After her farewell valedictory at Kingston, Helena Selwood moved in September 1913 to the southern coastal town of Riverton in Southland. She wanted to regain her health and Riverton would have been a good place for that. We somewhat misguidedly look upon Riverton and Invercargill as being in the deep-south, but it is not really. England, Ireland, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries, and Canada are counties more to the north of the equator than Riverton and Invercargill are to the south.
Riverton, also now known as Aparima, lies 38 km to the west of Invercargill. It is claimed to be New Zealand’s oldest permanent settlement from the time it was established as a whaling settlement in the early 1800s. It is still an active fishing port, harvesting the rich fishing and oyster-dredging waters of the Foveaux Strait. Today dairying is the region’s strongest industry, but tourism is gaining traction. Riverton is surrounded by stunning natural beauty. It lies on the southern gateway to the Fiordland National Park and southern lakes, and to the increasingly popular southern walkways.
Riverton was quite an active community at the time Helena arrived. Like Kingston it had been at the end of a railway line from Invercargill, but the line had just been extended further west to Tuatapere. Invercargill, the major city in Southland, was only an hour away, and had all the necessary services for health, business and welfare.
Not far to the west of Riverton is Round Hill, which had a history of gold and platinum mining. Indeed, there is a connection to the Selwood family in that George Garrett, who later married Helena’s eldest daughter Edith, gained his gold mining experience by working for the Round Hill Hydraulic Sluicing Company, before later becoming the manager of the Nokomai Mining Company.
Despite poor health, Helena at the age of 57 took on a new business, a bakery and confectionery business as part of a Riverton Tea Rooms in Palmerston Street. But it wasn’t totally new. After years in the hotel and inn trade she would have had the knowledge, skills and experience to provide these services. She purchased the business as a going concern from a Mr James Rogers for £400.
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 transferred her business to her son Albert (Bert) as from 1 April 1915, but sadly Bert was not a successful businessman, kept little in the way of accounts, and got himself into debt. By September 1915 he had become bankrupt. The debt between mother and son regarding the purchase of the business and the ongoing purchase of supplies, in particular flour, forced some creditors to take action. In January 1916, Fleming and Co. took Helena Selwood to court as they were owed £117 11s 2d for flour supplied. The goods supplied were in the name of Helena but it appears that the debt was run up by her son Albert. Helena did not defend the action and a judgement by default was made for the £117 11s 2d plus £2 1s court costs.
Payment was not made to Flemings and other creditors and Helena was declared bankrupt. By this stage, June 1916, a “… first and final dividend on all proved and accepted claim is now payable at the office of the undersigned: Albert Edward Selwood of Riverton, baker. 1s 9½ in the £”. But most of the debt run up by Albert was in the name of his mother.
In June 1916 Helena Selwood was declared bankrupt. At a meeting of her creditors, judgement was made for a liability of £126 19s 2d to Fleming and Co. Ltd, millers (unsecured). Her assets were stated to be five valueless shares in a syndicate. Although the case was defended, Helena did not attend. She submitted a sworn statement which is best presented here in Helena’s words: “I am at present with my daughter in Sydenham, Christchurch. In March 1915 I sold out my business to my son, Albert Edward Selwood. I had been in business in Riverton as a baker and confectioner for between one and two years. I did all right in the business. I put £200 capital into it. I bought the business from Rogers for £400, and paid him £200 cash and the balance was left standing till I sold out to my son. I then paid the other £200 and the interest to Rogers, so far as I remember. I sold out to my son for £350, including goodwill, stock, plant and furniture – the same as purchased by me. I got the whole of the £350 cash from my son, and £200 of this went to pay Rogers. The balance all went to pay outstanding debts. So far as I remember, I paid Fleming and Co. everything I owed them at that time. And when I left Riverton I owed nothing so far as I knew. I had not much money left when I went away from Riverton and it has all gone in medical and other expenses since. I gave up possession to my son of the Riverton premises on March 31st 1915. I have no assets of any kind. I sold out of the Kingston Hotel just before going to Riverton. I sold through Simpson and Hart. I have nothing further to get from that sale. I have five shares in the Auger Syndicate, supposed to be fully paid up to £1, but lately I received notice that there was a further liability of about £2 12s 6d on them. So far as I can remember, I gave Fleming and Co. a check in April 1915 for all my indebtedness to them.” (Southland Times, 5 July 1916).
In the course of examination by the Fleming and Co. representative, Helena Selwood stated she had about £100 and on leaving Invercargill about £60. She now had no money and had given away none in the last 12 months. She now thought she must not have done well in the business in Riverton. She went away thinking everything was paid. A good deal of her money had gone in medical expenses. The meeting was adjourned sine die, which means no further follow-up date was set. It appears that the case never proceeded beyond this stage.
From her own statement we know that by mid-1915 Helena was now living with her daughter in Sydenham, Christchurch. This daughter was Evelyna (known as Eva). She had married Robert Kirk in 1912 in Invercargill and had two children, Edwyn, born 1914, and Evelyn, born 1917, both in Christchurch.
By 1920 Helena had 25 grandchildren and a further 10 by 1930. She kept in touch with her children and she must have had a well-thumbed record of the birthdays!
Helena had a short period in Picton in 1928, and was listed in the Wairau supplementary electoral roll as living at the “Kiosk, Picton”. At that time, her youngest daughter, Hilda (Tot), was living and working at the Federal Hotel, Picton.
Helena then lived the last years of her life with daughter Eva, husband Robert, and their two children, Edwyn and Evelyn, at their home in Exchange Street, Upper Hutt.
Helena Selwood died peacefully on 31 March 1932 at her daughter Evelyna’s home. She was buried in a private ceremony on 13 April at the Lumsden Cemetery alongside her husband James, who died 33 years before her.
In her 76 years on this earth, 55 of them as a New Zealand pioneer, Helena Selwood, in her quiet but purposeful way, contributed strongly to the building of this young nation. And in those 76 years she was part of the exciting time where the world has transited from the horse and cart, and sail, to the advent of steam, international telecommunications, electricity, petrol-driven vehicles, and the airplane. With husband James they 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 had the 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.