• The Selwood Family at Windley

    After arriving in New Zealand and spending a little time in quarantine at Port Chalmers, then 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.  They probably travelled by ship, the Express, to Bluff, and from there by train to Invercargill and then on the newly opened railway line to Lumsden.  The manager of Burwood Station, William McKenzie, would likely have assisted the Selwood family with their possessions from Lumsden to Mossburn, and onto their new home at the junction of the Oreti and Windley Rivers in Southland, New Zealand.

    The young Selwood family of four, with newborn Edith in arms, would surely have wondered what their new life had in store for them when they arrived at Windley.  Some key questions immediately arise:  Where is Windley? What is at Windley?  Why go to Windley?  Let me address these questions.

    Where is Windley?

    On a South Island map you will not find any settlement called “Windley”.  You may find, if you are lucky, the Windley River.  This is a small river whose source is in the Eyre and West Dome Mountains of northern Southland.  It runs south and west to join the larger Oreti River.

    Windley is located somewhat off the beaten track.  In those early days the bullock and horse track from Lumsden (then called The Elbow) passed through Mossburn and around the southern edge of Burwood Station onto either the Mavora Lakes in the north or Te Anau and Manapouri basins in the west.  This was to avoid the boggy ground that made it difficult for bullock trains, horses and coaches.  Near the Burwood homestead there was a side branch track to the Oreti River where it could be forded at the junction with the Windley River.

    What is at Windley?

    Today there is nothing, just a paddock or two on the flat land.  But back in the 1870s and 1880s there were a few huts at the junction of the two rivers.  The huts served as an out-station for farm workers and rabbiters on the adjacent Burwood Station.   At the time the place was known locally as Billy Goat Park, and this name only appears on one 1882 land title map.  When the young Selwood family arrived in early 1877 there were only a few rabbiters and agricultural labourers as neighbours.  There were no shops, schools, no regular transport and poor communication with the outside world.  It would surely have been a big shock compared to living in the village of Buscot, the town of Ottery St Mary, or the city of Dunedin.

    James Busbridge, a bullock team driver from Lumsden, at that time describes, “another old station was down on the flat on the east side of the New River (the Oreti River) and was known as ‘Billygoat Park’.  It was off our route so I did not go there, but there were a few buildings occupied by rabbiters and the whole lot was run by Burwood.  I heard that Low and McGregor took it up, and I think Robert Campbell and son owned it in 1876.  I do not remember what buildings were at Burwood then, but a man known as big McKenzie was managing it and one or two of other runs near it.”   

    The “big McKenzie” in this reminiscence was William McKenzie.  He was the manager of Burwood and two other stations, probably Mavora and the West Eyre and Five Rivers blocks, for a four-year period.  He was there until 1879.  At Windley in the 1870s were some farm service buildings, sheep yards, rabbiters’ huts and the first homestead, which was probably first tenanted by the expanding Selwood family.

    In his book “Mossburn:  100 Years Under the Dome”, local historian Vincent Boyle writes:  “It is thought the first homestead was built where the Windley River joins the Oreti, in Campbell’s time.  By 1880 at Windley there were huts, yards, woolshed and storage shed.”  He goes on to say: “There was a public house and store there made of iron and wood.  Hector Norman Simpson was there on 1872-77.”

    Why go to Windley?

    So why would the Selwoods go to such an out of the way place in a new far-away land?  From my research there were two primary drivers:  the Campbells, and rabbits.

    Robert Campbell senior owned the Buscot Estate in England, where young James and his father both worked as agricultural labourers.  Robert Campbell junior was a New Zealand politician and, in partnership with his father, leased the Burwood Station and a large number of other sheep farm runs in Otago and Southland.  He had a rapidly developing rabbit problem on his southern sheep runs.

    Rabbits had been introduced to New Zealand in small numbers in the 1850s and 1860s.  With little foresight of their wider and long-term impact, rabbits were seen as a novelty and a sport for huntsmen.  By the mid-1870s they were of plague proportions and had brought ruin to many of the pioneer runholders.  Rabbits were taking complete charge of the land and destroying it.

    In 1876, Robert Campbell junior, with his wife, travelled back to England.  It can be surmised that son Robert told his father about the rabbit problem and that young gamekeeper, James, was encouraged to go to New Zealand.  By September 1876, James, wife Helena and young son Henry, were on an assisted passage to start a new life in the outback of southern New Zealand.

