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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.



Mrs. Margaret Home Sievwright was born in Scotland in 1844, taught in a Ragged School in Edinburgh, and then trained as a nurse under Florence Nightingale. So many cases of misery among women came under her notice that she dedicated her life to the movement for the emancipation page 430 of women. Settling in Gisborne in 1883, she quickly won the respect and admiration of the townsfolk. Although she was a shy and intensely sensitive woman, her love of humanity amounted to a passion. Untiringly, she worked for a day when—to quote her own words—“united womanhood would stand for the extinction of poverty, ignorance, vice, crime, cruelty to man and beast, idleness, war, slavery, intemperance and selfishness.” The Countess of Aberdeen delegated to her the task of establishing a National Council of Women for New Zealand. She formed branches in Gisborne and in other centres. At the date of her death (9 March, 1905) she had been Dominion president for seven years. In the official history of the National Council of Women the following paragraph appears: “Mrs. Sievwright, to whom the people of Gisborne have erected a memorial [a drinking fountain] was outstanding in grace of person and manner and that elusive quality called personality. She must have come from a long line of Utopian dreamers.”

Plunket Society, Gisborne Branch (8 August, 1912): Mrs. C. A. de Lautour was the first president and Mesdames W. F. J. Anderson and W. Reeve joint secretaries. Messrs. J. Blair, W. F. Cederwall, G. M. Dodgshun, F. Parker, Dr. W. Reeve and Dr. Carlyle Wilson acted as an Advisory Board. Miss D. Bagnall has held the secretaryship since 1929. Mrs. Wynne Harrold (formerly a Plunket Nurse at Timaru) assisted mothers voluntarily and independent of the branch until August, 1913, when Miss Craig became the first resident Plunket Nurse. Sub-branches: Te Karaka (formed in 1926), Tolaga Bay (1931), Manutuke (1934) and Tokomaru Bay (1937). The Plunket Rooms in Gisborne (which cost only £532) were opened on 16 July, 1934. Two nurses are now employed and rooms are also conducted at Te Hapara.

Poverty Bay and East Coast Children's Health Camp Committee (23 September, 1935): H. Holmes (deputy-mayor) was elected chairman. For some months Dr. H. Turbott (District Health Officer) and Sister E. W. T. Pritchard, M.B.E., had been sending children in need of treatment to Otaki Children's Camp. As parents disapproved of their children being sent so far from home, the old stewards' stand on Park Domain was secured for a Children's Camp. The building, with some furniture, was mysteriously destroyed by fire on the eve of the intended opening day. St. Helen's Hospital was then made available by Cook Hospital Board and equipped with the help of wellwishers. The first camp (20 children) was opened on 12 November, 1937.

As St. Helen's Hospital was required to be vacated in 1939, the trustees of the King George Memorial Fund made a grant to enable a permanent camp to be established. A portion of Park Domain was secured, and, on 11 October, 1941, the camp was opened. During 1946–47, 236 children, including some from as far afield as Whakatane and Wairoa, passed through the institution. In 1947 it was decided that the camp should remain open all the year round instead of only during the summer months. The cost of conducting it is about £2,000 per annum. Members of the first executive still associated with the movement in 1949 were: Mr. H. Holmes (as chairman), Mrs. G. A. Nicholls and Messrs. A. Cassin, H. H. de Costa and W. Ogilvie.

Poverty Bay Women's Division of Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Incorp.), formerly the Women's Division of the New Zealand Farmers' Union (March, 1936): Initial officers—President, Mrs. Theo. Field; secretary, Miss A. Field; provincial housekeeping secretary, Mrs. Allan Morrison. Branches: Muriwai, Waimata, Te Arai, Ngatapa, Waerenga-o-Kuri and “Hill Country.”

Poverty Bay Representative Committee (April, 1939): Established to aid in any national emergency, and also to promote page 431 any work pertaining to the welfare of women and children, this committee comprises a representative from each of the women's organisations in the district. The first chairwoman was Mrs. W. McCliskie, and Mrs. G. A. Nicholls was the first secretary. Mrs. P. Hockley became chairwoman in 1941. Miss N. Cotterill, who took over the secretaryship in 1940, received the B.E.M. award for her wartime services.

Victoria League, Poverty Bay Branch (1913): During the first Great War, members made street appeals and conducted a shop to collect funds for the British Red Cross Society and for the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England. Upon Mrs. Henry White's suggestion, the district was subdivided into 12 sub-districts, each of which undertook to stock the shop with meat, produce, fruit, cakes, etc., and conduct it once every three months. By March, 1919, when the shop was closed, the branch had raised £18,476, of which the shop returns amounted to £15,834. Prominent among the leaders were Mrs. W. R. Barker (president), Mrs. R. J. Reynolds (president of the Poverty Bay Ladies' League), Mrs. W. G. Sherratt (the mayoress, and the principal organiser of the shop, who was decorated an Officer of the British Empire), Miss A. Gray (hon, secretary), and Mr. C. P. Davies (hon, treasurer).

The branch celebrated the jubilee of the parent body in 1927 by holding a Jubilee Ball, to which the district's pioneers were invited. It has since made a point of entertaining the pioneers and the inmates of the Memorial Home each Empire Day. During the Second World War its members made 19,300 garments for children in bombed-out areas in Britain, 500 “hussifs” for New Zealand servicemen, pyjamas and other garments for soldiers in hospitals, and garments for the Patriotic Shop. A Young Contingent was formed in 1940 to assist in entertaining members of the R.N.Z.A.F. stationed in Gisborne. Much of the success attained by the branch in its earlier years was due to the enthusiasm of Miss A. L. Rees, who was president for 16 years. Roll of presidents: Mrs. W. R. Barker, Mrs. H. Williams, Mrs. E. J. Matthews, Mrs. L. Cotterill, Miss A. L. Rees, Mrs. L. Balfour and Mrs. P. Hockley.