New Zealand - the Upside Down of the World

Val MillsStarred Page By Val Mills, 3rd Sep 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

In 1841 New Zealand was a new country, the Treaty of Waitangi making it an English colony the year before. This is the story of a young bride who followed her husband to this supposedly barbarious country at the bottom of the world.

Arriving in a strange new country

On St Stephen's Day, December 26, 1841, a young woman set sail from Plymouth in England to join her husband, William Martin, at the bottom of the world. She was Lady Mary Ann Martin and her husband, aged 26 years, was the Chief Justice in the very new country of New Zealand. She herself was but a girl, only 19 years old.
She arrived at her new home after a five month journey that included a short stop in Sydney, Australia. With none of the comforts of home, and her husband away working throughout the country for six months of each year, life would have been quite an ordeal for this young bride.
Added to this, she was lame and unable to travel to the nearby town of Auckland as she couldn't negotiate the hills. Her only neighbours were the local native Maori people, whose language she could not speak.

A woman of determination

Lady Martin let none of this deter her. She quickly familiarised herself with the Maori language and ways of the people whom she referrs to as not many years removed from being barbarians. Her personal mission was to civilise these people and immerse herself in her new life and land.
Her lighthearted determination and her positive attitude soon enabled her to make a useful life for herself in the surrounding community. The house she and the Judge lived in was on a hilltop in Judges Bay, now part of Auckland city. She referred to the little bay she looked down upon as 'my bay' and became an important part of the community.

The growth of a trading community

Unable to travel in to town to buy supplies, she encouraged the growth of a Maori trading community down in her bay. Maoris came from afar in their canoes to sell and trade their goods, and her persistence with learning the language enabled her to entice them to bring their goods to her. She also became skilled in using local native plants for healing and established a small makeshift hospital for local Maori people.

Maori and the Land Wars

About twenty years after arriving to live in the country, relationships between Maori and European people became tested. The English became too greedy and took land they were not really entitled to without consultation with the native owners. There followed years of fighting between the Maori and the English people. This was partially a result of the two cultures having completely different concepts of land ownership, and the consequent lack of understanding by the English of what land meant to the Maori people.
Throughout this, the local Maori people were loyal to Lady Martin and the Judge, and protected them.
However, partly beause of his friendly relationship and belief in the rights of the Maori people, the Judge was recalled to England in the late 1870s, and he and his wife had to leave the country they had come to love.

Our Maoris, a memoir by Lady Martin

Lady Martin eventually wrote a delightful little book, 'Our Maoris' as a memoir of her time in New Zealand and of her perceptions of the people she had come to know and love.
This story has now been renewed as a theatrical production by the Auckland Theatre Company. I saw it performed at Downstage Theatre in Wellington.
In the form of a monologue, the actress, Laurel Devenie, performed a passionate 75 minutes of storytelling in her role as Lady Martin.
She brought not only Lady Martin's story to life, but also gave an amazing portrayal of life in New Zealand about 170 years ago.

Bringing past stories alive

It is so important that stories from the past are kept alive and handed down as part of any country's social history. This story of a young bride in the land she chose to call the Upside Down of the World, is a story of real courage and determination.
Lady Martin was just one of many pioneer woman who reached the shores of New Zealand and learned to make the most of the new raw country they were to call home.

All images in this story are from early 20th century postcards from the author's personal collection.


1840S, Auckland Theatre Company, Colonies, Downstage Theatre, English Woman, Healing With Native Plants, Lady Mary Ann Martin, Land Warss, Maori, Memoir, New Zealand, St Stephens Day

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author avatar Val Mills
Self-published writer, coffee drinker, enjoying life. Also found at and

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author avatar Delicia Powers
4th Sep 2011 (#)

Wonderful, history and article Val,I must read Lady Martin's book, thank you again Val:0)

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
4th Sep 2011 (#)

Beautiful look at New Zealands history.

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author avatar Buzz
4th Sep 2011 (#)

Lovely piece on New Zealand history.

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author avatar Retired
4th Sep 2011 (#)

Awesome page-- very informative and well presented. Bravo on your star.

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author avatar jayababy
4th Sep 2011 (#)

Never knew this history. Hail Lady Martin!

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author avatar Sheila Newton
4th Sep 2011 (#)

I hadn't heard of Lady Martin before i read this. What a great piece of history you unfold for your readers. Divine.

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
4th Sep 2011 (#)

What a great accounting of Lady Martin's life. Totally interesting. thank you Val. A great star!

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author avatar Christine Ramsay
4th Sep 2011 (#)

A wonderful look back at some of the history of this lady's life with the Maoris. She sounds like a very adventurous lady despite her disability. Well done, Val.

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author avatar kaylar
5th Sep 2011 (#)

Wonderfully done, well told.

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author avatar Carol Kinsman
5th Sep 2011 (#)

A wonderful story and so beautifully retold by you. Thank you, Val.

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author avatar Christine Ramsay
28th Sep 2011 (#)

You have done your bit in keeping the history alive with this really interesting piece, Val.
Good work and three housepoints:)

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