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Harry 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.

HARRY SOUTH 1882-1979

Early years

Born. in 1882, Henry Charles (Harry) South was the youngest son of Joseph and Mary Ann South who had emigrated from London to Dunedin twelve years previously in 1874. Having sold his brick and pottery works in Edmonton, north of London, Joseph and family made the long voyage on the "Buckinghamshire". They brought the four youngest children of Joseph's first marriage, and Florence their four month old baby. In Dunedin Joseph had started a brickworks in Anderson's Bay by the end of their first year here, and later expanded his business by opening another works at Walton Park, Fairfield. Harry attended the Anderson's Bay school for a short time and then the Fairfield school No record of this period of Harry's life has been found. It is highly unlikely that he attended high school. Bess, his youngest sister, spoke of the fact that, on the suggestion that she should be the first one in the family to attend post-primary school, she refused and went off to find herself a job.

Harry with the rest of the South family was an active member of the Primitive Methodist Church. There is a record of their involvement with the Kew Church in the Hocken Library. The choir committee minute book still exists for the years 1900 to 1914. Harry was a choir member and in 1903 reported to the committee that the church quarterly meeting had given permission for it to hold fund raising concerts.

On leaving school Harry obtained a position in the bookshop of the New Zealand Bible, Tract and Book Society. The Stones Directory of 1905 records him as a book salesman there. The shop was at 48 Princes St.

In 1910 he married Gladys Park, one of the twelve children of a former mayor of Dunedin. The ceremony was conducted by Rev. Rutherford Wardell at the Park residence at 33 Manor Place. By 1916 Harry was manager of the New Zealand Bible, Tract and Book Society bookshop in Wellington. Gladys' health was already giving concern. In 1917 she was back in Dunedin seeing a medical specialist and Harry wrote to Bess in Timaru asking her to visit Gladys when next down in Dunedin. Health problems were to plague Gladys all her life.

Harry's father Joseph died in 1906 and Mary Ann remarried and went to live in Timaru. The Dunedin family home in Bathgate St was rented out for some years and eventually sold in 1919. Mary Ann had died in 1916. Harry in Wellington and Bess in Timaru dealt with all the business arrangements concerning the house during these years.

Harry's Career in Bookselling

In the early years of colonial settlement religious bookshops were part of the bookselling scene in most major towns, and it was in this area of bookselling that Harry first made his mark. After being manager of the Dunedin branch of the New Zealand Bible, Tract and Book Depot, a "large and handsome premises" in Princes St, he was appointed manager of their book depot in Willis St Wellington. This society had first been established in 1873 and incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1884. It aimed at promoting the spread of Christian literature, and none of its promoters, except the manager, were to receive a salary.

In 1932 the newly incorporated South's Book Depot bought the New Zealand Bible, Tract and Book Society Depot. Harry, a staunch Presbyterian by now, had backing from successful Wellington businessmen who were strong in the church. This first shop at 21 Willis St was a  small, quiet, well-stocked bookshop"(2).

South's expanded rapidly. It was said that Harry's dream was to have more branches than Whitcombe and Tombs (now Whitcoulls), and his bookshops appeared in many parts of the country. One of the ten was in Princes St Dunedin. Between February 1937 and March 1941 the company had also opened 18 branches of the Times Book Club in various parts of New Zealand, and in 1948 these lending libraries were amalgamated in South's Book Depot Ltd.

During 1951 a four storey building was erected behind the shop at 8 Willis St which had become the headquarters of the South's chain since 1945. Two floors were devoted to bookselling, the third was let as office space, and the offices of the shop occupied the top floor. There were about 25 staff.

The changes at 8 Willis St may finally have over-extended the company's resources. By 1953 it became clear that the majority of the South's shops were simply too small to keep such a big chain going, and in October of that year the company was sold to Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd who continued to trade under the name of South's. Over the next ten years all other shops except the one at 8 Willis St were closed. After a fire in 1966 this one was also closed.

Meanwhile Harry South set up again in Manners St in the Beacon Bookshop and he did not retire from bookselling  until March 1972 at the age of 89.

Harry himself founded the Booksellers Association of New Zealand in 1921 and attended every annual meeting during the next 50 years. He was a strong willed and strong minded member and was not always popular in his later years of involvement. As the founder he was said to have taken a fairly proprietorial approach, and as the years went by his conservative attitudes appeared to some associates to have made him difficult to deal with. Notably this was mentioned by the Wellington bookseller Roy Parsons in an address on the Association's history in 1977. It is unfortunate that Parsons himself appears to have had a considerable personal animosity towards Harry.(3)

In 1930 a Theological Booksellers Group was formed within the Association with Harry as Chairman. In 1971 at the annual Booksellers Association Conference at Wairakei he was star of the show and was praised for "putting New Zealand on the map as far as books were concerned and.....making the mark of the New Zealand bookselling trade with publishers in the United Kingdom." He was responsible for the establishment of the price schedule and the discount scheme was also largely his creation.

