• The Town of Mossburn

    The nearest township to the Selwood home at Windley was Mossburn, and it’s appropriate to say a few words about this small service town.  Mossburn was 18 km away from Windley, and Lumsden was 19 km further east.  It was a waggoning centre on the western boundary of the Castlerock Station, and a junction of the waggoning routes to the lakes.  In the late 1870s and into the 1880s it was essentially an overnight stopping place, but eventually services were improved.  A hotel and store opened, along with postal and telegraph services in 1882.  There was a resident carpenter and blacksmiths.

    Mossburn School was opened in 1887 and accommodated 40 children.  The limited school records that are available indicate that no Selwood children attended.  As an aside, there was also a governess at Burwood Station in 1875-76, prior to the arrival of the Selwoods.  There are no school records as to whether the school existed into the 1880s, and if the Selwood children attended.  It seems that in those early years in New Zealand Helena Selwood home-schooled her children.

    Mossburn became connected to the Invercargill to Kingston railway line when a 19 km branch line from Lumsden opened in January 1887.  Two mixed trains a week were scheduled, and it can be surmised that the Selwoods used the train to travel to Lumsden or even Invercargill for supplies.

    In the 1889 Otago and Southland Stones Directory there were 52 Mossburn district residents listed, of which one was James Selwood, “rabbiter”.  Incidentally, the 1889 directory included the name of George Chewings who developed a successful grass seed for the district’s infertile soil.  Chewings’ fescue Festuca rubra subsp. commutata, was an ideal component in lawn turfs.  This seed was exported and marketed around the world and used, amongst other things, in the playing surface at Wimbledon, landing strips in World War II, and for heavy stocking pasture lands.

    Chewings fescue grass pioneered locally

    Today Mossburn is still a rather sleepy town of 200 people, but it wakes up in the day to cater for the passing tourist trade – cars, buses and bikes on the way to or from the district lakes and majestic Milford Sound.  The town is known as the “Deer Capital” of New Zealand. The district was the basis for the pioneering helicopter deer recovery exploits of the 1970s which has now been replaced by established deer farms.  The Silver Fern Farms Venison company was the major employer in the district, closing in 2016.  Some great brown trout fishing can be done in the adjacent Oreti River. Overlooking the town is the White Hill Wind Farm which, with its 29 turbines, generates enough power for 30,000 homes.

    Mention should be made of the Bracken Hall Café and Gallery.  It was originally the Mossburn Public Hall but was restored in the 1990s by three enterprising women.  During our Selwood Reunion bus field trip in January 2001 celebrating the 125th anniversary of the arrival in New Zealand of Helena and James, we stopped for lunch at Bracken Hall.  It was a delicious meal, with great hospitality, on a lovely Southland day.