Sarah Ann Cripps (1821 - 1892), Pioneer and Midwife

Sarah Ann Cripps (source: teara.govt.nz)

Sarah Ann Cripps (source: teara.govt.nz)

Today's Girlactica profile is near to my heart, because this lady was my great-great-great-grandmother.

Sarah Ann Cripps was a pioneering woman who moved across the world from Britain in the 1840s to live in one of the world's most inhospitable places, The Auckland Islands, which are a group of freezing cold, remote islands in the Sub-Antarctic (between New Zealand and Antarctica).

Who'd want to live there, right? But at the time there were no TripAdvisor reviews, just a lot of hype (basically it had potential, as there was nothing there). Because the Auckland Islands were a similar longitude and latitude in the Southern Hemisphere to Scotland in the Northern Hemisphere, people figured the climate would be similar: cold, but not unbearable. Plus, sealing and whaling were profitable endeavours and the plan was to make the Auckland Islands a port for passing whaling ships. It would grow into a small, happy township, with plenty of visitors and whale oil for everyone.

So Sarah, who already owned her own dressmaking business in London, reluctantly packed up in 1849 and boarded a ship called The Fancy with her husband, Isaac, a policeman, and their three young kids to start a new life. The poor woman was so seasick on the months-long voyage that she reportedly begged to be thrown overboard. But finally they arrived, and the menfolk started building houses for the families to live in.

The grimness of their wild, isolated location quickly set in, however, and many of the men started drinking heavily to cope. Productivity was slow, violence and dissent grew, and the situation became incredibly tense. Much to everyone's surprise, there was a small Maori tribe already living there (with their Moriori slaves) who were soon employed to help control the wayward drinkers.

Things settled down, but the weather was appalling. It rained every single day, the settlers quickly realised it was impossible to grow anything in the acidic soil, hardly any ships or whales came through, and things were bleak indeed. In the middle of all this, Sarah gave birth to a fourth child, Harriet, my great-great-grandmother. Her birth certificate was written on a piece of scrap notepaper by a priest passing through several months later. Sarah also became the midwife for the colony, which had about 200 people.

In front of Sarah Ann Cripps' grave, 2015, Wellington.

In front of Sarah Ann Cripps' grave, 2015, Wellington.

After two years of enduring completely miserable conditions, the settlement was finally abandoned and the family sailed to New Zealand. First they settled in Wellington, then they moved up to Castlepoint on the windswept East Coast. Four more children were born in that time (I feel tired just typing that), but Sarah was kept busy in plenty of other ways too. She became known for her cheerful hospitality, running a boarding house to cook for passing travellers and new settlers, and ran the local shop and post office. She educated all her children (10, in total) from home. She also continued to work as a midwife, as the nearest doctor was 35 kilometres away (this was in the 1860s and 1870s, so horseback only). During her decades in the Wairarapa she worked incredibly hard to raise a family and bring together a new settlement.

"Granny Cripps", as Sarah became affectionally known, died in 1892, aged about 70. The picture above is of my daughter and me in standing front of her grave in January 2015. 

Learn more about the Auckland Islands settlement and pioneering NZ women: