Page 1: Biography
Bates, Sophia Ann
This biography, written by Kay Morris Matthews, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Sophia Ann Bates, the daughter of Elizabeth Hix Brown and her husband, John Bates, was born at Westminster, London, England, on 6 March 1817. She emigrated to New Zealand with her mother and her father, a corporal in the 2nd Foot Regiment of the Royal New Zealand Fencibles, arriving at Auckland in August 1847 on the Ramillies.
The family lived in the Fencible settlement at Onehunga, Auckland, where John Bates was employed as a tinsmith. Shortly after their arrival Sophia was appointed schoolmistress at St Peter's Anglican parish school, on a salary of 12s. 6d. per week.
In 1849 William Young, the deputy postmaster general, wrote to Major William Kenny, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal New Zealand Fencibles, asking him to name 'some trustworthy person' to supervise the Onehunga post office agency. As the duties were part-time, the position was expected to be voluntary. The first postmaster, William Filmer, a sergeant in the Fencibles, had declined to continue, because he had received no remuneration, and Kenny was forced to act as temporary postmaster until he could find a suitable replacement. On Kenny's recommendation Sophia Bates was appointed sub-deputy postmistress on 8 February 1849, her main responsibility being the supervision of the mail that was delivered to Onehunga twice weekly from Auckland. She 'discharged her duty very satisfactorily', and later that year Major Kenny suggested to the postmaster general that 'some permanent arrangement' be made. As a result, a salary of £1 per month was approved on 5 December 1849. Meanwhile Sophia Bates continued to teach at the Onehunga parish school, and on 29 May 1849 was admitted to Holy Communion at St Peter's Church, Onehunga.
Sophia Bates served as New Zealand's first postmistress until 8 February 1855, at which time she resigned from both this position and that of schoolmistress in order to accompany her father, who was leaving the district. Her departure was short-lived. By 1857 she had returned to St Peter's parish school, and was in charge of the junior classes. Provincial council reports suggest that Sophia Bates had received teacher training in England, because she was exempted from the obligatory teachers' entry examination and, instead, was awarded a second certificate of merit by the Auckland Board of Education. As a teacher she was highly regarded, being 'most zealous and painstaking and an excellent disciplinarian.' Such reports no doubt helped her gain promotion to a teachers' first certificate of merit in 1862.
Sophia Bates retired from teaching in the late 1860s, and took responsibility for the care of her elderly parents. Elizabeth Hix Bates died in 1874 and John Bates in 1886. Like her parents, Sophia was involved in the work of St Peter's Church and later in life presented vestments, communion vessels and a pulpit to the church. She resided in Church Street, Onehunga, until her death on 28 November 1899. On 30 November she was buried in St Peter's cemetery, beside her parents.