Croquet in Nelson
Croquet was introduced to the Nelson area by the German immigrants who arrived on the Saint Pauli and settled in the Moutere district. Croquet became the accepted pastime of colonists and Sunday afternoon croquet parties became popular on the many private lawns attached to the early estates, particularly the property of Mrs Amelia Sixtus and her mother at Neudorf, near Moutere.
Women players had a number of challenges when playing the game in the warmer climate of Nelson, dressed for sport in the bombazines and black alpaca frocks of the day. A female croquet player of the 19th century wore a “sports robe” which was a voluminous dress weighing 11Ibs, lined from neck to hem, well boned. The only part of the body visible was the face and hands. It took up to thirty yards of material to make a dress which swept the ground all around. The six inch hem and at least two rows of flounces kept the base well anchored. The bodice was hooked or buttoned from chin to waist, with a thumb-nail's width between each fastening. The minimum number of petticoats was three. The early hoops on the croquet green were widely spaced or female players would not be able to see them.
Nelson Croquet Club claims to be the oldest established croquet Club in New Zealand. It had very early croquet lawns behind Marsden Hall in the Bishops School (Nile Street). This venue was played on for some time, before a Miss Gibbs called a meeting early in 1901 of the regular Sunday afternoon players, with a view to forming a croquet club for “genteel people of breeding”. The plan was to have several lawns gathered in the one situation instead of the piecemeal arrangement of single lawns in private gardens. The Nelson Croquet Club was officially recognised when land was leased from Mrs. Renwick, of Renwick House in Manuka Street.
Miss Gibbs, the secretary of the club, raised debentures as early as 1917 in an effort to provide working capital for the club. In 1920 a fund raising dance was held in a hall loaned by Mrs Rutherford. Subscriptions were raised from ten shillings to twelve shillings and sixpence. Garden parties and card evenings, including a memorable progressive Euchre party in the Haerimai tearooms, were successful fundraisers.
Formal application was made to the Nelson City Council for Municipal Lawns in 1927. There was much heated negotiation before the Council made available lawns at the present headquarters in Rutherford Park. In 1928 the club applied to the council for use of a portion of the Old Cemetery in Trafalgar Street (now Fairfield Park). In 1933 Council decided to go ahead and construct croquet lawns on this site, but a petition was drawn up protesting against the “desecration of graves” (in fact, the lawns would not have covered any old graves) and against the proposed “large expenditure”. As the Nelson Evening Mail reported on 22 February 1934, The Club withdrew its application.
The club finally gave up possession of the old lawns in Manuka St held on lease from Mrs Renwick, in 1938, in preparation for taking over the long awaited new courts at Rutherford Park.
A pavilion was built costing £150, and a cleaner was employed at £2 an hour, and primrose crockery purchased for the enjoyment of members.
The Hinemoa Croquet Club was formed in 1908 commencing play on Mrs Brockman’s property on Bridge Street. In 1913 the club moved to a lawn in Grove Street. In 1933 this lawn was too small for increasing membership so an application was made to Nelson City Council for four municipal lawns. This was granted in 1941 and the Hinemoa and Nelson Croquet clubs became neighbours on the present Halifax street site, and managed to share the existing Pavilion without difficulty.
With the advent of war most of the money raising ventures were channelled into patriotic funds. Mrs Lemmer, the new President, urged all players to bring all their troop knitting to the lawns, and many times the lawns gave the appearance of knitting bees rather than croquet matches. In 1941 a fund was opened for members to subscribe sixpence per month towards parcels for sons of croquet players serving in overseas forces. Closing day that year was “Patriotic Day”, threepence per entry being charged on all competitions. A £10 donation was also made to the sick and wounded fund. In 1945 the groundsman was given a Christmas bonus of £1 to celebrate the end of the war. Armistice was signed, but the local war with the City Council over possession of the Rutherford property still raged, with the Council endeavouring to repossess the lawns for a site on which to construct a Tobacco factory. (A tobacco Factory was built where the Refinery Artspace now stands) However the Nelson Association staging the South Island Championships in 1946 helped to offset the Council's attempts.
The two clubs have held numerous successful tournaments. In 2000 the New Zealand croquet Council staged the New Zealand Open Championships, attracted by the nine full sized lawns and a new Bert Scheib croquet pavilion. This and other tournaments continue to attract national and international players to Nelson.
Sources used in this story
- History notes from D. Maplesdon
- Bulloch, W. (comp.) Early days at the Nelson Club (unpublished)
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Further sources - Croquet in Nelson
- Martin, W (2015, January 26) Two Nelson croquet players make finals. Nelson Mail, on Stuff:
- Croquet New Zealand: http://croquet.org.nz/
- Nelson hosted national croquet (1972, March 4) Nelson Photonews, p.50
- South Island croquet (1961, February 4) Nelson Photonews, p.23
- South Island croquet (1970, February 7) Nelson Photonews, p.31