Margaret Steel Hill

‘a kind and benevolent disposition’

Margaret and Andrew Hill were likely one of many married couples who used emigration rather than an expensive divorce to change course in their lives.

Margaret Steel was born in 1833 in Riccarton, Ayr, Scotland. She worked as a hatmaker. She married Andrew Hill, a brassfinisher, in Glasgow in 1859. Their children Margaret, William, George and Gilbert were all born near the Clyde over the following years.

In March 1870, whether by design or planning Andrew sailed alone on the ‘Dunfilan’ for Dunedin. His youngest son Andrew junior was born in August the same year back in Glasgow. In June 1871, Margaret arrived on the ‘Wild Deer’ to Dunedin with her children. Andrew worked there as a brassfinisher until 1875 at which point he returned to Glasgow and Margaret moved with her children to Wellington.

How does a woman survive with five children? At first Margaret returned to her hat making skills, advertising heavily throughout 1876-77 that straw hats ‘were cleaned and altered to the newest styles on the shortest notice’. She then ran a modest registry office (employment exchange). The family lived at Taranaki Street, then Stafford Street before moving in early 1880 to the sleepy village that was then Oriental Bay. She named her home ‘Kelburne House’ and it sat just along from the Hay Street corner. She was also said to have been the person to name the suburb of Roseneath and Baring Street behind her house was originally named Hill Street.

Margaret seems to have been a hospitable lady. Her sons’ friends of the Oriental Bay boating club would call for ‘a capital tea’. And they had a boat shed opposite her house (now the location of the band rotunda).

In 1884 she adopted a little girl named Ivy, and the three women of the family continued living at Kelburne House. Ivy recalled climbing over the rocks to attend Clyde Quay School.

Margaret died in 1903. In 1930, her son Gilbert demolished the house and replaced it with the three storey block of flats that remain today, known as Coburn House.


Margaret Steel Hill standing in door way, with her daughter Margaret Brown Hill and Ivy seated. Unknown boy.
Oriental Bay 1890s, courtesy of Te Papa online
Detail photo, Margaret’s house likely to be the single storey building with buggy parked adjacent.
Hill plot
After cleaning, August 2023