Hannah King – one of the first missionaries to arrive in the Bay of Islands in 1814 – was an expert seamstress.
She needed to be. Life on the frontier was a constant challenge with shortage of supplies a reality that missionary families had to live with constantly. Skills like sewing enabled them to survive, and made life bearable.
As well as being an expert needlewoman, one story also records Hannah’s dexterity as a frontier veterinary surgeon.
Down to her last thimble – a vital piece of equipment for any seamstress – Hannah’s worst nightmare became reality when she dropped the thimble, only for it to be snapped up and swallowed by the family’s last, solitary turkey.
With supplies long overdue from Sydney – and facing the prospect of not being able to make or mend clothes in the meantime – Hannah did what any self-respecting needlewoman would do.
Grasping the startled gobbler in one hand, she made a neat slit in its crop, retrieved the thimble – and then, using the thimble, stitched up the greedy bird with her trusty needle and thread.
Judging by the quality of Hannah’s work, the bird was in good hands.
“We are privileged to have two items of clothing associated with Hannah King on display at Te Waimate Mission,” says the Manager of the property at Waimate North, which is cared for by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT), Mita Harris.
“One is a christening gown which Hannah embroidered for her first son Thomas, who sadly died when he was three. The other garment is a fine shirt made by Hannah for her husband John. The shirt is even embroidered with the initials ‘JK’.”
The shirt is the earliest example of a European-made garment in New Zealand for which the maker and wearer are known and is made of Irish linen cloth, which was being imported into Sydney from 1803.
“Some of the descendants of Hannah and John King still live in the Waimate North area, and we acknowledge their connection here, as well as the valuable family history that they bring to the Te Waimate Mission story,” says Mita.
Both garments are beautifully made and embroidered – speaking volumes about Hannah’s skills, and highlighting the challenges that missionary families living on the frontier faced and overcome every day.
“They’re also a reminder that sometimes you have to show a turkey who’s boss!” says Mita.