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Cordelia South 

Judith Cranefield is the granddaughter of Joseph South(1), and the daughter of his youngest child, Elizabeth (Bess). Judith has written several articles on the emigration of Joseph South(1) to New Zealand and the subsequent history of the family, many of which appear in the Articles section of the website. This latest history adds to the biographies of members of the South family in New Zealand.


Cordelia Ellen South (Nell) was born in December 1874, her parents had arrived in Dunedin in the previous May. Emigrating from Edmonton in the north of London, Joseph and Mary Ann South settled at first in Anderson's Bay where Joseph established a brick works and then later moved to Walton Park, Fairfield to the south of Dunedin. Nell was the second surviving child of their marriage.

She received most of her education at Anderson's Bay school and then went to Walton school, Fairfield. Book prizes awarded to her from Walton school have been kept in the family. She appears to have had a talent for sewing and after leaving school she worked as a machinist in a clothing factory. A prize was awarded to her in 1883 at Walton school for fourth place in sewing and in 1884 she won first prize in sewing in class 3. In 1884 she also won a prize for regular attendance. It is surprising to find amongst her books one presented to her in August 1890  "on severing her connection with the Anderson's Bay Sunday School, with very good wishes from her teacher, T.Begg" It would have taken a very long time in the 1880s to travel to Dunedin from Walton Park Fairfield and then out to Anderson's Bay to attend Sunday School classes and her continued attendance there after the family moved is surprising. There is a possibility that it may have been more convenient for her to board in town closer to her place of employment, although it is known that her elder half brother Moses was able to travel by train to and from Teachers' Training College from Fairfield to Dunedin each day. It is interesting to notice that the inscriptions on the four books call her variously, Helen, Helena, Nellie and Ellen. The family called her Nell or Nellie but never Cordelia..

My mother her youngest sister Bess, fifteen years her junior, remembered her with great affection, and stories of Nell's tragic early death have remained strong in my mind.

In January 1897 in poor health with tuberculosis, Nell was encouraged to travel up to Nevis in Central Otago where her half brother Moses had been the teacher until 1895. It was a remote gold mining settlement which lay in a valley behind the mountains at the back of Bannockburn. The hot dry climate and some restful country living would have been considered beneficial for her health.

She saw her doctor on January 9th and left Dunedin about a week later. She spent a day on the Kingston train from Dunedin and arrived at Garston at 6.20 p.m. Moses met her and they spent the night there, leaving the next morning at 5.30 a.m. by cart so as to get well underway up the mountain before sunrise and the heat of the midsummer day. She arrived at Nevis in good spirits at 3.15p.m. Nell wrote to her mother the next day, Sunday 18th, expressing her pleasure at the kindness of her hosts' welcome and the good food provided, and believing that "I am sure that I will get on (here)'.

She died suddenly a few days later on January 23rd,which would probably have been on about the same day her letter reached her parents' home in Dunedin. The Register book of deaths gives the cause of her death as "Haemophysis L. Pulmonary". This was a haemorrhage in the left lung due to the tuberculosis.

Bess spoke of the great difficulty in bringing her body down over the steep and winding gravel road from Nevis to Cromwell. Her brothers had to sit on the coffin to stop it sliding off the dray. She was then brought down to Dunedin and buried in a family plot at the Southern Cemetery, Nell was aged 22 when she died and the tragedy made a profound impression on seven year old Bess.

No photographs of Nell exist . Her life is recorded in an entry of her birth in the family Bible, her school prizes, the black memorial card announcing her death that was sent to friends, and the single touching letter that remains, written to her mother in meticulous copper plate handwriting on January 18th 1897.

by Judith Cranefield M.A.(Hist,Hons)


Nell's prizes, the memorial card announcing her death, her letter of January 18th 1897 and Bess's memories as told to Judith.


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