Emma arrived in Oamaru with her parents in January of 1862. This was a mere nine years after her uncle’s settlement there. In 1853, when John Lemon arrived, Oamaru was far from being a town — see the following account by from another early settler, Mr F. Every:

I have before me a letter, dated, Waitaki, Nov. 10. 1853, in which I wrote home an account of my arrival at Papakaio, Messrs. Filleul's station, which had then been started about three months. The party there then consisted of Mr. W. G. Filleul and his brother Richard, their man Jonathan Woonton and his two boys, Jim and George, James Saunders (known better as Jimmy the Needle, shearer, &c., and one of the old whalers, who lived about Moeraki before any settlers came into the country), and myself. Mr. Hugh Robison and his brother Harry took up the Oamaru Run at the same time, and lived in a small whare built mostly of cabbage-trees, raupo, and flax, which stood on the north bank of the creek, just about where the railway line now crosses it. Mr. John Lemon came up about a fortnight after I did, and was at Papakaio getting out the framing of a house for his station at Waikoura (now the residence of Mr. Peter Aitcheson), on the 26th. At this time our only habitation was burnt down, and with it all our bedding, clothes, food, and even our boots; for, being busy at shearing we were some of us wearing Maori pararas for comfort, and had left our boots in the hut. In consequence of that loss I had no boots to wear for nearly two months after, when we got fresh supplies from Dunedin, and Mr. J. S. Jeffreys, who came up with me, rode down to Dunedin with a pair of pararas lined with red blanket instead of boots …

(from Mr Roberts’ very detailed history of Oamaru and North Otago, published in 1890)

By the time Emma and her parents arrived, however, the town was growing fast, on the back of its port and the relative proximity of the gold-fields. Emma’s father, George Sumpter, was involved in both these operations —supplying stores to the miners, and becoming a stalwart of the Harbour Board.

Both George and Oamaru thrived. Mackay’s Almanac for 1865 says:

No township in the Province has shown so steady and satisfactory an advance during the last three years as Oamaru.

That same year, ‘telegraphic communication’ between Dunedin, Oamaru and Christchurch was completed.

By the end of 1867, Oamaru had 1376 residents, and received some £9452 in Customs revenue for the year, from 11 ships bringing imports to the value of £92,165. Wool to the value of £173,904 had been shipped out.

In the same way that George is in many ways representative of Oamaru, so Oamaru reflects the greater nation. Oamaru grew, and borrowed heavily to build the infrastructure they aspired to.

By the 1880s, NZ, Oamaru, and George, were all struggling.


“The History of Oamaru and North Otago, New Zealand, From 1853 to the end of 1889” W.H.S. Roberts. Published by Andrew Fraser, Oamaru; 1890.

“White Stone Country: The story of North Otago” by K.C. McDonald. Published by the North Otago Centennial Committee, 1962.

Oamaru in the 1870s
Oamaru in the 1880s
Oamaru's main street in 1867
Wansbeck Street in 1876