• Helena and James Selwood

    Welcome! This website features the full and diverse life of a young English couple, James and Helena Selwood.  They were from different parts of southern England, and had markedly different backgrounds.  She was from a well-to-do farming and inn-keeping family from Ottery St Mary in Devonshire.  He was from an agricultural labouring family from Buscot, Berkshire.

    This Selwood story tells how Helena and James met, married, and left England to start a new life in an isolated and challenging part of southern New Zealand.  Their eventful 84-day non-stop journey from Greenock, Scotland, to Port Chalmers, Otago, on the emigrant sailing ship Oamaru in 1876 is a special feature of this website.

    The young Selwood couple raised a family of 11 children in the rural back-blocks of a young and raw Southland, New Zealand.  Their lives spanned rabbiting, shepherding, mineral searching, hoteling, chutney making, and gold mining.  Their lives were entwined with a rapidly developing New Zealand including sheep farming, railway expansion, and the building and launching of New Zealand’s iconic steam ship Earnslaw.

    The Selwood Story is described in the following Chapters.

    The Jeffery Family at Ottery St Mary, Devon

    Helena Jeffery was born in 1855 and was the tenth and last child of William and Elizabeth Jeffery.  Her father was a successful farmer at Burrow Woods, near Wiggaton, on the southern outskirts of Ottery St Mary.  The family moved into Ottery St Mary where he owned the Five Bells Inn.  It was there that Helena, at the age of 10, witnessed the first of three big fires in her life.  In 1866 a fire spread through this market town destroying some 111 houses, but the Five Bells Inn was spared.

     Although the great fire was the biggest event in Ottery St Mary’s history, there was an even bigger event in Helena’s own personal life.  At the age of 17 Helena found herself pregnant to James Selwood. 

    This chapter describes the life of Helena as a “fallen woman” and how she was forced to leave her home town with her new-born baby, Henry, and move 220 km away to live with the Selwood family.

    The Selwood Family at Buscot, Berkshire

    James Selwood was born in 1850, the son of Isaac and Mary Sellard.  His father Isaac was an agricultural labourer and lived and worked on the Buscot Estate, which became one of the largest and most innovative farms in the region.  The picturesque village of Buscot and its small church of St Mary is on the southern bank in the upper reaches of the Thames River.

    Young Helena moved from Ottery St Mary to Buscot and the Selwood family in August 1874, and the following month her three-month-old baby Henry was baptised in the local St Mary Church.  It was in that same church in February 1876 that James and Helena were married

    James was, like his father, an agricultural labourer, but specialised as a gamekeeper on the Buscot Estate.  It was James’s occupation as a rabbiter that led to his recruitment and emigration to New Zealand.  In August 1876 James and Helena, with two-year-old Henry, left Buscot and made the long journey to start a new pioneering life in New Zealand.

    This chapter looks at the life of the Selwood family at Buscot, and the picturesque environs of Buscot village.

    The Campbell Connection

    The lives of the Selwood family in the 1850s to 1880s were very closely linked to the Robert Campbell family, both in Buscot, Berkshire, and in Southland, New Zealand.  This connection was primarily a work relationship; the Campbells, of landed gentry, being the owners/managers, and the Selwoods being the workers/servants. 

    Isaac Sellard/Sellwood/Selwood and son James worked for Australian-born Robert Tertius Campbell on the Buscot Park Estate, and resided in an accommodation block owned by the Campbells. 

    The Buscot Park Estate was an extensive but run-down land of some 1,440 hectares when Robert Tertius Campbell purchased it in 1859.  Using his large-scale Australian farming experience, he converted it to one of the most advanced farms in England.

    The earlier generations of Campbells were from Scotland, and immigrated to New South Wales, Australia, at the time it was transitioning from a penal colony towards independence.  They were true pioneers, making their fortunes in importing and trading, ship building, sealing (Campbell Island named after them), gold dealing and farming.  Their success enabled Robert Tertius Campbell to purchase Buscot Estate. 

    Robert Campbell junior, the eldest son of Buscot’s Robert Tertius Campbell, become one of New Zealand’s largest high country land owners.  He had several business involvements and was also a politician.  It was he who was instrumental in encouraging the young Selwood family to immigrate to New Zealand in 1876 for the primary purpose of helping control the burgeoning rabbit problem on his Burwood and adjacent sheep stations.

