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Title: A Grandmother Remembers
Author: Adelyn Cameron
In: Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 5, October 1979
Publication details: Nelson Historical Society (Inc.), October 1979, Nelson
Part of: Journal of the Nelson Historical Society
Keywords: New Zealand History
License: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand
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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 5, October 1979
A Grandmother Remembers
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A Grandmother Remembers
Mary Ann Hodgkinson's story of her early life in Nelson. She arrived on the Thomas Harrison in 1842 and died in 1893 at the age of eighty. We are grateful to Adelyn Cameron who has allowed us to re-print this extract from her family history, "Longslip" – "Ben Avion" which deals with the descendants of Edmund Hodgkinson who settled in the back country of Otago.
Dear little girl, you ask why we came across the sea from England to New Zealand. Times were very hard in Nottinghamshire in 1840; something happened to the raw cotton and factories closed leaving millions unemployed. Unfortunate people tramped the roads barefoot and some died by the wayside.
Father was very interested in Edward Gibbon Wakefield's scheme of founding a New Zealand colony for strong hearty men who were wasting their lives in hopeless idleness. Our minister talked to us all in Greasly and we decided to emigrate. My chest was weak and we had three small children and could see very little hope for them. All the same the thought of the long journey appalled me.
We came in the Thomas Harrison, a small ship of 370 tons carrying 187 immigrants, and left England on May 25th, 1842. Our journey lasted seven months one week and four days. The long dark nights and never-ending roar of the sea were hard to endure and I often felt we were sailing on forever – after all we had never seen a map with New Zealand marked on it. Father comforted me and said we would surely arrive some day as the Wakefield's were there. Then one day we were wildly excited – land appeared and a snowy mountain reared its lovely head above a haze of blue. Captain Smith said we were nearly there and we knelt on the deck and thanked God. We sailed down a silver coast and gazed with wonder at this high land covered with a magnificent forest.
On 25th October, 1842 we landed at Nelson. It was a lovely day, a fairy land scene of blue sky and reflecting water. In the distance a great snow-covered range of mountains reared their heads, strange and mysterious. I was very far from well, but shook out my crinoline and carefully straightened the flowers in my bonnet. My woollen shawl had become very dingy because it had been wrapped round Emma on cold nights. However, here we were stepping bravely ashore with our three children, George, aged 10 years, Lydia, 6 years and Emma 3 years. Father left us on the beach while he unloaded our gear, heavy enough to carry but pitifully scant to start a home in a new land.
I was feeling very shaky and stood gazing in wonder at the bush-clad hills when along came a dark tatooed Maori advancing violently towards me with a club. My worst fears of cannibalism seemed to be realised. After such a long journey thus we were to die. Lydia and Emma promptly disappeared under my crinoline. This astounded the Maori and at his next approach he bent down, eyes popping with astonishment, burst into laughter and said, "Just like the hera," (hen). George now promptly punched him on the nose. At the flowing blood I felt more alarmed than ever, but a happy looking Maori woman rushed up, took my hand and explained that we were really being welcomed.
We went to the depot erected by Captain Wakefield on what is now Church Hill where our beautiful Cathedral now stands. Back and forth to the page 33Port, carrying our bundles we went, helped by the same Maori who had greeted us so violently on our arrival. His wife came too and attached herself to little Emma. their names were Wera and Winnie and no kinder folk ever existed on this earth. Each family had a marked floor space in the depot and as we were well used to each others company we fitted in nicely. The weather was lovely and the children ran happily round in the bright sunshine gathering sticks for the fire and scrambling up the hills, delightful freedom after the cramped sea voyage.
We women were left alone at the depot and enjoyed the freedom after being cooped in a cabin exposed to the wild seas, dangers of fire, death and childbirth.
