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Story: Pope, Maria Sophia

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Pope, Maria Sophia


Shopkeeper, businesswoman

This biography, written by Jo-Anne Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Maria Sophia Bloor was born on 20 August 1818 in London, England, the eldest daughter of Ann Banson and her husband, John Wesley Bloor, a timber merchant. Maria Bloor married Thomas Pope, a registered dyer, at London, probably in 1835. They had two children before Thomas Pope's death in 1850.

Between 1858 and 1860 Maria Pope emigrated to New Zealand. Her son, Fusedale Bloor Pope, who was probably an invalid, joined her in Christchurch in 1860, and her daughter, Sarah Ann Pope, arrived in 1862. That year, with the assistance of Sarah, Maria Pope opened her first shop in Market Square (Victoria Square), Christchurch, selling stationery and English periodicals and newspapers. The shrewd choice of a site for the shop enabled her to expand her stock by 1866 to include fancy goods such as smoking-caps, slippers, German and Andalusian wool, beads, braids, shuttles, and Berlin needlework.

On 8 February 1868 Mrs Pope's store was destroyed by fire which had spread from the adjoining premises of Swale and Rankin, grocers. Although bystanders helped to clear furniture and stock from the shop, the building was gutted and many of the goods were burnt or damaged by water. Maria Pope suffered losses estimated at £200 more than her insurance cover of £750. The fire had been started deliberately by Thomas Densley Swale to destroy the evidence after he had killed his partner, John Rankin. Sarah Pope was an important witness in the trial, which resulted in Swale's conviction for murder.

The fire was a serious setback, but Maria Pope was not discouraged and soon moved to another shop in the same block. In November 1869 she was called as a witness in a court case which alleged that the confectioner's shop next door was being used as a front for a brothel. By 1872 Mrs Pope's store sold mainly needlework requirements and knitting wools and some stationery. Gradually the range of items for sale grew to include household equipment and children's clothing. By 1882 Sarah and Maria Pope no longer lived behind the shop, as a house, Olney, had been bought at Papanui. It is said that thereafter Maria Pope travelled to and from work by tricycle.

In 1885 and 1886 William V. Bloor, a cousin, temporarily took over the running of Maria Pope's shop. In 1887 the Pope family resumed control. It seems likely that by this stage, as she was nearly 70, Maria Pope's involvement was minimal. However, her name continued to be associated with the store. In 1893 the shop was moved to 197 Colombo Street, which was closer to Cathedral Square. Sarah Pope had married William Ensom in 1902, and in 1904 Maria Pope's sister Louisa Fox came to Canterbury. In 1907 they all moved to Timaru. Two years later, on 18 November 1909, Maria Pope died there. Her business continued to be owned by the family. The first of many branch stores was opened in Worcester Street in 1910, and the Colombo Street store shifted to Cashel Street in 1915. In 1916 a company was formed. Sarah Ensom and her husband were associated with it until the 1920s when they died and the Pope family connection ended.

What started out as a small enterprise developed because of Maria and Sarah Pope's business sense and willingness to adapt to the changing requirements of the local community. Their success can be measured by the fact that several branches of 'Mrs Pope's Variety Store' are still in existence in Christchurch.

How to cite this page:

Jo-Anne Smith. 'Pope, Maria Sophia', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1p24/pope-maria-sophia (accessed 28 November 2022)