Victor and Emelie

Emigration to New Zealand

In 1875, which was 11 years after they were married, Victor and Emelie decided to emigrate to New Zealand. The Klee family sailed from Gravesend, England on 2nd February 1875 on the “Wennington”, arriving at Port Chalmers, Dunedin on 15th May 1875. They came to Otago on an assisted passage. The passenger list records:

  • Victor Klee – aged 34
  • Emelie – aged 28
  • Victor [later “Albert”] – aged 7
  • Emelie – aged 3
  • Louis – aged 1
Wennington passenger list extract source: “New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 12 December 2014)
Picture of the Wennington newly built
The Wennington, of 882 tons, fitting out at the yard of the Lane Shipbuilding Co, Lancaster, in March 1865, seen from the Salt Ayre side of the river. She was the first iron ship built at Lancaster. Photographer: Richard M Cookson. (Source: MacGregor, David R; Merchant Sailing Ships 1850-1875 Heyday of Sail, Conway Maritme Press, 1984 pp. 164-5)

The Wennington

The Wennington was nine years from the stocks when first chartered to bring immigrants to New Zealand. She was built in 1865 for the Lancashire Ship Owners’ Company, and sent out in 1874 to Wellington, under Captain McAvoy…
The next voyage was to Otago in 1875. She sailed from Gravesend on 27 January, and proceeded to Plymouth, where she embarked 137 passengers, and sailed on the 3rd February. The equator was crossed on the 3rd march, and the first land sighted was Causland’s Mistake, on the 16th May, Port Chalmers being reached two days later. (Source: Brett, Sir Henry; White Wings, Vol.2 pp.171-2).

References in By Blueskin Bay

The most detailed published record about the arrival and life of Victor Klee appeared in the book “By Blueskin Bay”, written by R G Pullar, published by Otago Daily Time and Witness Newspapers Co. Ltd. Dunedin in 1957.

According to Pullar:

Had it not been for the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, it is most unlikely that the Klees would ever have seen New Zealand. As a corporal in the French Army, Mr Klee had seen action in most of the battles in that war, but after the capitulation of the French Army at Sedan, he felt that he could not bear to witness the tragedy that had befallen his country – a tragedy he had so gallantly fought to prevent – so, with his wife and young family, he left his native land and eventually reached Waitati.

The Ormolu clock brought by the Klee family on their journey from France

When writing this history, R G Pullar may have had more information that he gathered but did not include in the book. However, it is currently uncertain what happened to this research material.

It is unlikely that Victor and Emelie were able to bring many personal possessions with them on the journey from France, but one special item is the now antique French clock that remains in the family, passed down through their son Alexander and his descendants.

The above photograph, taken in the 1880s shows the railway line passing by Blueskin Bay just north of Waitati township.

Waitati – Blueskin Bay

Pullar records that:

Mr Klee, an able stonemason, immediately found employment at the building of tunnels, culverts, embankments and other stone work on the new railway line then approaching Waitati. Indeed, he was for many years employed on this class of work throughout Otago, but his home was always at Waitati where his family grew up, attended the local school, and later gave the district a unique record, possibly not excelled in New Zealand, when three of his sons volunteered for and saw service in the South African War.


Deaths of Charles and Emelie

After their arrival in Waitati in 1875, Victor and Emelie had five more boys over the next eight years – Emile, Victor, George, Alexander and Charles.

Klee family in 1880
Left: Victor Klee (40) with Victor (2) on his knee and Emile (4) seated
Center standing: At rear, Albert (13), Emelie (8), and in front, Louis (6)
Right: Emelie (33), with George (1), on her knee.

Unfortunately Charles only lived for about a year, and his death certificate records that he had “infantile weakness since birth”.

Emelie’s death certificate

By this time, at the age of 37, Victor’s wife Emelie was also in poor health, and died one month later in November 1884. Her death certificate shows that she had “Phthsis” which is also known as wasting disease and may have been tuberculosis. The certificate also indicates that there were five children that did not live! One of these is Charles Henri who lived for 1 year and Albertine Elisa, born in Villeparisis. There does not appear to be any New Zealand record or Villeparisis records of other births or deaths, so if this is correct then these children must have both been born and died while Victor and Emelie were living somewhere else in France (possibly the same location where Emelie and Louis were born which was not Villeparisis).

Charles and Emelie are both buried in the Waitati cemetery, but neither grave has a headstone.

Victor’s death

The Otago Witness recorded the following obituary:

A widower named Victor Klee, about 67 years of age, and a stonemason by trade, was found outside his cottage at Waitati on Monday morning. The deceased, who was an old resident of the district, lived with his daughter (a widow), but the latter left home on a visit to some friends on Saturday. It is supposed that apoplexy was the cause of death. Mr Klee is survived by about four sons, one of whom is employed in the Magistrate’s Court in Invercargill.

Victor, Louis, Alec
George, Emelie (Drummond), Emile