Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997
By Elaine Staples
Anne Catherine Hawker was born in England on 24 November 1802, a daughter of Francis (later Major) Hawker of the Twelfth Dragoons and his wife, Frances. They were living at Fort Henry on the island of Jersey, in the Channel Islands, when she met her future husband, John Alexander Wilson, who had been in the Navy since 1822. They married in 1828 and their first son (also named John Alexander) was born (probably) on 21 April 1829 at Conde-sur-Noireau, Calvados, France. (He was, in 1874 to become a joint owner, with William Kelly, of White Island and, after acquiring the cutter, Tamaki Packet, exported White Island sulphur to Australia. He sold his share in White Island in about 1901 to NZ Loan and Mercantile Agency.)
Due to the influence of Anne, John was converted to Christianity and he retired from the Navy as Lieutenant in 1832. He was accepted by the Church Missionary Society as a lay preacher and they were sent to New Zealand. As with some families, dismayed at the thought of losing a daughter or sister to "such an outlandish place as New Zealand", Anne's relatives were no exception. They also felt that John had abandoned his high position in life to serve in the mission. The London CMS however took care to assure their missionaries that they were "members of the gentry" and not "artisans".
John and Anne and their then two sons' four and a half month voyage from England to Port Jackson, New South Wales, was in a convict ship, the Camden. They described their fellow "passengers" as "profane" and they were ridiculed by the captain and officers. Anne suffered from toothache and seasickness. She wrote to her family, "I am cold, selfish and peevish. Can there be such a thing as a peevish Christian?"
They continued on to New Zealand in the Byron Bay, arriving in the Bay of Islands on 11 April 1833 and after serving there initially, were sent to Puriri in 1834.
In those days Puriri was at the hub of a communications system, linking the Bay of Islands with the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. The idea of extending the Church Missionary Society's operation from the Bay of Islands and Hokianga was first mooted by the Rev. Henry Williams in April 1833. In October of that year a party of missionaries, with some Maori companions, set out in small boats from the Bay of Islands, arriving at Kopu on 9 November 1833, with the intention of discussing the establishment of a mission station with the chiefs of the area. Puriri was subsequently chosen as a site for a new mission station due to its central position, abundance of level land and fresh water. James Preece was appointed to take charge of the new station.
John described his first impressions in a letter to the CMS dated 25 July 1834:-
"You have doubtless heard of our removal to the station at Puriri in the Thames before this. We left the Bay of Islands in the "Fortitude" . . . on Saturday the 19th of April and arrived at Puriri in five days. Since our residence at this place I have been engaged in a variety of ways, in carpentering, building chimnies (sic), superintending the cutting of roads, rendering swamps passable for our horses, fencing in land for my house and garden, and assisting Mr Morgan in the school . . . Our station here is well situated, many powerful tribes may be visited from it and Christian instruction given to numbers."
A third son was born to Anne and John in 1834 and Anne's life revolved around her family and teaching.
Puriri was described by a fellow missionary as a "swampy, foggy, unhealthy hole". The area was plagued by mosquitoes. Anne once wrote to John, away on one of his journeys, "Everybody here is pouri (dark), the weather, myself, the settlement". In October 1835, James Preece wrote to the CMS:-
" . . . We have been induced to recommend the removal of this station on account of its unhealthiness. The Puriri has every sign of an unhealthy place; the land is low and entirely surrounded by swamp which extends for many miles and comes close to the settlement. The vapour which arises therefrom during the whole of the summer have been the cause of our being affected both with fever and ague which nearly proved fatal to Mr Wilson, his two children and Mrs Brown's little boy last summer. Those of us who were not so severely attacked were so weak and languid that it was with difficulty that we could attend to the duties of the settlement.
"We consider it is caused from the air being infected with noxious inhalations produced by the mud and slime which is left in the swamp when the water is mostly dried up . . ."
The Mission was subsequently (1839) moved to Kauaeranga but Anne and John Wilson had by that time moved to Matamata (1835), when the Mission was established there, and thence to Tauranga in 1836. They returned to the Bay of Islands in 1837 and back to Tauranga in 1838, where a fourth son was born.
In some areas the Missionary wives employed Maori women as domestic servants. This however was described as a "mixed blessing" as their training required constant supervision. In 1838 Anne wrote from Tauranga:-
"I have no employment which requires strength, but constantly have to keep them to their work . . . if you are not always saying 'Do this, Now do that', and seeing that it is done, they will sit down on the ground round a bit of fire, and talk and eat potatoes and maize all day."
She also recorded that her "boys" had ruined her only pudding bowl by using it to bale out a canoe!
Anne saw little of her husband during the last years of her short life. The pain of separation and concern for his safety are mentioned frequently in her letters to him. She wanted him home but would then argue with herself, "how can I think of home on this globe?" And further, "The time appears inexpressibly long till I see you my love. Each day appears a week, each week a month . . . " During this time, Anne experienced increasing ill health, suffering frequent headaches and a heart complaint before discovering "a small hard lump" under her left arm. She is said to have died a painful death on 23
November 1838, at the age of 36, in the company of her Mission friends at the Te Papa Mission Station.
"Mission and Moko" The Church Missionary Society in New Zealand 1814 - 1882, edited by Robert Glen and published by Latimer Fellowship
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Volume Two 1870 - 1900 published jointly by Bridget Williams Books Limited and the Department of Internal Affairs
Puriri School 80th Jubilee booklet published 1961
Thames and Coromandel Peninsula: 2000 Years by Zelma and John Williams published by Williams Publishers, Thames
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal No. 14 published October 1970 page 8 et sec.
The Book of New Zealand Women Ko Kui Ma Kaupapa, edited by Charlotte Macdonald, Merimere Penfold and Bridget Williams and published by Bridget Williams Books Ltd.