    It was at the time when the Selwoods were moving to New Zealand that Robert Campbell junior and his wife built their 35-room limestone baronial mansion on the Otekaieke Estate in North Otago.  We conclude the chapter by looking at the fate of the Campbell business and Otekaieke’s Campbell Park Estate.

    The Trip to New Zealand

    The young Selwood family, James aged 25, Helena aged 20, and young Henry aged 2, said goodbye to the Selwoods of Buscot, and to their Campbell sponsoring family in September 1876.  They travelled to Greenock, on the Clyde, in Scotland, to board their sailing ship, the Oamaru, for their journey to a new life in a new world.

    In 1876 there were, of course, no planes, buses or cars, but there were horse-drawn coaches and rail services.  It is probable that the Selwoods travelled by local train to London’s Euston Station to catch the London to Glasgow train.  In those days the train service was operated by the London and North Western Railway as far as Carlisle, near the Scottish border, and then the Caledonian Railway from Carlisle to Glasgow.  It was a direct and relatively quick service that took 12.5 hours for the 400-mile (640 km) journey.  From Glasgow it was a local railway service to the port of Greenock.

    The Oamaru was a grand, full-rigged, three-masted iron ship of 1,364 tons gross.  It was built as a long-distance emigrant ship, and was somewhat larger than many of the preceding immigrant ships which plied the Australian and New Zealand emigrant routes, which were often well less than 1,000 tons gross.

    The Selwoods were on the Oamaru’s second voyage, taking 84 days, under the command of Captain Hood.  The Oamaru left Scotland on 23 September 1876, and arrived in Port Chalmers on 16 December with the Selwood family on board, only to be placed in quarantine on arrival.  The chapter concludes with the scene on arrival, the time spent on Quarantine Island, the move to Dunedin City, and the birth of Helena and James’s second child, Edith Annie.

    Special Feature: Trip Diaries of the Voyage to New Zealand

    What was that 84-day non-stop journey to New Zealand like?  We are very much indebted to two passengers who kept diaries of their trip and, through their families, have been deposited these in Archives New Zealand.  With Archives’ approval, they are reproduced here. 

    One of the diaries was kept by Jane Findlayson, single, 25 years old, from Perthshire, Scotland.  She provided a full diary and a wonderful insight into the day-to-day life on board the Oamaru in the single girls’ section in the stern end of the ship.

    The other diary was kept by John McDowell, aged 40, from Antrim, Ireland.  He was accompanied by his wife Lucy (36), and two young children, Robert (five) and Henry (four months), and they were bunked in the married quarters of the centre of the ship.  He has provided a family perspective with emphasis on the ship and its progress.

    My special thanks to my former student homestay, Jay Lee, now a skilled web site designer, in developing the map and presenting the trip diaries.

    The Selwoods at Windley, Southland, New Zealand

    After arriving in New Zealand and spending a little time in quarantine at Port Chalmers, and after another two or three weeks in Dunedin when Helena gave birth to her second child, the family made their way to Windley in northern Southland. 

    If you are wondering where on the map the town or village of Windley is you will not find it.  There was just a small collection of houses and sheep yards and served as a rabbiters’ base on the eastern edge of Burwood Station.  It was located on the junction of the Oreti and the smaller Windley Rivers.  In those days it was colloquially known as Billygoat Park.

    The two primary drivers that took the young Selwood family to Windley were the Campbells and rabbits.  This is examined more closely in the following sections where we look at Campbell’s Burwood Station farming operation and the Southland rabbit problem.

    James and Helena spent 12 years at Windley, from 1877 to 1889, and six further Selwood children were added to the family.  Despite the hardships of the location, and no local schooling, it was apparently a happy time for the family.  However, a fire tragedy in April 1889 destroyed their home and forced them to move to Lumsden.  We report this tragedy in some detail in the next section. 

    We conclude the chapter by looking at the small supply town of Mossburn some 18 km away from Windley.

    The Selwoods at Lumsden

    After 12 years at Windley working primarily as a rabbiter on Robert Campbell’s Burwood Station, James shifted his family to Lumsden where he became the proprietor of the Royal Mail Hotel.  It was the first opportunity for the Selwood children to attend a school.  The family participated in the community and James was an active member of the Lumsden Lodge Oddfellowship.

