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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter I. — Arriving in New Zealand

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Chapter I.
Arriving in New Zealand.

Born in New South Wales, my early life was that of the ordinary round; childhood, education, entrance into society, amusement, such as tennis, dancing, reading, a little artistic work, home nursing, visiting, passed the time at a happy home until after my father's death, I felt that it was necessary for me to take up a more satisfactory career.

My father died of typhoid fever, and was nursed by an English nurse who inspired me with the desire to become a qualified nurse. I had always been the member of the family to undertake the care of anyone ill in the household, and indeed with my married sister's young family had had some practice. A medical friend wanted me to take up massage, but another said, “Train as a nurse first,” so I took his advice and entered the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in January, 1890. I have written an account (but unfortunately it would make this book too long) of my experiences there, of my short term of private nursing; of my matronship of a cottage hospital; of my district nursing work in Melbourne; of my going to Melbourne as sister-in-charge of the gynæcological wards of the Women's Hospital; of my matronship of a new hospital for women and children, staffed by women doctors; of my return as Matron to the Women's Hospital; of my visit to England, and the obtaining of my certificate from the Central Midwives' Board, London; of my return to Sydney and my district nursing work there; of my experience as matron of a large private mental hospital.

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This all brings me to the time when I came to New Zealand, and was appointed to fill a position for which the varied work I had done during fifteen years gave me the experience needed to carry on the varied work which lay before me.

About a year after my return to Australia, I received a letter from Dr. Agnes Bennett, then in New Zealand, enclosing the advertisement of the position of Assistant Inspector of Hospitals, for which she thought I ought to apply.

Dr. Agnes Bennett had started practice in Wellington some two years previously, and was well known to the then Assistant Inspector, Mrs. Grace Neill.

The salary offered was good, and I thought I would be wise to apply for it, so I got a few letters of recommendation and sent my application.

I then received a cable from Dr. Bennett saying to come over at once or I would probably lose the appointment. The New Zealand boat was to leave the next day, so hurriedly I obtained leave from the committee of the District Nursing Society, Sydney, of which I was sister-in-charge, found a substitute in Sister Garden, an old Prince Alfred friend, and started off in the Moeraki.

I quite enjoyed the short voyage, and arrived on the 24th October, 1906, and was met by Dr. Agnes Bennett, Dr. Bennett took me to her home, and next morning I went to the Hospital Department to interview the authorities. Naturally I felt rather diffident, but the kindly manner in which I was received by Mrs. Neill reassured me greatly, then came the interview with Dr. Macgregor and his assistant, Dr. Hay. After that I was taken by Mrs. Neill to see the Minister-in-Charge of Hospitals, Mr. (now Sir) George Fowlds. We went to his office in Parliament page 19 Buildings; he asked me many questions, among them whether I had any relatives in New Zealand. The only one I knew of was Mr. Douglas Maclean, the son of Sir Donald Maclean, a second cousin of my father's, who had once visited us in Sydney.

As theirs was a well-known family, Sir Donald having been a Minister of the Crown, no doubt my family credentials stood me in good stead. Cabinet was sitting prior to the departure of the Prime Minister, Mr. Joseph Ward (afterwards Sir Joseph), for England, so Mr. Fowlds dismissed me to wait while the appointment, at that time made in Cabinet, was discussed.

Mrs. Neill took me to the Museum, and left me contemplating the tuatara lizards, with instructions to come back to the office in an hour's time. To this day I can see those reptiles which scarcely appeared alive, they were so immobile. At last I perceived the slightest motion of breathing. The hour seemed long, I found my way back to the office and there was my appointment signed with great formality and style.

I felt somewhat overwhelmed at what I had undertaken, as I always have felt when taking up some new enterprise, but I managed to conceal my trepidation; after all I thought, it is no use deciding you cannot do a thing, but best to try, and you will probably make a success of it.

The personality of the woman I was to succeed was such as to inspire one with the desire to make good as she had done, and to carry on the work she had commenced as she would have wished it carried on.

The good foundation was there on which I was to build.