Elizabeth Bent

Think what a wife should be, she was that

The life of Elizabeth, oldest daughter of Andrew and Mary Bent, provides an interesting trans-Tasman connection. She moved to New Zealand in 1850 and spent the remainder of her long life in Auckland, leaving numerous descendants across the ditch.

Early life

Elizabeth was born in Collins Street, Hobart Town, on 31 July 1818, and was baptised by the Rev. Robert Knopwood on Sunday 13 September. According to Knopwood’s diary, the morning was ‘so cold DV service could not be performed’. If the parson took a drop of something to warm up it might explain why Elizabeth’s parents were recorded as ELLIS and Mary Bent, Ellis Bent being the former deputy judge advocate in Sydney, and already dead. There is no doubt, though, that the baptism was that of Elizabeth, as the 1819 muster records Andrew Bent as having one child. Bent himself provides the details in a printed list of his family from the 1830s.

New South Wales

Elizabeth was a young woman of twenty when, in March 1839, she moved with her family to Sydney. Four months later she was a witness at the marriage of her younger sister Catherine to Thomas Sydney Hall, giving her address as Pitt Street, so obviously still living with her family in Quinn’s Buildings opposite the School of Arts where Bent had set up his printing office.

A bustling street scene in Sydney, ca. 1842, showing the church where Elizabeth witnessed the marriage of her sister Catherine. George Roberts. King Street towards St. James’s Church (State Library of NSW V/328 https://collection.sl.nsw.gov.au/record/npANQdl1)

Elizabeth did not go to Kempsey with the rest of the family, but remained in Sydney, working as a ladies’ companion. In a letter to Governor Gipps from Kempsey in 1842, her father wrote

My eldest daughter, who has received a good English education, and is likewise somewhat otherwise accomplished, as well as her two younger sisters, is at present residing with the Misses [Hicks?] in Sydney, as a companion; but is shortly about to proceed to & reside in some Gentleman’s family at Goulburn.

I have been unable to identify the Misses Hicks – the handwriting is difficult to decipher – nor to establish whether Elizabeth did in fact go to Goulburn. If she did, it might explain why, in 1847, her father was so eager to start a newspaper there.

In 1849, when Andrew Bent devised a crack-brained scheme to establish a Matrimonial Agency for the numerous young female immigrants then arriving in the colony, Elizabeth was over thirty and still single. In his prospectus her father made some rather unkind observations perhaps arising out of frustration that Elizabeth might be left on the shelf ‘like an old Almanac, out of date.’ He did not name her, but she was probably on his mind.

Prospectus of a preparatory Matrimonial Alliance and Protective Immigration and Colonization Office, Sydney, A. Bent, 1849. p. 13 (State Records NSW NRS 905 Container 4/2883)

Elizabeth, however, was already taking matters into her own hands. She must have been planning to go to New Zealand even as her father penned the above lines. And on 26 February 1850, within weeks of her arrival in Auckland, she married Horatio Nelson Warner, the man who was to be her husband for over fifty years, and who had himself been in Auckland for ten years already. The timing suggests she went with the intention of marrying him, so how did this long distance courtship arise?

The only time Elizabeth and Horatio could possibly have met was during a relatively short period in 1839-40 when both were in Sydney.

Horatio Nelson Warner

Horatio was born in London in 1819 and baptised in the church of St. Mary at Lambeth on 22 November 1820. His death certificate, based on information supplied by his oldest son, erroneously names his father as James Warner, master mariner. This information also appears in the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Horatio’s older brother James Warner. In fact, no father is named in the baptism register entry for Horatio, the baby being recorded simply as the son of Susanna Warner. The register entry for James (born in 1814) likewise records the surname as Warner, but identifies the father as one James Vickery Lane, wine merchant. Susanna Warner died in 1831, naming her ‘dear friend’ James Vickery Lane, wine and spirit merchant of St. Mary at Hill, as sole beneficiary in her will. Lane subsequently formed other relationships, but his own will, written shortly before his death in 1839, mentions both of his sons with Susanna. He noted that he had provided for their education and that both were then residing in Sydney. Horatio was reputedly educated at Lauderdale House school in Highgate.

James Warner joined the merchant navy and visited Port Jackson in that capacity before deciding to settle in New South Wales in 1835. He subsequently became a surveyor in New South Wales, doing much important early surveying work in the Moreton Bay area.

