Chapter 14
Alfred Hellyer in Dunedin

Dunedin became a boom town after the discovery of gold in Otago in 1861, and Alfred seems to have arrived in Dunedin in the early 1860s. Whether he came direct from England or via, say, Australia, I do not know. The first record of him in New Zealand is of his marriage to Margaret Mitchell [H.1] in Dunedin in 1865. She was 18, he 25.

Margaret Mitchell, whom I knew only in her old age as Great-grandma Hellyer, was the daughter of Francis Mitchell and his wife Bridget, nee Mooney [H.1]. Margaret was born in Adelaide, South Australia. She had a brother, Don Mitchell, whose son, colloquially known as “Toots”, ran the early Dunedin radio station, 4XD, from Calder Mackay’s building in Rattray Street. I do not know whether there were other siblings. Margaret’s death certificate records that she had lived in New Zealand for 75 years, so that she came to New Zealand in about 1857. I do not know why the Mitchells came to New Zealand. The same certificate gives Francis Mitchell’s occupation as licensed victualler. It is an interesting speculation whether the young Margaret might have been a barmaid in her father’s pub and Alfred a customer on the other side of the bar.

According to Mum “Alf” Hellyer was an accountant and worked for a butcher who had a shop on the corner of Hope Street and Carroll (then Walker) Street on the site later occupied by the large Bell Tea building. When the butcher fell ill Alf helped with the running of the shop in addition to looking after its books. When, later, the butcher died, Alf took over the business entirely. So, by the time his son, Mum’s father-to-be, is marrying, Alf is described as “butcher”.

Alfred and Margaret had a large family - four boys and six girls [H.1]. Three of these children died young. The eldest child, Alfred Francis, born in 1866, died in 1879 not quite 12 years old. The two youngest children also died young; Annie Josephine in 1887 not quite four, and Edwin Walter in 1895 not quite nine. Thus only seven survived into adulthood.

The Hellyers initially lived in Park Street (now Ardmore Drive) facing “The Oval”, and then moved into one of the terrace houses in Hope Street built by James Gore and his father Hugh, scarcely a block away from the building where Alfred worked. The Gores and the Hellyers became quite friendly. The eldest of the Hellyer children were of an age with the youngest of the Gores. One of the Hellyer boys, Alfred James Gore Hellyer [H.1], was given the Gore name.

Alfred never revisited England but was clearly proud of his English origin. Mum, when she spoke of him, would often say that he referred to himself as “Alfred Hellyer of England”, and the headstone over his grave in the Southern Cemetery in Dunedin is inscribed “Hellyer, Alfred of England, d.15 January 1915, ae.73”.


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Figure 14.1: Harry Hellyer and sister Lil at the left. Right, Alfred and Harry Hellyer

Alfred’s wife, Margaret, “Old Grandma Hellyer” survived him by many years. Some time after he died she went to live with her married daughter, Auntie Em Kinvig [H.1, H.3] in Christchurch. The Kinvigs lived at 38 Haast Street, Linwood. We went to stay there, Mum, Gray and I, one summer for the school holidays when I was perhaps about seven. This is the only time I remember seeing “Old Grandma Hellyer” - so called to distinguish her from “Old Grandma Titchener”, though she must have been still living there when we went to Christchurch for our second summer holiday. I recall her as an old, old lady, hunched under a rug in a basket- weave chair, daily set in the sun at an open side door, unresponsive and seemingly motionless. Perhaps that is wrong, for a photograph taken later (early in 1932?) shows her with her daughter Em, grand-daughter Rita, and baby great-grandson Roy, in a more lively moment, holding the baby and looking down at him. She died on 20th April, 1932 aged 84. The death certificate gives the cause as “Myocarditis, senility”.

As death drew near, her brother Don was summoned from Dunedin. Death was evidently slow to come, and Don grew impatient, anxious to get back to Dunedin. “Come on, Mag,” he was heard to say, “Get on with your dying.” Aunt Adelaide [H.1], Auntie Em’s unmarried sister, who also lived with the Kinvigs, and who was always very correct, was later to remark, “Dear, wasn’t he awful to say that.”