Keen Queenstown historian sheds light on mystery woman

by Lauren Pattemore - Jan 25, 2024

An eager Queenstown historian might've cracked the case of who the woman is in an old photograph sent to Hāwea Flat School.

Richard Soper says he enjoys historical research, and his curiosity was sparked yesterday reading on Crux of the search for the unknown descendants of the photographed 'Mrs Millace'.

Local history researcher Richard Soper.

Mr Soper reckons the woman is originally from Jersey, an island located off the coast of France in the English Channel, and travelled to Dunedin as a young woman before 1875.

This is based off his hypothesis that the writing on the back of the photograph actually identifies her as Mrs Millow.

"I write like that myself, and I read that as Millow." 

Up until now, those looking for a rightful owner for the photograph, including Hāwea Flat School principal Tania Pringle, have read the name as 'Mrs Millace', although Upper Clutha Historical Records Society member Erena Barker did consider 'Mrs Millau' as an option. 

The mystery woman's photograph was mailed to Hāwea Flat School a few weeks ago by the granddaughter of a teacher named Emily Webber, who worked at the school from 1914 to 1917. Ms Pringle had told Crux the granddaughter believes Mrs Millow boarded with Emily Webber.

However, based off his research Mr Soper hypothesises Emily Webber instead may have boarded with Mrs Millow in Dunedin whilst she was studying. 

Does the back of the photo say Millow or Millace? Keen historian Richard Soper reckons Millow.

Mr Soper has found an advertisement placed in the Otago Daily Times in 1899 by a Mrs Millow offering 'comfortable board and lodging for few gentlemen' on George Street in Dunedin.

He's also found academic records that show Emily Webber studying in Dunedin during this period, at the Dunedin Teachers' Training College as well as taking a course at the University of Otago.

Based on the reports, he reckons she was a "high-achiever academically".

Mr Soper believes he's also found a record of Mrs Millow's husband's death in an Otago Daily Times newspaper clipping from 1926.

"Mr J. G. Millow, whose death occurred in Dunedin last week, arrived at Port Chalmers 52 years ago, and settled in Dunedin, where he resided til the time of his death."

The paper says he was a stonemason, who "worked on the erection of many of Dunedin's finest public buildings", and was survived by a widow and nine children.

Mr Soper has uncovered what he believes is the whole family on the ancestry website Family Search, showing Mrs Millow lived until 1931, having moved to Christchurch after her husband's death.

The records show her maiden name as Hannah Elvina Jarvis; she was one of thirteen children and married Mr Millow in All Saints Church in Dunedin in 1875.

Based on the information provided, it's unknown if the pair made the trip to Dunedin together unwed, or if Mrs Millow - or Miss Jarvis, as she would have been then - travelled to Dunedin on her own, or with other parties.

Mr Millow is recorded as being from St Anne, another island in the English Channel.

Mr Soper says he has located two people locally today with the last name 'Millow'; one living in Invercargill and the other in Wānaka.

Mr Soper describes himself as being "quite interested in history" and, when he's not researching, he conducts walking tours around Queenstown's historic buildings, telling the stories of the people who built the town. 

For now, whether the looped writing on the back of the historical photograph reads Millow, Millace, or Millau is still up for debate.

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