Story: Henry, Annie

Page 1: Biography

Henry, Annie

1879–1971

Presbyterian missionary

This biography, written by James Veitch, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Ann (Annie) Henry was born on 25 July 1879 at The Narrows, Riverton, Southland, New Zealand, the daughter of Francis Henry, a sawmiller, and his wife, Catherine McKillop. She attended Oraki School and then Riverton District High School. After assisting at Oraki School from 1895 to 1897 she shifted to the North Island to stay with a married brother, devoting herself to Sunday school teaching and church-based youth work.

In 1913 she was appointed the first matron of the Manunui Maori Boys' Agricultural College, established by the Presbyterian church near Taumarunui. She also taught a class of young boys in the day school. A breakdown in health led to her resignation just over a year later.

In 1915 she began studying at the Presbyterian Women's Training Institute in Dunedin. At the end of her first year she declined a position on the staff of a Presbyterian mission in North India in favour of continuing her studies. During 1916 she began to learn Maori and on 24 November she was ordained deaconess at St John's Church, Wellington. Two weeks later she joined the staff of the Maori Mission Committee of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.

In February 1917, at the age of 37, Sister Annie, as she was now known, was appointed missionary to Tuhoe of Ruatahuna and the surrounding district. The Presbyterian church had recently opened a school and begun pastoral work in this part of the Urewera. However, there was much resentment among Tuhoe after the arrest of Rua Kenana and the shooting of his son, Toko, during the mêlée at Maungapohatu in 1916. When she arrived at Rotorua Sister Annie was told she 'was mad even thinking of going into the area' because it was 'not only dangerous but impossible'.

Undeterred, she set out with a fellow missionary, Abigail Monfries, making the two-day journey first by motor car, driven by the Reverend H. J. Fletcher, senior missionary at Taupo, and later by buggy and on foot. The women taught for 18 months in an old slab whare before Fletcher, the Reverend J. G. Laughton of Maungapohutu and local Maori built a paling cabin for the school. Maori of all ages flocked from miles around. Sometimes up to 70 children between the ages of five and seventeen were taught in the day school; a separate night school was set up for adults. Although the people were deeply suspicious of Pakeha, Sister Annie built close relationships with Tuhoe. Rua returned in 1918 and she thought him a gentle and kind man.

A tall, strong woman, Sister Annie was well suited physically and temperamentally to her task. Her practical skills, fluency in Maori and empathy for people enabled her to devote her entire working life to the inhabitants of the area. Ruatahuna was 76 miles from Rotorua and the closest doctor, and 20 miles from the nearest telephone. As the only permanent resident Pakeha for many years, Sister Annie not only taught and gave pastoral care but also acted as doctor, midwife, nurse, dentist, lawyer, carpenter, plumber, policewoman and social worker. She walked or rode long distances, often trudging through the night, her path lit by a lantern as she went to the aid of a woman in childbirth or responded to a call for medical help. During the 1918 influenza epidemic she nursed many Maori without, it is said, any loss of life. Once a road was put through, the church purchased a car, but even then she preferred to walk.

Sister Annie adopted two sons: Pekahina Wharekura, who became postmaster at Ruatahuna, an elder of the Presbyterian church and a highly respected member of the community; and Rata Rawiri, who died at the age of 18.

Because she and Rua Kenana became good friends and grew to respect each other, Sister Annie was one of the very few Pakeha to be allowed into his round temple at Maungapohatu. She was also one of the very few Pakeha women who were allowed to speak in traditional Maori settings. Gifts from Maori friends included a takawai (calabash) said to have been brought to New Zealand from Hawaiki 600 years earlier on the Mataatua canoe, an iron pot believed to have come from Captain James Cook's Endeavour, and an electric clock with an elaborately carved wooden frame, originally made for King George VI but given to Sister Annie after the royal tour was cancelled in November 1948. In 1929 she was made a justice of the peace, in 1937 she was awarded King George VI's Coronation Medal, and in 1951 she was appointed MBE in recognition of her work among Tuhoe. She served as president of the Ruatahuna rugby club for some years and was eventually made a life member.

Sister Annie left a deep impression on all who were influenced by her faith and her love. Her mana among Tuhoe was great and when she retired in 1948 their relationship did not end. She lived at Ohope Beach, where she received frequent visits from ex-pupils, who continued to seek her advice and counsel long after they had established their own families. She also became honorary assistant to the Presbyterian minister.

Annie Henry died at Whakatane on 29 July 1971 aged 92 and was buried at her request at Ruatahuna. She had never married. The services held throughout the district in both Maori and English commemorated the contribution she had made to Tuhoe.

How to cite this page:

James Veitch. 'Henry, Annie', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3h16/henry-annie (accessed 25 June 2019)