    With the birth of William and Evelyn the Selwood family now had 10 children.  There was a depression during the late 1880s into the 1890s and conditions were tough, so much so that James filed for bankruptcy in 1891.  While the children continued their schooling at Lumsden the family moved 26 km north to Parawa.

    With the arrival of the railway in the late 1870s, Lumsden became an important junction town in northern Southland.  However it never became the boom town as initially predicted.  This chapter describes the role of the railway, and also looks at the town itself, the school, and the cemetery on the outskirts of the town where both James and Helena are buried, and where the ashes of Henry were scattered.

    The Selwoods at Parawa

    After a difficult time making a financial success in his short two years as proprietor of the Royal Mail Hotel, James Selwood had the opportunity of converting a run-down hotel at Parawa into a successful business.  However, his first challenge was to get the Parawa Junction Hotel upgraded to meet relicensing requirements.  He achieved this, no doubt with Helena’s support.

    Helena and James eleventh and last child was Hilda Florence (Tot).  The children were travelling 26 km each way by train for their schooling at Lumsden.  Life at Parawa was apparently full and fun.  The following section reprints tales of local life written by two of the Selwood children, Helena (Nellie) and Lily.

    Through this period of nine years, 1892 to 1901, Helena was coming into her own.  Husband James was deteriorating in health and she was picking up more of the running of the business, no doubt assisted by her children.  She even diversified into chutney making!

    The hotel was a popular watering hole for the locals and in particular for those miners seeking their fortune in the well-worked-over Nokomai goldfields.  Many a raucous time was had at the Parawa Hotel and some of the stories are relayed in a follow-up section.

    The Parawa chapter includes a section on the Selwood children’s schooling, how they were able to attend Lumsden School 26 km away, and how they may have travelled to Athol School when they shifted there in 1898.

    James leased a large block of land across the road from the hotel and this is described in a following section.  Also described is the Nokomai Valley goldfields which had had its day for individual miners by the time the Selwoods arrived at Parawa, but was ready for exploration by more advanced deep drilling and water sluicing methods using heavier equipment.

    James Selwood died at Parawa on 8 April 1899, and his burial was at the Lumsden Cemetery.  The final section of this Parawa chapter reports on the death, burial and legacy of James Selwood at the young age of 48.

    Helena Selwood at Kingston

    Within two years of the death of her husband, Helena Selwood took the bold step of purchasing the Lake Wakatipu Hotel at Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu.

    The 22-year-old hotel was the last remaining hotel at Kingston and provided a strategic service linking the end of the rail and road connections to the south with the lake ferry services to the north.  Travelers often had to stay overnight to connect either to the north or to the south.  Helena, assisted by members of her family, applied herself with energy and refurbished the hotel.

    However, tragedy in the form of a fire was to strike Helena yet again.  Fire totally destroyed her two-storied, 20-bed hotel in August 1904, presumably as a result of a chimney fault.  With the help of insurance payments, she immediately rebuilt on the same site, but this time a single-story hotel.

    Helena owned the Lake Wakatipu Hotel for 12 years but with deteriorating health, and to escape the cold, damp, winter conditions, she leased the property out in 1906 only to reclaim ownership in 1908 with the lessee failing to meet rental and insurance conditions.

    Helena spent two years in Invercargill from 1906 to 1909 (see next chapter), then returned to Kingston and remained there until 1913. 

    Kingston was undergoing rapid change.  The Kingston Flyer had been introduced running daily to the Kingston terminal.  Shipping services were improved and New Zealand’s biggest steamship, the Earnslaw, was assembled and launched at Kingston in 1912.  One big question needs to be examined and that is: Did Helena Selwood Launch the s.s. Earnslaw?  Some of the grandchildren of Helena were quite adamant that she did.

    Helena Selwood at Invercargill

    In an effort to regain her health, Helena leased out her Lake Wakatipu Hotel for a five-year period from 1906.  She shifted to Invercargill and immediately took out a lease on the Victoria Private Hotel.  This hotel was on the corner of Clyde and Tyne Streets, a little south of the town on the Bluff highway.

