THE PIONEER WOMEN
The life and times of the women folkby Anthony G. Flude ©2001
The sign, hammered onto the outside wall of a settlers wooden shack near the waterfront in the year 1844, indicated a great shortage of the fair sex in the colony.
"WANTED: A gentle-woman to marry. Contact: William Jerrard."
European women were in great demand in New Zealand in those early times. That is, women prepared to marry the many single men who had arrived at the colony among the first whalers and settlers, who now had their own land and reasonable accommodation to offer. The single unaccompanied emigrant women, willing to marry and looking for a husband, were ''snapped'' up by the local men soon after their arrival.
Many of these single women and the married emigrant couples with young children, had left their native Scotland and Ireland because they had already experienced poverty and knew well the pangs of hunger, where there was only a meagre income for the family and little or no food to put on the table for the their children.
These were the ''assisted'' passengers aboard the emigrant ships who were quartered in the hold. The family groups were herded together in small cramped conditions among the many other emigrants aboard and left to find their own space among the barrels, ropes and sails.
There were no toilet facilities and so scarlet fever, measles, diphtheria and dysentery attacked many of the families. Death was not uncommon among the young passengers; the newborn aboard ship and the young babies in arms were the worst effected.
Other fare paying passengers who were allocated cabins fared much better in their accommodation aboard ship.
Mary Long, her husband John and their two boys, 6 and 11 yrs, arrived in Wellington in the year 1849. After the ship had docked, several of the men went ashore, including John, to try and find accommodation.
He returned, after two hours, to the wharf, pulling a small hand cart. Together they gathered their belongings from the ship, carrying the remainder of their hand luggage to the only house that John could find. It was a humble dwelling, an empty wooden structure that had two small rooms upstairs and just one large one downstairs with a wooden floor.
There were no shelves, no cupboards and no hooks to hang anything onto.
Until they could find a carpenter to make them some pieces of furniture, they dined off of a large packing case, sat on soap boxes for chairs and slept on the floor on sugar sacks filled with fern.
There was little work available in the township for John, but being adaptable, he managed to get employment on the wharf. Mary had plenty to keep her occupied in the house. The wooden floors needed sweeping and scrubbing daily as roads were non-existent and the dust, which was thrown up from the horses hooves and carts that passed by, settled everywhere.
There was firewood to collect daily, fruit to be preserved, clothes to wash, dry and mend, lessons for the children in maths, spelling and geography, as there were no schools for them to attend and if there was any time left, to go shopping in Queen Street.
In the early settlers kitchen, cooking was done over an open fire. Pots for boiling were suspended on an iron frame from hooks over the heat, while roasting of meat and poultry was done on a clockwork or hand operated roasting spit. Cast iron cooking ranges were not introduced into New Zealand until the 1850's which were fueled by wood or coal and also supplied hot water.
The Auckland Gas Works was built in the year 1862, bring a supply of gas for cooking and lighting to Auckland Township houses. By 1869, gas was available to households in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, although the first gas ranges were very primitive.
Another emigrant named Sarah, a single lady who had been in domestic service in Ireland and had helped with the children during the voyage, found lodging in what was called a 'hotel' with two other women. It was nothing more than a wooden hut with a shingle roof which had neither a proper door nor windows and the roof let in the rain. It had no table or chairs; a tea chest had been upturned and used as a table, soap boxes for chairs and only one set of knife, fork and spoon which was washed and used by each of them in turn.
Three pigs heads, that had been cooking all the afternoon in a large black pot hung over the burning embers of the fire, produced an edible soup, into which had been thrown a few potatoes. Ladled out into a large china dish, together with potatoes and a few pieces of pork, it was dished up for the evening meal. Next days bread was made from flour, baking soda and water, mixed until a sticky mess, when it was made into long rolls and stuck onto a stick which was rotated by hand in front of the fire. Sarah found employment with a family as a domestic some three days later.
It was E.J.Wakefield who first decided to offer helpful suggestions to the public as to what type of person should come out to the new colony in his booklet "Advice to Intending Colonists" which was published for the New Zealand Company in London.
