Naming Helensville

By Helen Martin
Was our town named after a person or a house?
Originally called Te Awaroa, Helensville was renamed in the early 1860s. The government’s online NZ History site says: “Formerly known as Awaroa, the town was renamed after Helen McLeod, wife of pioneering timber miller John McLeod”, while Te Ara, the government’s online Encyclopaedia of New Zealand says “As exploration reached inland, and settlements were created, the new localities were often named after the pioneers, promoters and local landowners. They included: Helensville, named by pioneer John McLeod after his wife Helen”.
So far, so good. But much of Helensville’s affection for and pride in the iconic villa built by pioneering timber miller John McLeod stems from the story that the town was named after the house, ‘Helensville’ being an amalgamation of the words ‘Helen’s’ and ‘villa.’ It appears this story originates from C. M. Sheffield’s history of Helensville and the Southern Kaipara ‘Men Came Voyaging’. Written at the request of the Helensville Borough Council to celebrate Helensville’s centennial, first published in 1963 and re-published in 1995, the text reads “To honour his wife, John McLeod called their first real home ‘Helen’s Villa’ and this, in its adapted form of Helensville, quickly became the new name for Te Awaroa. Helensville first appeared as a heading in Judge Rogan’s letter books in January 1865.” (p.66)
But while C. M. Sheffield was reputed to be a meticulous researcher, it’s worth speculating that, while the town was undoubtedly named after Helen McLeod, it could be that it was not named after the villa at all, but that rather the word ‘ville’ came from the commonly used French word ‘ville’, meaning ‘town’.
In common with well-established European and American practice, New Zealand has many places following that custom when naming towns, or when renaming them, as in the case of replacing the original Mâori name, as happened in Helensville. For example, when the Crown bought Onekiritea in 1853, the place was renamed Hobsonville, after the first Governor of New Zealand, Captain William Hobson. Demonstrating the practice, other NZ ‘villes’ include: Clarksville, Otago, named after early settler Henry Clark (late 1850s); Dargaville, named after its founder, Australian timber merchant Joseph Dargaville (1872); Morrinsville, named after founding settlers Thomas and Samuel Morrin (1874);Woodville, named because it was in the former Seventy Mile Bush (1870s);Clarkville, Waimakariri, named after Joseph Clark who donated land to the school (1880); Hunterville, named after MP George Hunter (1884); OtoiaOtapu Block in Taranaki was renamed Hurleyville, inspired by the large number of Hurleys living in the area (1891); Seddonville, named after Prime Minister Richard Seddon (1903); and Coatesville, named after the Prime Minister, the Hon. J. Gordon Coates (1926).
Was our town named after a person or a house?

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