    Invercargill was a booming regional town.  She would have been, of course, very familiar with Invercargill as the key regional town for obtaining supplies and carrying out legal business.  The railway network provided her a relatively quick and comfortable link from Kingston, Parawa, or Lumsden in the north

    By the time Helena Selwood took over the lease it was run as a private hotel.  Most tenants were long-term boarders.  This would have made management somewhat easier for Helena than the stresses of the Lake Wakatipu Hotel at Kingston.

    However, things were not all that smooth for Helena as she had leasing problems back at her Lake Wakatipu Hotel.  She was forced to repossess this hotel under court order and she returned to Kingston in September 1909.  Helena’s eldest daughter, Edith Garrett, took over the management of the Victoria Private Hotel until it was passed to another lessee.

    Helena Selwood in Later Life

    After her farewell valedictory at Kingston, Helena Selwood moved to the southern coastal town of Riverton, Southland, in September 1913.  She wanted to regain her health and Riverton would have been a good place for that, but business was still in her blood.

    At the age of 57 she purchased a small bakery and confectionery business in Palmerston Street, Riverton.  Despite poor health she immediately went into promoting the business and placed advertisements weekly in the Western Star from September 1913.  Over the next 18 months she built the business up and was producing 700 loaves a week, which included a substantial contract to the local hospital.  The tea rooms were the venue for many local meetings at which Helena provided the catering.

    However, Helena’s health had not improved enough and in 1915 she decided to sell up and shift to Christchurch.  She sold her business to her son Albert (Bert) but book-keeping was not one of Bert’s strengths and bankruptcy followed entrapping Helena in the legal follow-up.

    In Christchurch first, then in Upper Hutt, she lived in retirement with daughter Evelyna (Eva), her husband Robert Kirk, and their two children, Edwyn and Evelyn.  She kept in touch with her family and grandchildren, which by 1930 totaled 30!

    Helena Selwood died peacefully on 31 March 1932 at her daughter Evelyna’s home.  She was buried alongside her husband James, who died 33 years before her.  Helena and James produced and raised 11 young Selwoods in a new land, and gave them the grounding and foothold to continue the Selwood legacy of solid work and contributing to the community.

    The 2001 Selwood Reunion was an opportunity to celebrate the lives of Helena and James, and to discover and share how and where their seeds have borne fruit.  This website attempts to capture the essence of their lives.

    The Selwood Tree

    It is exciting to discover where we fit, and who we relate to, in the wider Selwood/Sellwood/Sellard tree.

    On this site, with ongoing website development, I hope to give you direct access to the names of some 6000 Selwoods and partners in my Selwood ancestral and descendant tree.  In the meantime, on request, I can give you indirect access to my Selwood Tree on Ancestry.com.

    To truly verify a family tree connection it is desirable to take a DNA test.  We discuss these tests and their value.

    In this section we can also look at the lives of some of the immediate first generation descendants of James and Helena Selwood.  I depend on members of the various Selwood branches to prepare their family group stories and complete this section.

    The 2001 Selwood Reunion

    The year 2001 was the 125th anniversary of the arrival of James and Helena Selwood in New Zealand in 1876. They established themselves in inland Southland and raised a family of 11 children.

    To celebrate this 125th anniversary a reunion was held in Invercargill in January 2001 at which about 90 Selwood descendants, family and friends attended, including ten of James and Helena’s grandchildren.  The reunion included a field trip to many of the places familiar to the Selwood family.  It included a ride on the Kingston Flyer train and in a railway carriage which the Selwood children would have travelled in some 100 years previously.  There was a special dinner and an inspiring Sunday commemorative service led by Neville Selwood, Archbishop Emeritus Church of Otago, which included a specially-written Selwood hymn.

    Many friends were made and lots of photos were taken. A summary of the 2001 Reunion together with many of the photos, is posted via the link here.

    About the Author

    Grahame Walton is a third generation New Zealand Selwood descendant. In his retirement he has been researching the family tree, and working on this website for the last two, and researching it for some 25 years! (new) He was the chairman for the 2001 Selwood Reunion.

    Many people, named and unnamed, have contributed to this website. See Acknowlegements

    Grahame would welcome feedback to improve and update the information on this website, and to correct any inaccuracies. A Blog is also provided.