Page 1: Biography
This biography, written by Janet McCallum, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Anne (Annie) Swift was probably born in Lancashire, England, some time between 1829 and 1835. Her parentage is unknown. She arrived in Canterbury as a free immigrant aboard the Lancashire Witch on 29 July 1867, and was listed as a nurse.
Once on shore Anne Swift 'misconducted herself during her stay in Barracks and refused to take a situation' as a servant, as she was expected to do. Two weeks after arriving she made her first appearance before the resident magistrate for being drunk and incapable. By October 1867 she was already 'an old offender' and 'a very bad importation.' She was described in police records at this time as a 32-year-old midwife from England, 5 feet 2 inches tall, of slight build and dark complexion, with black hair and black or brown eyes.
In November 1867 Anne Swift was listed officially as a prostitute with 'no fixed place of abode' after serving her fourth sentence in four months for being drunk and disorderly. By mid December she was in trouble for drunkenness again. She had applied unsuccessfully for admission to the female refuge and was instead sent to gaol for six months as a vagrant. In June 1868 she was brought up two days running on drunkenness charges, but the immigration officer arranged for the government to pay her passage to Auckland to give her 'an opportunity of beginning a better life elsewhere', while relieving the province of the cost of her upkeep. She duly left on 20 June 1868, as a steerage passenger on the Wellington.
In Auckland province, despite a pledge to reform, Anne Swift continued to lead a dissolute life, 'almost constantly in gaol since her arrival.' She had a child in either 1868 or 1869, in Auckland or Thames. The possible father, a man named Massay, left her and went to Canterbury, where she followed him about April 1870, but he refused to live with her.
In May or June 1870 Anne Swift bore another child and called herself Carte, saying that her husband had left her in Auckland. The immigration officer in Christchurch described how 'on entering the cottage she occupied I found her lying…with scarcely any covering, she had been confined early that morning and had no one to attend her. I was accordingly obliged to find a nurse and food for herself and children. A few days afterwards…she was removed to the Hospital – although now discharged from that Institution she still remains on the hands of the government and refuses to return to Auckland.'
What became of Anne Swift or her children is unclear. On 2 February 1875 a widow Anne Swift, aged 39, married a miner, Peter Benson, in Kawakawa, Northland, but a more likely Anne Swift appears in the Police Gazette records for Auckland in the 1890s. This Ann Cooper alias Swift was charged in 1893 with larceny, in 1895 as a vagabond, and in 1898 and 1899 with brothel-keeping. She was described as a prostitute, with a sallow complexion, hazel eyes, grey hair and no teeth. By 1898 she had 60 previous convictions. It is not known when or where Anne Swift died.