Story: Anstice, Sophia

Page 1 - Anstice, Sophia

Anstice, Sophia

1849–1926

Dressmaker, draper, businesswoman

This biography was written by C. B. Malone and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Sophia Catesby was born on 5 November 1849 in Marylebone, London, England, the daughter of Caroline Bailey and her husband, Edward Catesby, a carpenter. Nothing is known of her early life or education. On 12 January 1873 at the Church of St Martin in the Fields, London, Sophia Catesby married Edwin George King, a salesman for a plant seed company and the son of George Hoadley King, a naturalist. The following year Edwin and Sophia travelled to New Zealand with their baby son, Edwin, as assisted immigrants, arriving in Nelson on the Chile on 26 October 1874. Edwin senior's younger brother, Henry, accompanied them to New Zealand.

The Kings were chosen to join the pioneer party of 30 families who were to establish a settlement at Karamea, on the north-west coast of the South Island, in late 1874 and early 1875. The settlers were given the opportunity to purchase land cheaply; in return they were required to contribute labour to public works. The settlement was disadvantaged by its poor site and infertile soil, and conditions in the isolated community were extremely harsh. The distress of the Kings when their next-born child lived only a few hours was intensified by the lack of a consecrated burial ground in the area. According to the family account of this event, Henry made a coffin for the infant from a packing case which he then carried on his shoulder several miles to the nearest cemetery. Prospects for the depressed pioneers brightened in 1876 when they were allowed to abandon the barren South Terrace settlement and move upriver to a site they called 'the Promised Land'. The fertility of the soil there had already been proven by Edwin and Henry, who had raised a thriving crop of plants from seeds that Edwin had brought out from England.

Sophia and Edwin King, with their son and a baby daughter, Lilian Jane, moved to Nelson in 1878. Edwin senior had developed tuberculosis and increasingly Sophia had to provide for the family, which was further enlarged by the birth of another daughter, Harriet Louise, in 1879. A skilled needlewoman, Sophia had set up a dressmaking business in Karamea in 1876, which she continued in Nelson. Her business premises were called St Alban's House; the name was retained in subsequent relocations.

Sophia's husband, Edwin, died in February 1880, and his death was followed nine months later by that of Harriet. On 20 June 1886, at Nelson, Sophia remarried. Her second husband was John Snook Anstice, a widower many years her senior who operated a bakery in Hardy Street. The couple were to have two sons: Herbert, and Leslie who died in infancy.

In 1891 Sophia Anstice purchased property on the corner of Hardy and Hope streets where she established a drapery and dressmaking business, employing a large staff. The business was eventually called S. Anstice, Son and Company. Her venture flourished and she set up branches in Murchison, Takaka and Motueka, while taking orders from as far afield as Karamea. An astute businesswoman, she oversaw the operation of her shops by visiting them regularly, travelling on the passenger coaches. On several occasions, she is said to have returned to London where she did her buying from Catesby relatives, who had a large drapery store in Tottenham Court Road.

By 1900 a new St Alban's House had been built in Trafalgar Street, and after the death of her second husband in 1917 Sophia Anstice lived with her son Herbert and his family in their home nearby, where she died on 1 August 1926. She was survived by two children: Lilian Martin, and Herbert, who carried on the drapery business.

Although small in stature Sophia had a dominant personality, and was remembered as a formidable character. She was always dressed in black, her black hair drawn back tightly into a bun. She overcame the hardships and sorrows of a pioneering life to achieve success in the world of commerce. The epitaph on her headstone in Nelson's Wakapuaka cemetery reads: 'She hath done what she could.'