Rocks Road in the making

Charlotte Sadd (1866–1937)
New Zealand
Rocks Road in the making 1893
oil on board 375 x 536 mm
Collection of The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū: bequeathed to The Suter by the artist in 1937. ACC: 201

Charlotte Sadd was born in Nelson in 1866. She showed her paintings in many local exhibitions, and served on the committee of the Nelson Suter Art Society for over 35 years.

Before Rocks Road was built, people travelling to Tāhunanui had to go via Bishopdale or Day’s Track, scramble around the rocks at low tide, or by boat. Work on the road began in 1892 and it was officially opened in February 1899.

Rocks Road in the making gives an idea of the magnitude of the task. Sadd has depicted some of the sections of stone wall under construction, where the cliffs had to be excavated, and shows one of the boats used to transport workers and materials to the worksite. Fifeshire Rock is in the midground.

Rocks Road

Consider a timeline of the Nelson Port and surrounds from just before Charlotte was born, and throughout her formulative years…

To begin, imagine that there is no Rocks Road. The coast is so rocky and steep that there’s not even a track to walk around. Instead, the only way to get from the city to Tāhunanui Beach on foot, is to scramble around the rocks at low tide. This was not really an option for most people, and certainly not for a family outing.

There was the alternative of walking over the Port Hills on Days Track (nowadays, from the top of Toi Toi St, coming up and over, and out near the steps at ‘The Wall’ swimming spot), but again, it was steep, and only for walkers.

The drive over Bishopdale was long.

And then there was always by sea. Again, this is before The Cut was through the Boulder Bank, so all vessels were coming past Fifeshire Rock, making for a much busier passage than it is today.

1842    Ann Bird arrives in Nelson on the Fifeshire, with her husband and daughter. She is to become one of Nelson’s most formidable businesswomen.

1842    The ship, Fifeshire, as she is leaving the harbour, runs onto Arrow Rock. The ship is broken up and sold piecemeal to settlers.

1875    Tāhunanui Beach was originally a sandy Island, with the Waimea River flowing through today’s Back Beach. In 1875, it started to change its course and, by 1881, the old river channel was dry, which made the construction of a road around the rocks easier.

1876    Initially, the idea was to build a half-tide road, but funding wasn’t forthcoming.

Construction began on Rocks Road using prision labourers, who were marched every day from Shelbourne Street Gaol up Washington Valley and over Pitts Hill (now Richardson Street).

1878    The Marine Baths are opened. Located near to the present yacht club building, they were oval saltwater pool, accessed by a little bridge.

1892    Nelson City Jubilee.

1899    (3 February) Rocks Road is opened by Prime Minister Richard Seddon.

The stanchions and chains were from donated funds from John Tinline, Mr Tytler, and Thomas Cawthron. Each stanchion weighs 38.1 kilos, and are placed every 10ft.

The final cost, including prison labour, was £11,000.

1899    The Suter Art Gallery opens

1906    (30 July) The Cut opens

1909    The Marine Baths close after being increasingly battered by the weather.

Further reading:

Construction of Rocks Road and the sea wall, The Prow.

Charlotte Sadd

Charlotte Sadd was born in Nelson in 1866, daughter of a schoolmaster. She studied art with two local artists and passed South Kensington Art School examinations with distinction. She showed her paintings in as many local exhibitions as she could and served on the committee of the Nelson Suter Art Society for over 35 years.

Installation Details

113 Hardy Street
(Untouchable Hair)


Many thanks to the property owner and tenant for being part of ArtWalk.

Nelson City Centre ArtWalk is a joint project by Make/Shift Spaces and The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū.