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Queen Mary Hospital


I don’t envy the Hurunui district rate payers.  On a multi-million-dollar scale, they face the same conundrum we all experience when cleaning out the garage.  ‘What to do with something not needed, but too good to throw out?’.   You regard it, vacillate between:  putting it on trademe, taking it to the recycling shop, throwing it in the skip, or deferring the decision to another day.  The Queen Mary Hospital and grounds at Hanmer Springs, is such a thing.  


The other day I enjoyed the luxury of wandering over its 5.3 hectares, peering in the windows of its noteworthy buildings, and reading the descriptive plaques which were installed when the site was ‘gifted’ to Hurunui in 2008.  It gave me a pleasant sense of melancholy borne of sadness that things will never be the same, and gratefulness for having had the experience. The buildings and grounds have been in suspended animation since 2004 when the hospital closed.  


At the front of the property, the 1926 Chisholm Ward, is graced by expansive lawns flanking a sweeping driveway leading to an entrance protected by a veranda shared by with private rooms running the full length of the building.  

Further back, across lawn, is the 1929 Nurses Hostel. 


Both the ward and hostel look as if they could be pressed into service tomorrow.  But perhaps not.  The Christchurch earthquakes occurred subsequent to the closure of Queen Mary, and although the jolts in Hanmer were inconsequential, the requirements to strengthen earthquake prone buildings have been anything but.  The two-story Nurses Hostel would fare poorly when the earth moves.  In deed the single-story Chisholm Ward would also be severely damaged.

Nurses Hostel.jpg

The 1916 Soldiers block is another story. Built in wood, it would flex rather than crumble.  On the basis of return on investment, it has the strongest case for preservation.

The Soldiers Block completes a trilogy of category one heritage buildings on the site.  Each, a fine example of different architectural styles.   Queen Mary Hospital is a treasure trove and a curse. 


Hurunui rate-payers foot the bill for mowing the lawns, and trimming the trees and replacing broken windows.  The roofs on all three buildings look as if they’re no more than fifteen years young; that is post-dating the closure.


In 2008, Graeme Abbot, manager of the Thermal pools, unveiled a plan to create a ‘day spa’ centred on the Chisholm Ward.  (A day spa is a place where you go for all manner of pampering, but doesn’t offer accommodation).   All he needed was $7.5 million.  His timing was unfortunate.  It aligned perfectly with the arrival of the Global Financial Crisis.  There was little interest in the project and, so, the property continues to languish.

The site is within 1017 hectares which was put aside by the Nelson Provincial government as a reserve in 1860.  In 1897 a sanatorium was built, but seventeen years later, the day after Britain (and her empire) entered world war one, it caught fire and burnt to the ground.

The sanatorium was replaced by Queen Mary Hospital for sick and wounded soldiers in 1916.  It later became known as the ‘Soldiers Block’. 

Queen Mary was a convalescent hospital.  That is, there were no operations carried out.  It’s purpose was rehabilitation of soldiers suffering from phycological disorders, something which trench warfare yielded on an unprecedented scale. 

After the war, civilian patients were admitted, and in 1922 the administration of the Queen Mary Hospital went from the Defence Department to the Health Department. 

The Chisholm ward was built in 1926 to accommodate females.  This was followed two years later by the nurses hostel.  

Between wars and into the 1950s there was a swimming pool for men, a swimming pool for women, hot pools of course, a tennis court, golf course, extensive gardens, and for occupational therapy and self-sufficiency there was  a blacksmiths shop, a woodworking shop and a working farm.

Emphasis shifted towards addiction treatment, particularly alcoholic, and remained Queen Mary’s primary function until it’s closure in 2004.

Suggestions for the ongoing use of the Queen Mary buildings and grounds include accommodation, a museum, an arts centre, and a community centre, but all wither in the glare of economic reality.  Queen Mary is an answer looking for a question. 

Cast back a decade or four in Nelson’s history, and the same was said of Melrose House, and Fairfield House.  But in the case of Queen Mary you can multiply the problem by at least three and locate it in a small town 100 km from any city.

Existing as a serene place for day-dreaming, or a picnic have become Queen Mary’s only utility. The brutal reality of what might happen  to the old hospital is unsettling.  

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