Adelaide Martens was born in London in 1845, the daughter of a sugar baker. There is little known of her early years, but when she was 17 she decided to emigrate to the antipodes. She obtained work as a stewardess and sailed to Australia, then on to New Zealand. While working as a stewardess on coastal boats between Invercargill and Christchurch she met Henry Hicks, a cook and steward on the same ship. His mother was English, and his father a freed Afro-American slave. Adelaide and Henry were married in Invercargill and moved to Dunedin, to live in Leith Street.
Henry continued his work on coastal boats and Adelaide obtained domestic work. In 1884 they moved to Mosgiel where Henry worked as a woodsman in the Big Bush. They had nine children, and when the youngest was still a toddler, Henry was kicked by his horse. He died from internal hemorrhage, leaving Adelaide with a large family and no certain work. At the time of Henry’s death they were living in a small house on the edge of the bush near the Silver Stream, and when this stream flooded she put the smaller children on the kitchen table to protect them from drowning. This experience encouraged her to shift into Mosgiel and higher ground.