Betty Guard


Australian born, Elizabeth (Betty) Parker probably arrived in New Zealand in 1830 as the young bride of a Marlborough Sounds whaler, Captain John (Jacky) Guard, who was 23 years her senior. Betty was reputedly the first European woman to settle in the South Island.

In October 1831 the 16-year-old Betty gave birth to a son, John, the first Pakeha child to be born in the South Island. Jacky Guard moved his whaling station and residence to Kakapo Bay, Port Underwood, where in late 1833 Betty gave birth to Louisa.

The Guards were returning from a trip to Sydney in April 1834 when their ship, the Harriet, was driven ashore near Cape Egmont, Taranaki, in a southerly gale. Those on board survived only to be attacked by a group of Taranaki and Ngati Ruanui Māori (aided by two deserting seamen from the Harriet). Some of the crew were killed while the Guards and some other survivors were taken hostage.

Betty narrowly escaped death when a tomahawk blow to her head was deflected by the large tortoiseshell comb she wore in her hair. Teeth from the comb were lodged in her head as a result of the blow.

After two weeks Jacky and several other men were released on condition that they return with a cask of gunpowder as ransom for the rest of the party. Instead, in Sydney Guard secured support from Governor Bourke for the rescue of those still held in Taranaki.

In the four months it took Jacky and the rescue party to return, Betty lived under the protection of a chief called Oaoiti. According to some accounts, she was well treated and lived with Oaoiti as a wife.

In late September Jacky Guard returned with the man-of-war HMS Alligator and the colonial schooner Isabella, carrying a detachment of 60 men from the 50th Regiment. These were the first British troops to come into armed combat with Māori.

Captain Robert Lambert of the Alligator made it clear that there would be no ransom. Oaoiti was captured and wounded by bayonet. A rescue party then assaulted and burnt Te Namu pā, where Betty and baby Louisa were being held. The remaining Guard, John junior, had been taken to the nearby pā of Waimate. On 8 October Waimate was subjected to a three-hour bombardment, followed by a full-scale assault. John junior was grabbed from an old chief who was then summarily shot. Rough seas prevented the rescue party re-boarding their vessels immediately and over the next few days fighting continued.

In describing Betty Guard's ordeal, the Sydney Herald made much of the Māori savagery associated with the event. Others were critical of the events surrounding the rescue, though, and in 1835 a Committee of the House of Commons condemned the excessive force used against Māori.

Eight months after their rescue Louisa died, probably as a result of hardships suffered while she was a prisoner. There were also rumours that Betty had given birth in Sydney to twins fathered by Oaoiti. This suggestion was fuelled by a reference in Edward Markham's book, New Zealand or recollections of it: 'Before I left Sydney, I heard that she was brought to bed of Twins & they were rather dark.' It is possible that Betty had twins on her return to Sydney but it is also recorded that on 22 November 1835 she gave birth to Thomas, her second son by Jacky Guard.

In early 1836 Betty returned with her family to Kakapo Bay, where she was to have six more children. She died at the age of 55 on 16 July 1870 and was buried there in the Guard family's private burial ground.

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Rosalyn Williamson

Posted: 02 Mar 2016

Two of Betty Guard's daughters married two cousins of my Pakeha Grand father. Their names were Ada who married Gordon Jefferies, and Grace who married Hector Jefferies. They lived on the Taonui - Colyton Road, not far from Feilding, NZ and I knew them well when I was a child living further up the road on my Grand father's farm. I am very interested to know what happened to the dark Maori twins which Mrs Guard gave birth to in Sydney, after having lived with the Chief Oaoiti in Taranaki, after the sinking of the ship Harriet.