Page 1: Biography
Elsom, Sarah Ann
This biography, written by Margaret Lovell-Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 3, 1996.
Sarah Ann (known as Annie) Read was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 26 March 1867, the daughter of Elizabeth Martin and her husband, William Read, a gardener who had worked at the Royal Norfolk Nurseries in England. One of the oldest in a family of six or seven children, Annie was educated at the North-East Valley School in Dunedin, transferring to the George Street School in April 1880. William Read changed the family surname to Reid after establishing a business in George Street in 1866 as a seedsman, florist and fern collector. He also had a nursery in Opoho.
Annie apparently learnt much from her father, for in her 30th year she moved to Christchurch and established her own floristry business. She signed a lease for a shop in the central commercial district, at 253 High Street, and called her business A. & S. Reid. The name was carefully chosen to disguise the fact that the firm was being run by a young woman, working alone.
Known as 'a young lady of excellent business abilities, with a thorough knowledge of her profession', by 1903 Annie Reid had to enlarge her premises considerably and the firm had 15 acres under cultivation for growing flowers. Following her father's example as a collector of New Zealand ferns, Annie supplied mounted fern collections, including some to the British royal family.
On 3 March 1902 Annie Reid married Edwin Elsom at the Anglican Church of St Michael and All Angels in Christchurch. They were to have three children. Edwin Elsom was a trained and experienced seedsman, and he joined Annie in the business. Because Edwin was a Baptist Annie changed her adherence, and the family became staunch members of the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church. Her family remember her as having great faith that the Lord would provide, but she herself devoted a good deal of time to helping other people. She also loved to organise musical evenings for the young people of the church.
When the Christchurch Harmonic Society choir began in 1927, Annie started a practice of providing floral decoration for its concerts, free of charge. In recognition of her contribution to the society's three concerts each year she was made a life member. She also became a member of the Canterbury Repertory Theatre Society.
Annie Elsom seems to have had a break from business when her family were young, but she returned to work when Edwin suffered a serious accident. She was helped in the shop by her sister Ada, while their older sister Nellie ran their late father's business in Dunedin. In 1927 Annie's son Stephen joined the firm and they continued to operate it after Edwin's death in 1939.
A well-known and highly respected figure in Christchurch business circles, Annie Elsom worked at the shop (always known as A. & S. Reid) until she was about 87. She was an attractive woman, with blue eyes and a fresh complexion, and she always dressed immaculately. Businessmen would come to her shop regularly for buttonholes.
Annie Elsom died in Christchurch at the age of 95, on 17 November 1962, survived by her two daughters, Ruth and Dorcas, and her son, Stephen.