Page 1: Biography
Waikato and Ngāti Pukeko; founding mother, midwife
This biography, written by Janet C. Angus, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.
Catherine McKay was born probably at Putataka, Waikato Heads, New Zealand, in 1842, the third child of John Horton McKay, a storekeeper, and Irihapeti, whose tribal connections were with Waikato and Ngāti Pūkeko of Whakatāne. She was baptised by Bishop G. A. Selwyn on 28 June 1846, along with two brothers and two sisters. The McKay children were educated at Maraetai and Te Kōhanga mission schools, which were run by the Reverend Robert Maunsell; two sons became respected Māori interpreters. Catherine learned housekeeping and nursing skills, and to play the piano. She became a devout Christian. On 29 October 1860 at Waitetuna, Raglan, she married William Carran, a stock keeper.
In 1861 William, wishing to escape warfare in Waikato, sailed for Campbelltown (Bluff) to try goldmining at Kapuka. After beginning work for the brothers Archibald and James Campbell at Waimāhaka station, he sent for Catherine. She set out courageously with her baby son, down the Waikato River by boat, then from Onehunga to Dunedin by sailing ship. She wrote to her husband before sailing to Campbelltown on the Star of Dunedin, but when she arrived he was not there to meet her. After waiting a week in a hotel she decided to walk the 25 miles around the coast with the baby on her back. The first night was spent in a shepherd's hut and the second beside a driftwood fire on sandhills opposite Fortrose. In the morning the runholder James Wybrow came and ferried them over to his home. Catherine was cared for there until Wybrow took her to William, who was delighted to see her. He had not received her letter.
At Waimāhaka station Catherine Carran kept house and cooked for the Campbells and for many workmen and visitors, but the work proved too heavy for her. In addition, the Carrans’ tent burned down and they lost their possessions. Within a year they moved, now with two children, to the ferry house at Fortrose. William Carran was the ferryman at the Mataura River mouth for six years. He and Catherine also ran a small accommodation house with a licence to sell liquor and to supply meals to the public.
The lure of gold and farming attracted William and Catherine Carran with their six children (three boys and three girls) to a 50-acre farm at Seaward Bush. However, William drowned near Bluff Harbour in June 1871, and Catherine returned to Fortrose to live on a piece of land bought from the Wybrows. Her brother, Ben McKay, came from Waikato to help her and stayed on. Catherine began to go out nursing among the settlers' wives. She walked long distances, even to Invercargill – more than 30 miles – for the baptism of her children.
Around 1872 Catherine Carran bought a small farm, built her house, and on 11 November 1872 married William Henry Patterson, a miner who had emigrated from the United States, at Lower Mataura Registry Office. Seven children (six boys and one girl) were born to them. Sometime after 1883 William Patterson moved to Clifden. He died at Riverton on 9 July 1910.
Meanwhile Catherine had continued her work as midwife and housekeeper at Fortrose. Her practical kindnesses made her a much-loved citizen: it was said that she never turned anyone away and that her table was always laden. She was a faithful Anglican and read her Bible every night. A small, robust woman, she kept alert in mind and remained vigorous into her 90s. She died at home on 6 November 1935, and her funeral was the biggest ever seen at Fortrose.
Catherine Patterson experienced the wars of the north, the goldrush, pioneering on a sheep run and small farms, and acting as midwife and nurse to a region in the process of settlement, and met all these challenges with exceptional fortitude. She brought up her very large family with strict care, and has many descendants.