Personal Memories

Harry's appearance supported the conservatism many people saw in him. He was a stout thickset man in a three piece suit with a watch chain, and people sometimes found his manner "gruff, even rather puritanical". (John Archer, book rep.) But David Archer who worked for him for many years had kinder memories of a man who was at his happiest in a bookshop atmosphere handling the books, talking to the customers. He could be a hard businessman and had high expectations. He was "at heart a kindly avuncular fellow", pleasant to talk to, who liked to feel and believe that his staff were contented". His bedridden wife Gladys, who kept poor health throughout much of their marriage, always caused him very great concern. Masterton bookseller Alex Healey who knew Harry well remembered him as a "nice fellow" and a "genuine bookseller-. Harry would not have wanted more than that.

This "hard businessman" with a kindly heart often seemed shy with children. He always felt close to his sister Bess, seven years younger than himself, her husband Rupert, and myself, their only child, whom he regularly remembered at Christmas and on birthdays and other special occasions with a present of a well chosen book. As a child I found his rather gruff manner rather intimidating, and only as a university student, when I worked in his Dunedin bookshop in the holidays, did I begin to feel a real personal affection for him. Also it was always obvious that the Dunedin staff, Eddie Heap and Ann Mackay, had a great respect for him.

Harry was an active and committed member of the Karori Presbyterian Church and enjoyed many years as a member of the Karori Bowling Club. During the many years when Gladys was an invalid and at home, and felt too unwell to receive visitors, Harry always entertained friends, relatives and business associates at a favourite Wellington restaurant. He used to meet the inter-island ferry or the northern express train, and take Bess and Judith, or Judith and friends out for a meal. He enjoyed taking visitors to Wellington on a drive "around the bays". Harry was not a good driver and the fact that he drove very slowly near the middle of the road made such trips eventful. Our Dunedin family will always remember a memorable drive like this with Harry over the hill to Masterton on a day when there was heavy traffic going north to a race meeting.

In 1957 Gladys died after nearly a lifetime of ill-health. In 1959 Harry travelled south to "give the bride away" at my wedding. My father had died in 1957. Harry took immense pride in his role at the marriage.

Harry and Alice

When Alice Corbett from Cambridge in England came to revisit New Zealand after 40 years, she went into South's Book Depot in Wellington to enquire after Harry, whom she had met on board ship when he was on a business trip to England in 1924. South's redirected her to the Beacon Bookshop to which Harry, now in his eighties was still going each day. They renewed their friendship and enjoyed each other's company. Alice returned to England to talk to her relatives and Harry flew south to talk to Bess and Judith and Mervyn about the possibility of a second marriage. All our family were very encouraging.

They married in 1966 when Alice returned to New Zealand. She redecorated and refurbished his house in Flers St and they lived most happily for the last ten years her life.

Harry died in 1979 aged 96. A very good bookseller if not always a good businessman. Harry led a simple and frugal life and the only evidence of valuable property was his fine collection of first edition books. Alice Corbett was a single woman of some means and her contribution to their home when they marnied was of great value in their years together. She predeceased Harry by three years. After his death all his property was sold and the money went to Alice's nephews in Canada.

His funeral was organised from Dunedin, and Judith and Mervyn took Bess, aged 90, to Wellington for the day. It was a poignant occasion, to remember Harry after such a long and often colourful life. Bess and Harry often argued and disagreed and when they had been together for any length of time the atmosphere was always sparking. But they corresponded regularly and had a deep affection for each other. Some other South family members living in Wellington would say that they have less happy memories of Harry. The South brothers and sisters seem to have all been strong personalities with self-confidence and very strong opinions. Arguments between them, it would seem, were almost enjoyed, and disputes a part of daily life. However a deep bond and strong loyalty to each other under-pinned their family relationship. Personal memories may vary, but like his brothers and sisters, throughout his long life Harry was an interesting person with great integrity and an intelligent mind.

By J Cranefield M.A. (Hist. Hons.)


(1 ) From "Turning the Pages" by Rogers and Rogers.

(2) David Archer, former employee.

(3) "I think it was difficult to have any warm feelings towards Harry South, that's choosing my words carefully. He attracted antagonism ... On the rare occasion when he put forward a good idea one's immediate reaction ... was to oppose it. I think he made it difficult for himself. His habit was to support good ideas with bad reasoning" - the very personal opinion of Roy Parsons, bookseller, given in 1977 and quoted in "Turning the Pages".


Rogers, Anna and Rogers, Max "Turning the Pages, the story of Bookselling in New Zealand" pub. for Booksellers NZ by Reed 1993.

Seed, Elizabeth "The History of Brick, Tile and Pottery Industries in Otago". Unpublished thesis held in the Hocken library.

Stones Directories of Otago and Southland.


Passenger list - Buckinghamshire, - held in Otago Settlers Museum

Methodist Church Archives, Otago, held in the Hocken library.


Bob Staples, retired bookseller.

Wendy Moses -  for motivating me to get started.


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