Women Mean Business:

Colonial businesswomen in New Zealand

Come and hear Catherine speak about her new book on her
BOOK LAUNCH: Whanganui 3 October 2019

This history populates nineteenth-century New Zealand with entrepreneurial women. 

 From Kaitaia in Northland to Oban on Stewart Island, New Zealand’s nineteenth-century towns were full of entrepreneurial women. Contrary to what we might expect, colonial women were not only wives and mothers or domestic servants. A surprising number ran their own businesses, supporting themselves and their families, sometimes in productive partnership with husbands, but in other cases compensating for a spouse’s incompetence, intemperance, absence – or all three.

The pages of this book overflow with the stories of hard-working milliners and dressmakers, teachers, boarding-house keepers and laundresses, colourful publicans, brothelkeepers and travelling performers, along with the odd taxidermist, bootmaker and butcher – and Australasia’s first woman chemist. 

Then, as now, there was no ‘typical’ businesswoman. They were middle and working class; young and old; Māori and Pākehā; single, married, widowed and sometimes bigamists. Their businesses could be wild successes or dismal failures, lasting just a few months or a lifetime. 

In this fascinating and entertaining book, award-winning historian Dr Catherine Bishop showcases many of the individual businesswomen whose efforts, collectively, contributed so much to the making of urban life in New Zealand. 


Bishop cover_for publicity.jpg


Otago University Press

Due: October 2019

Price: 45 NZD

Buy from all good bookstores in Australia and New Zealand or online


‘Spinks Cottage: Heritage, History and Use’ in The Lives of Colonial Objects, eds Annabel Cooper, Angela Wanhalla and Lachlan Paterson (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2015)

‘Women on the Move: Gender, Money-making and Mobility in Mid-Nineteenth Century Australasia’, History Australia 11:2 (August 2014): 38-59