Page 1: Biography
Wesleyan mission worker, teacher, homemaker
This biography, written by M. B. Gittos, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Marianne Hobbs was born on 31 July 1830 at the Wesleyan mission station, Mangungu, Hokianga, New Zealand, the second daughter of John Hobbs, a missionary, and his wife, Jane Brogreff, a lay missionary. In 1833 the Hobbses went to the mission field at Tonga, but returned to Mangungu in 1838. Marianne remained there until 1850 when she became a music teacher at Wesley College, Auckland. On 28 April 1857, at the Wesleyan chapel, High Street, Auckland, she married the missionary William Gittos, nephew of William White, the former superintendent at the Mangungu mission.
William Gittos had opened the Wesleyan mission station at Waingohi, Kaipara, in 1856; they lived there until the station was moved to Rangiora on the Otamatea River, probably in 1862. Marianne Gittos was the only European woman in the district, and with her husband often absent on his duties she suffered severely from loneliness. Essential supplies from Auckland were often delayed – once for six months. To provide a sugar substitute she developed considerable skill as an apiarist, and is said to have been the first person to introduce the frame that made commercial bee-keeping possible. Her honey-mead became well regarded.
Isolation obliged Marianne to acquire and practise medical skills in addition to her normal duties of keeping poultry and bees and tending the kitchen garden. She had also to teach domestic skills and Scripture to Māori children and raise and educate her own growing family. Her five girls and two boys later came to feel that their mother's life had been excessively demanding, and made less endurable by deafness.
The arrival in 1862 of the Albertland settlers relieved the loneliness but imposed on Marianne Gittos the need to support her husband in a heavier work-load. He became the main facilitator of the sale and lease of Māori land and served Governor Sir George Grey by helping to create a friendly buffer zone against any possible Ngāpuhi attack on Auckland. This meant, for Marianne, relieving William of more routine jobs, and she even wrote many of his sermons. When unexpected visitors turned up she would have to dash out, catch, kill and pluck a fowl, and then serve it for dinner.
William Gittos's influence in all matters, spiritual and temporal, was accepted by both Māori and Pākehā. Even his strong autocratic tendencies were largely forgiven although not forgotten by his own family. Daughter Sarah was not consulted when her best dress was handed over to a Māori bride. Another daughter, Esther, had a suitor who had been forbidden by William to come on to the property; he was to be horse-whipped if he disobeyed. The young man came and was duly whipped by Marianne and her daughters then hurriedly driven away so that he might escape the greater wrath of a stern father.
In 1885 or 1886 the family moved to Auckland but William resumed mission work at Te Awamutu from 1891 to 1893. From 1893 until his retirement in 1913 he was active in the Methodist Māori mission in Auckland province, being superintendent for part of that time. Marianne Gittos died at Devonport, Auckland, on 24 January 1908; she was buried at O'Neill's Point cemetery, Bayswater. William Gittos died at Auckland on 26 May 1916.