1.4.2 THOMAS, Annette Mary Eleanor (1881 – 1968) / CLIFFORD, Ogalivie (-1983) / CLIFFORD, Alistair Bertram (1929 – 1940) / CLIFFORD, Robert Henry (1916 – 1940)

Annette Mary Eleanor THOMAS (1.4.2)

Annette Mary Eleanor Jane THOMAS


5 November 1881, Akaroa, New Zealand


John Woodill THOMAS and Elizabeth Ann BATES


1.4 Children of John Woodill THOMAS L-R Harold, Joe and Annie THOMAS



Started at Wainui School in 1895 then attended four other local primary schools.


Lived at times with her father’s family as a child and at other times with her mother and step-father


Henry Herbert CLIFFORD

24 July 1915, Christchurch, New Zealand

Marriage of Annette Mary Eleanor Jane THOMAS to Henry Herbert CLIFFORD


Information About Henry Herbert CLIFFORD

Born:  1872, Dunedin, New Zealand

Occupation:  Photographer

Died:  16 February 1949, Christchurch, New Zealand

Buried:  1949 Bromley Cemetery, Bromley, Christchurch, New Zealand

Clifford Photographic Studio

Probate Henry Herbert Clifford below


Ogalvie Garth CLIFFORD

Alistair Bertram CLIFFORD

Robert Henry CLIFFORD

Scroll down to end of page for information about children of Annie CLIFFORD and Henry Herbert CLIFFORD



28 April 1968, Christchurch, New Zealand


The information below has been summarised from some radio interviews.  In 2002, Deborah Nation collected the memories of students, artists and a variety of other tenants who paid rent.  Radio New Zealand broadcast Deborah’s collated work on the programme Spectrum 17 June 2012.


To the locals Annie was known as Ma Clifford.  She was well known, loved and hated by many around Christchurch.  People knew she had a lot of money and in the days following the depression people had a reaction to that.

It was interesting to me hear local Christchurch people talk about Annie.  Older family members had talked about her in the same way.  One man even though she should have been knighted for what she did accommodating people who were down and out.  Her little flats included thin beds with a small cooking stove that was plugged into the wall and a washbasin.  The Government didn’t like her converting large homes into small flats.  She rented these flats out to people who didn’t have anywhere else to live.  While she didn’t overspend, she was Ok about people doing some work themselves on the flats and would provide the materials needed.

Annie is reported to have had a small safe that she put all her cash in.  Those who went to pay the rent, walked down a dark hall that had no light bulb in it.  When Annie needed something out of the cupboard, she would light matches so that she could see.  People coming to pay their rents would tap on the little slide window and she would pull it open as she sat waiting for somebody else to come and pay the rent.  She apparently slammed this window many times too.  Perhaps someone would complain but there were also those trying to rob her.  Some people thought she kept lots of money in biscuit tins.  Maybe she did!

Annie rode around Christchurch on an old black bike.  It didn’t have the two straight bars going diagonal, one bar was scooped out and she had an old wicker basket on the front which was where she put the money she collected.  She was a small woman who had been quite attractive in her younger years.  She had been a music teacher.  She got a room where she could teach music but after some time she didn’t need to teach music.  As an older woman, she wore an old embroidered cardigan that was full of moth holes.  She wasn’t a fancy dresser.  She would go to her workers and show them what she wanted done often carrying a hot water bottle to keep warm.  She was very strict as far as work was concerned.  She was able to communicate what she wanted and she would tell people if it wasn’t done properly.  However those who worked for her seem to have all remembered her fondly as an amazing person who provided cheap housing in a financial climate that would have had those people out on the streets without her help.  One of her workers told her that Rome wasn’t built in a day but only because Mrs Clifford wasn’t the boss.  She thought it was a great joke!

There have been many stories about how Annie got her money.  Some believe that her husband came from a family that owned a lot of land.  Annie mortgaged their first house to buy another one and just kept doing it.  Other family members told me that she received an inheritance from her uncle David Gustavius BATES.  David’s will doesn’t back that up but her family received ownership of their farm and cattle in New Zealand at that time so it’s possible that Annie benefitted from that.  Annie told one of the men who worked for her that her husband wasn’t doing enough, so she mortgaged the house.  When her husband passed away Annie probably focused on how she would exist and she begun buying properties and letting the rents pay them off.

After the depression when people were out of work, Annie employed plumbers, accountants, painters, cleaners and carriers full time.  Some of the rooms she had were full of paint or carpet.  She kept rooms full of supplies.  There were whole houses like this near the university.  Those houses also had a lot of antique furniture as her husband had collected it.

One time Annie employed some workers to partition off a large room and convert it into four flats.  They worked all day and completed the job only to be told to pull it all apart the next day.  It was presumed some Government people were doing an inspection.

Some of the places were hovels but Annie’s ex-workers maintained when interviewed that it was because of how the people lived.  If they’d kept the place clean it would have been different.  Instead they let it get filthy and the newspapers would report that Mrs Clifford was letting out dirty flats.

Roy Thomas told me in conversation that she walked around with a dark skinned bodyguard collecting rents.  I’m not sure about that!  Deborah Nathan’s interviews with Christchurch people report one man saying he played rugby so she got his friend who was very big to throw some people out of one of her flats.  She hadn’t been able to get them to leave.  She was also reported to have hounded her tenants at times for money but then she would let them borrow it back.  Her workers report that there were hundreds of tenants.

Annie was known as a provider of housing for students in the city because she always had a room or knew where one was available.  Students of that period report that Annie did a great service providing accommodation in Christchurch when nobody else was doing it on that sort of scale.  The flats were very small but it meant that people could live by themselves.

