The Literary and Scientific Institution of Nelson was founded in May 1841. In the Bay of Biscay officers of the Preliminary Expedition of the Second Colony, formed a committee on board the New Zealand Company ships Whitby and Will-Watch. Before the expedition reached Tenerife, a sum of money was subscribed from amongst the officers. This was transmitted back to England with directions for the selection of a number of books "of a useful character", which would form the basis of the library of the Institution.
While a large number of books were collected by friends and associates of the colony and the colonists, the Committee noted that "they would be glad to receive maps, charts, manuscripts, drawings, paintings, engravings, sculptures, casts, models of inventions and objects of natural history generally. These will be placed in the Museum of the Institution, and a record will be kept of the names of the donors."
Late in 1842, The Literary and Scientific Institution of Nelson (the Institute) opened on part of Town Acre 445 on Trafalgar Street. It opened first as a Library (with an attached museum storehouse) and subsequently incorporated the Museum. By 1844 there was already public membership of sixty.
In 1861 the Institute, which had outgrown its Trafalgar Street premises, relocated to a grand purpose-built wooden building in Hardy Street. For the next forty-five years, until a fire in 1906, the building served as the repository for many of the region's treasures. The Museum's collection was rescued from the fire that destroyed the library but many records were lost. In 1912 the Hon Francis Henry Dillon Bell opened the third home of the Nelson Institute. This brick building still stands today on Hardy Street as the NMIT School of Fisheries.
The two facilities of the Institute were separated in the mid-1960s, the public library coming under the direct control of Nelson City Council and the Museum under the administrative control of the newly-formed Nelson Provincial Museum Trust Board. The Museum, Library and Archives were then relocated from Hardy Street to Isel Park, Stoke.
During 2001 Tasman Bays Heritage Trust, through the support and commitment of Nelson City Council and Tasman District Council, purchased the former Hotel Nelson site on the corner of Hardy and Trafalgar Streets, Nelson. This historic site is part of the original Town Acre 445. In October 2005 the building re-opened for our community to celebrate their history, pride and commitment to the present and the future of this region.
Town Acre 445 provides our community with the opportunity to learn more about themselves, and visitors to New Zealand are able to discover how the region has played a major role in shaping and defining New Zealand's history.