Caroline Abraham

Caroline Abraham
Date of birth
circa 1809
Date of death
Caroline Abraham (née Palmer) arrived in Auckland in August 1850 with her husband Charles Abraham, who had accepted a position as the principal and one of the chaplains of St. John’s College in Auckland. Caroline and Charles remained in Auckland until 1858, when Charles was consecrated as first bishop of Wellington.

Caroline Abraham socialised with some of the most notable figures in the first decades of European settlement in New Zealand. Her cousin was Sarah Selwyn, the wife of Bishop George Augustus Selwyn, and Sir George Grey was a frequent visitor to the Abraham household. Caroline Abraham used her social position to express her disapproval of the actions of the British Government and Governor Grey’s involvement in the New Zealand Land Wars. In 1861 Caroline, together with her husband, the Selwyns, Sir William and Lady Martin, produced a book, printed for private circulation in London, which voiced criticism of the British Government’s treatment of Māori. They wrote that, “We are sinking so low in the eyes of the Maories [sic]. Where is our good faith? Where are our assurances that the Queen would never do them wrong? …It goes to the heart to see a noble race of people stigmatised as rebels and drawn to desperation by the misrule of those who are at the same time lowering their own people in their eyes” (Extracts of Letters from New Zealand on the War Question, 1861, pp. 21-26, quoted in My Hand Will Write what my Heart Dictates: The Unsettled Lives of Women in nineteenth-century New Zealand as revealed to sisters, family and friends, eds. Frances Porter and Charlotte Macdonald (1996), p. 122.

Caroline Abraham extensively documented her new environments in watercolour paintings, which encapsulate the sense of wonder that she felt in encountering “my own bright land – the blue sky & sparkling water wh[ich] come to me when I shut my eyes” (1867). In addition to the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, her sketchbooks are in the Alexander Turnbull Library and the Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Central Library.