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REED, Alfred Hamish and REED, Harriet Isabel

Alfred Hamish Reed (1875-1975)

Harriet Isabel Reed (1866-1939)

Alfred Hamish Reed was one of the most influential literary figures in twentieth century New Zealand. He was born in the Middlesex village of Hayes on 30 December 1875, the son of James and Elizabeth Reed. The couple had four children: Frank, Alfred, Marian and Alexander.

The 1880s depression forced James Reed to close his brickworks and the Reed family emigrated to New Zealand. They set up home on the kauri gumfields of Northland, where Alf earned a living as a gumdigger. He taught himself shorthand and moved to Auckland at the age of 19 to take up a job with the New Zealand Typewriter Company. While in Auckland he met and married Harriet Isabel (Belle) Fisher. She was the daughter a London silk merchant, Samuel Fisher, who had also fallen on hard times during the 1880s and emigrated to New Zealand with his wife Mary, and children Belle and Frank.

In 1897 Alfred Reed was sent to Dunedin to set up a branch of the typewriter company. He soon became involved in publishing, founding the firm that would become A.H. & A.W. Reed. A devout Christian, he initially specialised in religious books and then broadened the firm's range to publish mainly non-fiction books about New Zealand. Belle Reed supported her husband, initially helping out in the firm's office, and then by maintaining the family home. She died in Dunedin on 22 January 1939, aged 72, and was buried in the Northern Cemetery two days later.

The following year, the publishing firm moved its head office to Wellington. Alfred Reed stayed on in Dunedin, where he became a prolific writer of books, mainly about New Zealand history, and about his long distance walks, which achieved legendary status. The mammoth undertakings included a walk from North Cape to Bluff at the age of 85, and Sydney to Melbourne at the age of 89. He celebrated his 99th birthday by walking the track to the summit of Mount Cargill.

During his lifetime, Alfred Reed gave away most of what he owned and earned, including donating to the Dunedin Public Library a collection of rare manuscripts and books. He died at his Glenpark Avenue home on 15 January 1975, aged 99, and his ashes were deposited in the family plot two days later.

Main ref. lan Dougherty, PO Box 90, Dunedin 9054 (the author of a biography of A. H. Reed)

lan Dougherty

Alfred Hamish Reed
Image courtesy of:
Ian Dougherty

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