52 Ancestors - Week 10 - Strong Woman - Ann Lovell

A couple of weeks ago, the top part of the South Island of New Zealand was inundated by Ex-Tropical Cyclone Gita. The Takaka Hill Road was washed out leaving Golden Bay isolated from the rest of New Zealand. The only way out was by air or by sea for some days, and food and fuel had to be barged in.

To my 4x great aunt, Ann Lovell, the sister-in-law of Hester, this situation would have been normal. As one of the first European women in Golden Bay, Ann was no stranger to isolation or adversity.

Ann arrived at Nelson, New Zealand on the Lord Auckland in February 1842. The five month voyage from the West India Docks had taken a toll on the Lovell family. Their younger daughter, Mercy, had tragically died. Ann was bitter as Captain Jardine had refused to supply potatoes for her sick child who craved them. She refused to donate to the silver snuff box presented by other grateful passengers to thank the captain for their safe arrival.

Life did not get any easier once dry land was reached. Within months, Ann, her husband James, and daughter, Mary Ann aged about four, had moved over 50 miles from Nelson by sea close to a Maori pa at the mouth of the Motupipi River in Golden Bay. The only other European female company was her sister-in-law, Hester. While food such as fish, pork and potatoes was plentiful, all other supplies had to be brought in by Maori canoe. Sometimes a return journey to Nelson could take up to six weeks. Partly this was because of the marine conditions; and partly it was because Maori stopped at every village on the way to trade or visit their relations. At one point, Ann brought back a heifer and a bull calf by canoe which died weeks later because they had eaten tutu, a poisonous shrub. Away she went again to buy more stock. In time, her husband, James, who was a cooper, built his own boat so they could make the journey to Nelson more quickly.

Ann's relationship with Maori is legendary. On more than one occasion, she was a peacemaker when she stepped between two Maori prepared to fight to the death. Even when she was gently picked up and moved to one side, she continued to entreat them to stop. Their tempers finally cooled when they were sick of trying to disentangle themselves from her voluminous skirts. She even helped to rescue and tend to a young woman of high rank who was injured while two chiefs fought for her hand. Ann was rewarded with a carved greenstone ornament in the shape of a barracouta.

By 1855, gold had been discovered in Golden Bay, and diggers were streaming in. Ann and James moved to Collingwood where they opened a store, butchery and bake shop. Ann and her daughters worked at night making tallow candles for the miners. As payment for goods, the Lovells received gold. James would have been an easy target for thieves if he had taken his business proceeds to Nelson himself. Instead Ann sewed the gold into her skirts and made trips alone to deliver it to the bank.

Ann later moved back to Motupipi where she passed away in 1869. No mention is made of her funeral, though there is a record of her husband's a few years later. Four hundred Maori attended - I bet there were just as many at Ann's.

It's not until we reflect on how people deal with isolation today, that we really value the strength and courage of women like Ann Lovell, one of New Zealand's early pioneers.

Details from: Millar, J. Halket. Beyond the Marble Mountain: tales of early Golden Bay, Motueka and Nelson. Christchurch: Cadsonbury Publications, 2003. This book includes the recollections of her younger daughter, Mercy Ann, born at Motupipi in 1843.


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