History – Pioneering realities

Edith Marcroft c. 1903, Harold Marsh Collection.

Frances Edith Drury was a tiny woman, not five feet tall. She was only 19 when she married Edwin Marcroft in Leeds on 1 May 1862. Within the month the couple, together with 11 members of Edwin’s family, sailed for Auckland aboard the Matilda Wattenbach. She never saw her mother or four sisters again.

The Marcroft’s journey to Te Whau (Stables Landing) is well documented elsewhere. However, Edith’s grandson Lindley wrote in his memoirs, “Grandma was the first of the ladies to be put ashore and she has often spoken about that event. She was carried ashore from the cutter and as Mr Bonner (the captain) set her down on the sandy beach he remarked, ‘There now Mrs Marcroft, you ought to feel highly honoured – you are the first white woman to set foot on these shores’. Her reply was, ‘I’d feel a great deal more honoured if you were setting me down in England’.”

The couple lived in a nikau whare for about three years and their first son was born there at Easter 1864. Edwin then built a weatherboard homestead on another part of the farm where they raised their boys – William, Henry (Dru), Edwin (jnr) and Frederick. Edith soon established a beautiful garden full of typical English flowers saying that they reminded her of ‘home’. The Marcrofts were staunch Wesleyans and very involved with the church in Wharehine. Edith played the organ at services for 60 years and Edwin was one of the Church Deacons. At home, the Sabbath was strictly observed; magazines and newspapers were put away on Saturday evening and only essential chores done on Sunday.

Edith acted as unofficial nurse and midwife in the district, and would also stay with the dying to give comfort in their last moments. She told Lindley of one occasion when she received as much blessing as she gave. She had been called to sit with an old lady as she was dying. This lady was a devoted Christian, having been converted at a mission in London. Lindley wrote, “Grandma tells how she sat and held the old lady’s hand at the end and she seemed to fix her gaze upon one corner of the room as though looking at something and then exclaimed in a clear voice, ‘Aye Missus, it’s beautiful, beautiful, Jesus my Saviour’ and with those words, passed on.”

Edith was noted for her hospitality and many musical evenings were held in the Marcroft home. Wharehine families enjoyed Boxing Day picnics and cricket matches in the grounds. She was also one of the Albertland women who signed the 1893 Women’s Suffrage petition.

Edwin Marcroft died in 1909 and Edith stayed on the family farm, still involved in her many activities. On the morning of 7 September 1937 she said she ‘felt a little tired’ and decided to have a lie-in. At 8am, she quietly passed away, aged 94.

A Marcroft family reunion will take place this Easter. Albertland Museum is mounting an exhibition of Marcroft photographs and memorabilia in the Harold Marsh Gallery.

History - Albertland Museum