People were astonished to see the figure that was owed to the tax department when the legal cases begun.  Many people stood up for Annie Clifford but many were against her.  Locals who knew her felt that some people were jealous of anyone who had money.  At this time Annie had some sort of breakdown and had to go to Hamner to recover and for many years she conducted her business from Hamner.

Annie had assets that were providing a need in society.  Many felt she was a definite force for good.  She had places in rough condition but she had a heart of gold and wouldn’t turn people out on the street.  She is even remembered as being generous helping a lot of people who perhaps didn’t need to be helped as much as they were.

I recommend the interviews by Deborah Nathan https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/spectrum/audio/2521648/spectrum-for-17-june-2012 from Radio New Zealand.

CLIFFORD, Annette Mary Eleanor Jane

1881 – 1968

Property Owner

This biography, written by Margaret Lovell-Smith and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000

Annette Mary Eleanor Jane Thomas was born at Akaroa on 5 November 1881, the daughter of John Woodill Thomas, a farmer and his wife, Eliza Ann Bates.  Annette’s father died three months before she was born, and her mother married John Hewitt, a contractor, in 1884.  As a child Annette lived at various times with her father’s family and with her mother and stepfather.  She attended four different local primary schools; on leaving Wainui School in 1895 she was destined for domestic service.

By 1913 Annette Thomas was a Christchurch ratepayer living in Montreal Street.  She gained her LTCL and was working as a music teacher at the time of her marriage to Henry Herbert Clifford, in Christchurch, on 24 July 1915.  He had worked as a photographer in Dunedin and Melbourne before joining the Christchurch firm Standish and Preece, and by 1903 he had opened his own studio.  He became the city’s leading artist photographer, specialising in portraiture.  They had three sons, two of whom died in their early 20s, the eldest while on active service with the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1940.

By the time of her husband’s death in 1949, Annette Clifford and her remaining son had acquired numerous large old houses, which they divided into small flats and let at modest rentals.  Their business practices led to several brushes with the law.  In 1944 there was a hearing before the Christchurch Land Sales Committee to answer a charge of ‘undue aggregation’ under the Servicemen’s Settlement and Land Sales Act.  Ten years later Annette Clifford was fined on three charges of altering premises without obtaining a building permit.  A civil claim by the Inland Revenue Department for alleged arrears of income tax originally filed in 1960 was still not settled in 1966.  In 1962 she was charged in the Christchurch Magistrate’s Court with wilfully filing false returns of income over a nine year period, involving a total discrepancy of 238,613 pounds.  The high-profile case resulted in a conviction and a fine of 100 pounds for each year a false return had been filed.  The verdict was later upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The full extent of Clifford’s property is not known.  The 1962 court hearing was told that by 1958 she owned, or leased from her son, a total of 47 properties and that between 1950 and 1958 she was receiving rent from up to 550 tenants.  An inspection of 18 apartment houses owned by her in 1953 revealed that they contained 220 occupied dwelling units, in which were living 283 adults and 10 children.  A city council health inspector told the court that Clifford had been sent a notice of non-compliance with housing improvement regulations for each of the properties.  Most of her houses were pre-1920 wooden structures, distinctive for their colourful paintwork.

Annette Clifford became Christchurch’s most prominent landlady, a legend in her own lifetime.  A small woman dressed mainly in black, she cycled all over the city to inspect her properties.  Many of these were close to the university and were popular with students.  Rents were collected at a ticket-box window in her residence at 52 Worcester Street.  She was an eccentric and colourful figure who can be seen as both an exploitative property owner and a provider of cheap accommodation.  She had a motherly attitude towards her elderly tenants and would remind student tenants of the need to write home and to remember their mother’s birthdays.  She died in Christchurch on 28 April 1968, survived by one son.


Will Annette Mary Eleanor Jane CLIFFORD nee THOMAS


Probate Annette Mary Eleanor Jane CLIFFORD nee THOMAS

Newspaper articles regarding the tax court case



Click here for video and story about Joseph William THOMAS (brother of Annette Mary Eleanor Jane THOMAS)





Children of Annie CLIFFORD and Henry Herbert CLIFFORD

Ogilvie Garth CLIFFORD (

Died:  1983

Occupation:  Barrister.  Investigaged due to the way he managed his mother’s tax

Married:  Mary Ida COWLISHAW

Children:  Four




Alistair Bertram CLIFFORD (

Born:  1929 Christchurch, New Zealand

Died:  17 January 1940 at Seacliffe Mental Hospital

Buried:  November 1940 Bromley Cemetery, Bromley, Christchurch, New Zealand

Headstone:   Sergeant Pilot Henry CLIFFORD RNZAF 24 Died in England on active service August 23rd 1940. Also Alister Bertram CLIFFORD beloved son of H H and A M CLIFFORD died 17 January 1840 aged 21.



Click here for video and story about Joseph William THOMAS (Uncle of Alistair Bertram CLIFFORD)




Robert Henry CLIFFORD (

Born:  14 April 1916, Christchurch, New Zealand

Death:  23 August 1940 World War II, England

Buried:  1940 Bromley Cemetery, Christchurch, New Zealand

Headstone:  The gravestones record them as the sons of HH & AM Clifford.
Two were recorded on the gravestone at Bromley Cemetery. Sergeant Pilot Robert Henry Clifford RNZAF 24 Died in England on active service August 23rd 1940. Alister Bertram CLIFFORD beloved son of HH and A M CLIFFORD died 17 Jan 1940 21

Click here for video and story about Joseph William THOMAS (Uncle of Robert Henry CLIFFORD)