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Story: Harrold, Agnes

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Harrold, Agnes


Hotel manager, foster parent, nurse, midwife

This biography, written by Maida Barlow, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Agnes (Nancy) Grieve was born in Hudson's Bay, Canada, probably in 1830 or 1831. Her father, James Grieve, was a bowsman employed by the Hudson's Bay Company and her mother was of Amerindian descent. Agnes married James Harrold, a fisherman with the Hudson's Bay Company, on 16 September 1847. There were two children, one of whom died in infancy. Having moved to Great Britain, the Harrolds set sail on 10 July 1848 for Nelson and then Port Chalmers, where they arrived on board the Bernicia on 12 December 1848. Within 12 months they were established at Taieri Ferry, where James worked the ferry, kept a store and built a boat, and Agnes ran the hotel.

About 1861 they moved to Stewart Island where Captain Harrold, as he was known, opened three fishing stations (where boats dropped off their catches to be shipped to Dunedin), and built a shop, a house and a large boarding house called the Travellers' Rest. He was a hard-working, versatile man, and when his fish-curing ventures failed he returned to boatbuilding. In one of his vessels he traded across the Tasman and up to the China seas, coming home at intervals with wines, brassware, china and other goods to sell in the shop, and gifts for Agnes such as silver, parrots and a pet monkey.

Agnes Harrold managed the Travellers' Rest. It was popular with holidaying families and honeymoon couples from the mainland. The Harrolds also fostered many state wards, and at one time had 12 children living under their care. Agnes Harrold was an intrepid woman of forceful character, with a hawk-like nose and a patrician bearing. She listened to troubles, never spread them, and kept her own to herself.

Agnes Harrold was also a competent nurse, with a rough knowledge of surgery, and was unofficial 'doctor' to the small but cosmopolitan Stewart Island population, which numbered between 200 and 300 during the later nineteenth century. Sawmilling was the main industry on the island and there were accidental mutilations. 'Send for Granny Harrold' was the cry when basic first aid was not enough. Where boat transport was impracticable she walked, sometimes many miles, treated the patient, returned home to sleep and went back to the patient next day. She did not fuss, was efficient, and inspired confidence. Her hands were 'strong as a man's', and she was comforting in times of trouble. 'He just slipt awa' like a knotless thread', she would say when death at last came, often from tuberculosis; or 'The poor bairn – he's easy now', when a baby died.

As a midwife, Agnes Harrold was sympathetic. Her treatment for women in labour involved much drinking of squaw tea, which included raspberry leaves and tansy. She would keep the woman up, and have her kneel on the floor for the delivery. She would fold clean linen round the baby, and then whip off her own woollen petticoat, warm from her body, and wrap the baby in it: 'The birth is enough. It can lie and rest.' Next she would tend the mother, sponging her, helping her into the cool bed, and making her a thin gruel sprinkled with nutmeg.

Agnes Harrold died on Stewart Island on 7 July 1903. She was remembered fondly by the mothers she had helped: 'If anyone deserves a monument on this island, it's Granny Harrold.'

How to cite this page:

Maida Barlow. 'Harrold, Agnes', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1h10/harrold-agnes (accessed 14 June 2024)