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Dinah Clark

Signed family name
Signed given name
Given address
Sheet number

Biography contributed by Gail Spence, Napier, New Zealand ([email protected]). Great-great-grand-daughter of Dinah Clark.

Dinah Jowett (1815-1894), daughter of Nancy Sharp(e) and John Jowett of Landemere Syke, Northowram, Yorkshire, England, married labourer Charles Clark(e) 10 September 1835 in Halifax, Yorkshire. Dinah is said to have been married at lunchtime, returning to the woollen mill where she worked as a worsted weaver in the afternoon.

With two young children, William (b.1837, Halifax), and Sarah Ann (b.1842, Otley), Dinah and sawyer husband Charles emigrated to New Zealand on the Indus with The New Zealand Company’s settlement scheme. Arriving February 1843 in Nelson, they built a life in primitive conditions, producing two more children, Hannah Maria and George. Conflict with Māori and The New Zealand Company’s collapse saw them head north, enduring shipwreck off the west coast. Rescued by Wesleyan missionary Rev. James Wallis, friendly Māori escorted them overland from Raglan to Auckland, a journey of over a hundred miles.

The Clark family made do in Auckland, with energetic Dinah taking in washing and dressmaking. Other children were reputedly born. None survived. In 1852 the family headed north, living in a tent for a year at Mangawhare, before relocating to 'Paradise' near Omana to work for ex-Yorkshire brothers Henry and George Walton. Bidding successfully in 1860 for 150 acres at Whakaharahara on the Kaipara Harbour, the Clarks were faced with a challenge - how to transport their household and stock when there were no roads? They constructed a raft of kauri logs, with room for stockyard, family and household possessions, taking several tides to reach their newly purchased land where they eventually built a large home.

Loathing inactivity, Dinah turned her hand to all kinds of work. Ever practical, she gardened, kept house, cared for her monkey and birds, acted as midwife, seamstress, postmistress, baker, social hostess, even confidante to Kaipara politicians, e.g. Edwin Mitchelson (elected to parliament in 1881; holder of ministerial positions) and Gordon Coates (later prime minister). Intelligent, wilful and well-informed, probing matters such as politics, Dinah is reputed to have slept with a copy of Hansard minutes under her pillow! Their home was the hub of church services, visitors, parties and hospitality; Dinah forcefully gathered up anyone of importance passing through the region. Austrian taxidermist Andreas Reischek used her home as his base in 1879 while pursuing his natural history collection.

Assertive and curious, Dinah was an intrepid adventurer who loved to visit Auckland, where she owned Pine Lodge in Mt Eden Road, other property and had shares in various companies. A reluctant housekeeper, she was open to any newly invented labour-saving device. One of her trips to Auckland became legendary, with her courage and endurance much admired. Travelling to Helensville in an open boat with her crew of four strong young men, stormy weather forced them to shelter at South Head for 'three weary days and nights'. At Helensville, they were faced with crossing the Portage to Riverhead. It rained, the water was knee deep, and they crossed the flooded Waikuku River on the tops of trees that had fallen into it. Dinah’s blue blanket petticoat was torn to shreds. They left Riverhead in a small open boat, a head wind all the way, with violent squalls, wading through knee deep mud to reach land. It was June 1853, the journey taking a week.  Dinah was 37 years old. Dinah is one of the earliest recorded settlers to use the Portage route.

Dinah took her grand-daughter Mabel with her to Bishopscourt for dinner. She wore her best black velvet frock with pleats, a hand-made lace collar, and black kid boots, joining in the conversation in a spirited fashion, offering her own ideas on the matters discussed. Dinah liked change and held ideas on women’s equality that were radical for her time. Still mentally alert, Dinah signed the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition just months before she died at Pine Lodge on 15 January 1894 aged 78.

Called a 'Great Lady' by her grandchildren, such was Dinah’s hosting and influence in Northland that the Clarks became well known 'first settlers'.  They are even better known today, through their son George and his daughter Gertrude’s marriage to Percival Hillary, a union that produced Sir Edmund Hillary. Considering his great-grandmother’s grit and endurance, it is not surprising that this great man was able to conquer Everest.

Dinah Clark

Dinah Clark, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, Ref: PAColl-0036-8-10. Mathews, Peter Clifford William, 1941-1980


Halifax St John Marriages, Vol. 28, p.34, no. 402.  
Pickmere, N., The Changing Times of Te Tirarau and the People of the River, The Bush of Northland Press, 2004, p.126.

Indus Embarkation Register 1842, p.195. Ref: 2740/6312, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

Family story passed down through the generations and recorded in Pamela Le Prou, Waters Back, Rimu Publishing Hamilton, 1989-1990, p.21. Copy held at: A/T Pq 929.2 CLA LEP 1989 / ZPAM 929.2 LEP 1990 (WNOO – 14832) Pamela Le Prou (1941-1990) was a great-great-grand-daughter of Dinah Clark.  

P. Le Prou, Waters Back, op. cit., p.22.

“Mangawhare” by Patricia Hammond & Takiri Pumipi, p.43.

Article by Ada Clark, M.B.E. in The New Zealand Herald, 29 December 1954.

Various references to the Clarks occur in A. Reischek, Sterbende Welt, F. A. Brockhaus, Leipzig, 1924. See pp. 89-90, 92, 94, 103. The text is in the German language. The abridged English version by H. E. L. Priday Yesterdays in Maoriland, Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch, 1952  does not contain all these references. 

Ada Clark’s unpublished reminiscences Ada’s Story. Record source: MS-Papers-4077-04, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

Listing in the 1882 A Return of the Freeholders in New Zealand.

Reminiscences by T.J. Webb, Dargaville, Northern Wairoa, 1929, pp.24-26 [MS PAPERS 4077-1 Alexander Turnbull Library Collection, Wellington, NZ. Reproduced in Wordsworth, J. (1985) Women of Northern Wairoa, The North Auckland Times Co (1982) Ltd., Dargaville, pp. 105-107. See also Pamela Le Prou,  Waters Back, p.33.

I. B. Madden, Riverhead, The Kaipara Gateway, The Riverhead Jubilee Association Inc., Auckland, February 1966, p.105.

Pamela Le Prou, Waters Back, op. cit., pp. 28-29.

Registrar-General’s Office Death Entry, Folio no. 1894/13. Ref: No.5-0011252.

Pamela Le Prou, op. cit., p.77.


Click on sheet number to see the 1893 petition sheet this signature appeared on. Digital copies of the sheets supplied by Archives New Zealand.