The first night we were alone we heard strange voices calling like Indian signals. We huddled together in the darkness. On board ship we had been drilled in self defence and warned against the possibility of attack. Whose were those strange voices calling? In the morning we searched for signs of intruders, but found none, and decided a band of wandering Maoris had passed by and that it would not happen again. The next night the voices called again and in the morning no sign could be seen in the fern and nothing could be seen in the bush. We set off and told the settlers lower down about the strange voices and our wakeful nights. With much laughter they told us what we had heard were the voices of New Zealand owls calling "more pork" which sounded so human. How often I was to hear these same calls from our mud house in the bush.
When our men returned we set off for our new home down past Nelson Port, round the rocks and beach, then up through the fern to Wakefield. Winnie and Wera went with us and helped with the bundles. Captain Wakefield's men lent us a little donkey but the going was slow because of the children. We were four days and nights getting there, sleeping under trees with fern for beds, covered with our roll of rugs. Wera kept a roaring fire going, taking turns sitting up with Winnie. They sat by the fire, big eyes glancing right and left into the bush, sometimes a muttered word – what they feared we never knew, but waking and seeing those tattooed faces grimly alert, I felt a new safety as if their eyes and ears were aware of events miles away.
Finally we arrived on our land, made a fire and cooked a meal of potatoes. The men soon had a hut of slab and fern made to shelter us and, after catching a supply of silver eels and kaka, Winnie and Wera took leave of us, tears streaming down our cheeks. I gave Winnie my lovely paisley shawl. She proudly wore it afterwards in Wellington.
The men of Wakefield worked together clearing ground and scratching soil around to plant wheat. I planted cherry plum and laurel stones, seeds of herbs and flowers from which I made ointment once we had lard to spare.
The first winter was hard but we had plenty of game for the pot roast, potatoes by June and some wheat to grind in a wooden bowl Father made from a tree.
My fourth child, Edmund, was born in the following July 1843 and our health wonderfully improved, my chest trouble gone. Just before Edmund's birth came the savage onslaught of the Wairau Massacre when Captain Wakefield and his party were murdered. The whole countryside was shocked and alarmed. The southern province of the North Island and Nelson and Marlborough were overshadowed by the constant threat of a visit from them.
The depot on the hill where we had stayed was made into a defensive place and we were invited to go there for protection while scouts watched landing places along the coast. We decided to stay at home – me being unable to walk the distance, food scarce, children small and our wee home needed protection.
The local Maoris feared a change in our treatment of them, and the women, so much alone in the bush, felt very uneasy, however, we remained friends. One evening at dusk we heard the terrible war-dance when a party of strange Maoris were camped a quarter of a mile away. This blood-curdling sound was terrifying beyond description and the ground shook as their feet thumped the earth in perfect time to the fearsome shouts. We were sitting in darkness, beacuse as yet we had no candles, which increased the terrible dread.
Father said, "Now, Mary Ann set out all the food we have in the place, keep a good fire going and be ready to feed them if they come. I will creep nearer to see what they are doing."
I filled the go-ashore with potatoes and set it on the fire, tucked the children into bed with their clothes on and set the table. Then I bundled up all the warm clothes we had and slipped away to the bush where I hid them in a hollow log. We had recently bought a young heifer, one of the first four to come to the district. She was a most precious possession and was always tethered for fear she would make a meal of the deadly tutu. I now led her away through the fern and tied her up in a patch of scrub. I then sat with a beating heart for hours. I had taken Flossie, our only dog in by the fire – she was too small for protection but gave me a little company, and besides she barked.
A Maori woman's voice called out "Pakaha wahine" several times. I held Flossie close, my hand muzzling her, but felt I must answer because the house wasn't strong enough to keep out intruders, so asked them what they wanted. They said, "Kaikai bergoo" (food, porridge) so I slid the panel of the door but did not unbar it. Several dark faces showed and children cried, so greatly daring, I opened the door, and saw a group of Maori women and some children. They looked forlorn so I brought them in and when they saw the table set their eyes glowed. I dished up each wahine a wooden bowl of potatoes and cut up all the bread we had and spread it with wild pig's lard and made a big pot of tea. By the light of the fire I fed the children and found a few extras for them such as a wooden doll, a tiny handkerchief and a bangle of beads I had made for Lydia – I wish I were an artist to reproduce the scene. They thanked me many times in broken English though I could not understand where they came from. They clasped my hands, touched my fair hair with wonder and off they went.
