Was born at Kilmarnock,
Scotland, on 31 December 1835. His father, Dr William Lambie Nelson, was
elected to the first Queensland parliament in 1860 but was unseated
because he was a minister of religion. The boy was educated at the
Edinburgh high school, and began a promising course under Sir William
Hamilton at Edinburgh university. This was cut short when he went with his
father to Queensland in 1853 and settled at Ipswich. Nelson obtained a
position in a mercantile house, and then took up a pastoral life about six
miles out of Ipswich. He then went to the Darling Downs to manage a
station, and in 1870 married Janet, daughter of Duncan McIntyre. He
afterwards took up Loudon station in the Dalby district and in 1880, when
the divisional boards act came in, he was elected a member of the Wambo
board. His strong personality and cultivated intellect soon led to his
being appointed chairman of the board. He was elected to the legislative
assembly for Northern Downs in 1883, and after the 1887 redistribution of
seats, he was member for Murilla. In June 1888 he became secretary for
railways in the McIlwraith (q.v.) ministry and held the same position when
B. D. Morehead (q.v.) succeeded McIlwraith. When Griffith (q.v.) became
premier, Nelson was elected leader of the opposition, but when Griffith
resigned in March 1893 to become chief justice, Nelson formed a coalition
with McIlwraith taking the portfolios of treasurer and vice-president of
the executive council. In October he became premier in a ministry which
lasted four and a half years, for the last three years of which he was
also chief secretary. Nelson did most valuable work as treasurer during
the depression which followed the financial crisis of 1893. When the T. J.
Byrnes ministry came in in April 1898 Nelson became president of the
legislative council, and in 1903 lieutenant-governor, for both of which
positions his fine appearance, tact and grace of manner eminently fitted
him. He died at Toowoomba on 1 January 1906 and was survived by Lady
Nelson, two sons and three daughters. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1896 and
was appointed to the privy council at the time of his visit to England
during the diamond jubilee celebrations in 1897.
Nelson had an intimate
knowledge of men, and was an excellent parliamentarian with a good grasp
of constitutional matters and a keen understanding of financial questions.
His genial nature made him personally popular and though scarcely an
orator, his practical common sense always made him worthy of attention. He
was opposed both to the separation movement in Queensland and to
federation. He showed himself to be a strong man during the shearers'
strike of 1894, but his best work was done as treasurer when he led the
colony out of a state of financial chaos.