Miramichiers settled Helensville

Posted on February 19, 2008
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Helensville from the airThe SeagullJohn & Helen McLeodIsaac & Janet McLeodHelensville Pioneer Museum staff

Click on pictures to enlarge. From left from top – Helensville from the air; The Seagull; John & Helen McLeod; Isaac & Janet McLeod; Helensville Pioneer Museum staff, Glenyss Blackshaw, Judy Lloyd, Jean Davidson

Years ago, I was excited when a Miramichi man told my father, George, about coming across a New Zealand town settled by Miramichiers.
Dad had a great story in the “Leader” about it. Years later, I printed the story again. Planning this trip to New Zealand, I looked up Helensville on the web. I was surprised to learn Helensville tells the world it was settled by people from Nova Scotia.


Arriving in the community, I learned that the community even flies a Nova Scotia flag on some occasions.
It is true that John McLeod was born in Pictou, Nova Scotia but his brother Isaac and wife and John’s wife Helen (nee Alexander) were all Miramichiers from Douglastown and Bartibogue, where Isaac had 400 acres. The trip was organized and financed from Miramichi and the 19-ton Seagull, a New Brunswick built vessel, was purchased in Saint John, New Brunswick.
Other that John having been born there and the ship stopping in there on its way south to New Zealand, the trip had virtually nothing to do with Nova Scotia.
My source for all this information is two books about the history of Helensville in the museum there.
Ghostly experience
The ladies who volunteer in the Helensville Pioneer Museum are delightful. They are cheery members of that army of world volunteers who work for generations with no financial reward, little thanks and pathetic resources, to protect and preserve information the value of which escalates with every passing year.
One of these ladies, Jean Davidson, was pulling down a book of Helensville genealogies for me when a sheaf of files spilled out of the shelf to the floor.
Michelle scooped them up and put them on the table. She gave a little yelp when she saw that the top file was a copy of an article on the founding of Helensville written by George Cadogan and published in the “Atlantic Advocate.”
Just a coincidence, I suppose – one more example of my astonishing good luck – and yet . . . .
Once again, I salute my father George who guides me still and, like my mother, is more alive to me than many people now physically present.
Remarkable story
John McLeod was one of those men always looking for the next big thing. He followed the gold rushes of the day all the way to Australia before finding success as sawmill manager in Henderson.
After almost a decade away from his home and wife in Douglastown, he returned to convince his brother and wife’s family that prosperity awaited in the Kauri forests of New Zealand.
Eventually 30 souls set off to the bottom of the world in a 19-ton, two-masted vessel. The Seagull sailed from Douglastown on October 1, 1861.
They ran into terrible storms, one of which dismasted the ship and caused the captain to lock himself in his cabin and refuse to come on deck.
One boy died and Helen’s daughter, Basselina, was born on the way.
The locations of Helensville and Douglastown bear some small similarities. Helensville sits on the side of a river, a few miles up from a bay which empties into the sea. The river is, however, tiny compared to the Miramichi.
The climate is, of course, far more clement.
Not having ready access to the archives of the local Miramichi papers at present, I can’t give credit to the man who originally tipped Dad to this fascinating story. Perhaps I will be able to do that when I get home.
In the meantime, I’m thinking about how to present a New Brunswick flag to the town and historical society of Helensville in a way that will make them identify with us and not just give offence.
Irish refugee
The star accommodation in Helensville was fully booked. The owner tipped up to, and booked for us, what he called the best stay value in New Zealand.
He sent us to Ormond House, a brand new, stunning mansion about 20 minutes out of town. Our hosts were Martin and Bridie Butler, formerly of County Meath, Ireland where they ran a gardening centre. Like many people with businesses that peak in summer, they began to travel to warmer climes for vacations in winter. Martin has a medical condition that makes cold impossible for his health.
We found their life story interesting especially told in Martin’s lyrical Irish voice that makes every paragraph sound like a song.
Like the occasional Irishman before him, Martin had left looking for work and became a carpenter in Australia. He went home when Australia had an economic slump. A bicycle shop he started gradually morphed into a successful garden centre which was his passion.
Besides luxurious accommodations
( www.ormondhousenz.com )
they served us a sumptuous and delicious breakfast that included scrambled eggs and avocado in a flaky, buttery crossaint.


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