Story: Evans, Ann

Page 1: Biography

Evans, Ann

1832–1840?–1916

Nurse, midwife, refreshment rooms proprietor

This biography, written by Charlotte Macdonald, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 1, 1990.

Ann Clive (occasionally known as Sarah Ann) was born in Manchester, England, probably some time between 1832 and 1840, the daughter of Ann Regan and her husband, Robert Clive, a railway inspector. Eschewing a life of genteel accomplishment, Ann Clive entered professional training as a nurse at the age of 18. She was in the first party of nurses who served with Florence Nightingale at Scutari in the Crimea between 1854 and 1856. In November 1862 Ann Clive left for New Zealand with the intention of founding her own hospital. A number of other women with career ambitions, including Maria Rye, sailed with her on the John Duncan. They arrived at Dunedin in February 1863.

Inflated costs and insufficient capital forced Ann Clive to abandon her plan for a hospital. Instead she worked as a housemaid with the family of Queenstown runholder, W. G. Rees, during the winter of 1863. She returned to Dunedin to marry Thomas Evans, a former schoolmaster, on 22 September 1863. They settled in Wanganui, where Thomas worked as a painter. In eight years Ann gave birth to five children and nursed Thomas, who had contracted lead poisoning. He died on 25 October 1871.

Shortly afterwards Ann Evans loaded her five children and all her belongings onto a wagon and moved to Waihi, the main Armed Constabulary camp in Taranaki, which was situated near Hawera. Initially she ran a store but her skills as a nurse quickly became known. She tended injured and sick soldiers and settlers, and as a midwife gave valuable assistance to local women. Before long she became known throughout South Taranaki as 'Ann the Doctor'.

The Evans family lived in Hawera from the late 1870s. The story is told that one day a group of Maori called at Ann Evans's house and asked her to treat a sick man. She agreed to accompany them and was blindfolded for most of the journey. Eventually she arrived at a whare where the outlawed resistance leader Titokowaru lay suffering from pneumonia. During the six to eight weeks in which Ann nursed him, regular messages and gifts of food were delivered to her family. She returned home blindfolded and had no idea of the location of the hiding-place.

For more than 20 years Ann Evans supported herself and her family by working as a nurse and midwife. Her patients, many of whom lived at some distance, included Ngati Ruanui as well as settlers. As a trusted, regular traveller along bush tracks she often carried money and valuables to the Bank of New Zealand agency in Patea before an agency opened in Hawera. It is said that at four o'clock one morning, on her way to attend a seriously ill patient, Ann Evans was accosted by two men in the Manawapou valley. One of them recognised her and exclaimed, 'It's Nurse Evans!' 'Yes, it is,' she answered. 'And you know what I always carry. Touch me, and I'll blow your brains out.' She then rode on. The men were unaware that she carried nothing more lethal than a riding-crop.

In later life Granny Evans, as she was then known, gave up the strenuous work of nursing. In her early 60s she opened refreshment rooms at the Hawera railway station. For the last 20 years of her life, with help from one of her daughters, she served travellers with tea and buttered scones. She died in Hawera on 4 July 1916, a well-known and loved local figure.

How to cite this page:

Charlotte Macdonald. 'Evans, Ann', first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 1, 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1e3/evans-ann (accessed 29 June 2017)