Story: Addison, Agnes

Page 1 - Biography

Addison, Agnes

1841/1842?–1903

Draper

This biography was written by Sharyn Black and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Agnes Broomfield was a 32-year-old hat trimmer at the time of her marriage to Robert Addison, a carpenter, in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 19 August 1874. She was Edinburgh-born, the child of Margaret Fairbairn and her husband, Joseph Broomfield. Little else is known of her early life. Robert offered good prospects to Agnes, the daughter of a shoemaker's widow. Established since 1867 as a carpenter and picture framer in the flourishing provincial goldfields capital of Hokitika, New Zealand, he owned a Revell Street store, a cottage and a carpentry shop. On 31 October 1874 Agnes and Robert Addison sailed for New Zealand on the clipper Michael Angelo as assisted immigrants. They disembarked at Nelson on 22 January 1875, and on 29 January crossed the Hokitika River bar by boat from the steamer Charles Edward. Margaret, their first child, was born in July. Three more daughters were to follow.

Agnes Addison entered a small community where mothers would be the customers for her future business venture. Within a year the Addison family had purchased a second cottage in Hamilton Street, in Hokitika's government office district. Nearby Revell Street was infamous for its many hotels, saloons and miners' gatherings, and against this environment Agnes Addison won a reputation as a teetotaller and a woman of high moral standards. She became active in the Presbyterian church and sent her daughters to the local primary school.

After Robert's death at Hokitika on 26 November 1885, ownership of 27 perches of town land, two cottages and two stores, and responsibility for their four daughters, fell solely to Agnes. Family tradition states that she began selling cottons and pins in 1886. Stock was imported from Nelson by sea, and Agnes Addison would walk across town to deliver small items. Margaret was withdrawn from school for a year to help with housekeeping, and before school and during lunch breaks another daughter would assist Agnes in the shop.

By 1890 Addison's drapery was firmly established, and provided competition to other drapers, dressmakers, milliners and a knitting business. Irregular advertisements in the West Coast Times informed the town that Mrs Addison, drapers, hosiers and ladies' outfitters, ordered stock direct from the Roslyn Worsted and Woollen Mills in Dunedin. Shop and cottage renovations commenced in 1891. The business expanded and neighbouring land was taken up in 1893. Her two elder daughters left school after five and six years' education to assist in the home and store.

When her eldest daughter married in 1896 Agnes hired help to assist in the home. Her three younger daughters all worked in the business, and continued to run it after her death at Hokitika on 28 January 1903.

Agnes Addison was a leading businesswoman in Hokitika in the 1890s. Her independent effort as a widow who chose a career rather than remarriage, and her daughters' assistance and commitment, created a business that would survive despite a dwindling goldfields population. Addisons (Hokitika) Limited celebrated its centenary in 1986.