John Helier Vautier

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John Helier Vautier


John Helier Vautier, born in Jersey in 1834, was one of the founders of Napier, New Zealand

From the Cyclopedia of New Zealand

John Helier Vautier was the second Mayor of Napier, and held office from December 1878 to 29 May 1882.

He was born in Jersey, in 1834, the son of St Martin farmer John Vautier. He was educated and brought up to the building trade in his native island, and in 1854 went to Liverpool, England, and sailed in the ship Lightning for Victoria.

After a smart run of 76 days, the Lightning arrived in Melbourne, and there Mr Vautier remained until 1855, when he left for Wellington in the brig Onkaparinga, reaching that port three hours before the disastrous earthquake. Mr Vautier has very lively recollections of the effect produced on shore by the great shock.

Towards the end of 1857 he went to Nelson, and tried gold-mining at Collingwood, but soon after removed to Napier. Hawke's Bay was then a very sparsely-settled district, and when he arrived, the hill, or collection of hills, which is now the pride of the borough, was covered with ferns.

There was only one hotel in the town, and as the demand for houses and stores was great, the advent of a builder was mutually satisfactory. As this demand slackened, Mr Vautier entered into business as a coal and general merchant, and from this gradually became a ship-owner, on a fairly large and remunerative scale.

In 1885 he sold out his vessels, and since then has spent his time in looking after his landed properties, and serving the public in a variety of ways.

On the occasion of the first Borough Council election, he was returned at the head of the poll, and he was chairman of the public works committee until he was elected Mayor. He was made a life member of the Napier Harbour Board by the Governor, but on the repeal of the Act, under which the appointment was made, he became a member by virtue of his office as Mayor. On the expiration of his ex-officio term, he was reappointed by the Government, and was afterwards re-nominated to the Board from time to time.

He was one of the trustees of the Napier Savings Bank throughout its entire existence of 36 years.

In 1861 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Touet, a successful Nelson colonist. Mrs Vautier died in November 1893, leaving one daughter and three sons. Mr Vautier died in 1907.

From a 2019 article by Mark Boleat

John Helier Vautier was perhaps the most prominent early Jersey emigrant to New Zealand. He was born in St Helier on 16 January 1834, the son of John Vautier, a farmer, and Marie Mollet.

In 1854 he travelled from Liverpool to Melbourne on the clipper Lightning. A number of other Jersey people were on the voyage, one of whom, Josue Le Quesne, became John Vautier’s travelling and business partner.

They remained in Melbourne for only six months before sailing to Nelson and then on to Wellington, arriving in January 1855. By the end of 1857 he had settled in Napier, which had a population of just 343, including some other Jersey emigrants.

In 1861 he married Elizabeth Touet, born in Jersey in 1838, the daughter of Edward and Jane Touet. They subsequently had six children. He kept in touch with Jersey, including sponsoring the six daughters (Elizabeth, Charlotte, Ellen, Jane, Ann and Mary Anne) of Pierre and Nancy Robert (née Dolbel) to move to New Zealand where they all subsequently married. Nancy Dolbel was the sister of Philippe Dolbel who sought to bring Jersey people to New Zealand in the 1870s.

Vautier quickly became a successful coal and general merchant and then shipowner. He sold his vessels in 1885 to concentrate on property interests and public life. He became a councillor in 1884 and was Mayor of Napier from December 1878 to May 1882.

He was instrumental in building the first hospital in Napier and was on the Napier Harbour Board from 1875 to 1901 where he promoted the construction of a deep water port. He died in 1907, leaving substantial wealth to his four surviving children. One of his grandsons was Maxwell Helier Vautier CBE, a former Justice of the High Court of New Zealand.

There is a Vautier Street in Napier.


John Helier Vautier and Elizabeth Touet had seven children:

  • John Edward (1862-1880); James Touet (1863-1925), who married Agnes McLean; Thomas Philip (1866-1932) who married Florence Russell (1878-1933) and had a son John Russell Vautier (1907-2003); Theodore Arthur Ernest (1867-1867); Charles Alfred (1869-1949) who married Florence Isobel Bedford (1870-1933); Ada Jemima (1871-1932) and Lena Mabel (1874-1875).
  • Elizabeth Touet was born in Jersey in 1838, the daughter of Edouard (1811-1896) and Jeanne Gallichan (1813-1890)
  • John Helier's parents were Jean Abraham Vautier (1802-1879) and Marie (Molly) Mollet (1805-1870) They had two further children: Thomas (1805- ) and James Wellington (1815- )
  • Jean Abraham was the son of Jean (1780- ) and Mary Hepburn. We have found no record of this marriage and are unable to trace Jean Abraham's ancestry
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