My husband soon returned from where he had been watching the warriors and their war dance. He had seen the women leave the camp and felt sure I could deal with them, but he never took his eyes off the men until they settled to sleep around the camp fires. We stayed by the fire all night and in the morning they were gone.
We were overshadowed by Te Rauparaha and his terrible nephew, Rangi Haeta who had slain Captain Wakefield; no doubt we would have had bloodshed in our district only they raided Wellington and the Hutt Valley. The new settlers were not allowed to arm for fear of incidents; perhaps it was page 35wisest in the long run, but to settle unarmed emigrants in a wild land surrounded by a powerful native race of fierce warriors who loved fighting for its own sake seems very foolish.
We felled the bush and raked around the stumps and sowed wheat. There were plenty of kakas and pigeons in the bush and except for one spring when we had a hunger pinch and had to dig up the seed potatoes and make clothes from sacks we managed fairly well. I never heard of any district having to do this though poverty was general. Once we had our own milk and potatoes we were never without food. Breakfast consisted of "thick dick," a pot of boiled milk thickened with flour or the "bergoo" which is really the Maori pronounciation of porridge.
Father built us a house of two rooms with earthern floor and walls, timbered roof covered with wood shingles and wooden chimney plastered inside and out with clay. First he grew a crop of oats and when they were harvested the boys pulled up the stubble roots and cut bundles of rushes and raupo to make re-inforcements from the puddled clay. Our precious heifer calved and I had hens and ducks and a herb garden and fat for home made candles that I made myself set in home-made tin moulds in a box.
My people in England now sent me a little lace-making machine to make lace for the girls' petticoats; alas, my girls wore no lace in the bush. I made the lace and sent it to Wellington and sold it through the kind efforts of Lady Dillon. The money was spent on moleskin for the boys' trousers winch I made by using dressed flax for threads.
Some of my children were born in this mud house bur when Tom came in 1845 I had no milk and my precious cow slipped her tether and foundered in a swamp. Father went to the mountains and caught a mother goat in milk and the baby was reared on goat's milk.
We women of Wakefield had no medical attention at childbirth, but we attended one another. Mrs Isaac Baigent, my opposite neighbour, cared for me and I for her. When a home boat was due at Nelson most of the women went to the Port together. The men hadn't the time so there were six or seven women and a baby or two to make the journey on foot. The kindly Maori women waited at the riverside to carry us over saying, "Pakeha women want dry feet."
We bought what stores we could afford – mainly the precious flour – and carried them back in packs. Our greatest excitement was the prospect of getting letters, "Dear England, we will hear from you," and we ran round clasping each other's hands crying, "We will hear from home."
We soon had a larger mud house built – two rooms downstairs and two up. The old house was my dairy and we soon had cows, pigs, horses and sheep. Fencing was always a problem and we ran cows in the open bush. They wore bells round their necks and the children had to find them when the bells tinkled. They became very cunning and stood still when hunted and went wild sometimes and by the time the boys found them they had a couple of young ones.
I had eleven children altogether – George, Lydia, Emma, Edmund, Thomas, Alfred, Reuben, Mary Ann, Matilda, Evelyne and William. I sometimes cried during my pregnancies for the good food we had in England, but we reared this healthy family in a very happy home.
The folk that passed my door during these years were many and varied. Maoris were always on the track. They had a summer fishing camp at the Lake some miles to the south and, being folk who loved to travel, went page 36constantly back and forth. We did not always have food to spare for them so Father made me a store box in the earth floor and there we had a little store. When they came I opened wide the cupboard and gave them what was within and then said, "All gone." Tea was a luxury we seldom had but when possible I saved the used leaves and dried them. They made a second brew for the Maoris on the track and were much appreciated.
