Letter, Bessie Wells

Wells, Bessie Purvis

Object detail

Brief Description
Entry to the Be Our Guest competition from Bessie Purvis Wells (nee Northe) about her memories of the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake.

Bessie was fourteen years old at the time of the earthquake. It was her first day back at Napier Girls' High after the summer holidays. She remembers it being a beautiful Hawke's Bay day, but with a tremendous sea, that she could hear from her house on Hospital Hill. During the quake she thought it was the end of the world. She ended up on the tennis court, possibly thrown there. She had no memory of what happened. The pupils were told they could not go home until they were called for. Bessie walked home with a neighbour and other pupils. It wasn't until they neared Ormond Chapel and the Hospital that she realised the scale of the disaster. People trapped in the collapsed Nurses' Home were screaming for help. Bessie's uncle Percy Northe was Assistant Secretary at the Hospital but survived. One of his colleagues was trapped under slabs of concrete but lived for three days while his relatives waited helplessly for help.

Bessie's father was at home, distributing food from the family's grocery store. Bessie had two older sisters, Jean and Patti. She helped her mother at home, her father thinking it best to keep the women occupied. The only china they had left was the good Doulton, Shelley and Hammesley cups and saucers which they used as they sat outside on the lawn.

Bessie's father Walter and her sister Jean went onto people's roofs to fix them in case it rained. At 5pm the corned beef that her mother had ordered the day before from Hayne's Butchery was delivered. The milkman walked in from Eskdale to say he wouldn't be able to deliver the milk. They spent the night in the back yard. There were people camping on their road because of warnings about tidal waves. There was a Daily Telegraph newspaper printed on Wednesday, and sailors from H M S Veronica delivered water. Bessie writes that it was thought that there would be illness caused by the dead fish on the drained lagoon, so women and children were evacuated. People were told that if they saw a car with a Red Cross sticker on it and the destination where they had friends or relations, to stop the car and it would take you there. Bessie, her mother and two sisters went to the Rangitikei district, then to Wellington, and later Bessie went to boarding school in Masterton.
Production period
Production technique
Media/Materials description
A4 printed sheets, typed in black ink. Handwriting in blue ink.
In the Be Our Guest Folder No 2.: Height x Width: 298 x 210mm
Subject period
Subject date
03 Feb 1931
Credit line
gifted by Bessie Wells
Other number(s)
m2006/27/134, 35994


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