Hannah Chiffince Hare

From Florence Keene's
'Under Northland Skies'.
(with permission)
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Except for holidays in Kent, Hannah Chiffince Taylor had never been out of the sound of the Bow Bells, so she felt that to travel to New Zealand in the far-away Southern Hemisphere would be a wonderful adventure. She was born in 1836 in Maidstone in Kent, where her parents had their holiday home. They were we-ll-to-do people who both had independant means.

Her father, William Taylor, was an artist with a studio in High street in London, and the family lived in Nottingham Street, at that time one of the most elegant districts in London. So Hannah, her twin brother and the rest of her family all had a good education and were brought up in was called 'comfortable circumstances'. Hannah had her own personal maid whose duty it was to dress her, do her hair and look after her clothes, not quite the training for life in New Zealand's country districts![The maid's name was Maria Waterman, aged 28 at point of Immigration]

In October 1849 Hannah Taylor arrived in New Zealand on the ship 'Kelso' and brought with her her maid who after about a year got married, so Hannah had to look after herself, and learn to sew her own garments - in contrast to the genteel tatting and embroidery that she used to do in England. [She was now thirteen years old].

However, she was of the stuff that pioneers are made, as she acknowledged in later years. "it was the best thing that could have happened to me, as it prepared me in a small way for what was to come, and also filled my days while waiting to marry my missionary fiance, Thomas Skinner."

Thomas had gone to Taupo to establish a Weslayan mission station there. Although the Maoris had been pressing for a missionary for some time they took little notice of the gentle Thomas Skinner at first, and he feared that it would be some time before he would be ready to offer a home to his fiancee, Hannah. However, after a time his sincerity and steadfast strength of purpose won them over and they eventually built several churches in the district, and what they called 'a good house' for him and his bride, near Lake Te Aira.

After waiting for over a year Hannah Chiffinch Taylor was married to Thomas Farrenden Skinner at New Plymouth in May, 1851, and she went to live with him at Lake Taupo. [Hannah was only 15, if the birth date Florence Keene gives is correct!] While still in New Plymouth Hannah had done her best to learn to speak Maori, but when she first went to the mission station at Taupo she found it hard to interpret the rapid Maori speech, but before long she became as fluent as her husband, who was a good Maori scholar, and it was only when the couple were alone that they spoke English.

She was surprised to find that they had little time to be alone as the Maoris took such a great interest in the white-skinned bride that she had a constant stream of visitors who not only liked to talk about their children, and admire her clothes and her furniture, but also expected to share 'kai' with her, so she always had a fresh batch of scones ready. Another reason that they had little time together was the fact that Thomas was often called away on pastoral business, or in the case of sickness, to practise his healing powers. When in England Hannah had studied herbal remedies and since in New Zealand had acquired a knowledge of some traditional Maori cures. So she too was in great demand in more ways than one.

Learning to cook outdoors in all weathers, tending her large garden, and setting up her home were all new to her. As she had had painting lessons when a girl, she used this knowledge in the decoration of her two-roomed house, and this she enjoyed very much.

Far from any doctor Hannah found the birth of her first child quite a traumatic event. She had no help from her Maori women friends who, facing similar occasions would simply disappear into the bush for two or three days and come back with a baby. Nevertheless, at a very early stage of her married life Hannah had become quite an accomplished midwife.

In spite of the fact that the Rev. Richard Taylor, an Anglican Missionary at Wanganui, did not feel that the Weslayans should establish mission stations south of Auckland, he recorded that Hannah and Thomas Skinner "...had a very good relationship with the Maoris..." when he visited the Weslayan Missions as well as the Anglican ones in the course of his pastoral rounds.

After about two years at Taupo Thomas was recalled to New Plymouth to help at the Grey's Institute, which was under-staffed and in danger of closure. As well as teaching in the school Thomas was expected to supervise the work on the school farm. Here Hannah was as busy as ever, for she taught in the school whenever required, cared for her little son John, and for her baby daughter, Luch Chiffinch ('Chiffince being the maiden name of Hannah's mother). After the stern conditions at Taupo Hannah thought that life in New Plymouth, though busy, was comparitively easy.

When the time came for them to leave New Plymouth they could not return to thei station at Lake Taupo as the Rev. Richard Taylor had placed an Anglican missionary there, so the Skinners were sent to Aotea, just north of Kawhia [on the west coast of New Zealand's north island, west of today's Hamilton]. Here they took over a mission and its school which had been established for many years. Mission schools were boarding schools, so besides teaching Hannah had to organise the food for the boarders - no simple matter when it included feeding hungry tenagers!

As before, Hannah and Thomas enjoyed a good relationship with the Maoris, who in this case were the people of the Maniapoto tribe, who in turn kept a friendly eye on their missionary friends. While in Aotea Thomas frequently had to go on trips with his brother missionaries, the Rev. Mr. Whitely or Mr. Smales, sometimes as far as Auckland, travelling via Waikato Heads [the mouth of the Waikato River, father up the west coast] and Otahuhu Portage. This meant that Thomas was away for days, sometimes for over a week at a time, and Hannah had to teach school, look after the Maori boarders and her own children, and do many other day-to-day duties. Somehow she coped, although she was more or less in a constant state of pregnancy.

When Thomas went on these trips he would say beforehand to John, then aged about nine, 'look after your little brothers and sister while I am away', and to Lucy, then about seven, 'remember that you are your mother's right hand. Help her all you can'. A charming thing about Thomas was the fact that on his return he always thanked his two elder children for carrying out these requests.