    Selwood life at Windley

    James Selwood and family were at Windley for 12 years, from 1877 to 1889.  What did they do there?  Well, the most noticeable thing was they added to the family with a further six children:

    • Elizabeth Alice (Bessie) Selwood, born 17 January 1879
    • Helena Emma Selwood, born 5 May 1881
    • Lily Selwood, born 5 September 1884
    • Albert Edward Selwood, born 10 March 1886
    • Charles Clifton Selwood, born 26 August 1887
    • Rosie Stewart Selwood, born 18 January 1889

    With the raising of eight children at Windley, and a further three children after they moved to Lumsden in the 1890s, Helena and James had their hands full.

    It must have been a happy household.  A 10½ year old girl, Netty Fraser from Centre Hill, in the “Letters from Little Folks” column to the Otago Witness in April 1887 said:  “Dear Dot, we were at the Windley one Sunday.  It is a nice place, and the people there are very kind.  We had to go through a river but we were on horseback.  My sister and I were also at Burwood, another pretty place, where there is plenty of fruit, and the house is in the bush.”

    The Selwood couple would have found the climate, at least the seasonal temperature, much the same as at Buscot, but the annual rainfall in northern Southland would have been 50 percent more than in Berkshire, with heavier and more frequent snowfalls (see the Climate Table below).

    In their first year at Windley there was an exceptionally high snowfall followed by severe flooding.  Much of the newly laid railway lines in northern Southland were damaged.  The young Selwood family would need to have been watchful alongside the swollen Windley and Oreti Rivers.

    James Selwood was employed as a rabbiter at the Burwood Station.  He was one of a large team attempting to control the spread of the rabbit on the Campbell-leased stations, and on adjacent Campbell stations.  His name appears in Stones Southland Directory for 1887-1889 as “rabbiter Mossburn”, the nearest small town to Windley.  The rabbit problem in Southland is discussed in a subsequent section.

    On 18 April 1889 the Selwood family faced a major calamity at Windley that changed their future lives.  This is best summarized in the following Southland Times report of the tragedy.

    Windley Fire Report

    Helena Selwood did her best to save her family and her property but it was too much for her.  A fire like this could leave a lifetime scar, but Helena obviously had a sturdy constitution.  Helena in 1866, when aged 10, witnessed a fire that destroyed most of her town at Ottery St Mary, in Devonshire, but spared her father’s Five Bells Inn.

    Fortunately there was no loss of life at Windley.  The little 21-month-old boy survived the event.  He was seventh born Charles Selwood, born 26 August 1887.   I am personally delighted that Charles survived.  He was my grand-father.  If it was not for the life-saving effort of Helena I would likely not be here today to relay this Selwood story!

    It seems from my research that James Selwood did not confine himself to rabbit control.  He would have undoubtedly been involved in the annual sheep round-up, shearing, and dipping, which was a massive exercise.  James also involved himself in the exploring of land for coal mining purposes.  In association with a Mr. Aitken he made application in January 1886 to the Waste Lands Board for the occupation of 80 acres on the Mavora Block (Run 391) to the north of the Burwood block.  The Board granted them a six-month coal prospecting license on 10 acres.  A further extension of six months was given by the Board in July 1886. However, there is no further information on this venture which apparently lapsed.

    Also while at Windley, the Selwoods purchased a small property, an empty section, at Lumsden.  After the fire at Windley the family shifted to Lumsden and this will be discussed in the next chapter of the Selwood story.

    CLIMATE Mossburn and Lechlade compared
    Mossburn, Southland: (19 kilometres from Windley)
    Jan (Summer) Apr (Autumn) Jul (Winter) Oct (Spring)
    Ave Temperature (°C) 14.4 9.6 3.5 9.3
    Max Temperature (°C) 20.1 14.6 7.7 14.5
    Min Temperature (°C) 8.7 4.6 -0.7 4.2
    Rainfall (mm) 94 74 62 86
    Lechlade, Gloucestershire: (2 kilometres from Buscot, Berkshire)
    Jul (Summer) Oct (Autumn) Jan (Winter) Apr (Spring)
    Ave Temperature (°C) 16.2 10.6 2.8 8.5
    Max Temperature (°C) 20.9 14.2 5.9 12.5
    Min Temperature (°C) 11.6 7.0 -0.3 4.6
    Rainfall (mm) 45 57 55 40