H. N. Warner in later life. (Auckland Libraries)

According to the New Zealand Cyclopedia, Horatio was apprenticed to his uncle, a wine merchant (although this man may well have been his father), before changing course and training as a surveyor. He arrived in Sydney on 3 April 1837, after a rather unpleasant voyage on the Thomas Laurie, possibly only intending to stay for a short visit with his brother. James’ future wife and family were among his fellow passengers. Horatio ended up working as a surveyor in New South Wales for nearly three years before departing for New Zealand on the schooner Kate on 12 March 1840.

The Bents had arrived in Sydney a year prior to his departure, so his relationship with Elizabeth probably developed over that twelve-month period, when Horatio was, although perhaps only intermittently, in Sydney. The connection may have been formed through James Warner’s superior in the Survey Office, Robert Dixon, who had previously resided in Tasmania for some years. We know also that Robert had a brother Thomas who moved to Sydney in 1838 and had been, like his brother, previously in Tasmania. Interestingly, a Thomas Dixon (although we cannot be sure it was the same one) was a witness at the marriage of Catherine Bent and Thomas Hall in 1839. Or perhaps James Warner had consulted Thomas Hall professionally, or knew him as a fellow resident of George Street.

Horatio arrived in the Bay of Islands on 5 March 1840, in charge of James Campbell’s survey staff, just a month after the signing of the treaty of Waitangi.  In October he moved to the site of Auckland, assisting Surveyor General Felton Matthews with the early surveys of the intended capital, when it consisted of only a few tents and whares in a countryside covered with ferns and scrub. He took part in the first anniversary regatta at Auckland, and his obituary described him as ‘one of Auckland’s earliest citizens’. In 1844 he transferred to the Royal Engineers Department to work on the construction of defensive works against the Maori. Some of Horatio’s recollections of those early years (during which one can only assume he kept in touch with Elizabeth by letter) were published under the title ‘Old Identities’ in a supplement to the New Zealand Herald on 24 August 1895.

Life in Auckland

Elizabeth arrived in Auckland early in 1850, the precise date being unclear. At both the Sydney and Auckland ends the utterly confusing newspaper shipping notices list ‘Miss Bent’ as a passenger on the Moa (which left Sydney on 28 December and arrived in Auckland on 8 January), AND ALSO also on the William and James (which departed on 21 January, arriving Auckland on 14 February). Perhaps there was some last minute hiccup which prevented her leaving as originally planned on the Moa. One can only conjecture what her emotions might have been on taking farewell of her family, including her now frail father, or on sailing into Auckland harbour to meet the man she loved but had not seen for ten years.

A. Martin. Entrance to Auckland Harbour ca. 1854. National Library of Australia, Rex Nan Kivell Collection NK728/12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-138424852

Despite differences in topography, climate and vegetation, the scale of Auckland township and the shipping in the harbour may well have reminded Elizabeth of her childhood in Hobart Town in the 1820s.

From C. F. Hursthouse. New Zealand; or Zealandia, the Britain of the South, 1857 (Wickimedia Commons)

Elizabeth and Horatio were married in the Free Presbyterian Church on 26 February 1850, Elizabeth giving her age as 28, although she was really 31.

New Zealander 6 Mar 1850

They soon set up house in Graham Street, which although now part of the Auckland CBD, was, before the reclamation of land along the shore, a quiet location on the cliff top. When the property was advertised for sale in 1906, it was described as a large house (probably having been expanded over the half century the Warners occupied it) with a 55 feet frontage to Graham street, in a lovely position and with a magnificent view over the harbour.

Plan of the city of Auckland 1865. (Auckland Libraries). Electoral rolls show Warner in occupation of blocks 9 and 10, Section 20. A detailed view of this area is in the inset, top right, and reproduced below

This early view of Auckland clearly shows a cluster of houses on the cliff top, but it might be a little too early to include the Warner house.

View of Auckland, 1853. drawn by P. J. Hogan. Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW https://collection.sl.nsw.gov.au/record/nZNvQ5mn

Horatio had a long and varied career as a public servant. He was draughtsman in charge of the Provincial Lands Department, and later Deputy Waste Lands Commissioner, Crown Lands Commissioner, goldfields surveyor in the Thames district and Official Agent under the Limited Liability Act. He also worked as a private surveyor for many years, remaining hale and hearty into advanced age. Son Horatio Alfred Warner also became a surveyor.

Horatio senior served as a senior sergeant during the Taranaki war of 1860 and the Waikato war of 1863. He was an amateur artist (as was son James Bent Warner) and a director of the Auckland Educational Society. Both he and Elizabeth had a long standing involvement with the Congregational Church. Horatio designed the original chapel in Albert Street and was a deacon for over forty years.

In July 1898 he petitioned parliament for a pension or other form of relief, in consideration of having served the country for ‘upwards of twenty-eight years’ and was finally, in 1903, granted a pension of £200 a year. A further appeal for a compassionate allowance was made by the family after his death.

