Page 1: Biography
Bibby, Mary Ann
This biography, written by Margaret A. Gray, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Mary Ann Woodhouse was born in Heaton, Lancashire, England, the daughter of Ann Woodhouse and her husband, Thomas Woodhouse, a fisherman who was later a miller. She was baptised at Overton on 10 June 1832. Little is known of Mary's early life. Fair-haired and blue-eyed, she was small of stature but had an indomitable spirit. On 18 May 1861 at Quernmore, Lancashire, she married Edward Bibby, a carpenter and builder who had spent nearly nine years in New Zealand.
That year Edward and Mary Bibby sailed aboard the Albion bound for Napier, New Zealand. During the passage Mary gave birth prematurely to a son, who did not survive. The couple settled in Abbottsford (Waipāwa), where they opened a store. Mary Bibby inspected the sections and selected the site on the banks of the Waipāwa River, where the Hampden Road to the plains met the main road north to Napier. Edward Bibby built a gabled store, with a lean-to on one side serving as living quarters. The first entry in the store's day book was made on 24 July 1862, and the business flourished under Mary's drive and business acumen. She was able to import goods direct through her brother in Liverpool. On 30 October 1862 a son, James Woodhouse, was born.
In 1866, because of the threat of a Hauhau invasion, Mary Bibby kept a suitcase packed; in the event of an attack, a hasty trip upriver to the stockade at Ruataniwha would have been necessary. However, Mary Bibby seems to have had an excellent rapport with the local Māori. She appeared to be popular with them and they called her 'Pipi' (Bibby). Ngāti Te Whatu-i-āpiti leader Te Hāpuku and his wives were particularly good customers. Mary Bibby was not above selling her own blouse if a customer especially admired it. Over the years she developed a thriving mail-order business. No matter how obscure the written orders were, she satisfied her clients, all of whom had confidence in her choice.
Edward and Mary Bibby had eight children in 14 years: four boys and four girls. Mary was assisted by staff at home and in the store. In the early 1880s the old building was moved across the road on skids, and on the original site Edward erected a large new store with commodious living quarters attached. Their two eldest sons on turning 14 left Napier Grammar School to join the family business. This left Mary time to spend with her family and guests, and she made one trip back to England in the late 1890s.
Mary Bibby knew what she wanted, held strong opinions on her rights and strove to achieve them. Her business activities enabled Edward to participate in local affairs and to purchase farmland west of Waipāwa. Mary's busy and successful life ended with her death on 13 January 1910 at Waipāwa; her husband had died on 8 December 1901. Both husband and wife were buried in the old St Peter's cemetery, Waipāwa. Their second son, Edward, financed, erected and in 1912 had consecrated a church in loving memory of his parents, on the Blackburn Ridge portion of their property.