Sarah Cryer was born on 14 February 1848 at Wroughton, Wiltshire, England, the youngest of eight children of Hannah Matthews and her husband, Moses Cryer, a butcher. In November 1848 the family embarked on the New Zealand Company ship Mary at London and arrived in Nelson on 24 February 1849. Shortly afterwards they joined Hannah Cryer's brother, Charles Matthews, in Wellington. According to Sarah's sister Annie, they 'had not much pleasure in Wellington as the Maoris were in a very disturbed state'. On 1 July 1849 they sailed on the Fair Tasmanian to Lyttelton, where Moses Cryer was to take charge of the Canterbury Association's stores.
In Lyttelton the Cryers lived first in a tent, and then in London Street; Moses was said to be the town's first butcher. He quickly began acquiring land, most significantly the 5,000-acre Waterford cattle run at Little Rakaia, near Southbridge, which was purchased on 3 October 1855.
Sometime after October 1857 the Cryer family settled permanently at Waterford and built the first comfortable homestead in the district. They were foundation members of St James's Church, Southbridge, opened in January 1865. Sarah and her sisters taught Sunday school, assisted with church bazaars and the local school's treats, helped cover books for the lending library, and made hats and baskets from dried tussock grass. Sarah played croquet and probably tennis. She was a noted horsewoman, a keen organiser of riding expeditions, an eager participant in bullock-dray trips to Christchurch (which often involved a night out in the open), and an enthusiastic pig hunter. In late middle age she won a nail-driving competition at a church auction.
It was not until after her father's death on 9 September 1893 that 'Miss Cryer' began to figure prominently in the public life of Southbridge. Sarah inherited in trust the 67 acres which remained of the Waterford estate, two large farms having been sold earlier to provide for her sisters. Presumably at her request, the estate was not sold as her father had envisaged, but retained for her own use. She continued to run stock and crops 'in a husbandlike manner' until her death. She did not marry.
As an original settler who was independent and financially secure, Sarah Cryer maintained a 'very keen interest in all matters pertaining to the welfare of the district and its people'. She was a generous donor of both money and goods to St James's Church, in particular the memorial brass altar rails which were installed in 1901. She was a foundation member and an energetic president of the Southbridge branch of the Ministering Children's League from 1901 to 1903. During the war years and after, she always hosted the Sunday school picnic at Waterford. She was a regular subscriber to the Red Cross and an active member of the Southbridge Bandage Brigade, which in 1916 was producing some 400 bandages a week.
Sarah Cryer was a member of the inaugural committee of the Southbridge Horticultural Society in 1898, a vice president in 1908 and patron in 1929; she also exhibited her produce and donated prizes at the society's shows. She was probably the first woman committee member of the Southbridge Lawn Tennis Club in 1897 and was a vice president in 1916.
Sarah Cryer 'retained her physical and mental vigour in a marked degree' until shortly before her death. In January 1926 she visited the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition in Dunedin. Using her own car, driven by a friend, she made lengthy sightseeing expeditions every morning and attended the exhibition in the afternoons and evenings. She died on 30 August 1929 at Waterford. Through her cheerful and generous character and her great gift of enjoying everything, she had continued not only her father's farm but also his role of local squire and community patron. It earned her the admiration and respect of all who knew her.