Gold was discovered in the Wangapeka and now we saw a different type of traveller and again our lives were unsafe. Some miners were decent men and some from California and Australian diggings landed in Nelson and then tramped inland. Gold was also discovered at Canvastown and the motley crew went by my door, many looking steady and resolute, others shifty-eyed and dangerous. We had become possessed of a double barrelled gun by the time the gold strikes came. It was kept high on a rack inside the front door and more than once I took it down and said, "You get, this gun is blood-thirsty," though inwardly I was quaking.
We saw bearded surveyors come and go walking into the back of beyond called forth by those beckoning mountains filled wish the spirit of exploration. Sometimes we would see the same men return two years later with dirty ragged eyes, starved with semi-starvation but always the colonising urge was there. The spirit and determination to push ahead with the work we had all undertaken was a strange thing, surely put into our hearts for a purpose. Only God could have been the source of it. Ministers and teachers had already begun the policy of teaching the Maori better ways. Our Wakefield women taught the wahines sewing, hygiene and our language. In return they did much for us and these were instances of Maori women saving the lives of delicate babies by breast-feeding them. I knew of one white woman who breast-fed an ailing baby of a petty chief. Thereafter she was never allowed to carry her bundles. When we took our few commodities to Nelson to sell – such as butter – a Maori always accompanied us after that and carried her pack, waited at Nelson and carried her stores home. They always called her "Lady" though she was a very humble person.
One morning when near the birth of Mary Ann a strange looking, dark Maori carrying a large roll on his shoulder came to the gate. I felt unable to face him and thought I would hide. Well, there was nowhere to hide so I faced him openly. His face broke into a smile and in the softest of voices which surely only belongs to the Maori, he said, "Te Nakohe," and laid the bundle at my feet. Next he unrolled it and there was a lovely woven rug of dressed flax. "For you," he said. "The new pepe (baby) come and you have the bare floor. We made you the mat, you give my wahine the tea leaf, the 'bergoo', the bacon, you the good pakeha wahine," and with a beaming smile he went.
Little Evelyne had a leg injury when four years old and by 1860 a doctor paid periodic visits from Nelson. When she knew he was coming she would hide in the bush as the scraping of the shin bone without anaesthetic was very painful. One day, having taken herself off, she came running back to say there was a black woman in the bush with blood all over her. I went out and found the great tall woman propped up by a log. She had a bad head injury; somehow we got her to the house where I bathed the gaping wound and bound it tightly. I got her into bed and we heated stones and packed them around her. She could not speak but only rolled her big dark eyes from side to side.
When the doctor came my sons sat on her legs and held her down while he stitched the wound. The husband arrived, a big Irishman named Sullivan. He had inflicted the gash and when the doctor mentioned "Nelson Police" he hurried off up the road. Father came in then and, learning the story, picked up a manuka waddy and chased him down the track. We nursed the woman for a fortnight; she was a huge gentle creature and said she was half Indian. When able to travel she went off down the track with her two children, a pack of food and a blanket I spared for her. She loved the man and her only desire was to join the wretch who had gone to the diggings at Canvastown.
We were horrified at the murders committed in the dark Maungatapu range where miners were killed for their gold and possessions. The perpetrators were caught and hanged and, looking at their scowling faces, I felt as if I had seen them pass my door.
One night in the seventies a great blaze lit the sky. The men climbed a high hill and came back and said it must be a ship on fire at sea. Alas, it was the Tarawera eruption where a Maori village was buried and the beautiful pink and white terraces destroyed.
My children grew up and went further inland into the timber – what we called the "big stuff." Their job was to deal with the logging, raging bush fires, flooded rivers and disputed land titles.
Now I am over eighty years old and have enjoyed telling you all these stories. I was never sorry I followed Father into the wilderness and would like to live it all over again.
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Mary Ann Hodgkinson's Timeline
March 1, 1813
Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom
June 27, 1832
September 18, 1837
Greasley, Nottinghamshire, England