This was later summarised, from a woman's point of view, by an emigrant already in New Zealand. She told it like it was and placed would be emigrants into these categories:-
(a) Those who should venture to emigrate. These should be strong and of good constitution and be prepared to ROUGH IT, work hard and can live and thrive on those things that are cheap to buy. Men of speculative tendencies, good business habits, and sufficient money to get them started in some business. Tradesmen of all types, the hard working class, for wages are better than in the old country and food is cheap.
(b) Those who should never venture out. Well to do ladies and gentlemen from high class families--this class of person is utterly useless in the colony and will suffer great hardships. People on low incomes from England who's money will not go far in the colony, for 30/- a week would be no more than £1 a week at home. Food is cheaper but everything else is dearer.
Others, who's characters are not suited to colonial life, are those who are sympathetic, imaginative, poetic and refined in their tastes. These will be the ones who will pine for home and the companionship of their life in the old country.
The only employment openings for emigrants in the 'uneducated' ladies category, were domestic service, shop work or factory work. Those, who could show a better education, who could read or write, found office positions with various companies. They could also enroll in a four month's course of instruction as nurses.
A drapery assistant in a Queen's Street shop worked from 9am to 6pm; Saturdays 9am to 9pm. They had 1hr for dinner, were allowed no holidays except for Christmas Day, New Years Day and Easter and were paid £1/15/0 per week.
Work could be found at the various steam laundries which sprang up in the larger towns. The work was hot and tedious using the large steam irons from 8 am until 6 pm with a half hour for lunch. Wages were £1/0/0 a week and there were no holidays given except Xmas day and New Years Day. At some of the laundries, young girls only 12 years old were working the same hours as the adults.
Farming 750 acres near Hamilton in the year 1872, immigrants Walter and Alicia Chitty cleared the land, burned off the bush and bred horses and sheep. She described life on the farm in her sketch, written in 1936, when she was 78 yrs old.
She described how the women walked many miles to the village with their baskets of eggs. They would barter these for other goods they required, as very little money changed hands at the stores. The earliest equipment in their home was a Colonial oven and big iron kettles, which could either be hung over the fire or rest on top of the bars on the stove.
They had large iron boilers for washing the clothes which rested on large stones outside so a fire could be lit beneath. Lighting was by candlelight and kerosene lamps which had to be cleaned daily. Dishes were washed in small hand basins, filled with hot water from over the fire.
A well was dug nearby, but the water was not safe enough for her to make butter. She walked a quarter of a mile from the house to obtain water from a crystal clear spring. Alicia made butter in the dairy but there were no separators and the cream was collected off it for three days. There was no refrigerators or ice for the pioneers women.
Alicia was married at fifteen and had her first child when she was twenty-one. She had nine children and all her confinements always took place at home; there was a doctor in Hamilton and a midwife in the district who seemed to always be out on call when needed.
Milking was all done by hand. Bread was home-made; the fresh meat came off the farm, killed by Walter. If a pig was killed, it meant more work for the women when brawn had to be made. The bacon was cured by dry-salting, then the meat was hung in a smokehouse. When there was poultry for the meal, the feathers were carefully saved in bags until there was enough to make a pillow.
As the land was cleared and cultivated, it became more productive. Crops of oats, wheat and barley grew in the paddocks. Fruit trees produced a good crop, enough for dessert the first season. In later years, cases of fruit were taken to the market on the dray.
Walter, like many of his neighbours, invested 2/6d in a bundle of blackberry plants and then spent a lot of money trying to eradicate it from the hillsides in later years. During the harvesting and shearing times there was a never ending supply of refreshments made by the housewife which was sent to the fields or sheds where the men were working.
Others emigrants found the farming life and times very hard. Jane Oates emigrated in 1856 with five children to join her husband Samuel on a Wairarapa farm. All money from the farm was put back into stock, land and crops.
