Hutt City Libraries Online Heritage Collection > Texts

Lower Hutt Past and Present (1941)

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Woman's Contribution

The Heritage of the Century.

Viewing Lower Hutt, product of a hundred years of "civilisation," comparisons of the past and present present themselves in bewildering succession. The religious, social and domestic conditions to-day contrast strikingly indeed with those portrayed by early colonists. We enjoy the fruits of their strenuous and often heart-breaking efforts in every phase of life. But if we have sacrificed many of the simpler joys of life, perhaps with the inevitable swing of the pendulum, the next hundred years will see some of them restored. The domestic amenities, in a country where women have little help in their homes, are all to the good, for the mother and housewife is freed for wider activities outside the four walls of the home; but the clubs and societies claim more and more of her time and energies, rather to the detriment of home lite, with its simple enjoyments.
A musical evening, a tennis party, or the entertainment of a neighbour a mile or two away were "events" in our grandmothers' day, and attending church, one family frequently occupying a whole pew, was taken for granted. Sport, nowadays, is a science, education is highly specialised, and the highest standard is demanded in the practice of the arts. All this has introduced an era far removed from conditions under which our forebears lived, but their efforts in hewing out homes for themselves in a new land made this "march of civilisation" possible.

The Pilgrim Mothers.

A tribute to the "pilgrim mothers" who accompanied their husbands to a far country, and shared all the hazards and heart-breaks as well as the joys and triumphs inseparable from life in a new land, would be incomplete without a brief review of the difficulties of life on shipboard during the long months of the voyage from the Old Land. A passenger who left with one of the first ships describes the confusion of the scene when the ship was about to leave Gravesend. Emigrants, their personal effects, furniture of every description, squealing pigs and distracted hens, presented a picture of wild disorder. Some of the passengers were obviously eagerly anticipating the great adventure, others sorrowfully taking leave of their loved ones. In the cramped quarters of the ship, often encountering terrible storms, the intrepid adventurers suffered conditions inconceivably wretched, till they finally disembarked on the shores of Aotearoa, only to be confronted with hardships calling for even greater endurance.
The first arrivals met a friendly reception from the Maoris. Great tribute has been paid to the chiefs and the part they played during the early colonisation, but there has been little reference to their womenfolk. It is recorded that when the grand old chief Te Puni welcomed the first immigrants on the shores of Petone, his beautiful wife Victoria, and his lovely daughter
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Aene, the princess, were the cynosure of all eyes. Many of those Englishmen married women of the Maori race, who proved faithful and devoted helpmates of their husbands.
A grand-daughter of the old chief Te Puni, and a well-known identity of the district, Mrs. Mann Mataka, passed away in September, 1940, at her home just a few hundred yards south of Te Tatau o te Po, the Maori meeting place erected on the Hutt Road a few years ago. According to Mrs. Love, her cousin, she was the "elder" of the Maori community, and she it was who always welcomed the guests at Te Tatau o te Po, whether the occasion was a tangi or a social event. In collaboration with Mrs. Love during the Great War, her efforts for "the boys" overseas were indefatigable, for she was a past mistress at taniko (weaving) work, which sold readily for patriotic purposes. Efforts during this war also commanded her sympathy and practical assistance.
For these English women, migrating to a new land, many of them delicately nurtured and totally unused to a life of hardship, the Maoris were at first a source of terror. A young mother, whose babe was born on the voyage, after leaving the Cape of Good Hope, confessed to very mixed emotions and not a little inward trepidation when she disembarked on the Petone beach with her tiny infant before an interested and impressive audience of swarthy warriors attired in mats. The mother was Mrs. Daniel Riddiford and her daughter afterwards became Mrs. George Cooper.

Reminiscences

There remain few women in the Valley whose memory reaches back to the 'fifties and 'sixties, but many who proudly relate stories of their mothers' hardships and achievements. A typical pioneer homestead was that of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Frethey, who came to New Zealand in the French ship "Justine" in 1840. One of a family of ten, Mrs. Trevethick (nee Elizabeth Frethey) lives in a picturesque shingle-roofed home built by her parents in 1875 at White's Line West, near the ramp. Her former two-storied home, situated near the Awamutu Stream, was then quite a "residence," boasting ten rooms, and surrounded by a charming flower garden and orchard. The home life was simple, there was plenty of hard work and the conditions were primitive, but they were happy in the enjoyment of simple pleasures. Cooking was done in a camp oven, or tripod. The colonial oven was considered a great improvement. The fire was kindled on top of the oven, and the wood embers were then shovelled beneath, and kept replenished. The food was cooked in the capacious ovens, while the heavy iron kettles and pots stood on bars or were suspended above.
In addition to the ordinary domestic round, the duties of the housewife frequently included milking and the making of butter and cheese, also evil-smelling tallow candles. A daily trip had to be made up the river because the ducks elected to lay some distance away, but the river provided delightful diversion for the young folk, who paddled round in a wooden tub. It was
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related that on one occasion a Wellington girl who visited the homestead ventured out into the stream in the tub, which upset. However, the fact that she was attired in a crinoline, which acted as a lifebuoy, undoubtedly saved her life. Church work provided an outlet for the energies of the more serious minded, and also a modicum of social life.
Another old resident is Mrs. Hollard. As a girl she lived with her aunt, Mrs. Nat Valentine, whose husband was the proprietor of the Aglionby Arms. Her day's routine, she recalls, included milking fifteen cows night and morning, and, of course, the making of butter and cheese. This necessitated rising at 3.30 a.m., and during the strawberry season fruit picking made further demands on time and energy.
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Modern Homes in Lower Hutt.

