Harley House

170 Milton Street, Nelson

  • Harley House.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Alison Dangerfield. Date: 14/06/2010.
  • Harley House.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Alison Dangerfield. Date: 4/06/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 255 Date Entered 16th November 1989


City/District Council

Nelson City


Nelson Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 16676 (CT NL10D/899), Nelson Land District

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The house was built for Charles Harley (1805-1892) who arrived as one of the first settlers in Nelson in February 1842. He was a carpenter but by 1848 was running the Carpenters Arms tavern. By 1868 he was a wealthy gentleman, the Harley family being prominent in the hop-growing and brewery business of the district. The house passed to his grandson Charles John Harley in 1892 and was in the Harley family until 1960 when it was bought by the Cawthron Institute.

Members of the Harley family have continued to be prominent in Nelson, three descendants including Charles John Harley having served as mayors of Nelson. The Cawthron Institute Museum occupied the house from 1960 until it was disbanded due to lack of funds.


The Harley house is a fine example of the larger houses of the first colonists in Nelson. The simple plan, neat detailing and intricate hand sawn bargeboards are all elements of the Carpenter Gothic style for which Nelson of the 1860s was particularly noted. Of special significance is the decoration, especially the bargeboards, which are boldly carved in three separate patterns - an unusual variation. The bay window is also finely detailed. This is a most attractive and elegant colonial house.


The Harley house is set back from Milton Street and is now crowded in by buildings of the Cawthron Institute and the DSIR.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Scott, John [No. 1]

Scott emigrated to New Zealand from Scotland and settled in Nelson. He ran a construction company and became a prominent businessman. He was responsible for the construction of many important Nelson buildings, such as the Provincial Government Building (1866) as well as several banks, churches and residences.

Scott served on the Nelson City Council and was a key figure in the building industry of the district.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The Harley house is a two storeyed dwelling with a T plan, one room wide throughout. It has a one storey gable roofed wing at the south end. The main wings are gable roofed with gabled dormer windows. All gables are surmounted by finials. Beneath the main gable, facing Milton St., is a 3-sided bay window at ground floor level. The remainder of the east and north sides of the house is enclosed by a verandah, with wooden posts, arches and balustrade of classical styling.

The house has neatly detailed wooden window mouldings, door surrounds and a fine staircase with curved balustrade. Facing Milton and Halifax Streets the weatherboarding has quoins and the gables have very ornate fretwork on the bargeboards. Each bargeboard has a different design.


Considerably modified in 1960 for museum and office accommodation; verandah parapet and three chimneys and fireplaces removed.

Notable Features

The highly ornate bargeboards over the steeply gabled windows, and the elaborate verandah.

Construction Dates

1960 -
Modified for museum and office accommodation; verandah parapet and three chimneys and fireplaces removed.

Original Construction
1869 -

Construction Details

Timber framed on stone foundation walls forming a basement cellar; rusticated weatherboards and roof with shingles. The interior walls and ceilings are of lathe and plaster finish except in the scullery and servants room where timber sarking was used.

Information Sources

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen


The Colonist

Obituary of John Scott, 9 December 1897

Cawthron Institute

Cawthron Institute

Photograph of Harley house, 28/7/60, Cawthron Institute neg 10224

Smedly, 1982

Beryl Smedley, Harley Family History, Nelson Provincial Museum, 1982

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.