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Story: Horrell, Elizabeth

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Horrell, Elizabeth


Teacher, homemaker

This biography, written by W. J. Gardner, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Elizabeth Moore is said to have been born at Topsham, Devon, England, on 21 April 1826. She was the daughter of John Moore, a farm bailiff, and his wife, whose name is unknown. As a young woman she taught in the parish school at Woolfardisworthy, Devon, under the supervision of the rector, W. B. Hole. It is not certain whether she had formal training or simply moved from being pupil to teacher. On 23 July 1849 at Woolfardisworthy she married John Horrell, eldest son of a neighbouring tenant farmer, who had trained as a carpenter in Exeter. Hole installed the young couple as tenants on his farm. Possibly Elizabeth Horrell continued to teach until her first child was born in May 1850.

Times were hard in Devon and the farm was too small to be profitable. Probably encouraged by Hole as advocate for the Canterbury Association, John and Elizabeth Horrell decided to emigrate with the first group of settlers, as assisted steerage passengers. John described himself as an 'agricultural machinist'. With their three-month-old son they departed from London on the Charlotte Jane on 7 September 1850.

The ship's chaplain, G. T. B. Kingdon, later stated that Elizabeth Horrell acted as schoolmistress during the voyage. She was appointed by Kingdon at the request of Thomas Jackson, bishop designate of the proposed diocese of Lyttelton. Edward Ward, a fellow passenger, noted in his journal on 2 November that, in a storm off south-west Africa, 'Mrs Horrell got a bad fall on deck, which made her insensible and cut her face.'

After arrival at Lyttelton on 16 December 1850 Kingdon reported that Elizabeth Horrell had performed her duties to his entire satisfaction and recommended payment of the promised sum of £10. She was immediately appointed assistant schoolmistress in Lyttelton by J. R. Godley and thus became Canterbury's first woman schoolteacher. She taught, so it is said, with her infant son beside her in a box. It is possible that she also taught briefly at St Michael's, Christchurch. In late 1851 Elizabeth Horrell's second son was born and her teaching career ended. For the rest of her life she was mainly occupied with household management and child care. She gave birth to ten more children: the family comprised in all six sons and six daughters.

In the early 1850s John Horrell went alone to the Victorian goldfields, where he earned good wages as a carpenter at Bendigo. After his return to New Zealand he spent several years working as a carpenter and bush-feller at Papanui, Kaiapoi and Woodend, and then switched to farming. Between 1869 and 1874 he acquired by grant and purchase about 842 acres of Murphy's run, near Cust, in the district later known as Horrelville. He named the property Moore Barton, after his father's farm in Devon. Here, in 1875, Elizabeth Horrell's last child was born, over 25 years after her first.

In 1877 John purchased a 1,900 acre block, Te Mimi, near Morrinsville, Waikato, and two years later went to live there with Elizabeth and the younger children. The change was not advantageous. Depression was setting in, the block proved difficult to break in and returns were meagre. Both in Canterbury and Waikato, John played a prominent part in local affairs. Elizabeth supported him in this public service and coped with the hardships of pioneer farming.

John Horrell died in 1897. Three years later Elizabeth Horrell travelled to Christchurch to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations of Canterbury, of which she was a foundation settler. In a unique gathering she was honoured by her surviving former pupils. Elizabeth Horrell died on 18 January 1913, at Morrinsville. Hers was a strong, but in no sense domineering, personality. Her stability of character balanced the more restless nature of her husband. Their decision to come to New Zealand prompted other Horrells from Devon to migrate. A reunion in 1965 was attended by numerous Horrell descendants.

How to cite this page:

W. J. Gardner. 'Horrell, Elizabeth', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1h34/horrell-elizabeth (accessed 16 July 2024)