Born and raised in Ireland, Hugh Nelson emigrated to California in 1854 before arriving on Vancouver Island in June 1858 as soon as he heard about the Fraser River gold rush.
Trained as an accountant, Nelson worked for the Yale Steam Navigation Company, and eventually he partnered with George Dietz to buy William T. Ballou’s Pioneer Fraser River Express.
Their express company known as “Dietz & Nelson’s” connected with Barnard’s Express to bring mail and supplies to Victoria.
In 1867, Dietz and Nelson sold their express business to Barnard. Then they entered into a partnership with Sewell Moody to operate a sawmill.
A proponent of Confederation, Nelson entered politics in 1870. He was a member of the Legislative Assembly for New Westminster and later served his constituents as a member of the House of Commons.