In our past Suffrage 125 exhibition Women of Power: Freedom For Change, we explored stories of just a few of our earlier women who made a change or impact in our community.
The poster that advertised our exhibition featured Jamie Phillip a young woman who has been a local fire fighter. She is pictured opposite a smart young lady with her bicycle. This woman is Holly Breach. Holly and her mother Betsy encapsulate how difficult it could have been for women, before the introduction of social welfare in New Zealand.
Betsy and Holly Breach
The mother of our cyclist, Holly Breach, was Betsy Anne Pearson, who married William Henry Breach at Leeston in 1877. Betsy was only 17. She came to Rakaia with three small children and helped her husband established a bakery business. Betsy and William had four more children before William became ill and had to spend three months in Christchurch hospital. Not only did this mean the bakery business had to close, but at that time medical care was not free, so the family incurred quite a sizeable debt.
Although her family in Leeston assisted her with food, Betsy had to feed and clothe her family on her own. She paid for her groceries by making men’s shirts and selling them at the local store. It was a very difficult time, as there was no benefit or social support.
However William recovered and they established a combined butchery bakery business in Rakaia. This business went bankrupt, it is said that it was largely due to Betsy giving food to the poor of the district – possibly remembering her own difficulties in the past.
The family moved to a small farmlet, fittingly perhaps this farm was called Te Aroha (love). Here the family sold milk, butter and eggs. Cecilia Adams in Essays on Pioneer Women, says that in times of water shortage, the couples 10 children had to carry water for the cows from the river some distance away.
William again became unwell and Betsy was faced again with the problem of how to provide for her family. This time, she decided to take on nursing support. Untrained, but used to nursing her husband, she went to people’s home to provide rudimentary care and even acted as midwife for many of the local women. In all weathers, and all hours, Betsy would either walk or cycle, sometimes long distances, to those who needed help.
So proficient was she, that it was suggested that she establish her own nursing home. The Breach’s family home was enlarged and developed into a small nursing hospital. This assisted the local doctors greatly.
At this time there was no hospital between Ashburton and Christchurch, so having a depot in Rakaia reduced the time they would have to spend visiting several patients at different locations. Betsy continued in this role until she was 72.
Betsy was a very kind and giving woman. Not only caring for her sickly husband, who died in 1917, and her own children, she also helped many people, even fostering five other children – including a set of twins. Two of her daughters were widowed with children, so they came home to be nurtured – a very full house.
During the war Betsy was heavily involved with the Red Cross and offered support to soldiers when they returned home. She was a devout Anglican and fittingly there is memorial plaque recalling her 62 years of service to the Rakaia church. Betsy Anne died in 1941 aged 81.
Holly Alma Breach, the sixth child of William and Betsy was born in 1886, presumably in December hence her name. She was educated in Rakaia and married Bertram Sinclair in 1905. The couple had 5 children before Bertram died, aged 37 in 1918. In 1937 Holly remarried Frederick Peterson, but was buried with her first husband when she died in 1963.
By Kathleen Stringer
- Holly Breach
- Betsy Breach
- In 1960 the descendants of Betsy and William had a reunion in Rakaia. This image shows the cake from that event, with two figures at the top, which depicts William as a baker and Betsy bathing a baby.