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CATT, MARY ANN nee MORRIS

 

Mary Ann Morris was born at Walworth, Surrey on the 10th November 1830 and started work for a neighbouring grocer at the age of eight, for sixpence a week and keep.  Times were hard in those days, and her parents had a struggle to live.  But this meant one less mouth to fill at home, and at the end of a quarter there would be a small sum saved. 

 

When the wages increased to 1s 6d a week, the young domestic thought she was rich indeed and would never want again.  From these meagre earnings she was able to make a few purchases at second hand shops and in this way presents for her parents were obtained from time to time.  Once a nice pair of blankets was acquired, and on the way home an inquisitive policeman made careful inquiries into the purchase, not being completely satisfied until he had followed the girl to her home. 

 

The pressure of penury led Mary Ann's parents to emigrate, her father remarking as he was about to embark "I don't know where I am going, but we are going to a boat", so uncertain was the future before them.

 

The boat, the Ann Wilson, was small, there were no shut in berths, nothing but rows of bunks, with no privacy whatever. The trip took four months and she was a starvation boat, food being scarce and of poor quality.  The meat was so hard and tough that the passengers used to tie it on a rope and tow it through the sea behind the boat  to soften it. 

 

On the voyage Mary Ann had eight younger members of her family to look after as her mother was laid up during a portion of the time. Looking after the children was no easy task under such inconvenient conditions.  But troubles were not at an end when the vessel reached Petone and the passengers were landed in baskets.  So desperate looked the prospects that her mother exclaimed; "I wish we had never started." But the family were 10,000 (sic) miles from home, and hardships had to be faced.

 

Six weeks later on the 12 May 1857, Mary Ann married William Catt at the Taita Church, Hutt Valley. William had come out in the same ship.

 

The couple first settled at Tawa Flat, where they set to work felling the bush and carving out a home. Disaster, however overtook them just when things were beginning to look bright, and their home and belongings went up in smoke. Altogether they were burnt out four times.  They had to pack out food into the bush section on their backs, and when they wanted to go out to the settlement to church, William and Mary Ann would each have to carry a child on their back and drag another along by hand.  They were three miles from the open, and often got lost in the bush while coming home in the dark.  "We got on to the wrong track, and when we realised we were lost my husband left me with the children while he went to find the right track. Eventually we got a fresh start, and we got home all right." 

 

On another occasion Mary Ann was returning home alone, and was overtaken by darkness. "I thought I would have to spend the night in the bush, and I searched for a place for a shakedown. But before settling down I gave a coo-ee from a high hill. My voice was heard by the children down in the valley below.  They brought a candle lantern, and by this means I found my way home.  I was never more thankful to get home, because I thought I would have to spend a night in the bush".

 

Among the numerous misfortunes of the pioneering days, her husband fell out of a tree and fractured several ribs.  On another occasion he chopped a finger nearly off, and frequently was laid aside by accident.  Mrs Catt could use a maul and wedges and take a turn on the cross-cut saw on equal terms with her husband, and she used to assist in such heavy tasks as wood splitting and logging.  Work would often proceed far into the night.  An incident happened when they were burning off logs from their first section.  "Four or five good log fires were blazing merrily and my husband and I were singing away like nightingales in the middle of the night.  One of our neighbours came running over, thinking our whare was on fire, but we were only burning off, and were quite happy.  We would bake potatoes in the embers, and eat them with butter after our hard work. We would go home about 3 o'clock in the morning and find all the children happy in their beds".  Many an anxious day and night was spent during bush fires, and the couple dare not go to bed for fear of being burnt out.

 

In 1873 the family moved to Gladstone in the Wairarapa, a few miles from Carterton.  Here again the hardships of bush life were suffered.  The young children had to be carried into the holding, and to make the task a trifle easier they were placed in bags and strapped on their parents backs.  Misfortune still pursued the family.  They began a dairy herd with seven cows, but five were lost in the bush.

 

Mrs Catt moved to Eltham to reside with her daughter Mrs Phoebe Judd and died on the 30 September 1930 aged 99 years, 10 months and 20 days.  She is buried at the Eltham Cemetery.

 

SOURCES

Interview for 99th Birthday "Daily News" November 1929 (Supplied by Vic Judd, Hawera (Grandson))