Elvina Bay’s noble friends

By Deborah Jones

In 1849 a group of vineyard workers from Europe came to the Hunter Valley to help develop the burgeoning wine-making business. Vines had been planted in the early 1820s on the northern banks of the Hunter River in an area between Maitland and Singleton, where white settlement had just begun. This was a very new industry.

The immigrants were Germans who lived in the Alsace region, an area that was sometimes under German rule and at other times French. But no matter who was in control, it was and remains known for its wines, particularly Riesling and Gewürtztraminer.

Among the newcomers to Australia was a man with the French-sounding surname of Bouffier, a reminder, perhaps, of the malleable border between France and Germany at that time. Henry (or Heinrich as he was originally named) Bouffier’s family made its mark. As the Cessnock Advertiser reported in 2017, the Bouffier family established the first vineyard in the Cessnock region in 1866.
What has this to do with Elvina Bay? That would be because it is named after a woman called Elvina Kate Bouffier, a member of that pioneering wine-making family. Born in 1882, she was Henry’s granddaughter and the daughter of Henry’s son Frank Bouffier (1858-1898) and Catherine (Gattenhoff) Bouffier (1857-1940) (pictured above: image supplied by Vivianne Byrnes).

Delightfully, the name Elvina means “noble friend”. And “friend of the elves”.

Elvina came to be memorialised here and in other places around the Northern Beaches because her sister, Florence, married one of Pittwater’s early property developers, Herbert Fitzpatrick.

Herbert and Florence’s granddaughter Vivianne Byrnes says Herbert had a chequered business career in the 1910s and 1920s. He was rich for a while and went bankrupt several times. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on through such names as Elvina Bay and Florence Terrace, among others. Catherine Park on Scotland Island is named after two women named Catherine, one of them being Herbert’s mother-in-law, Catherine Bouffier.

Vivianne Byrnes, who is the great-granddaughter of Catherine Bouffier, says Elvina is a name that continues to be prized in her family. Indeed, her mother is called Elvina.

Herbert died young, at 48. Florence left the area to live in Lewisham, “which was considered a big comedown”, says Vivianne Byrnes. Only things left are some boating trophies, stories, and a lot of place names.

The photo below is thought to have been taken in about 1916 when Elvina was 34. She is pictured with her two daughters, Hilda (1909-1997), seen standing, and Pat (1911-1968), sitting. The children were about seven and five respectively.

Next year will mark the centenary of Elvina Kate Bouffier’s death.

Note: Scotland island Recreation Club opens the 2 Catherines Café twice monthly.

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