Born on 18 May 1830 in Cockfield, Durham, England, Hannah White was the first daughter, after four sons, of Jane Angus and her husband, Francis White. On 22 November 1834 the Cockfield blacksmith and his family, now increased by another girl, sailed from London on the Fortune to join Francis's brother, William, at the Mangungu Methodist mission station on Hokianga Harbour, New Zealand. During the trans-Tasman section of the voyage their schooner Friendship was wrecked, on 17 May 1835, when calling at Norfolk Island with stores for the penal settlement. The family was rescued by convicts. They waited for 13 weeks before being returned to Sydney on the Governor Phillips on 16 August 1835. The family eventually arrived at the Bay of Islands on the Surry in November 1835. From there they were taken to Hokianga Harbour by Ngati Hao leader Nene.
Francis White prospered in New Zealand. He set up business in the Hokianga district as a timber merchant and built a spacious and, eventually, comfortable home, Mata, about a mile from the Mangungu mission station. Cattle, horses, hens and turkeys increased in number on the property; meat, milk, cream and eggs were abundant. Hannah's older brothers, the teenagers William and Titus Angus especially, assisted in cattle mustering and pig hunting. Hannah and her three younger sisters, Jane Ann, Eliza and Harriet, had minor chores to do within the household. Since clothes washing and all major housework was done by Maori servants, the children were free to spend much of their leisure as they pleased. Horse-riding was Hannah's favourite pursuit, her exhilaration increasing whenever, on her favourite mount, Meg, she defeated adult or child competitors. Mock hurdles were made out of scrubby vegetation. Peaches were gathered from horseback. On other expeditions the children gathered great baskets full of Cape gooseberries and sometimes the fruit of the kotukutuku or native fuchsia, which Hannah's mother baked in tarts or pies.
Formal education was not neglected. Initially Hannah and at least some other members of her family attended the mission school. Later they were taught at home by a private governess, and they joined in lessons with their cousins, this time under the supervision of their aunt, Eliza White.
The Mata children and their parents had little fear of the Maori people among whom they lived. Nene and one his wives 'adopted' Hannah and once, while travelling from the Bay of Islands to Hokianga, Nene's wife carried Hannah on her back for two days. When Francis White visited England in 1840, he instructed the chief Mohi Tawhai to care for his wife and children. Soon afterwards Mohi delivered an 'immense pig'. Later, the White family declined to move to the apparent safety of Auckland during the fighting of 1845.
Although Hannah's Hokianga childhood was not dramatic, its normality merits attention. She endured personal tragedy when her older brother Joseph was fatally injured by a horse; she relished the picnics and outdoor excursions which were a regular part of family life; she enjoyed the close companionship of adults and other children in a relatively isolated rural community; and she experienced kindness, courtesy and consideration from many of the older Maori men and women with whom she came into contact. The impression gained from her memoir is one of a young woman of deep spirituality, humour and resourcefulness.
Although William White was dismissed in 1838, Francis and his family remained at Hokianga until 1850, when they shifted to Auckland. There, on 5 February 1856, 25-year-old Hannah White married Édouard Philippe Martin, a well-educated young seaman four years her senior, whose maritime career had changed to a missionary one after he had been shipwrecked in the Fijian islands. Hannah spent seven years in Fiji on the island of Viwa where Édouard was in charge of the Wesleyan Missionary Press. Three children were born to the Martins before the family returned to Auckland, probably in 1863. There Édouard worked as a compositor at the offices of the New Zealand Herald. Hannah cared for a family which grew to five children, four girls and a boy, by 1867. She died in Auckland on 5 December 1903 at the age of 73. Her husband died at Thames on 20 July 1910.
Although Hannah Martin's adult life may have been more varied than that of many of her colonial contemporaries, only reminiscences of her childhood experiences survive. Her memoir reveals that life for children in a Methodist missionary enclave during the early years of European colonisation could be active, stimulating and fun.