Topic: Mary Taylor, friend of Charlotte Bronte

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Excerpt describes Mary Taylor working in a Cuba Street shop (later to be Selfridge's Stores) circa 1840-1860, life-long friend and correspondent of Charlotte Bronte.

Excerpt from Streets of my city, by F. L. Irvine-Smith, p. 158-159

Mary Taylor came out from England to join her brother, Waring Taylor, in the forties, and remained until about 1860. Her sojourn in early Wellington gains much interest from the fact that she was the life-long friend and correspondent of the Bronte sisters, more especially of the eldest sister, Charlotte. She is the M- of Mrs. Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte and the Rose Yorke of "Shirley," as her brother was the Martin Yorke of the same novel. Unfortunately, the letters of Charlotte Bronte to Mary Taylor in New Zealand were never kept, but the letters to Charlotte Bronte from her friend in Port Nicholson make interesting reading and are freely quoted in "Charlotte Bronte and her Circle" by Clement Shorter (1896).

Mary Taylor, joined later by her cousin Ellen Taylor, though well educated for her day, had no inclination to follow any academic calling in the New World and opened a shop, a small general store, on the site of what is now Selfridge's stores, Cuba Street. She appears to have had good business ability, enjoyed the companionship of her cousin, whose early death she deeply deplored, wrote articles occasionally to English papers, and was engaged in desultory fashion in writing a novel, "Miss Miles or a Tale of Yorkshire Life Sixty Years Ago." This was not published, however, until 1890, when it created but little interest. It is apparent from her letters that in New Zealand she missed the literary associations of her friends, and felt isolated, mentally and physically, especially when the mails brought from her beloved Charlotte such "incredible" achievements as "Jane Eyre" and "Shirley," with news of their repercussions. There is no doubt that each gained from the other's friendship. Had Mary Taylor not been staying at Brussels in her youth, the Bronte sisters might never have gone there, and the world would have been the poorer by the powerful novel "Villette" and its interesting Professor. About 1859 or 1860 she returned to England and spent the remainder of her days in seclusion in a home she had built for herself in Yorkshire. She died in 1893.

Mary Taylor's little shop has long since melted away into the dim forgotten past, but she has left a more permanent memorial in a busy little city thoroughfare whose entrance is almost hidden between lofty buildings in Ghuznee Street east. This is Leeds Street, constructed across sec. 181, a stone's throw from her shop in Cuba Street. In 1852 this section was granted to the Hon. Algernon Tollemache (1805-1897), a picturesque figure of early Wellington, who, with 'a deep purse, a lengthy family-tree (7) and good mixing capacity, enjoyed pioneering life for some years in a cottage at the corner of Abel Smith Street and Willis Street. He appeared to have done nothing with the section and in 1859 sold it to Mary Taylor, who cut it up and sold portions, leaving the street as a reminder of her Yorkshire memories. She herself was the daughter of a Yorkshire merchant.


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