Story: Randall, Amelia Mary
Randall, Amelia Mary
Companion help, church and community leader, landowner, businesswoman, benefactor
This biography was written by Irene Lister and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996
Amelia Mary Randall, although quiet and unassuming, was during the early twentieth century one of the wealthiest women in Hawke's Bay, and an important public benefactor. Born Amelia Mary Davenport at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, on 23 January 1844, she was the eldest daughter of Charlotte Tiffen and her husband, Theodore Alfred Davenport, a scholar and teacher. Amelia became proficient in French and German – she was later said to have a 'brilliant brain' – and in her youth travelled throughout Europe and the British Isles. Accompanied by a sister, Henrietta Charlotte Davenport, she also visited America and Asia. On 27 September 1869, at Wilmslow, Cheshire, England, she married Joseph Randall, a merchant. He became a planter on the Gold Coast (Ghana) and they lived there briefly until his sudden death from fever. His estate was mishandled and Amelia Randall is said to have been destitute as a consequence. There were no children of the marriage.
For a while she was a teacher, and then in 1875 her uncle Henry Stokes Tiffen, a wealthy Hawke's Bay landowner who had recently been widowed for the second time, invited her to join him as a companion-housekeeper. She arrived in New Zealand in 1876 and went to live with her uncle in Napier. In the following years she acquired business skills and financial resources. Both were to be of use to the causes she supported.
Amelia Randall was a devout Baptist, and in 1887 was one of the prime movers when it was decided to build a church. She persuaded her uncle (although he was an Anglican) to donate a section in Hooper's Lane, backing on Tiffen Park, and herself gave generous financial contributions. When the church was moved across the road in 1892, to Tennyson Street, she again gave money and assistance. She was treasurer of the Napier Baptist Church at this time, and was an organist for many years.
In May 1892, with other members of the Napier Baptist women's group, she helped found the Hawke's Bay Children's Home for orphaned and abandoned children. Again her administrative expertise was called upon. She was first treasurer of the home (1892–1913), secretary (1893–95), on the house committee (1892–1915), and on the board of trustees (1906–19), during which time she was the only woman board member. When the home moved to a new building in 1909 it was named for her.
Amelia Randall's monetary contributions to this and other causes increased in frequency and significance after her uncle's death in 1896, when she inherited nearly half of his vast estate. A major part of this was the Greenmeadows Vineyard and Fruit Farm, which Tiffen had planted in 1891. As well as wine, the farm produced apricots, apples, peaches, persimmons, figs, plums and pears, and won awards at the Wellington Fruit Exhibition in 1896.
Amelia Randall moved from Napier to a house in the centre of the fruit farm, and was joined by her sister Henrietta about 1902. Although she employed a manager to oversee the practical aspects of farming, she was described as 'a good business woman' and took a special interest in her employees, many of whom later received bequests from her. She is said to have employed around 13 permanent staff, between 10 and 12 pruners and in season up to 45 pickers, always from the local community of Greenmeadows and Taradale.
For a time she continued to grow grapes for wine, but possibly because of pressure from prohibitionist church members she had most of the vines removed. The Greenmeadows Fruit Farm was the largest in the North Island around the turn of the century, exporting apples and pears, and was renowned for the quality of its fruit. The Napier Baptist Church was always decorated with flowers from her garden, and a bountiful supply of fruit from the farm was provided for the annual harvest festival.
In her last years Amelia Randall suffered from diabetes, and lived in seclusion save for a daily excursion in her chauffeur-driven car. When she died on 17 October 1930 at Greenmeadows her estate was estimated as being worth the considerable sum of £50,000. She bequeathed £23,000 to charities, including the Hawke's Bay Children's Home, and to various Baptist organisations, setting aside a sum of £4,500 to build a new Baptist church in Napier. The residue of the estate was placed in trust for the establishment of a Baptist college for boys and girls. The executor of Amelia Randall's estate managed the fruit farm for a number of years. It was then acquired by a vineyard and once more planted in grapes. Eventually it became residential land.