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Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand

Chapter X. — The Faithless Mary Ann

page 66

Chapter X.
The Faithless Mary Ann.

One evening, shortly after my adventures in the auction room, the servant girl we had brought from England with us asked my wife's permission to go out for an hour or two. This was readily granted, and no more was thought of the matter until ten o'clock came, and with it no sign of Mary Ann. She had promised to return by nine, and was usually fairly punctual. We sat up waiting until eleven, wondering what could have happened, and then, deciding to give her up for the night, retired to bed.

On the following morning there was still no sign of the girl, so I hurried down to the police station to ascertain if the inspector could assist me to obtain tidings of her. An interview with the sergeant in charge proved to me conclusively that Mary Ann as a speculation in servant girls was an utter failure, resulting in a dead loss to me of £50. He told me the police could do page 67nothing unless a charge of a criminal nature was entered. I produced a document stamped at Somerset House, in which the girl agreed to remain in my service for three years at a specified rate of wages, on condition of my paying for her outfit and passage, and assured the sergeant that I had fulfilled my part of the agreement in every particular, giving her a most complete outfit and paying for a saloon passage. He, however, immediately floored my hopes in the document by telling me that no agreement of the kind signed in England was binding in the colony, and that to have made it so it should have been again signed before witnesses on reaching New Zealand.

"No doubt," he said, "your servant acquainted herself with this fact, and has run away in order to secure the high wages to be obtained in the colony, though possibly there may be a sweetheart in the case."

I assured him I did not think the latter at all likely, as one reason for her selection was her excessive plainness, which we considered sufficient to keep every man in New Zealand at a safe distance.

He remarked that she must indeed be a "rum ‘un" to look at, if she could not find a chap in page 68New Zealand, for they weren't very particular; and regretting that he could not assist me, the interview came to an end, and I returned home in the hopes of learning some tidings there of the truant.

Nothing, however, had been heard of her, though my wife had made a discovery in connection with her box, which at first sight appeared fall of clothes, a waterproof cloak lying at the top. On removing this cloak, however, pieces of sacking and old rags were disclosed, and proved its sole contents.

Mary Ann had evidently been taking away her things by degrees, carrying something away, probably, whenever she had had an evening out; and in case her box might be inspected, had kept it apparently full of things by stuffing in old rags under cover of the waterproof cloak. Oh! faithless Mary Ann. Your artfulness exceeded your ugliness, and our credulity exceeded both!

I trust the experience narrated above may be of use to persons bringing servant girls out from the old country, and will show the necessity of getting an agreement signed as soon as the colony is reached.

My readers will probably agree with me that page 69the New Zealand law as expounded by the police sergeant is a most absurd and one-sided one, placing the master altogether in the servant's hands, as he has to find the money for her passage, and probably, as in my case, for her outfit as well, while he has only her word to rely on in return. It is not, however, the only law in New Zealand that requires alteration.

We were now servantless, and until we could arrange about extraneous help it became necessary to investigate and to undertake those operations which comprise the duties of a general servant. My wife assumed of course the lead, and I seconded her to the best of my abilities—cooking, bed making, floor sweeping, chair dusting, fire lighting, potato peeling, and many other accomplishments of which up to that date we had had only a sort of vague conception, were now brought prominently under our notice, and became to us terrible realities.

I advertised in the Herald and Star newspapers for a servant girl, and several responded, but none proved suitable, the wages asked averaging from twelve to sixteen shillings per week. Two, but lately arrived in New Zealand, called together one morning. My wife interrogated them. Neither knew anything of cookery, page 70could not wash, and had very dim notions of a housemaid's duties.

"Why, you could not have been getting more than eighteenpence a week each in England?" my wife exclaimed.

"Perhaps not," one of them returned impudently; "but we ain't come all this way across the sea for sich wages as them. We wants twelve shillings a week, and a hevening hout when we likes, and neither on us won't go nowhere for no less."

Further questioning after the delivery of this ultimatum was superfluous, and my wife hastened their departure.

Servant girls, or "helps," as they prefer to be called, have a nice time of it at present in New Zealand. They demand extortionate wages, and dictate almost entirely their own terms. No character is ever demanded when application for a situation is made; to ask for one would probably bring the interview to an abrupt end. Latterly, Lady Jervois, the wife of his Excellency the Governor, has shown a great interest in a capital institution called the "Girls' Friendly Society," with which none but girls of good character are connected; and if ladies would make up their minds only to take girls through page 71this Society, a very different class of servants would eventually become established in New Zealand. We at last succeeded in securing the services of a married woman for the daytime only, and were again fairly comfortable.