She wrote exactly as she spoke in her letter to her sister in England:
"dear sister, you say that it is 8 yers since we saw each other and thare is a grate change since that for I have beene that I have not had a shue that wold stay on my foot, and Oates as sould the cloes of his back to the nateves for weate....... and I ham living in a werey of split slabs and bark naled on the nicks to keepe the wind out. It is a miserable place in winter..not fit to lie in. It is no wonder at me being hill, living in such a place as this............The bedsted that I li on is sowed logs with slabs naled to them. I have got too chares-one that son Richard and is farther made-and a rocking chair. The rest is stools to sit on. But now we have got plenty of sheepe and cattel and corn....and now I hope brother is able to send me the money that dear farther left for me and then we will try to hav a hous to liv in....... "
Gradually the small villages and towns grew as more and more emigrants flooded into New Zealand and built roads and new dwellings. The old whares and sheds began to tumble down and be replaced with wooden sheathed and weatherboard houses.
Timber shingles were cut for the roofs and even corrugated iron was imported from Australia. As more skilled tradesmen entered the colony, furniture was built from kauri and rimu timber from the surrounding forests and the homes began to take on a air of establishment.
The New Zealander published the following new land allotments for emigrants on the 8th January, 1859.
"Each capitalist emigrant is entitled to 40 acres of land for each over 18 year old member of his family and for each servant or labourer he may take out. Children, between five years and 18 years count as a half adult and receive 20 acres each. Extra land can be purchased, in addition to the above, at 10/- and acre. The above is conditional upon residents residing within the Province of Auckland for four out of five years after their arrival in New Zealand."
Those who had arrived in the new colony with some capital, found it much easier to become established. By the 1860's there were some very fine homes built in most of the towns of New Zealand. These employed the domestic servants, butlers, cooks, gardeners and groomsmen for the horses and coaches of Victorian style, much as it was in their homes in England.
Domestics worked a long day from 6.30 am start till 11pm finish. Their duties included housework, ironing and sewing, for which they received the sum of 9/- weekly. They were allowed one night off a week, either Saturday or Sunday night.
Children were offered free education by the Government at a State School in 1877. It was found however, that half the children in the towns went to private schools, while others were taught at home by their parents or governesses. Up until the year 1903, attendance at a secondary school was a great privilege and many children left school at around 12 to 14 years old.
Up to the age of 3 years old, the children, both boys and girls, were always dressed in exactly the same clothes. Favourite were frocks and jackets, made of wool, silk, poplin or velvet. It was considered shameful to allow your children to wear no shoes or socks or allow them to run about barefoot.
Once at school, the girls wore long dark coloured dresses, covered with a white embroidered pinafore. Boys were breeched, that is, put into their first trousers and their long curled hair cut off short. Older boys could wear a 'sailors suit' and high boots at 10/- a pair from England, or the local variety which fell apart after a few months in the rain, for 8/- a pair. At age 18 the young ladies were expected to put UP their hair on top of their head and lower their skirt hems DOWN.
The School Committee and teaching staff at Devonport School posed for the photograph (right) in 1889.
It shows the formality of dress expected from staff and no doubt their pupils which lasted well into the turn of the century. School dress was a little more relaxed out into the country areas but a good standard of dress was always expected, especially from the girls.
The Victorian families who had a good income and who's husbands held positions in offices, government, or their own business, found life in the new colony much easier. Husbands and older sons left home each morning and went about the business of the day in their offices, shops or factory.
For the women, there was the day to day running of the house. The maids filled the bath, washed and dressed the children, who were later handed over to their governess for daily lessons including music and singing. Instructions were given every day to the gardener, the groomsman and cook, who discussed the days meals with her mistress.
Then there was the social life. Afternoon tea, attendance at various functions around the town for social discourse, dances at night and the occasional visit to the Town Hall for a show or musical concert, or to shop for the latest in fashion, driven by the coachman in the horse and trap.
Although many letters to England from the 'well-to-do' complained of the lack of social life in the colony to their friends they had left behind, Victorian life for the wealthy and their families was little different in New Zealand than it had been in their previous homes in England, Ireland or Scotland.
Some magnificent and substantial homes were built around the towns of both islands of New Zealand in the period of the 1860-1880's, many of which still survive today.
Others have been left in trust to the nation for the general public to view, or for the bride and groom to pose for their wedding photograph's with their bridesmaids and family, in the well maintained and manicured gardens.