Helena Marie Manning (nee Gatton)

Nominated by: Grace Mulcock (Manning)

Helena Marie MANNING was born in Palmerston North on the 10th November, 1884. Her parents Sarah and Charles GATTON had arrived in New Zealand from England about seven years earlier, and had settled in the town where Nellie, as she was known to her family, was born. She was their fifth child, with two older sisters and two brothers. Nellie began school in Palmerston North, and attended there until her parents moved to Stratford when she was eight years old. By this time she had three younger brothers and sisters, and two more had died in infancy.

After their move to Stratford in 1893 the Gatton family lived on a farm a few miles south of the town. For the three years they lived there the children of school age walked to and from the primary school. Charles Gatton then left his job on this farm to take up the bush covered farm at Puniwhakau which he had drawn in a land ballot at Palmerston North. He, and the eldest boy Fred, went on ahead of the rest of the family to clear a place in the bush where they could put up tents.

Sarah, and the rest of her children began the journey to their new home on Christmas Eve, 1896. She, and her six younger children, together with all their belongings, including the fowls, a dog and a cat, were loaded into a wagon which set out at daybreak for Strathmore, where the road ended. Two cows and a heifer calf were driven in front of the wagon. The two oldest Gatton daughters (Vi and Maud) did not go to live at Puniwhakau, so Nellie became her mother's main helper. At that time she was twelve years old.

The family spent the first night of their travels sleeping in a tent on the side of the road. Charles Gatton and Fred had ridden in from the farm to meet the rest of the family here, and to help them over the remainder of the way. Early the next morning the two horses the men had ridden were loaded up, and all the children were given a load to carry. One little boy carried the cat. The only way to the bush farm from this point was by narrow bush track, so everyone except Charlie, the baby, had to walk. He was wheeled in a pram until it got bogged down on the rough track. After that he was carried by his mother. The trip took all day, and by the time the Gattons reached the place where they were to live in the years to come, they were hungry, dirty and very tired.

For the first two years of their life on this farm the family lived in tents, and a house made of Manuka and canvas. When this house burnt down, Charles Gatton and a neighbour set about sawing enough timber to build a more permanent home.

In those early day there was much to be done, so everyone was expected to help with the work around the home. Much of the responsibility for the care of the younger children fell on Nellie. As the eldest of the girls at the farm she was left in charge while her mother was away helping her husband plant and tend a large garden, plant fruit, and other trees on different parts of the farm. As the children grew older, and as more and more of the bush was cleared, more cows were grazed on the newly grassed areas. Nellie and her two younger sisters were the main milkers. They also separated the milk and made the butter from the cream.

When Nellie Gatton was sixteen years old she made the long ride to Stratford on horseback, carrying a neighbour's new born baby boy to a doctor. The baby was urgently in need of life-saving surgery. He was carried in a type of sling which was fastened around Nellie's neck and shoulders. This trip was made in the middle of winter, over rough bush tracks and narrow metal roads. She was accompanied on this twenty-six mile ride by the son of a neighbour, who helped by leading her horse through the most treacherous parts of the track. The journey took many hours, but late in the day the baby was delivered to the waiting doctor and the necessary operation performed.

This was quite an heroic feat for such a very young lady.

At the age of twenty Nellie Gatton married Joseph MANNING , son of farmers in the Makahu district. The young couple settled in the same area, and farmed there for many years. Their eldest son, also named Joseph, was born on the 11th March, 1906. Over the years three more sons, Fred, Len and Alex, and a daughter, Annie, were born. Sadly, Annie died in 1916, aged six years.

During her life at Makahu Nellie developed a great love of gardening. Her home was surrounded by a large garden, with many plots divided from each other by little dirt paths. The whole area overflowed with flowers....all those old fashioned plants so beloved of today's cottage garden enthusiasts. Tennis was another love of Nellie's. The Manning's had a tennis court at their Makahu home, and Nellie soon developed considerable skill at her chosen sport. She was a member of the Makahu Tennis Club, and during the summer months travelled to other clubs in the area to play in competition games.

In the late 1920's Joe and Nellie Manning bought a motor car and Nellie learned to drive. She must have been one of the first women in the Stratford area to drive a car, and certainly one of the first to drive on the narrow, winding roads of eastern Taranaki.

During the winter months Nellie spent her spare time reading and doing various types of handwork. Reading especially was a great love. Some of her favourite books were the works of Charles Dickens. Over the years these were read time and time again.

In 1939, when their eldest son married and took over the farm at Makahu, Joe and Nellie bought a small farmlet in Stratford. Here, once again Nellie's garden was a sight to remember, and here too she had a tennis court next to her house. Even in her sixties she played a mean game of tennis. Nellie now had more time to indulge her interest in reading, and more time to knit and crochet, and do other things she enjoyed.

For all of her adult life Nellie Manning was a staunch supporter of women's organisations. She belonged to the Makahu W.D.F.F., while she lived in that district, and later in Stratford to both the W.D.F.F., and the C.W.I.

After her husband died on 14th July, 1950, Nellie continued on for a number of years managing her small farm and garden. Towards the end of her life she sold this property and bought a smaller house and section nearer the town.

Nellie Manning died in Stratford on 21st August, 1966 aged 81 years. Throughout her life she was capable, hard-working and self reliant. She was always cheerful and kind and had the true independent spirit of many of New Zealand's pioneer women.

She is remembered with great fondness by later generations of Manning's and Gatton's.