Page 1: Biography
Homemaker, community worker
This biography, written by Dorothy Ropiha, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Nielsine Nielsen was born in Jelling, Vejle, Denmark, on 21 July 1858, the third of eight children of Mette Marie Simans and her husband, Lauritz Nielsen, a dairy farmer. Life was busy and hard, and to augment the family income her father repaired boots. During the winter months Nielsine helped with the stock, which were housed and hand-fed.
Probably in 1873 the Nielsen family sailed from Copenhagen for Southampton, en route to New Zealand. At Southampton, Nielsine's mother, who was pregnant, became ill and was taken to hospital. As their luggage was already aboard the Cardigan Castle and immigration authorities insisted that the owners must travel with it, Lauritz Nielsen arranged for the three eldest children – Frederick, aged about 20, Ann, about 16, and Nielsine, 15 – to travel on to New Zealand. Nielsine did not know that her parents were not to be with them and initially she was heart-broken. Nevertheless, the months on board were interesting and the time passed.
The Cardigan Castle arrived in Lyttelton on 15 November 1873 and Ann and Nielsine went into domestic service; Nielsine worked in Akaroa. Their parents arrived later and settled in New Zealand. On 29 March 1875, when she was 16, Nielsine Nielsen married Thomas (Tom) Paget, a 25-year-old Englishman, at St Peter's Anglican Church, Akaroa. Tom had asthma and because of his health they left Akaroa in 1882. The Pagets and their four children moved into a pit-sawn hut on a leased bush section of approximately 200 acres, situated at south Makaretu at the base of the Ruahine Range in southern Hawke's Bay. Nielsine's sister Ann and her Scottish husband were already farming in the area. Nielsine and Tom felled the bush, from which they built their first house, and burned, raked and cleared the land for sowing down. Nielsine made bread, butter, candles, soap and clothes, as well as maintaining a large garden.
In 1892, when Nielsine Paget was pregnant with her 12th child, a fire raged through the settlement. Tom was in agony after inhaling smoke, so Nielsine lowered him and the younger children down the well while she and the older children beat the flames. By a stroke of luck the wind changed direction, saving them and their home from the inferno.
While raising her 15 children and helping Tom with their farming Nielsine became nurse, midwife, comforter and counsellor to neighbours, friends and travelling strangers. With courage and determination she coped with isolation, hardships, the difficulties of learning the English language, accidents, illness and the deaths of some of her children.
Although Nielsine Paget had had very little formal education, she made use of every opportunity to educate herself and her children. During the First World War, when two of her sons were serving in the armed forces overseas and three in the reserves, she became involved with the Red Cross in Waipukurau.
Tom Paget died on 13 November 1925 and Nielsine's health began to fail. She went to live with one of her daughters in Napier and died there on 13 July 1932. She was buried at Takapau alongside her husband. A pioneer of the Scandinavian immigrants who came to Seventy Mile Bush, Nielsine Paget made an imprint on the district. She was described by all who knew her as a truly amazing woman.