Monday 1 June 2015

Mary Taylor in Wellington, a report from New Zealand

Over the years I have been doing historical research for people all over the world, a few of whom became friends. Sharon van Deursen from Wellington, New Zealand, is one of them. I have known her since 2002. Wellington is of course the place where Mary Taylor, Charlotte Brontë’s friend, emigrated to shortly after her time in Brussels in 1842.

Wellington, as far away as possible from here. It has always intrigued and impressed me that Mary Taylor went there. Sharon’s parents emigrated to New Zealand in the 1950s, from Holland. She has always loved the Brontës’ novels, her favorite is Wuthering Heights.

Recently I asked Sharon to make a picture of the place of Mary Taylor’s house as it looks today.  The original house, or rather two houses of course – the place where she lived and her shop – were demolished long ago. She came up with a full report, having also gone to the Wellington Archive, and having made a nice little Mary Taylor discovery.

Sharon also mentions there is a new campaign for Mary Taylor to get a plaque in Wellington, after a previous attempt failed. Let us hope it will be successful this time, as Mary Taylor certainly deserves that.

Eric Ruijssenaars

The Kiwi Connection 

When Eric, asked me to write a bit about Miss Mary Taylor (dear friend of Miss Charlotte Brontë) for his Blog, I said OK. 
Easy I thought....
Hmmm where do I start? Google!
I love Google, Google is my friend.

They say that New Zealand is really lucky to have a visual history, because the camera had been invented, apparently everyone had one and everyone was taking photos, unwittingly taking photos not only of great Auntie Grace and the family, (where no one smiled!) but of the house, streets, buildings, popular landmarks and of course panoramic views, thus creating the above said visual history.

Now I am here to dispute this, because in doing quite a bit of research on Miss Mary Taylor, I could find nothing, that was nothing, on the women to prove that she had actually lived and worked in New Zealand for 15 years...

Brief Background...care of said Google.
 Mary Taylor was born in Yorkshire, England on the 26th of February 1817. She met Charlotte Brontë and another girl named Ellen Nussey at school in 1831, when they were just 14 years old and the 3 became close friends.
 But in 1840 Mary's father died leaving debts which split the family up. 
It was then Mary decided to emigrate to New Zealand, (after a stint in Brussels) to see her younger brother, William Waring Taylor who had emigrated here to Wellington in April, 1842. By 1843, he was running a general business and importing agency, living in and trading from his wooden colonial house on Herbert Street, Te Aro, a thriving commercial hub fairly near the water front.
 Remember the Wellington Settlement was only 5 years old at this time.
Now it has been the capital city of New Zealand since 1865.

Thus far, Google had been great. I searched about 5 sites and they all said similar things about Mary and her life in Wellington, though not a lot of precise details.
 In fact it was very tricky trying to find any more details online.
Google was beginning to be quite disappointing.

It was then I met Gábor Toth.
 Hmmm what to do?? I mean there must be more, there had to be more on Mary...
I decided to go and continue my research at an old fashioned institution called The Wellington Central Library. Up to the 2nd floor, where there were 2 lovely librarians, but they couldn't find anything on Mary either. But they both strongly recommended Gábor Toth, (the library's historian) they assured me, he was the man to talk to because apparently he knew EVERYTHING!! And if anyone could find any information on Miss Mary Taylor, he could.
 So, after a few corresponding emails, I met up with Gábor the following week, and he showed me a single book, saying this is all you'll need. 
Really? OK.... I said, (this in doubtful tones!) He was right.
 The book was called “Mary Taylor Letters from New Zealand and Elsewhere”.

Marvellous. Indeed he was so right!!!
 This little book is a thoroughly researched book of letters to and from Mary, Ellen and Charlotte, before, during and after Mary's stay in New Zealand.
 The research, and consequent book, was done by a Miss Joan Stevens, a Wellington Professor of English at Victoria University. (Joan was the first ever female English professor at Victoria). 
She personally tracked down most of the original letters between Mary, Charlotte and Ellen, so that they could be presented in a coherent, chronological group.

Mary Taylor arrived in Wellington, New Zealand onboard the “Louisa Campbell” on 24th of July 1845.
 She was 28 years old.
 She stayed with her younger brother Waring, in Herbert Street Te Aro.
(Herbert Street is now Victoria Street). 
In 1847, she had a small 5 roomed house built on Cuba Street, which she rented out to supplement her income.

Wellington, early 1882

On this map...
Mary's House (black spot) (The one she rented out in Cuba St)
Mary's Shop (red spot) (On the corner of Cuba and Dixon St)
Waring's House (blue spot) (On Herbert St, now Victoria St)
Here we have the earliest and only piece of proof that Mary Taylor was in Wellington. It had to be Mary, because when she first came to New Zealand she stayed with her brother Waring who lived in Herbert Street. 
She would have placed a card at the local newspaper.

This was placed in the “The New Zealand Spectator” Volume 3, Issue 169. This was Wellington's first newspaper.
 Mary would have taught the piano forte to supplement her income.

Charlotte sent Mary 10 pounds (a lot of money in those days), shortly after she arrived in New Zealand, as she was very concerned that Mary's financial circumstances were in a bad state. Actually Mary wasn't too badly off and she bought a cow with the money!!

