Elfie Williams

Elfie Clare Williams – ‘Dresden China’

By Julia Kennedy

Elfie was one of thirteen children born to Thomas Coldham Williams and his wife Annie Palmer Beetham. Thomas was the oldest born New Zealander at the time of his death in 1911.

Elfie was born in 1873 at Lansdowne, Wairarapa where her father owned shares in the station which was 2000 acres and at various times other stations: Brancepeth Estate (49,000 acres) and Annandale (15,000 acres).

Consequently she lived quite a charmed life. She began performing the piano at charitable and church events from a young age; acted as bridesmaid at many society weddings; and all of her outfits, appearances and travels were reported in the newspaper:

‘a lovely dress of palest dove grey’ ‘white silk with real lace bertha’ ‘black and pale blue corduroy stripe’ ‘pale yellow brocade and lace’.

In October 1898 the Governor General, the Earl of Ranfurly, held a fancy dress ball at Government House to celebrate the arrival of his son, Viscount Northland, who had just finished his schooling at Eton College (the Wellington suburb of Northland was named in his honour). The invitations were limited to 500 so as to ‘avoid any crushing’. A number of attendees clubbed together to procure the services of a special hairdresser from Melbourne. Elfie was among the guests. She wore a costume she called ‘White Dresden China’. Her mother went as Lady Castlewood and her sister Una went as Stephanie de Beauharnais.

In 1906 Elfie sailed to England, first class. She returned in 1909 after a stay in Switzerland.

Her parents retired to Auckland and Elfie visited Wellington often, staying with family members dotted along Hobson Street. She was the honourable secretary of the “Two Garment” society which redistributed clothing to charitable organisations and authorised “sisters” requiring clothing.

Elfie died at 53 Hobson Street (now Queen Margaret College) on 11th January 1913, ‘after a short illness’ and was interred at Karori. She is the only interment in this plot which is a double width and she is buried 9ft deep, anticipating further interments. Her mother died at Windsor, England in 1916 and is buried there. None of her siblings died in Wellington.

At her death her estate was valued at £21,000.

Plot: *Ch Eng/X/663

Photo courtesy of Auckland Libraries ref NZG-18981119-0656-05
Elfie Williams plot, courtesy of FindaGrave
Photo courtesy of Auckand Libraries ref NZG-18981119-0654-05
Photo courtesy of Auckland Libraries ref AWNS-18981118-04-02