Two years after the death of husband James at Parawa in 1899, Helena confirmed the purchase of the Lake Wakatipu Hotel from Elizabeth MacDonald on 16 August 1901.
Helena moved her family to Kingston in July 1901. By this stage, eldest daughter Edith was married to George Garrett and eldest son Henry was out and about mining for gold.
She applied herself with energy, built her clientele, and upgraded the 22-year-old two-story hotel. As reported in the Queenstown paper Lake Wakatipu Mail, 6 December 1901:
Kingston was an important transition point. It was the end of the railway line, and terminal, from Invercargill. Many people travelling from Dunedin and coastal Otago would travel to Queenstown and the Lakes District by train to Gore, and through the Waimea Branch to Lumsden and onto Kingston.
From 1902, the New Zealand Railways took over the running of the existing ferries, Antrim, Ben Lomond and Mountaineer (see Shipping), and improved the regularity of the service immensely, making it more affordable. But everyone was not happy. For instance, some protested that a rail station master and not a seafarer should become captain of a Lake Wakatipu ferry!
Not all sailings were daily and this helped boost the overnight trade at the hotel. In contrast to Helena and James’s earlier hotels at Lumsden and Parawa, there was no need for horse stables. The days of coaches, packhorses, and bullocks were a long time over. The hotel was positioned to capture the link between rail and boat. Queenstown and Kingston were not connected by road until 1936.
As a town, Kingston was very small (see Kingston Town), and at that time there was no school (see Schooling)
In her life Helena had faced two tragic fires, one when she was aged 10 and living at the Five Bells Hotel with her family in Ottery St Mary, Devon, England. The second was when the family was at Windley, on the Burwood Run on the upper Oreti River. And now, at Kingston, she faced her third and even bigger fire.
To quote the Lake Wakatipu Mail at that time (Friday 19 August 1904):
“Last Tuesday morning (16.8.1904) at about 9 o’clock a very destructive fire occurred at Kingston, resulting in the total demolition of the Wakatipu Hotel, owned by Mrs Selwood and containing some 18 or 20 rooms, and (Kerr’s) boarding-house containing 11 rooms. The exact origin of the fire is not exactly known but it is supposed to have been caused by a defective chimney in the hotel as the fire was centred around the chimney which divided the bar from the bar parlour. At the time the fire was discovered it had taken such a grip of the building as to baffle all human agencies to cope with it. About three yards separate (Kerr’s) boarding-house from the hotel, so that there was not the remotest chance of saving (Kerr’s), which was ablaze shortly after the hotel took fire. So rapidly did the flames spread that the two buildings were practically reduced to ashes in the space of half an hour. Nearly everything was got out of (Kerr’s) boarding-house, from the hotel hardly anything was saved, except a quantity of ales, as the work of salvage became impossible owing to the heat of the fire. A piano was removed from the latter, but it was not shifted far enough away and became greatly scorched. There were several boarders at each of the places, but those at Kerr’s were more fortunate than the ones at the hotel for reasons previously explained. We understand that (Kerr’s) was insured for £400 in the Royal and the Wakatipu Hotel for £1000 in the South British. The latter was mostly a two-storied building. Both insurances covered house and furniture. Singular to relate, the policy on the hotel ran out today and a fresh policy had just been taken out in another office. Some 26 years ago a fire occurred at Kingston, when the two existing hotels (virtually on the same site) were burned to the ground and three persons burned to death.” (Note: “Kerr’s” was incorrectly identified as “Quinn’s” in the original publication.)
Helena Selwood moved within days to re-establish her business, and applied for permission to carry on business in temporary premises.
By October the Wakatipu Mail reports that: “Mrs Selwood whose hotel was burned down some time ago has commenced a new building. The house in course of construction will consist of 17 rooms and is one storeyed, lofty and commodious with an 86ft verandah running across the front and one side. The whole building will be lit by acetylene gas.”
From 1902 to 1907 Helena is recorded in the New Zealand Post Office Directory and Southland Stones Directory as Helena Selwood, Lake Wakatipu Hotel, Kingston. However, Helena’s health was not the best and, to escape the cold, damp, winter conditions, she leased the hotel out for five years, but retained ownership.