During their time in Aotea Hannah had five more children; - Hannah Eliza in 1856, Thomas Benjamin in 1858, Sophia Anne in 1861, Martha in 1863, and Thomas Farrenden in 1865. It was a great grief to her when Thomas Benjamin died a dreadful death from convulsions at the age of eight months. As sometimes was the custom, she called her next son Thomas after the baby who had died.

In 1863, when Hannah was expecting the birth of Martha, the family was advised to leave Aotea as there was much unrest amongst the Maoris. However, the friendly Maniapoto tribe promised to protect Hannah and her family if only they would stay in Aotea, so they remained there for another two years, a very brave thing to do with the Maori Wars at their height in the Waikato.

Then, thirsting for revenge and plunder, a war party came from Taranaki and sacked the Mission Station and school. It was heart-rending for Hannah to see the whole mission complex, in which there were many of her treasures as well as such vital things as blankets, linen and clothes, go up in flames with a blaze and a roar. The local Maoris helped Hannah and Thomas salvage what belongings they could before they fled to Auckland.

It was a terrifying experience for the whole family, and for months there were many nights when Hannah had little sleep because one of the children would awake and scream "The Maoris are coming! The Maoris are coming! They'll get me!" In fact the same dreadful scene also haunted her own dreams, and many a night she too awoke from a nightmare, shaking with fear. Strangely enough, when the danger had been at its height she had been calm.

Physically and mentally exhausted by work and worry after the dramatic sacking of his Aotea mission station, Thomas suffered a severe heart attack, and remained in poor health for some time.

In May 1866 the Mission Committee sent them to to take charge of a boarding school for Maori scholars at Waima, in the Hokianga, thinking that a milder climate would be good for Thomas. In spite of Hannah's devoted nursing he never did regain his strength to be well enough to take up these school duties, and he died in October of that year, just three weeks before the birth of his youngest son, George Kerry, and was buried in the Mangungu Cemetery. Unfortunately his wooden cross has rotted away, but its site is recorded.

Full of grief, Hannah hoped she would be allowed to stay at the mission school, and thanks to the strong recommendations of Mr. W. Rouse, head of the Weslayan Mission at that time, she was allowed to do so for over a year.

Meanwhile in Kaeo [on the east coast, on the harbour of Whangaroa] Joseph Hare had lost his wife Margaret after the birth of their eleventh child, all about the same time as Hannah had lost her husband. Joseph Hare was a farmer who had come to New Zealand with his wife and ten children in 1865 on the ship Lancashire Witch'. Later Joseph was to become a partner in the firm of Hare Brothers, Shipowners and General Merchants.

Eighteen months after the death of Thomas it came as a bolt from the blue to Hannah when the Weslayan Committee told her that they had arranged a marriage betwen her and Joseph Hare.

"I couldn't possibly do so." she said in a state of shock.

"It's your duty. His children need a mother, and yours a father. It is the only solution."

"But I have eight children of my own, and with his eleven, that would make nineteen! I just couldn't cope!"

"It's your duty." reiterated the Weslayan Committee firmly.

So Hannah married Joseph Hare at Waima in 1868 and went to live with him and his large family at Kaeo. By this time some members of each family were teenagers, and Joseph gave them a lecture before he went to Waima to marry Hannah.

"You are all one family, brothers and sisters, and there is to be no romantic nonsense!"

Fortunately Joseph's house (which is still standing) was a large two-storeyed one situated by the river in Kaeo. Even so, at meal times half the family ate at a table on the verandah while the others had their meals inside. On wet days there had to be two sittings. Imagine 19 children and two parents all sitting down to a meal at once! Imagine cooking for them! It was like running a boarding house while being 'chief cook and bottle washer'!

One of Hannah's first tasks was to make suits for Joseph's eight sons and dresses for his three daughters, for their wardrobes had been sadly depleted since the death of their mother, Margaret Hare. This was all happening to the girl who had been looked after by a maid, and who could paint, 'sew a fine seam', and when she felt like it, do a little tatting or embroidery! But none of her children can remember hearing her grumble at her lot.

By 1875 five more children of this second marriage were added to the household - Stephen, Wilmot, Elizabeth, Minnie and Susan - making a total of 24 children and two adults! As time went on the older ones set up their own homes, but often returned for special occasions like birthdays and Christmas.

In 1893 Hannah's eldest daughter Lucy died, two months after her husband, Soloway Lane had been lost at sea, and this double death left six children who were adopted by members of the couple's family.. But who adopted the eldest daughter, Laura? None other than her large-hearted grandmother Hannah, who still had the care of a number of her younger children, some of whom were about Laura's age!

Perhaps fate was a little unkind to this remarkable woman, for in 1889 she was hit by a falling tree and quite seriously injured, but this only curtailed some of her activities. At the comparatively early age of 68 Hannah died from cancer of the mouth and was buried in the Kaeo Cemetery. Unfortunately there is no trace of her grave to be seen today.

Although she had strict rules of behaviour for her family to follow, by some miracle she always managed to remain serene herself, and perhaps the greatest tribute to the memory of this remarkable woman of 24 children came from her oldest and youngest sons. John Skinner, who was 23 years older than Wilmot Hare, said of her: - "She was a wonderful woman. I never heard her raise her voice in rebuke or in anger."

At a family gathering years later Wilmot paid her the same tribute.