Charles Kidson, engineer
Charles Idrys Kidson was Nelson City Council’s Engineer from 1939 until his retirement in 1962, with a brief interruption when he served in World War II. He came from an engineering position at Wellington City Council, where he had been employed since 1926, and had overseen important projects such as Wellington Airport runway extension and the building of the Mt Victoria tunnel.1
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Kidson came to Nelson encouraged by the previous city engineer Mr. Littlejohn, who recommended him for the position when he retired in 1939. Kidson felt that the prospect of war was looming and moved with his wife, son, Charles Brian, and daughter, Barbara, away from the capital city. The Kidsons bought Littlejohn's house and settled in.
Kidson’s time at Council was interrupted by war service. His engineering expertise was put to good use. He left New Zealand in July 1941 (aged 43) to manage construction work in the Pacific, as a Squadron Leader. After training in Australia, he worked in Port Blair, in the Andaman Islands, Singapore (immediately prior to the fall of Singapore), then India and New Caledonia, where he contracted Dengue fever and was demobilised in 1943.
Kidson had a great love of the outdoors and the whole family enjoyed staying in the “whare” in the bush ten miles up the Maitai River. This site is now under water, flooded by the construction of the Maitai dam. The land was given to Nelson City Council as part of future water works reserve.2
The first major project Kidson worked on was the completion of the Roding Dam project, commenced by the previous city engineer Mr. Littlejohn. Kidson convinced the Council to secure the 12,000 hectare Maitai catchment as a future water supply and the acquisition of the farms up the Maitai began in the 1950’s.3 The Council could only afford at first to undertake stage one of the Maitai scheme, which consisted of the South Branch intake and pipeline down the Maitai, under the Tantragee saddle and into the city system in lower Brook Street.
When Kidson retired he was succeeded by Geoff Toynbee, who continued on with the Nelson dam and water supply projects. In 1965 water storage in Nelson was increased with a reservoir at Thompson Terrace. Others were built in the following decades.
In 1973 planning for the second stage of the Maitai scheme began and the earth dam was eventually completed in 1987. The water in the dam augments the flow in the South Branch of the Maitai, provides water for consumption when the South branch water is too dirty, and it acts as a flood calming system.
In 1987 the Brook water supply scheme was obsolete when the Maitai Dam was completed in 1987 and it was decommissioned in the year 2000. The storage reservoir in the camp was also filled in for safety reasons.
Kidson died 22nd November, 1962 aged 64, and is buried at Marsden cemetery4 in the Rose garden area. His son, Charles Brian Kidson, and grandson, Matthew Kidson, have continued to be actively involved in the community in the area of construction. Charles B. Kidson started Kidson construction in 1964.
Kidson had a great sense of humour and a poetic bent which was captured in the Nelson City Council Council minutes in 1948, when he penned the following as part of his end of year report:
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Since district funds are somewhat short
No work was done of any sort,
Except where needed to maintain
A footpath, sewer or a drain.
The quarry has not crushed a stone
But work upon the drainage loan
Has brought the Port Road pumping station
Down to its proper elevation.
The reclamation has progressed
Across Scott’s Paddock to the west
Until it now extends to flank
The mudflats on the river bank.
Water had been laid in for
The picknickers on Haulashore
And Mrs Tosswill’s subdivision
Has had a similar provision.
The gas complaints which still are low
Are listed in the space below.
Works for other bodies are:
The Rocks Road path is sealed with tar
And such a work is now at hand
Where the Suburban buses stand.
To Mayor and councillors and those
Whose working hours these walls enclose,
And every citizen and friend
The Engineer and staff extend
Glad Christmas greetings to combine
With all the best for ‘49.
Kidson was well respected by colleagues at Nelson City Council and a memorial was erected to his memory in 1964, along what was once the edge of the Brook St reservoir (now in Brook camp ground). The memorial wall has samples of rocks and minerals found in the Nelson region, which are described in a brochure published at the time: Rocks and Trees of the C.I. Kidson Memorial [PDF]. They recall Kidson’s love of tramping in the Nelson hills, and his extensive knowledge of the geological nature of the area. A passionate environmental advocate, it is fitting that the adjacent area is now the Brook Sanctuary, for the enjoyment and benefit of generations to come.
2014 (updated July 2020)
Sources used in this story
- Currie, B. (2006) Building the Patterns, 1928-1961. Wellington, N.Z. : First Edition, p.14
- Currie, p. 18
- Alan Winwood guided walk around Brook dam area (2011)
- Charles Kidson burial information: Nelson Cemeteries database
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Further sources - Charles Kidson, engineer
- Bell, C. (1978) Unfinished business: the second fifty years of Nelson City Council. Nelson: Nelson City Council
- Currie, B. (2006) Building the Patterns, 1928-1961. Wellington, N.Z. : First Edition
- Interview Barbara Currie and Charles Brian Kidson 7 July 2014
- Interview Mac Crampton ( engineer colleague at Nelson City Council )
- Alan Winwood guided walk around Brook dam area (Nelson City Council Heritage Week event 2011)
- Diggers Page (1962, March 3) Nelson Photonews:
- Maitai Valley memories on Smart Story: