Struggling mother gave her all

MATTHEW GRAY
Last updated 08:01 10/12/2013

An early death spared Maria Gallaher the heartache of losing three sons in battle.

It also robbed her of the chance to see one of them, Dave, rise to international prominence as captain of the 1905 All Blacks.

Maria, a mother of 14, was just 42 when she was struck down by illness in 1887 and was survived by 10 of her children ranging in ages from 3 to 20.

Her husband James was significantly older at 65 and, like the younger kids, dependent on her as the major breadwinner of the household.

The Gallahers came from Ramelton, County Donegal, Ireland, where James was a widowed shopkeeper at the time of his marriage to Maria in 1866.

They emigrated to New Zealand aboard the Lady Jocelyn 12 years later - lured by a sponsored passage and job prospects that fell through shortly after their arrival with the death of their employer.

The change of plans left them with many mouths to feed and little in the way of financial sustenance.

Maria saved the day by becoming the first teacher at a new school at Katikati at the northern end of the Tauranga Harbour.

She held the post for eight years until a rapid deterioration in health forced her hospitalisation in Auckland.

Doctors worked in vain to save her and Maria was buried in the relatively new Waikumete Cemetery which had officially opened 15 months prior.

James, who moved with family to George St in Ponsonby two years later, joined her there in November 1894 after dying at the age of 84.

Dave Gallaher was at that point a prominent rugby player representing the Auckland Province.

He served with the army in South Africa during the Boer War and returned home to resume his sporting career on the 1903 New Zealand Rugby Union tour of Australia.

But it was in 1905 that he cemented his place in rugby history as captain of the original All Blacks side - the first Kiwi team to play outside of Australasia in the British Isles, France and the United States.

Dave became a selector in the following years and rejoined the army during World War I, achieving the rank of Sergeant Major and dying of wounds in France in 1917 aged 43.

Four of his brothers also fought in the war. Two of them, Henry, 37, and Douglas, 32, were killed in action.

All are buried overseas but commemorated, along with their many other siblings, on the stone that marks their parents' grave.

- Western Leader

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