In 1850 Mary and her cousin Ellen decided to build and open up a shop together. It was a wooden shop, with two floors, situated on the corner of Cuba and Dixon Street. These streets still exist today, but of course Mary's shop doesn't. She first built the right hand side and added the left hand side of the shop in 1853/4.
 It was what was called a “drapers” shop, they sold ladies accessories, gloves, laces, buttons, combs, fans, buckles, shoes, bonnets, hose, clothes and the like, important things for colonial women at the time. Mary also imported and sold the first sewing machine in Wellington!
All her stocks were imported from England arriving by ship.
 After Ellen had died, Mary had a hired an assistant, a Miss M Smith to help. And it was nice to find out that the shop did very well.

The picture above shows Marys shop, it was the earliest picture I could find and it's dated about 1866. Mary had already left New Zealand in 1860, Miss Smith and her sister took over the running of the shop. In 1866 they sold it as a going concern to a Mr James Smith (no relation).

You can see his name on the left hand side of the shop. He named it Te Aro House after the suburb it was situated in.
 The James Smiths' continued to have retail shops until 1993.

Here is the site of Mary's original shop, I remember it many years ago being a Woolworths Family store. Then a Deka Family Store. Now it is empty and I think that it will be eventually turned into student accommodation.
 When this part of Cuba Street was undergoing an upgrade in the early 2000s, Gábor applied to the Wellington City Council to have a plaque dedicated to Mary Taylor, but sadly to no avail.

I think it is still called Te Aro House. 
Gábor will approach the owners of the building this year, to see if they will OK a plaque. Lets hope this time he will be successful.

Here is Ellen's head stone
Ellen Taylor Mary's cousin, arrived in New Zealand in August 1849 and she and Mary set up the shop together, funded mainly by Ellen.
 They apparently got on very well, Ellen was good for Mary and vice versa.
They shared the shop work and the bookkeeping.
 Sadly Ellen died of tuberculosis in December 1851. She is buried in the Bolton Street Cemetery in Wellington.

Here is the current James Smiths building. It shifted to this site in 1920, (the corner of Cuba Street and Manners Street, it is diagonally opposite from Mary's original shop site). 
Sadly the store closed in 1993. James Smiths was a Wellington institution. As you can see it was a huge department store, in it's hey day James Smiths had 6 stores around the Wellington region. Not all this size, but smaller branches. The one here was the flagship store. It is now a retail outlet, but still called James Smiths Corner.
 Hmmm from humble beginnings.....
I used to work for the Smiths in the 1980s/90s, I was based in a branch 1 km away. But have helped out in this store many times.

Mary's brother Waring was given a street in his honour.
 He was a prominent business man, a pillar of society, a trust worthy member of the community and a Member of Parliament in Wellington from 1860 to 1870 when he retired.
 However, in 1885 he turned out to be a bit of a cad, as he was charged with embezzlement (taking other peoples money through investments) to save his own investments and properties during a national financial crisis. He was declared bankrupt. He was imprisoned for only 5 years, the judge being lenient due to his age, he was 66 at the time. 
He died in 1903 aged 84 and is apparently buried on the West Coast of the South Island.
 Oh dear!
 The public definitely wanted the street name changed at the time, but it was too much trouble, so it remains Waring Taylor Street to this day.

This is the view looking down Waring Taylor Street. It's a small side street.

In Conclusion... 

I think the little add that Mary placed in the newspaper all the way back in 1847, is the only piece of visual proof I could find that Mary Taylor actually lived and worked in New Zealand. (Apart from the letters she wrote and received to and from Charlotte Brontë and Ellen Nussey).

Even the 1866 photo of the shop has the sign of the James Smiths, not any evidence of Mary can be seen with regards to the shop. 
It has been quite a small journey with Mary and myself and most interesting one as I was born in Wellington and have spent most of my life here. I have learnt a lot about the early times here, though I'm glad that I was born in the 20th century and not then (no hairdryers!!!)

The only known portrait
of Mary Taylor
And how incredible it was for a women to work in those days, let alone actually run her own business, and very successfully too, well done Mary Taylor.
 Eventually Mary's shop wasn't as prosperous as before. By 1858 the Smith sisters had taken over the running of the shop. Mary had never intended to stay forever in New Zealand, just to make her fortune, this she achieved.

By 1860 Mary Taylor had returned to England. Charlotte Brontë had died on 31st of March 1855, they never saw each other again.
 But it's also been a little frustrating, I know she was here but it would have been nice to see her in a photo inside or outside her shop with her cousin Ellen, or with her brother Waring at his colonial cottage. But no, nothing.
  Gábor said we don't need visual proof, we know she was here. I guess I have to be content with that.

In 2011 the interesting Brontesisters blogspot published several good articles about Mary Taylor and Wellington:

Sharon van Deursen


Juno said...

There's a crown grant of 6 perches of land to a Mary Taylor here (I've no idea if it was the same one)


Juno said...


Mary Taylor, landowner,signs a petition; so does William Waring Taylor.

Apologies if these comments are repeating themselves, I don't know what's going through.