Ann Bird


One of the first women ashore from the ship Fifeshire in 1842, Ann Bird (nee Wilkins) and carpenter husband Reuben were ready for a fresh start in a new land when they stepped onto Nelson’s wharf.

Ann Bird Nelson Provincial Museum. Tyree 28343

Ann Bird Nelson Provincial Museum. Tyree 28343

Their first home was made of raupo and toetoe, near the Mahitahi/Maitai River, but was washed away in a flood. The young couple established Bird’s Butchers, which grew and grew, along with their family. Ann’s father had been a butcher in England, so the industry was not entirely new to her, but running it alone when Reuben unexpectedly died in 1850, aged 32, was a huge challenge. She applied steely determination to continue running the business.

Within ten years Ann had opened a new shop and her business became a Nelson landmark. Initially, in 1851, fellow butcher Henry Hargreaves killed the beasts for her. Whether this was out of kindness or for a price, his support certainly helped. She did not advertise often but got free publicity from other businesses that stated they were “across the street from Mrs. Bird’s butcher’s shop”.

Bird Butcher Shop. Nelson Provincial Museum Davis Collection 172

Bird Butcher Shop. Nelson Provincial Museum Davis Collection 172

Ann’s sons joined her in the business but Ann remained in charge until her death in 1891. One of the son's, Thomas  hanged himself when he was 25 in 1868 after being told he had an incurable heart condition, leaving behind his pregnant wife of two years, Harriet, and a one-year-old son. Harriet moved to Melbourne and married, after running a 'day school' and boarding house in Washington Valley for several years.

Ann's achievements as a businesswomen in the male-dominated industry of the time are impressive, especially considering her position as a working solo mother with five children to feed. The formidable woman earned a great deal of respect from the folk of Nelson, with more than 40 carriages in the funeral procession to the cemetery where she was buried beside her husband.

She left an estate worth more than £950 and a free hold half-acre section. Many of Ann’s descendants still live in Nelson. Ann Bird Court in Stoke is named after her. She was also a forebear of Tex Morton, a well-known country and western singer.

Margaret Farrelly and Dianne Scott (written for the Wakapuaka Headstone Stories interpretation panel, 2022)

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