When a bride furnished a home in those days a horsehair suite was her pride and delight. Mrs. Hollard still possesses a horse-hair rocker in which the babies were rocked to sleep. The "pram" was a box on four wheels. Water had to be carried from the well in buckets. The laundry was equipped with weighty "flat-irons." These were superseded by a charcoal iron, which was very tricky and difficult to manage. Wood ash from the tawa tree was used in place of washing soda. Mrs. Hollard relates that when a relative in the Wairarapa became the proud possessor of linoleum covering for her floor, her home was the magnet for the women of the district. They were intensely interested in floor covering which, unlike boards, did not require scrubbing.
Mr. Hollard was the conductor of the Methodist choir for many years, and their home was frequently the rendezvous for the musical talent of the community. At that time musicales were most popular, but unfortunately in these days of "canned" music they are only too rare.
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Mrs. Wood, a sister of the late John Prouse, who earned wide distinction in the Old Land as well as in the land of his birth as an oratorio singer, has happy memories of such occasions. The family, she says, sang, and their home was the musical mecca of the Valley. It was a matter for great rejoicing in the Prouse family when their father arrived home in Wainui with a piano, which was conveyed from Wellington in a dray.
One of Mrs. Wood's brothers, Richard Prouse, enjoyed rather a novel entry into the world, for he was born in the calf house, in which the family had sought refuge during an earthquake, and he was rather fittingly baptised by the river. Practically all the women in Wainui attended their neighbours at childbirth, one or two having had midwifery experience in England, and as large families were the rule in those days, and the only doctor—Dr. Wilford— was at the Hutt, his attention was requisitioned only in serious cases.
Mr. and Mrs. George Buck, who arrived in 1842, were very well known identities of Taita, and Mrs. Douglas Buck now lives where the old home, a hotel which rejoiced in the name of "Honeymoon Cottage," once stood. The timber for this home was pit-sawn and came from the virgin bush. The Buck family lived at "The Oaks," nearby, a two-storey house with a balcony on three sides, which is still standing.
In the early days a pa was situated where the Taita Hotel now is, so that the lives of the Maori and pakeha were very much intermingled. A half-caste woman attended many of the English women at childbirth in this vicinity.

Maori Raids.

Sporadic Maori raids seriously disrupted the domestic routine, and the pioneer women required all their fortitude at such times. On one occasion, learning that the Maoris were in the vicinity of her home at Waiwhetu, Mrs. Wm. Tannahill snatched up her baby Helen, and rushed for the Waiwhetu Stream, where she hid with her baby under a log until the marauders had disappeared.
During these raids, if time permitted, the women and children took refuge in the stockade. An old resident states that this was dotted with slots for rifles, and the walls sandwiched with shingle.
The parents of a well-known Taita resident, Mr. Job Mabey, arrived in 1841. The Mabeys had two whares, and alternated between them, sleeping in one and living in the other, so that the Maoris were never sure where they might be found. On one occasion the alarm was given that the Maoris were approaching, but Mrs. Mabey, determined to save her treasures, encountered a chief in the doorway. Inwardly quaking, she presented a bold front, and as courage was a quality always respected by the Maoris, she was unmolested.
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It is related that Mrs. T. Mason, wife of "Quaker" Mason, was so indignant at the audacity of a Maori who tried to force his way into her home at Taita, that she smacked his face—without repercussions, which was further proof of the Maori's admiration of "spirit."
Mrs. Elizabeth Minogue was born at the Hutt in 1855, and lived near Naenae Lane. She was the youngest of a family of fourteen, and her sister and her brother each had families of the same size. She recalls how her mother, Mrs. Daniel Peck, anticipating a Maori raid, packed her precious crockery in a box and buried it for safe keeping; and how, on another occasion, her mother, perched on a bed, nursed her during an "old man" flood.
The flood broke the window through which, during its headlong progress, a cow poked its head. Mrs. Minogue's brother was clutching a box of piglets at the time, but the force of the water bore them through the window, and no doubt they shared the fate of much of the stock.
One of the oldest residents of the Valley is Mrs. Lee, widow of Mr. Robert Lee, the first school inspector in the Wellington district. Born in 1848, she still retains her faculties and enjoys excellent health. A valued possession is a beautiful painting of the Hutt Valley from her old home on the Western Hills, executed by her father, the distinguished artist, John Gully, in 1878.

Women To-Day.

With the passing of the years, in common with New Zealand generally, Lower Hutt has advanced with the times; women's organisations and societies have multiplied, and sports clubs likewise. The housewife enjoys amenities in her home undreamed of by her forebears, these mechanical "aids" supplanting the "help" which in these days is almost unobtainable. At present the chief activity outside the home is, of course, "war work," a fact which is rather a striking anomaly after a century of civilisation and progress.
Many capable and gracious women have occupied the position of Mayoress since Lower Hutt attained the status of a borough, and the duties of "first lady" have, with the passing of the years, become more and more onerous. Especially is that so now, when the Mayoress, very much more than a figure-head, is responsible for the organisation of so many patriotic endeavours, in addition to innumerable other activities.
Mrs. J. W. Andrews, who has been Mayoress for eight years, is an indefatigable worker, and her ready sympathy and understanding have earned the deepest appreciation of the entire community. In addition to fulfilling the various demands resulting from her position, Mrs. Andrews has proved a most capable president of many women's organisations. She is the president of the Plunket Society and of the League of Mothers, represents the district on the Wellington Free Ambulance Committee, the Residential Nursery, the Lady Galway Guild, and the Patriotic Committee, and is also the president of the recently-formed Women's Auxiliary of the Lower Hutt branch of the Y.M.C.A.

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