It is not known how much Elizabeth kept in touch with her brothers and sisters, although a hint can be gathered from the fact that Catherine’s son, Thomas Sydney Hall junior, who had trained as a draughtsman under Surveyor Calder in Tasmania, spent ten years or so in Auckland from around 1864.

J. Bunney. Auckland, New Zealand, 1858. National Library of Australia. NK816/B https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-134550011/view


Elizabeth died at Graham Street on Christmas Eve 1900. She was eighty years old and had been in ill health for about six months. The cause of death was recorded as dropsy which suggests heart failure. Her funeral was well attended, although unfortunately her son Horatio did not reach Auckland in time to be there. Brief accounts of her death and funeral appeared in the New Zealand Herald and other newspapers.

We have to record the death of the wife of Mr H. N. Warner, of Grahame-street, a very old resident of Auckland, who died on Monday in her 81st year. The deceased lady had been in Auckland since 1850, her husband having arrived in 1840. Mrs. Warner was the eldest daughter of the late Mr. Andrew Bent, the father of the Tasmanian press. She had been in failing health for the last six months, and at last succumbed to dropsy, bearing her sufferings with great resignation … Mrs. Warner had been a member of the Beresford-street Church (formerly the Congregational Church in Albert-street) ever since her arrival in Auckland. (NZH 26 December 1900)

The funeral of the late Mrs. H. N. Warner took place yesterday afternoon. A short memorial service was held in the Beresford-street Congregational Church at two o’clock. The church was fairly filled, there being many old colonists present. The Rev. Mr. Hervey, of Toowoomba, Queensland, conducted the service, in which also the Rev. B. L. Thomas took part. A favourite hymn of deceased, “My God, My Father, While I Stray” and other hymns were sung, and Mr. Hervey delivered a short address. The coffin was born into and out of the church to the hearse by the deacons, as a mark of respect. The interment took place at Purewa, where the Rev. Mr. Hervey also officiated. There were a large number of wreaths sent by sympathising friends, and one was furnished by the deacons and members of the Beresford-street Church. The chief mourners were the bereaved husband, and Mr. J. Warner and his son (the son and nephew [sic] of the deceased lady). Much regret was expressed that owing to the non-arrival of the Gairloch from Hokianga, Mr. Warner, surveyor, was unable to follow his mother’s remains to their last resting-place. (NZH 28 December 1900)

Elizabeth’s death was also reported in some Tasmanian newspapers, probably courtesy of her nephew Alfred Joseph Hall, who was a dentist in Launceston.


Despite their late start, Elizabeth and Horatio had a long and apparently happy marriage, celebrating their golden wedding anniversary a few months before Elizabeth’s death. Horatio outlived his wife by six years, dying, greatly respected, on 16 January 1906 at the age of 86. He and Elizabeth had six children – Bessie (1851), Amy Horatia (1852), Esther Mary (1855), Ada Kate (1857), Horatio Alfred (1858) and James Bent (1861). Bessie, Horatio and James were the only ones to marry, but they produced fourteen grandchildren between them and there are numerous descendants in New Zealand today.

Bessie Metcalfe (nee Warner) 1851-1929, eldest daughter of Elizabeth and Horatio

Although much of Elizabeth’s life can in large part be imagined only through the lens of her better-known husband, one thing becomes very clear. She and her family kept Andrew Bent’s name and legacy burning bright. A little over a year after Elizabeth’s arrival in Auckland a notice of Bent’s death appeared in the newspaper with editorial remarks which could only have come via Elizabeth or her husband. No newspaper in the Australian colonies provided such an obituary.

Daily Southern Cross 23 Sep 1851

Whenever Elizabeth was mentioned in articles about Horatio, her connection with the ‘Father of the Tasmanian press’ was invariably highlighted. And on her tombstone in Purewa cemetery (which also commemorates her husband and their three unmarried daughters) Andrew Bent features too. The inscription begins:

In loving memory of Elizabeth wife of H.N. Warner and eldest daughter of the late Andrew Bent the father of the Tasmanian Press who entered her rest on the 24th of Dec 1900 – Think what a wife should be, she was that

Some of Elizabeth’s Metcalfe descendants at the Warner grave in Purewa Cemetery.

In a recently added photo on the Find a Grave website, the inscription is more legible.

Further reading: D. Gray-Woods, With Compass Chain and Courage (Brisbane, 1997)

1 Comment

  1. Thanks Sally. Most interesting to read, and to know that “rellies” are also in New Zealand.


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