Story: Bellamy, Elizabeth

Page 1 - Biography

Bellamy, Elizabeth

1845–1940

Anglican missionary, teacher

This biography was written by Jane Thomson and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Elizabeth Bellamy was born in Lady Wood, Birmingham, England, on 19 March 1845, the daughter of Robert Bellamy, a cordwainer, and his wife, Ann White. She became a teacher, but after hearing about a massacre of Maronite Christian men and boys near Mt Lebanon (then in the Syrian region of the Ottoman Empire), which left the women and girls destitute, she helped found the British Syrian Mission, and with a band of other 'cultured' women went to live in Beirut in 1871. The emphasis of their mission was educational as much as religious, and a college was set up to train teachers to send all over Syria. Village schools were established near Mt Lebanon and Mt Hermōn, industries were fostered, and a school for the blind was also set up. Elizabeth Bellamy worked in the mission for 22 years. During this time she became an Arabic scholar, learning to write and speak fluently in colloquial and classical Arabic.

In 1893 she was forced to leave Beirut because of ill health. She lived briefly in Melbourne, Australia, and then moved to New Zealand, where she had a relation, Jacob Bellamy, in Tapanui, Otago. Although she made her home in Dunedin, she spent much time with Jacob and his wife, Mary, and family, and was described as a kind friend to older people in Tapanui.

It was probably no coincidence that she decided to live close to Dunedin's thriving Lebanese community in Walker Street (later Carroll Street), which had been growing there since the late nineteenth century. The cosmopolitan inner-city community, with strong Chinese and Irish as well as Lebanese elements, was regarded with horror by many Dunedin people, and was sometimes known as the devil's half-acre. Elizabeth Bellamy, however, delighted in meeting people from the land where she had worked. She enjoyed the food and customs of the Lebanese and would spend whole days with the families, talking to women, children and old people. They appreciated the fact that she spoke fluent Arabic.

Bellamy also ran a school for children on Sunday afternoons, which Lebanese children enjoyed going to, even though they were Catholic or Greek Orthodox and she was Anglican. She read the Bible to them and taught them poems and hymns. She was remembered with affection as 'a dear little woman, always in black'; 'our lovely friend'.

For many years Elizabeth Bellamy went to St Matthews Church, which the Greek Orthodox Lebanese also attended until their own church was established. Although St Matthews was a leading mission church in the early twentieth century, it is not known to have organised any city mission in its area. This work was left to Bellamy, who was described in the Church Envoy as being 'unremitting in her Christian service to the Syrians of this city'.

Elizabeth Bellamy dreamed of returning to the Middle East, to do further work there, and of being finally 'laid to rest under sunny Syrian skies'. But she lived out her last years at Ross Home, Dunedin, where she died at the age of 95 on 18 August 1940. She had never married, and was buried in the family burial ground at Tapanui.