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Mary Taylor


Mary Taylor (1817-1893) had been a lover of Charlotte Brontë, who wrote that Mary had "more energy and power in her nature than any ten men." She came out from England in 1845, when the population of Wellington was 4000, with her brother Waring Taylor. With her cousin Ellen Taylor, she founded a drapery store on the corner of Cuba and Dixon Streets in 1849, named after herself.

Ellen wrote to Brontë in 1850, "Mary and I are settled together now. I cant [sic] do without Mary and she couldn’;t get on by herself. Ellen died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1851, and Mary carried on by herself, her business being described as one of the principal stores of Wellington in 1853.

Brontë died in childbirth in 1855 without seeing Mary again. In 1859, unable to find anyone here she had anything in common with, Mary sold the store to her assistant, who later sold it to James Smith (who renamed it after himself) and returned to England. In 1870 she collected some articles she had written into a book, The First Duty of Women, "designed to inculcate the duty of earning money on every woman in order to protect herself from the danger of being forced to marry."

After Mary left New Zealand, her brother Waring embezzled 30,000 pounds, an enormous fortune in those days, and spent five years in gaol, after which he spent the rest of his life penniless and unknown. Waring Taylor Street had already been named after him. It entered gay history in 1917 when W. Somerset Maugham and his lover stayed at the Midland Hotel on the corner of Lambton Quay, and again in 1981, when a demonstration was held outside the police station against a raid on the Sun Sauna.


Thanks to Alison J. Laurie. Written by Hugh Young.

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