James was born on 2 November 1850 at Buscot, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), England. His birth certificate records his surname as Sellard, like his father Isaac Sellard. James’s father was an agricultural labourer and his mother was Mary Sellard, nee Davis. The birth was recorded at the Faringdon registration district. The informant was Mary, the mother, who registered the birth with her mark, and not a signature.
James’s parents, Isaac Sellard and Mary Davis, were married at the local St Mary parish church at Buscot on 13 October 1842. At the time of marriage, Isaac was a labourer aged 24, and Mary was a domestic servant aged 22. They had four children. John Sellard was born in the fourth quarter of 1843 but did not survive two years, dying in the third quarter of 1845. Second born was George Sellard, born in the second quarter of 1846 and may have died by the time of the 1881 Census. Our James was the third born in 1850. The fourth child, Ann Sellard, was born in 1853 but died within a year. Isaac and Mary are buried in the local St Mary Parish Church at Buscot.
Over the next generation the Sellard name changed to Sellwood and then to Selwood. The family was identified as Sellwood on the 1861 and 1871 Census for Buscot. It was only in New Zealand that the name Selwood, with just one “l” appeared. The reason for the Sellard, to Sellwood, to Selwood, surname shift is not apparent, but it occurred in the 1840 to 1870 period for a number of Sellard families. So too were a number of name variants for the wider family, including Sallard, Sellers, and Sellerd. Most families were working on the land from an early age, and there would have been low opportunity for a good school education. Many could not write.
James and his family lived at the Old Malthouse, across the road from, but part of the Buscot Estate. In 1861 James was a 10-year-old student, and in 1871 he was, like his father, an agricultural labourer. They would have worked on the Buscot Estate, one of the largest and most innovative farms in the region. This farm was owned by Robert Campbell. Through most of his life, James had a very close association with the Campbells. We will examine this closely in the next chapter, the Campbell Connection.
With the assistance of modern DNA technology we know that James was the biological father of Helena Jeffery’s first born, Henry, but still a puzzle is how James, from Buscot, Berkshire, and living some 220 km away from Ottery St Mary, met Helena.
Henry was born at Helena’s father’s Burrow Woods farm on 30 May 1874 when she was just 18. But within four months of Henry’s birth, Helena had moved to Buscot where her baby Henry was baptized at the local St Mary’s Church on 6 September 1874. James took responsibility and Helena became a member of the Sellwood-Selwood family at Buscot, Berkshire. There is no evidence that Helena had any further contact with her Jeffery family.
Eighteen months after her son’s baptism, Helena and James were married at this same small Buscot church. Helena was 20 years old and James “Sellwood”, gamekeeper, was recorded as 22 years old, but he was actually 25 years old.
Just six months later the young couple, with their young two-year-old Henry, were immigrating to New Zealand to start a new life there. In the next chapter, the Campbell Connection, we discover the reason why it was New Zealand, and the following chapter looks at the voyage to New Zealand. But first we should take a brief look at Buscot and its environs.