Anne Maria Maynard, daughter of Sarah Binfield and her husband, Thomas Maynard, a butcher, was born on 13 January 1791, at Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, England. Her future husband, Thomas, was also born there on 20 June 1792, the son of Sarah Greenwood and her husband, William Chapman, a schoolmaster. Anne and Thomas were married on 14 December 1822, at St Mary's, Henley-on-Thames, where Anne had been baptised. They were to have no children.
Having travelled on the Arab from London to Hobart and then to Sydney, Anne and Thomas arrived at Paihia, New Zealand, as CMS lay missionaries on the Active on 1 August 1830. Thomas was experienced in farming, medicine and seamanship. Literate, good-humoured and resolute, he would found three mission stations at Rotorua and one at Maketū.
Anne, subject to the postings of her husband, assisted first with the mission school at Paihia, then from 1831 had charge of the female school at Kerikeri, where Thomas was mission storekeeper. They returned to Paihia in July 1833 to teach. In 1835 Anne and Thomas founded the first mission station at Te Koutu, Rotorua; for Anne it was two days' journey from her nearest European woman neighbour at Tauranga. The mission was closed by tribal warfare in under a year. Anne took refuge at Tauranga but, despite memories of dismembered bodies, returned with Thomas to Rotorua in 1838, this time to a new mission on Mokoia Island in Lake Rotorua.
Burdened by rheumatism and increasing age, Thomas travelled as far as Taupō and Ōpōtiki on his missionary circuit. He was sometimes away for up to a third of each year. Anne learned to overcome 'those nervous fears which have often been such a trial to me', dispensing food, advice and medicine to all who applied for help. One evening in 1839 she helped make up 600 separate doses for the traveller J. C. Bidwill to distribute in Taupō.
Tribal fighting hindered the transport of goods from the coast and intensified Anne's isolation. Letter-writing, fitted in at rushed moments during long, busy days, provided a release and a chance to air her anxieties: Thomas overdue from Taupō, adultery among the converts, the difficulties of educating at home her adopted Māori godson, Alexander Gray.
When the mission shifted in mid 1840 to Te Ngae, on the eastern shore of Lake Rotorua, isolation from Europeans was lessened. During the next decade numerous travellers accepted Anne's hospitality, among them Bishop G. A. Selwyn, Chief Justice William Martin, Governor George Grey and – on one memorable occasion – a denominational opponent, Bishop J. B. F. Pompallier, who to Anne's surprise proved a most engaging personality. She continued to teach, both catechism and secular subjects, and housed and tended Māori invalids and orphans, in addition to nursing and encouraging her often depressed husband. Although probably the first European woman to visit the Pink and White Terraces at Rotomahana, Anne seldom travelled. She suffered greatly from loneliness, often begging her friend Charlotte Brown of Tauranga to visit her. A rare but welcome alternative was to visit Charlotte, but that had its dangers, including a hazardous crossing of the Maketū estuary.
Wharekahu, in the warmer clime of Maketū, became the Chapmans' permanent home in 1851. Anne again put up visitors of all kinds – clergy, military, travellers – despite her failing eyesight and the gradual onset of a fatal illness. She died at Maketū on 12 December 1855. Four Māori friends, women long resident at the Maketū mission, bore her coffin to the grave.
The pressures of isolation gave Anne Chapman a greater intimacy with Māori converts than many missionary women of her time. She encouraged the adoption of European habits of food, dress, hygiene and conduct. Inspired by genuine concern for the medical, educational and spiritual welfare of Te Arawa of Rotorua and Maketū, Anne expected no worldly honours. Her attitude of unselfish concern for those who suffered probably gave greater credibility to the missionary cause than any dogma could have, as the inscription on her tombstone, 'Ko Mata' (Mother), suggests.
On 19 December 1856, at Auckland, Thomas married Mary Jane Moxon. He continued his missionary work, but in 1861 left Maketū and for some years taught at St Stephen's School for Native Girls, Parnell, Auckland. He was also associated with the Māori Church of St Barnabas in Auckland, having been ordained priest in 1852. He died on 22 December 1876 in a hot pool, while visiting the old mission station on Mokoia Island. Mary Jane had died on 31 December 1873.
Chapman's concern for the Māori extended from their spiritual to their physical welfare. He supported his wife's medical work and encouraged vaccination. He introduced sheep, cattle, horses and fruit trees to the Rotorua district. In 1840 he was asked to seek signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi in the Rotorua and Taupō districts, but the treaty copy entrusted to him has disappeared without trace. A sensitive observer, Chapman recorded in his journals the gradual shift of Te Arawa attitudes from an anti-government stance to an acceptance of government jurisdiction.
Although Chapman had begun his missionary work with a benign condescension towards the Māori, in the face of settler pressures on Māori land his sympathy developed to the stage where he could write: 'my very fingers itch when I see such manifest deadness to the best interests of the greater owners of the soil.' While he purchased land for his church he bought none for himself.