She has collected 1000 stories about business women in the 19th century and historian Dr Catherine Bishop is on a mission to get more.

Originally from Whanganui, Catherine says she wants to hear stories about entrepreneurial many-great grandmothers. She is hoping to store the stories on a database so it's available for everyone to use and the stories are not forgotten.

Winner of Australian award the 2016 Ashurst Business Literature Prize, Catherine is in Taupō today to promote her new book Women Mean Business: Colonial businesswomen in New Zealand (Otago University Press, $45). Prior to coming to Taupō she did some digging, but admits her research is limited to looking at English language records. She says business were often passed down by men to women who ran them very successfully, and businesses were often run by women but a licence may have been issued in her husband's name.

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"If Pākehā women are hard to find in the records, then Māori women are invisible," she says.

Records for early Taupō publicans show men at the helm, but looking at the records with her historian's eyes, Catherine says it was probably women who were in charge. Records for the Taupō Hotel show that Thomas Balfour of the Armed Constabulary was the proprietor in 1870, however Catherine contests that it was his wife Agnes Noble who actually ran the business. Agnes' daughter, also Agnes, married Joseph Gallagher and Catherine says it was Agnes who ran a store and then a hotel, possibly Spa Hotel.

The ownership of Ohinemutu Hotel (in Rotorua) was disputed by two women, Hydropathic Hotel (Wairākei Resort location) owner Jane Graham and licence holder Ann Robertson. The matter was settled by four Māori women who forcibly ejected Ann Robertson in favour of Jane Graham.

Women Mean Business: Colonial businesswomen in New Zealand by Catherine Bishop (Otago University Press, $45)
Women Mean Business: Colonial businesswomen in New Zealand by Catherine Bishop (Otago University Press, $45)

Catherine tells the story of a guide on the Rotorua-Wairākei tourist circuit, Makereti Papakura, known as Maggie.

"She is brought up by her Māori mother and then her Pākehā father sends her to Hukarere Girls' College in Napier. She moves between both worlds, guiding, organises a Māori concert party tour of Australia and writes a book about the local hot springs. By 1926 she has divorced her second husband, an Englishman, and is enrolled as a Masters student at Oxford University. Tragically she dies and her thesis The Old Time Māori is published after her death."

Catherine says there's no such thing as a typical businesswoman.

"They were middle and working class, young and old, Māori and Pākehā; single, married, widowed and sometimes bigamists."

"There were such good stories and I would often get side-tracked by the stories of some women who had husbands that ran off or who had left a husband because he was a complete b*****d - or who collected more than one husband.


"I was also surprised by their mobility and how much some women moved around. I thought that was just the elites or men, but ordinary women moved around a lot. I liked the women who were slightly 'naughty' and pushed boundaries."

Catherine Bishop is speaking about her new book at Taupō Library, tonight at 5.30pm. Her book is for sale at Paper Plus Taupō. If someone has a story to share, please make yourself known to Catherine tonight or contact her through the website