Page 1: Biography
Caverhill, Hannah Rebecca Frances
This biography, written by Jo-Anne Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was updated in September, 2015.
Hannah Rebecca Frances King (known as Frances) was born on 22 November 1834, the daughter of John King, a farmer, and his wife, Martha Wykes. The place of her birth was either Harlestone, Northamptonshire, or Leamington, Warwickshire, England. On 27 December 1850 Martha King, her three daughters and son arrived in Lyttelton on the Cressy; by this time she was a widow. To support her family, she established a boarding house at Lyttelton. Frances King's early life in New Zealand was usually carefree. She visited friends, went for walks and picnics, sang at concerts and meetings and played the organ at the Lyttelton church. These activities are described in the first of her surviving diaries. The habit of carefully recording everyday events remained with her for the rest of her life.
A regular guest at Martha King's boarding house was John Scott Caverhill, a farmer, explorer and valuer, of Scots descent. On 27 February 1855 he and Frances King were married at Lyttelton. After her marriage Frances's life changed dramatically as she took on the responsibilities of a wife and mother. At first the Caverhills farmed at Motunau, in North Canterbury, where the first three of their eight children were born. In 1859 they moved to Hawkswood, which was not as isolated as Motunau. There were many visitors, as Hawkswood was on the road leading north from Christchurch, and the Caverhills acquired a reputation for hospitality.
The diaries for this period provide insights into colonial domestic life by describing daily routines. During the hottest part of the year Frances Caverhill made pickles and preserves. An entry for 1 March 1865 reads, 'Made 76 lbs of Apple Jam and 54 of Jelly.' Monday was washing day, and every day there were the household duties to supervise. It was necessary for her to be able to do all these duties, for at times she had no servants.
Much of Frances Caverhill's time was taken up with the bearing and rearing of children. Her mother came and stayed with her during her confinements. The children had a governess until they were sent away to boarding school at Christchurch, but Frances taught them music and heard their lessons. She sewed their clothes and knitted socks for them. A devout Christian, she held prayers for the family and servants every Sunday. It is evident from her diaries that she loved her children and hated parting from them.
John Caverhill was of a restless disposition and was frequently away, sometimes for months at a time. Frances missed him and they wrote to each other almost daily. She acted as his secretary in business matters. When John was home he was often unwell or in low spirits. Frances did not keep good health herself and at times was bedridden. She suffered from terrible headaches (often for weeks at a time), pains in her side, styes in her eyes, rheumatism in her knee and boils. Although she was normally slim, her weight varied with the state of her health. She was about 5 feet 4 inches tall, with dark hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion.
In October 1872 the Caverhills moved to Highfield station, also in North Canterbury. Their new house was less comfortable and until May 1873 they shared it with the station manager and his wife. Then the family lived in a hotel at Waiau and in July 1874 they shifted into a cottage while the new Highfield homestead was built. However, in April 1877 John Caverhill sold Highfield. After spending the winter in Sumner, Christchurch, on 12 September 1877 the family left for the North Island. By 1883 John Caverhill was growing wheat in the Hāwera district. The couple eventually settled near New Plymouth, where they farmed until 1896. During this time John Caverhill lost most of his money in worthless land purchases. In early 1897 the Caverhills returned to Christchurch. John died on 17 April and Frances died four months later, on 11 August 1897.