by Helen Martin
In our April issue I asked whether, when our town’s name was changed from ‘Te Awaroa’ to ‘Helensville’ in the early 1860s, the name was in recognition of Helen McLeod, wife of pioneering timber miller John McLeod, or the villa John built for the family to live in (‘Naming Helensville’, p.16). In asking this I was questioning the claim in C. M. Sheffield’s history of Helensville and the Southern Kaipara ‘Men Came Voyaging’ (p.66), that the town was named after the villa, a claim picked up in the real estate agent’s marketing material when the house was for sale earlier this year. I quoted Te Ara, the online Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, and the government’s online NZ history site, both of which state that Helensville was named after Helen McLeod, with no mention of the villa. A recent visit to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington has provided further evidence to support this.
The evidence I found was in the John Milton Room, a section of the Katherine Mansfield Reading Room that contains the laborious work of two avid researchers, Johannes Andersen, the first librarian and eventually chief librarian of the Alexander Turnbull, and A.W. Reed, publisher and author of over 200 books, including ‘Place Names of New Zealand’. Both these men have catalogued New Zealand’s place names, with information on their origins. Neither of the catalogue collections has any information on the name Te Awaroa, but both have information on Helensville.
The Andersen Place Names Index has a tantalising card which says “Letter 10 June 1954. Colleen M Sheffield to Andersen’. Unfortunately, there is no record of the letter’s contents, but there is a typed copy of another letter of interest. The letter is from ‘Alfred J McLeod son of Isaac son of the first Isaac the brother of John’ and is dated 16 Sep 1940. In describing the history of the town, the writer says it was “named after the wife of John McLeod.”
The Reed Place Names Index refers to manuscript notes provided by G.G.M. Mitchell which mistakenly attributes the naming of Helensville to John’s brother Isaac (“Isaac McLeod is said to have named the site of the settlement which grew up around his sawmill Helensville, after his wife, Helen …”) and has the amusing addition “… the young McLeods with considerable irreverence used to say, ‘Grandma Helen put the Hell in Helensville.’” (It’s true that some records refer to ‘Hellensville’, but I put that down to confusion over spelling, rather than anything more sinister.) In the Index, Reed also refers to Charles West’s 1956 ‘History of Helensville and Kaipara’. In this book, which is in the collection held by the Kaukapakapa Library, West states “John [McLeod] owned the Otamateanui block of 360 acres at the north end of Helensville, calling the place after his wife. He built a good house on the property, on the same site where the two-storied house is now, it was built later by Daniel Stewart.”
So far, so good. But since then I’ve been looking at various editions of A.W. Reed’s ‘Place Names of New Zealand’ and it’s got more complicated. Watch this space.