On Friday night 31 August 1906 there was a farewell and presentation for Helena Selwood for her departure to Invercargill:
“The popular hostess, Mrs Selwood, of the Lake Wakatipu Hotel, was entertained at a farewell social by her friends last Friday night. The attendance was very large. The attendance reflected great credit on the social committee and was a high tribute to the popularity of the guest. During the evening songs, etc., were rendered by several vocalists. After partaking of excellent refreshments, Mr J. Atkinson made a presentation to Mrs Selwood and family. He said that the occasion which had called them together was patent to all and it would be useless to occupy time enlarging thereon. It was at all time a pleasant task to do honour to esteemed friends, but the pleasure increased when this esteem was shared by so large a body as those who formed the subscribers in the present case. He would not dilate on the many good services rendered by Mrs Selwood, or the upright and womanly conduct that has characterised her course of life, winning for her, as it had done, the esteem of all. In the name of her friends in Kingston Mr Atkinson presented Mrs Selwood with a purse expressing the hope that she would be long spared to look on it as a feeble token of the high estimation formed of her by so many of her friends. The purse contained twenty-five sovereigns. A further presentation was made from four Kingston residents of two travelling rugs, one each to Mrs Selwood and Miss Selwood. Mrs Selwood left on Monday for Invercargill to make arrangements about another business.” (Southland Times, 8 September 1906).
Helena Selwood moved to Invercargill and was there for nearly two years. This two-year period, 1906 to 1908, is described in the Invercargill section.
Due to leasing problems (see Lake Wakatipu Hotel) where there was a failure to pay rent and insurances, Helena was forced to repossess her Lake Wakatipu Hotel under court order and return to Kingston in September 1908. She again picked up her “mine hostess” role providing the full range of community services: parties, other social events, meetings and even facilitating a local dog trial meeting at Kingston.
It became an exciting time at Kingston from 1911 through to 1912 with the decision to build and launch New Zealand’s largest shipbuilding effort, the steamship Earnslaw. This was fabricated in Dunedin, railed to Kingston and assembled like a jig-saw puzzle on the Kingston water-edge. The workers and their managers stayed, or certainly imbibed, at Helena’s hotel. For more details see “Lake Wakatipu Shipping” and “Did Helena Selwood launch the Earnslaw”?
One sad and distressing situation occurred in Gore in July 1912 that had a link to Helena Selwood. A young miner, Hugh Beattie, committed suicide and left a note, which unlike today, was published in full in the press of that time. In his troubled suicide note in part he said: “I am done. Am a liar all my life. Mrs Selwood can bury me if she and Peters like.” The inquest mentioned that he had spent the previous month at the Kingston Hotel without recognizing that this was most likely the Mrs Selwood referred to in the note. I guess that Helena did her best to help and ease this disturbed young man while at Kingston, and that in his death note she was one who could put him to rest. We will never know if Helena Selwood knew about the subsequent death, 125 km away, of her hotel visitor.
Helena Selwood suffered increasingly poor health when at Kingston, and this was possibly asthma related. In 1913 she decided to “retire” and move to Invercargill. The following appeared in the Lake County Press of 17 April 1913:
The title deed was finally transferred to the new owner of the Wakatipu Hotel, Robert Cameron, on 29 July 1913.
Prior to the family’s departure from Kingston yet another special farewell was held for them and this wonderful valedictory appeared in the Lake Wakatip on 6 May 1913:
“When it became known that Mrs Selwood, proprietress of the Lake Wakatipu Hotel, Kingston, had sold her property and was about to leave the district owing to ill health, her many friends bethought themselves of the tendering to her and her family a fitting farewell. Accordingly, on Monday night, 28th alt, a number of residents assembled at her hostelry for that purpose. During the evening Mr J. Plank took opportunity to make several presentations to individual members of the departing family on behalf of the people of the district. To Mrs Selwood he handed a handsome dressing case, containing a massive silver brush and comb and various toilet accessories; to Bert. Selwood a silver mounted umbrella, and to Misses Rose and Hilda Selwood two silver-mounted manicure sets. In doing so he expressed the great regret they all felt at losing such an esteemed family from their midst. He trusted that the complete rest, which Mrs Selwood so much needed and which she could only hope to obtain in a retirement from business, would soon bring about a restoration of health. Apologies for absence were received from Messrs McCaughan and Challis and several others. After refreshments had been handed round all hands joined in wishing Mrs Selwood and family health, wealth, and prosperity. A very enjoyable evening was brought to a close with the singing of “For the Selwoods are Jolly Good Fellows” and Auld Lang Syne.”
By this stage, in 1913, Helena was 57; Henry her eldest son was 39 and working in Invercargill as a contractor on the Nokomai goldfields; Edith, 36, was married to George Garrett and living in Nokomai; Elizabeth (Bessie), 34, was married to John Burke and was also living in Nokomai; Helena (Nellie), 32, was married to Norman Calder and living in Invercargill; Lily, 29, was probably living in Australia with details unknown; Albert (Bertie), 27, was at Kingston, along with Rose, 24, (who married Joseph Pullar in Invercargill the following month); Charles, 25, William, 23, and Evelyn, 20, were married and living in Invercargill; and Hilda, 18, was with her mother.
The Lake Wakatipu Hotel remained the solitary hotel until 1983 when it was destroyed by fire. The liquor license was transferred to the Kingston Railway Station and Cafe, where it remained until that too closed down. It has now reopened as the Kingston Flyer Cafe and Bar.