A'COURT, PRISCILLA nee CUNDY
Priscilla Cundy was born in Petone in 1848, the daughter of Charles and Ann Cundy. Most of her girlhood was spent in the Wairarapa, and on the 21 June 1873 at Tauherenikau, she married William A'Court. William had been in business in Hawera as a blacksmith since 1872, and as "he'd grown tired of the single life, he rode all the way down to Featherston to marry me and take me back with him."
Priscilla and William left for Hawera shortly after their marriage. "I had to say goodbye to my family and all my friends; and we set off on horseback for the long journey to my future home. We had to ride over the Rimutakas and you must remember that we rode side saddle always in those days, and that the road across the ranges was only a bridle track. I was very proud of my nice new habit, which had been made by a tailor in Wellington, and of my splendid horse. The June weather was beautiful, fine, clear and bracing."
The first stage of the journey was to Wellington, where they remained over night, proceeding next day up the coast as far as Otaki. The day following, they rode on to Sanson, the next day taking them to Wanganui. Then on to Patea, where they spent a few days with friends. They then followed the old military road from the mouth of the Tangahoe to Hawera.
All the big rivers had to be punted over, not always an enviable experience. The smaller streams were forded. But apparently the long exhilarating gallops over stretches of firm, wet sand, and the joy of resting on some breezy headland; and the ever changing prospect of sea and land, were compensation enough for the young adventurers.
In Hawera, their house of four rooms soon became a favourite stopping off place for travellers who were welcomed with the old-fashioned courtesy of the day.
It was the era of the horse, and one's animal was treated not only as a means of transport, but with all the respect to which its intelligence entitled it. Priscilla enjoyed many a gallop over the Waimate Plains, and many a ride took her through scrub and bush when it was necessary to lie flat on your horse in order to clear the supplejack and hanging vines along some ill-defined track. With the fearlessness of youth, she would push on through little settled country, glorying in the unspoilt beauty. On one trip, she came across Mary Dobie, just three days before her death. Like many of the pioneer women who gave courteous treatment to the Maoris, Priscilla received nothing but kindness at their hands, and was never afraid to ride through their country and to speak to any she met on the way.
One special incident of her riding amused her. A visitor of theirs, a minister of rather short stature and possessor of a somewhat important and self-satisfied manner, expressed a wish to ride over some of the country round about, and turning to Priscilla, asked if she could ride?
"I led him a dance over such wild country, often putting a spur to my horse and leaving him behind. Then I would hide behind a flax bush, and chuckle to myself when I heard him coming up grumbling behind. At last we came to the Waingongoro River, which we forded, and rode out to the narrow neck of land looking out over the sea, and from where we had a wonderful view of the country. The minister stretched out his arms and quoted 'Lo on a narrow neck of land betwixt the unbound sea I stand'."
"The he turned to me and said solemnly, 'Well now we're here, how on earth are we to get back?' 'By following a woman of course,' I said, and putting spur to horse I was off away over in the direction of Manaia, and of course he had to follow. When we got back, my husband asked me if I enjoyed the ride? 'Well, I think he knows now whether I can ride or not'," she replied.
Priscilla A'Court died on the 4 January 1931 aged 84 years at her residence "Pampa Villa" Beach Road, (Fairfield Road) Hawera and is buried at the Hawera cemetery.
"The Hawera Star" Jubilee Edition 10 April 1930
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