What’s in a name? Or a hat?

To promote our Christchurch Family History Expo in August, we chose to use this stunning image from our Canterbury Stories collection (originally acquired via our annual Photo Hunt). 

The Tuakiri team at Tūranga drooled over the hats and oohed at the teeny-tiny waists, but what I particularly liked was that sense of family.  They all come across as being very comfortable in themselves and in their family together. The two older daughters are dressed up for the occasion with their best hats on, but still managing to look relaxed in the informal garden setting. The mother sits in matriarchal splendour on her chair, with daughter no. 3 nestled in on one side, and Dad, perfectly happy to be sitting on the ground, completing the tableau on the other. The definition and clarity of the image is amazing.

Hats unknown

However the group remained unidentified, labelled “unknown subjects” until I happened across another family group photo, again in Canterbury Stories. This time the donor had identified the group as being the Scott family: “Family portrait of John Lee Scott and eight females including wife Elizabeth and daughters Katie, Betty and Nell, at Elvaston in Colombo Street.”

What caught my eye was the tilt of the shoulders of the central female figure. Was that the same young woman as in the “unknown subjects” group? She had the same teeny-tiny waist, and an obvious propensity for hats. And what about the father’s nose? And the other sister’s nose? And the posture of the mother?

Could it be the same family? Had I possibly identified the be-hatted unknowns?

So then I went back to the original image and followed the links to other contributions from this particular donor, and found this one, labelled (erroneously, I believe) “Family Group – Mother and Daughters”. The young woman sitting in front is obviously not the mother in the original image, so probably another sister, making four daughters.

Four daughters, four stories

Coincidentally, John Lee Scott had four daughters – Alice, Elizabeth, Catherine and Eleanor. There were also a couple of sons, but they’re not relevant to this story so we’ll quietly put them to one side (much in the way that obituaries of the time for important men mentioned that the deceased left a wife who was rarely named, and sons who were invariably named, but daughters, if listed at all, remained anonymous).

Newly married John Lee Scott and his wife Elizabeth arrived from Derbyshire, England, at Lyttelton on the Ramsay in June 1870. John’s brothers Moses and George travelled on the same ship, and the brothers subsequently established the business of Scott Brothers, at first a partnership involving all three, but later just George and John Lee.

John Lee and Elizabeth had a family of six. Alice Annie Scott was born in 1872 a year after her brother, and was followed by Elizabeth in 1874, Catherine in 1876, and Eleanor in 1880 (with another brother in between in 1878).

The daughters

Alice Annie

If the photo of the unidentified family really is the Scotts, then perhaps the occasion is after the marriage of the eldest daughter Alice Annie in 1900 to Peter Watson, which would explain her absence from the photo. Alice and Peter spent some time in Melbourne but had returned to Christchurch by 1905. They had three sons.

Very little can be found out about Alice – a married woman only featured in the society reports or the court news - but Peter Watson was the manager of the Christchurch Dairy Company, featuring occasionally in the newspapers in court cases about adulteration of dairy products and watering-down of milk. He died in February 1947, and Alice died in February 1951.


The second Scott daughter Elizabeth, known as Betty, married Alfred Alexander Phelps, a salesman and licensed auctioneer, in October 1913, and moved to Colombo Street in Wellington. (Yes, Cantabrians, there is a Colombo Street in Wellington). They did not have any children, but they did take a trip to England in 1926, returning in September on the Franconia via New York.  Alfred’s movements were noted in the Wellington newspaper, but no mention of Betty who accompanied him. Alfred died in June 1945, and Betty in June 1964.

Again, very little information on the married women, but the third daughter Katie, who had an education, a career (briefly) and remained unmarried, can be traced a little bit more.


Catherine Scott attended Christchurch Girls’ High School and then Canterbury College from 1895, graduating with an M.A. in Mathematics in 1899. Catherine (also known as Katie, Katharine and Katherine) taught briefly at Napier Girls’ High School from 1901-1903 before resigning and returning to Christchurch (and drawing strictures down on her head from the Chairman of the Board about the expectations of young women wanting to leave their teaching posts without giving the required three months’ notice as per the Board regulations). Katie then appears to have devoted herself to her family and good works in Christchurch, apart from a trip to England in 1912. Katie died in January 1954, still defiantly listed as a “spinster” in the electoral rolls.

And the fourth daughter Eleanor, or Nell, unfortunately featured in newspaper reports initially only because of her personal tragedy.


Eleanor Scott married Harry Edwin Peate of Melbourne in 1904. She had two children, Margaret Eleanor born in 1905, and Cecil Scott born in 1906.  Nell returned to her family in New Zealand after Harry was killed in the Sunshine Railway disaster in Melbourne in April 1908 when 44 passengers and crew died in a collision between two trains. Nell became involved with the New Zealand Red Cross Society, was a keen bridge player, and in 1936 visited Japan. She died in November 1967.

Four daughters, but four very different lives.

So I put it to you, gentle reader, what do you think? Could the families be one and the same?

My colleagues were mixed in their responses. I don’t think I really convinced any of them.

But the point is that we have hundreds of unidentified people in the photos held in Canterbury Stories and we’d really appreciate any help you can give in making an identification. Even if my favourite family portrait is not of the Scott family, it would be very satisfying to identify the family and maybe connect them with their present-day descendants. Wouldn’t you love to find out that this is your family and that you can see them as they were, in such amazing definition and image quality?

Go on, take a look at our collection and see who and what you can find, and don’t forget, we would love to have any of your family photos to add to our collection.
Enter this month's Photo Hunt and you can also win prizes!