Given names: 
Given address: 
Dickens Street Napier
Sheet No: 438
Hawke's Bay

Sarah Lawes was born in Wellington on 28 January 1860. She was the youngest of six children born to William Lawes, a carpenter and builder, and Sophia Coward.  William and Sophia emigrated to New Zealand onboard the Alma arriving in Wellington on 15 May 1857 with their three surviving children.

Sarah married Charles Sorrell, a photographer, on 13 May 1876 at her widowed mother’s house in Sydney Street, Wellington. She was only 16 years of age at the time of her marriage.

Charles and Sarah had ten children - Florence Ellen (b. 19 March 1877), Constance Rosina (b. 16 November 1878), May (b. 9 December 1880), Percy Caz (b. 4 October 1882), Alice Viola (b. 5 June 1884), Victoria Mary (b. 6 August 1886), Emily Mildred (b. 12 July 1888), Harriet Maud (b. 17 August 1890), Hilda Val (b. 5 August 1892) and Charles Cornwall (b. 3 June 1901). Their first three children were born in Wellington, Percy was born in Timaru and their remaining children were born in Napier.

In the beginning of 1884, the Sorrell family moved to Napier which is where Sarah lived for the rest of her life. Sarah was described by one of her granddaughters as a gentle, unassuming woman whose life revolved around her church and her family. She attended St Augustine’s Church regularly. She played the piano beautifully and sang in the church choir and in a number of church concerts. In her spare time, she crocheted jug, milk and sugar covers. She was described as a tiny woman who was blind in one eye and always seemed to be dressed in black. 

Her husband travelled overseas in 1902 for three months, leaving Sarah to manage the family home while he was away.  She lived through the Napier earthquake, although they lost the family car for a while. Her husband was in Hastings when the earthquake struck and couldn’t get back to Napier since the bridge was down. He swapped his car with someone who was trying to journey in the opposite direction.

Charles died on 24 December 1932 and Sarah died at her home in Bower Street in Napier on 12 December 1948.

Biography contributed by Sarah Semple (great-granddaughter)


  • Birth certificate – NZ Department of Internal Affairs
  • Marriage certificate - NZ Department of Internal Affairs
  • Death certificate - NZ Department of Internal Affairs


Sarah Sorrell nee Lawes, c. 1877 (courtesy Rosemary Semple)

Sarah Sorrell nee Lawes (courtesy Rosemary Semple)

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

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