Topic: Eliza Ann Mason (nee Thorne)

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Eliza Ann Mason (nee Thorne) 1827-1895.

Eliza Ann Thorne was born in the great port city of Bristol, England in 1827, daughter of George Thorne and his wife, Martha Hands. She was said to have been orpaned at an early age but nothing is known of her childhood.

In the mid-1840s, Eliza met George Edward Mason, five years her senior, who had given up training for a medical career to become a farmer. He was born in Painswick in Gloucestershire but at the time they met was leasind Bonsonwood Farm near Bridgewater in Somerset. In a letter to George his cousin Sarah Mason wrote "I shall expect tidings of Miss Thorne from Elizabeth (George's sister) but hope you will think well before binding yourself, for I should wish to see you happily settled". In her next letter she wrote "I am quite pleased to hear of your visitor's manners and from Elizabeth's account you are pleased too. I really rejoice that you have a companion so suitable by description and hope if she really pleases you that no obstacle will arise to mar your happiness". Eliza obviously proved suitable as she and George were married on July 29, 1848, at St Mary's, Islington, London.

Eliza and George Mason had moved to Birchdale, where a similar cob house to that at Horsley Down was built on the 20 acre Crown Grant that George had purchased, and there they lived for about ten years. By the end of the 1850s, George Mason had lost all his land but continued to live at Birchdale, which from 1859 he rented from Christopher Dampier who sold it in 1886 to James Lance.

Eliza and George fell on hard times, some of Eliza's letters to the family in England describing  what a financial struggle they were going through. George became a cattle dealer in the 1860s but his income from this venture ceased  when the movement of cattle was banned due to the spread of the disease pleuro-pneumonia. He also also cut and sold firewood for a time and had earlier carted wool for Mallock and Lance. Somehow Eliza kept the household going and fed and clothed her growing family. Until 1881, when a school was opened at Masons Flat, Eliza taught her children with the aid of books sent out from England by her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Mason. Eliza was a skilled needlewoman and made many of the family's clothes from material which, like many other essential items, arrived at irregular intervals in shipments from England. Thes must have been eagerly looked forward to and were sent in lieu of interest on money which Eliza had there.

It was fortunate for the family that during their more prosperous days Eliza had purchased a small area of land which appears in the records in the name of her eldest surving daughte Emily. They named it Spingbank and it was there that a cob house with roof of shingles was built in 1867. Emily recorded in the family diary in December that year "Wed 11, Mrs M came to live at Springbank". Such was their situation that by 1872, Eliza and George were compelled to send their elder daughters out to work in domestic service, Elizabeth and Mary going to work at Heathstock and Margaret at Allandale.

The 1880s, although a decade of Great Depression for the country in general, brought an easing of the Masons' financial situation but was marred by family illness and the death of their daughter Emily Barnes in 1884. Eliza herself had not been well, suffering recurring bronchial illness. Despite the troubles that beset her she was still able to write cheerfully to the family in England about their children and grandchildren, the garden and orchard, and the activities of friends and neighbours.

By the late 1880s, things had improved to the extent that George and Eliza were able to consider replacing the cob house, Springbank having been extended from a small holding into a farm by the purchase of additional land. Early in the 1890s, plans were made and the family went to live in the nearby Masons Flat school house while the new house was being built. Sadly, however, Eliza was never to settle into her new home. She died at the school house on April 11, 1895 and two days later during a light snowfall was buried at Horsley Down.

Eliza's life in New Zealand had been an arduous one. From the comfort of her first married home at Bonsonwood Farm in Somerset she then spent the rest of her life in a series of small and inconvenient cottages, in a remote part of a remote country. Not only did she successfully raise and educate a large family in these surroundings but she did so without financial and other resources which she might have expected on first arriving in the colony. It says much for her courage and fortitude that she did not buckle under the pressures place upon her but instilled in her children the qualities needed to cope with adversity. She was a remarkable woman and in many ways a role model for her numerous descendants.

Compiled from research by Alice Clayton and Ann Loffhagen

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Eliza Ann Mason (nee Thorne)


First Names:Eliza Ann
Last Name:Mason (nee Thorne)
Place of Birth:Bristol, England
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Eliza Ann Mason (nee Thorne) by hurunuiadmin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License