Amy Alley was a school teacher who was an early resident of North New Brighton and aunt to a lively and successful troop of nieces and nephews including Rewi Alley, Gwen Somerset,(pioneer of the Play Centre movement), Geoffrey Alley (All Black and National Librarian) Philip Alley (engineering lecturer at Canterbury University) and Joyce Alley (nursing educator and administrator). Amy Alley ‘was a very important looking’ woman. Her nieces and nephews:
… adored her quite without reservation …. She represented all the magic and excitement of holidays and far-away places. But most of all, she gave us all the praise and appreciation we craved. We were her ‘wonderful, clever, lovely nieces’ and ‘manly nephews’; everything we did was worthy of praise and we blossomed under her warmth, feeling we fully deserved it all and more. Possibly she satisfied a deep need as our parents rarely praised us.
In her school teaching days Amy spent some Christmas holidays ‘down South’ among gold diggers near Queenstown and Gabriel’s Gully. Other holidays she spent ‘up North’ among the Maori. It was in the north that she came to admire Rewi Maniapoto, the warrior who would ‘fight on for ever and ever and ever’, and whose Christian name she bestowed on her nephew. Maori boys would find wild horses for Miss Alley and marvel as the excellent horsewoman rode bareback ‘with her golden hair floating behind her in the wind’.
Amy started out as a pupil-teacher, a person who, in her teenage years, took up teaching classes of younger children. She worked long hours, was poorly paid and, before and after school, the headmaster gave her knowledge of the practical side of her craft. She never attended the Normal School in Cranmer Square (where teacher trainees could observe experienced teachers in the classroom). Though she was obviously a skilled classroom practitioner, her ‘E’ status shows that she had few academic qualifications. In 1894 Amy was graded E3 and, by 1907, she was graded E1.
From being a pupil-teacher at Papanui, Amy went to the Charteris Bay School with her brother, Frederick. While Frederick taught the older pupils, Amy ‘occasionally taught the infant class in the porch. Although ‘kind and considerate in every way towards the children’, she was prepared to use slightly underhand strategies to get what she wanted. A small boy climbed onto the top of the porch roof. Amy referred to a previous teacher who had been notorious for flogging the pupils: “Come down at once, Arthur. Do you want me to bring Gordon back with his cane?”
Amy was at the Belfast Side School from June 1891 to October 94. Inspectors commented:
The instruction appears quite satisfactory both in method and quality. The teacher shows very considerable interest in her work and in the welfare of her pupils. The children are quiet, orderly and obedient.
The small school makes a very pleasing appearance. The pupils, more particularly the boys, are remarkably bright and meet the demands made on them with considerable readiness. They have in Miss Alley a very competent teacher.
On 1 November 1894 Amy assumed sole charge of the Eyreton School.
During the year the school has made a marked advance under Miss Alley in many ways. Reading has, in a great measure, been placed on a prominent footing. Writing is very good. In composition much improvement has still to be made and more oral practice in arithmetic would be desirable.
Miss Alley’s energy in dealing with the increased attendance commendable. Her teaching is careful and intelligent, the pleasant manner in which it is conducted being noteworthy.
… Miss Alley has now acquired considerable skill in the Management of her classes and her sympathetic nature is attractive to the children.
On 1 February 1905 Amy took up a position at Belfast. Inspectors commented:
The mistress devotes herself unsparingly to the best interest of her charges, keeping high ideals in view, and the progress made is very commendable.
Classes taught under bright and cheerful conditions. Methods of instruction show an open mind for up-to-date developments. Pupils make a very successful appearance.
On 1 July 1910 Amy went to Sydenham. Inspectors’ comments continued to be positive.
Scheme of work well considered and comprehensive. Methods highly commendable and pupils receiving a thoroughly sound and liberal training.
Work very carefully planned and detailed and thoroughly and skillfully directed. Children receiving a careful training in desirable habits and making good progress.
A keen purchaser of land, Amy was an early property owner at North New Brighton. In 1913 a chronicler recalled how, formerly, this area had been known to but a few and how these people sighed ‘again for the former times, when the silence was broken only by the call of the sea-gull and the restless varied music of the surging surf’.
Now, however, progress was taking place, the tramway to the pier had been restored and people were settling on Bowhill Road.
On each side of Bowhill Road are dwellings nestling amongst shrubs and trees … the gardens in the sand producing flowers and vegetables… of surpassing excellence. On a section … a few chains from the sea was grown a potato crop yielding at the rate of 12 ½ tons per acre. No manure was used other than decayed lupins of which an abundant supply can be obtained. One root gave five pounds of large potatoes and was exhibited in the city.
Reference was made to Amy’s property.
One shack close to the sea … had solved the difficulty of drift-sand…. A schoolmistress owned the place and, by first placing broom or other branches to hold down the sand, and then applying water which is readily obtained at a short depth by driving down a two-inch pipe, the sand hill was made to blossom with ice plants, geraniums and other plants, the moisture assuring an abundance of flowers.
Niece Gwen Somerset Somerset reminisced:
We clambered over sand hills empty except for marram grass to reach her [Amy’s] home. We swept the sand clear of the doors each morning and sometimes oftener depending on the wind. We collected pipis on the beach and ate them for breakfast …. My main memory is of my aunt collecting hordes of cousins and feeding them on Irish stew cooked in kerosene tins.
Gwen’s brother, Philip Alley, recalled how he and his siblings had campfires on the beach. He also remembered strong winds and how the children collected seaweed and put it about the piles of the baches in the hope that this would stop the buildings from being blown away.
Great-nephews and nieces who met the elderly Amy recalled her not as a kindly but, rather, a commanding figure. She was
…a big, tall, woman with patrician features, aquiline nose and short-cut, silvery white hair pulled well away from her face. Even in the warmth of summer days at New Brighton she dressed in black. She provided some extraordinary foods which we disliked – for example, raspberry sago – but which we had to eat. A superb raconteur, she could hold you captive. Perhaps she wasn’t so bad after all.
In 1915, Amy married Herbert Cole. He died two years later and in 1926, Amy married Edward Mulcock. She died, at 75, in 1944 and was buried at St Paul’s Church cemetery, Papanui.
This information came from Richard Greenaway – an expert on the local history of Christchurch. Some of you might have been on one of his fascinating cemetery tours. He has an eye for a good story and the skill and patience to check and cross check all kinds of references. He has compiled a wonderful array of New Brighton stories.
- Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives: lists of schoolteachers
- Archives on teachers employed by North Canterbury Education Board held at Canterbury Museum
- St Paul’s Anglican Cemetery Tour p 8
- Greenaway, Richard, Rich man, poor man, environmentalist, thief
- Somerset, Gwendolen, Sunshine and shadow, 1988
- ‘What the trams have done’, Star, 24 September 1913 p 1
The library has some great photographs of New Brighton capturing its life as one of New Zealand’s premier seaside suburbs, full of life and character. New Brighton residents have been good at recording their local history and the place has inspired novels and biographies.