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The inspirational journey of our Smith & Caughey's Founder

Marianne Smith Caughey-Preston (1851-1938)
Our story begins in County Down, Ireland with a young woman, Marianne Caughey.

Born in 1851, one of seven children, and the youngest daughter of James Caughey, a grocer by trade and wife Jane Clarke. Little is known of Marianne’s early life in Ireland, though born towards the end of The Potato Famine, we can assume it was not an easy one.

Marianne married William Henry Smith, a draper in 1874. The young couple lived in Belfast and New York, in both cities Marianne worked with charities and Methodist missions, a calling she felt keenly. The couple set up a mission of their own to support the poor in Belfast in 1879, however William suffered ill health and the couple made the decision to set sail to New Zealand, where Marianne’s new calling would be that of a businesswoman.

Marianne, by all accounts must have been both tenacious and courageous, sailing to Auckland with William in 1880, a journey we can only imagine at the time was not only long- with 104 days at sea, but also quite treacherous.


Immediately upon arrival in Auckland, Marianne set up a shop ‘Smith’s Cheap Drapery Warehouse’ in upper Queen Street. We can assume being the daughter of a grocer and draper's wife gave her some confidence in this enterprise, at a time where women in business were few and far between. As the store's name indicates Marianne's philosophy was ‘Small profits and quick returns’ and ‘A nimble sixpence rather than a slow shilling'.

The mood of Auckland in the 1880s was optimistic and in 1881, after only a year of trading William was able to leave his job and join the business. A year later, in 1882, Marianne’s brother, also a reputable draper, turned Methodist minister, Andrew Clarke Caughey was invited to join as a partner. The business, now a thoroughly family affair, became Smith & Caughey Clothiers and Drapers.

 While laws at the time prevented Marianne from being a partner, she was certainly the driving force behind the business, setting into place standards and business practices we still honour today, five generations on.

 William Graham Caughey, grandson of Andrew Clarke Caughey remembered Marianne as “a woman full of good works and intention...” Others have spoken of her as also being somewhat direct, frugal and shrewd, qualities we imagine stood her in good stead at this time.

 Marianne had an absolute heart for ‘good works’ and community and was both consistent and generous with her philanthropic efforts throughout her lifetime and beyond. She gave generously, both financially and of herself to many charities including those benefiting women, education, orphanages, youth, health and to the city of Auckland. Marianne was awarded an MBE in 1935.

Marianne passed away in 1938; most of her estate was to form a trust to support the aged, infirm or those who had fallen upon unfortunate times. Her legacy in both business and in the community remains and is honoured by the family today.


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