Page 1: Biography
Farmwife, midwife, shopkeeper
This biography, written by Janet C. Angus, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Mary Parkinson was born probably in 1823. She was the eldest of five children of Richard Parkinson, a hand-loom weaver, and his wife, Jane Girvan, of Maybole, Ayrshire. On 20 December 1844 she was married at Maybole to Thomas Cuddie, a cotton weaver.
Mary and Thomas Cuddie had 11 children. Their first child, Thomas Alexander, was baptised in November 1845 by the Reverend Thomas Burns. He persuaded the young couple to leave their life of hopeless poverty and emigrate to Otago, New Zealand. They sailed with Burns on the Philip Laing two years later.
Mary Cuddie had a miserable voyage. Her second pregnancy was well advanced, and this and the strict regime on board made it difficult for her to nurse her son Thomas who had become ill. Her baby is said to have been born the night they sighted land, 13 April 1848. In a building on shore she nursed Thomas, now desperately ill, and a young fellow passenger, Alexander Livingston. Her little boy died in late April, and in early May, when the young man had also died, she returned to the ship. Here Burns baptised baby Thomas Alexander Burns Cuddie.
After working for Burns while living near Port Chalmers, and then spending three years on their own five acre section in Andersons Bay, the Cuddies moved in 1854 to Saddle Hill, where they were able eventually to buy the farm of 34 acres on which they had been tenants. In 1858 Mary Cuddie's father came out to New Zealand to join his daughter's growing family.
The farm was unprofitable and was mortgaged twice. However, the Cuddies grew enough food for their own needs, and surplus produce, such as Mary's butter, they sold where they could. Mary was also nurse and midwife for the Brighton side of Saddle Hill, and was remembered as compassionate and gentle, if somewhat severe.
A slight woman with a resolute expression, Mary Cuddie was strong in body, character and faith. She was loyal to her less robust husband, and ambitious to see her children well educated and provided for. It was a source of great pride when her second son, Thomas, began studying for the ministry, but he died in August 1871, followed two months later by his father, who had also contracted tuberculosis. Mary Cuddie did not lack courage: when the mortgagee put the farm up for auction, she bought it back with borrowed money, going to the auction and bidding for it herself.
In 1879 Mary Cuddie discovered that two of her sons, Richard and James, intended to build a general store in Mosgiel. She acted immediately, for she too was ready to move from the farm. Four daughters had been married, and the two youngest sons, David and John, were attending East Taieri school. She secretly arranged the mortgage of the farm, bought her own grocery shop and house half a mile away, and went to live there with a daughter, Agnes. Here she could still supervise and care for her sons. She proved an excellent businesswoman, buying properties to bequeath to each of her children.
In 1889 Mary Cuddie injured herself while handling a full sack in her shop. She died on 9 June, a few days after an operation. She was buried in East Taieri cemetery.