The area has a very early and interesting history. To follow the story visitors can obtain the Nelson Information Brochure and follow the history walk.
Nelson was named by the surveyor of the township, Lindsay Clarke in 1851. It is believed that he chose the name to commemorate the “Lady Nelson”, the vessel that Lieut. Grant sailed in to explore the southern coastline of Victoria & South Australia. about 50 years earlier.
Major Thomas Mitchell explored Australia Felix and down the River that he named the Glenelg in 1836. On his return trip he encountered the Henty’s who were then settled at Portland.
As Mitchell and his men explored the River “...it was upon the whole, considering the permanent fullness of its stream, the character of its banks and uniformity of width and depth, the finest body of fresh water I had seen in Australia...” Hoping to find a deep entry suitable for a harbour, they rounded a bend and “...a small bushy island next appeared, having on it some rocks resembling what we should have thought a great treasure then, a pile of flour bags. And we named it accordingly, the Isle of Bags...” (excerpts from Mitchell’s diaries of his expedition).SEE TOP PICTURE.
The earliest building at Nelson was owned by R. R Leake. He built a “summer house” in 1848 which has been licensed as a Hotel since 1882. Mr Leake brought with him a young shepherd named Andrew Brown, who was a loyal servant and one of few pioneers of the time who lived the remainder of his life at Nelson. Andrew Brown operated the Punt across the Glenelg for many years, ferrying horse drawn vehicles, people and goods traveling Portland/Mount Gambier.
Andrew Brown applied for the first licence of the Hotel. It appears he may have purchased the building after the death of RR Leake in 1860 As the need for safer crossings became evident, a bridge was built from timbers brought in from nearby stringy bark forests in 1893.
A second bridge of steel construction was built a little upstream from the first in 1963.
In 1997, a cantilever bridge of concrete was manufactured on site immediately on the north side of the steel bridge. This has been designed to carry the vast quantities of b-double trucks that pass through the township daily. SEE RIVER PICTURE AT LEFT: VIEW OVER SITES OF ALL THREE BRIDGES.
Another early building was the Nelson Cottage. Originally build as a home, a cottage section was leased as the Police Station (circa 1881). Constable Smith was mostly engaged in Customs work and the eradication of rabbits and since there had been no crime reported and the lock-up unused, the station was closed in 1894. The Cottage has functioned as a Guest House almost ever since. Mrs Annie Kerr was well known for her hospitality in the 1920’s and as her business expanded so did the Guest House.
The Presbyterian Church, which is still used today as a place of worship was built in 1910 and was used as a schoolroom for a short time. At later stages a Sunday School room and front porch were added to the building.
Nelson State School No.1615 first operated a couple of km east of Nelson prior to the school being built in Meredith St in 1928. A centenary of education at Nelson was held in 1975. State School No 1615 closed at Nelson in 1990. The building is now privately owned as a holiday house.
Nelson Cemetery was designated in the 1970’s. It was 1989 before the Trust installed concrete beams and the first burial was in 1991. But it was the Consecration of the Nelson Cemetery in April 2000 that seems to have created a growing interest in locals wishing to choose Nelson as their final resting place.
There is a small permanent history display at Nelson Community Hall which may be accessed on request at the Visitor Information Centre. A more comprehensive collection of written material is held (awaiting a permanent home) by Beth White who may also be contacted via the Visitor Centre. A large quantity of photographs of people scenes, activities of the area are kept on data base by Vern McCallum. He can be contacted via his website www.mccallum-collection.org