hotel on Commercial Street and the Telegraph Hotel.
Nellie had begun to suffer some abdominal problems, and stomach cancer was diagnosed. Nellie later endured several bouts of surgery for the removal of most of her digestive organs. Following this, the good lady subsisted almost completely on a diet of Indian tea and fruitcake because of her inability to digest meat, fish or most other foodstuffs.
She continued her interest in property investment, purchasing three properties in Tahuna. First was a garage / service station on the corner of Bisley Avenue and Rocks Road. Nellie’s relatives recall that the old lady used to sit at the window of her home, on the hillside, armed with a pair of binoculars so that she could monitor the amount of petrol being sold from “her pumps”.
The other properties were Lot 80 on Muritai Street, now occupied by the Muritai Motordrome, and a block of land on the corner of Rui Street and Main Road, which was used as a depot by the Suburban Bus Company.
In 1933, Nellie and Myrtle were thinking of retiring to Nelson and with Nellie’s help, Myrtle bought a block of land on Bisley Avenue which ran up the hill through part of the present day Champion Terrace to Stansell Avenue. The house built on the land still stands, looking out over the Tahunanui shopping centre and the Library.
Also in 1933 Nellie arranged for her solicitors to prepare a will appointing her daughter, Myrtle, Messrs. Fell and Harley and Thomas Martin O’Hallahan (O’Callaghan), a barman of the Commercial Hotel, Nelson as her trustees. The will, as well as bequeathing her jewellery and personal effects (except her furniture) to Myrtle, would provide a steady weekly income for her daughter for the rest of Myrtle’s natural life. Nellie recognised Myrtle might marry and made provision in expectation that there might be a grandchild or two sometime.
She provided that any child would become a beneficiary of the estate on Myrtle’s demise, on attaining the age of twenty-one years. The trustees were directed to apply the income of the estate to the maintenance, education or other benefit for any minor who was a beneficiary.
The will directed that in the event of Myrtle’s death without issue, the trustees should establish and maintain at Tahuna “in my memory a library and rest room to be known as ‘Nightingale Library Memorial’.” The trustees were instructed that the said library and books etc. should be vested in a Board of Trustees or Local Body having jurisdiction over the territory where the library was situated.
The ladies left Takaka for good in 1934 and Nellie sold the license of the Globe to Harley’s Breweries who sold it on to the Fellowes family, whose descendants are still farming the neighbouring land. The old lady didn’t sever her links with the Telegraph Hotel entirely, retaining the freehold interest in the property, which remained part of her estate for many years after her death.
When Myrtle married Roy Cussen, with Nellie’s approval, her will remained unchanged apart from the provision of an annuity for three thousand pounds in favour of Myrtle. The executors were directed to pay the annual premiums from the estate during Myrtle’s lifetime. After the wedding in 1937, Nellie continued to live in the house on the hill with the young couple.
As well as daughter Myrtle, Nellie had the company of two faithful Golden Labrador dogs. One dog used to collect the paper every afternoon, while his companion would visit Mr Hunter’s butchery on the corner of Muritai Street. Legend has it that the dog collected the household meat order and delivered it intact to his mistress.
Nellie’s life was a quiet one in her last years but she still took an interest in property. She was keen to do something for her community and offered to buy land for a recreation reserve like that at Burrell Park.
The town councillors of the day declined the offer probably thinking that there was a lot of recreation space off Beach Road and with a population of less than a thousand, the township didn’t need any more.
Abridged version from “ In Search of NELLIE NIGHTINGALE “ by Ken Meredith, 2003.
Sources used in this story
Interviews with Nellie Nightingales' nieces and great-nephew:
- Valrie McIntyre, daughter of Nellie's brother-in-law, Henry who was a baker & confectioner in Trafalgar street, Nelson before WW1 [Valrie & her son, John (Ellis) McIntyre used to run the Vanguard St Caravan Park until Valrie died in about 2003 . John moved to Mapua for a couple of years where he had a vineyard but left the Nelson area probably for Australia in 2006].
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Further sources - Nellie Nightingale
- Bell, C.W. (1978). Unfinished business: The second fifty years of the Nelson City Council. Nelson, N.Z.: Nelson City Council, pp.73, 75-6, 138
- Brereton (1948) The history of the Nelson Institute. Wellington, N.Z.: Reed
- Stafford, D.J. (1992) The Library from the sea: Nelson Public Library 1842-1992. Nelson: Friends of the Library Inc.
- Meredith, Ken (2010) In search of Nellie Nightingale, unpublished manuscript [held Nelson Public Libraries]
- Nelson Public Libraries: http://www.nelsonpubliclibraries.co.nz