Page 1: Biography
Farmer, accommodation-house keeper, postmistress
This biography, written by Jo-Anne Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Helen Lindsay was born at Wester Eggie farm in the parish of Cortachy and Clova, Forfarshire, Scotland, on 9 July 1838, the daughter of Helen McAndrew and her husband, George Lindsay. Helen worked as a dairymaid from the age of nine. On 18 November 1858 she gave birth to a son, James; the father was probably Stewart Gibb, a shepherd. The couple became engaged, and in order to improve his prospects Stewart Gibb left for Canterbury, New Zealand, on the Matoaka in 1860, leaving Helen and James behind. They did not leave Scotland until 1863, travelling with Stewart Gibb's brother James and his wife on the Accrington and arriving in Lyttelton on 5 September 1863.
Twelve days later, on 17 September, Stewart Gibb and Helen Lindsay were married at Cameron's Hotel, Saltwater Creek, en route to Teviotdale station where they were to be employed as a married couple. They lived there for 3½ years during which time two more children, Stewart and George, were born to them. Helen Gibb set off on horseback to Amberley for the birth of her second child in 1864. She did not complete the journey; her son Stewart was born in a sod hut near Brown's Bridge with only her husband in attendance.
On 2 March 1867, when Helen was pregnant with Helen Isabella (Ella), her fourth child, Stewart senior drowned in the Motunau River. Before his death he had purchased 60 acres at Cabbage Tree Flat near Motunau, and Helen decided to farm this land. She had a sod cottage built, later replacing it with a four-roomed wooden house as the sod was too damp.
With the help of her children she kept cows, sheep and later pigs, and planted an orchard. To fence the farm she wrote to Forfarshire for gorse seeds. These were so precious she would let no one else plant them. On one occasion her neighbour, William Acton-Adams, attempted to move the surveyed boundary line and build a fence. Helen Gibb confronted him with her Bible in hand and quoted the scriptures regarding boundaries, widows and orphans. Acton-Adams left the boundary where it was.
In the early 1870s the road to Cheviot was put through close to Helen Gibb's farm. Previously she had supplied refreshments to travellers; now she set up an accommodation house where they could stay overnight. Drovers were able to rest their stock in her paddocks, and coaches could stop and change horses. For many years Helen Gibb's accommodation house was the only one on the Amberley–Cheviot road. By 1882 she had purchased an adjoining 75 acres, which her sons farmed.
Helen was affectionately known as 'the Queen of Cabbage Tree Flat', and her house was the focus of community activities for most of her life. She was the local postmistress from 1883 to 1901 and Presbyterian church services were held at her house until the Greta Valley School was built at Motunau in 1893.
All changed when the railway reached Scargill in 1902 and Motunau was no longer the hub of the district. However, Helen Gibb continued to accommodate travellers, and boarded her grandchildren who attended the school at Motunau. Her daughter Ella lived with her, and her sons looked after the farm.
Helen Gibb was short with wavy brown hair, and always declared that her weight and height were the same as Queen Victoria's. Her faith was strong, and she often prayed while she worked. Grace was said at meal-times, and Bible readings were held morning and evening no matter who was present. Although thrifty, she was also known for her charity. Her strong and forthright personality, and her determination to provide for herself and her children earned Helen Gibb the respect of the Motunau community and a secure place in its history. She died at Motunau on 30 July 1914.