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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XXI. — The Home of Compassion

page 103

Chapter XXI.
The Home of Compassion.

Among the many charitable institutions I used to visit, one which stands out is the Home of Compassion. It is the outcome of the charity of a very remarkable woman, the Reverend Mother Mary Aubert, called by some the “Grand Old Woman of Wellington.” The daughter of an arisocratic French family, wealthy and an accomplished musician, she was early imbued with the missionary spirit, and meeting with some missionary priests from New Zealand, she was fired with the desire to come and work among the Maoris. Prior to that, she had joined a nursing sisterhood and was on the field at Sebastapol during the Crimean War, when our own Florence Nightingale was engaged in her great work. The French girl was very young at this time. Coming to New Zealand she established a mission for the Maoris on the Wanganui River and later on extended her work to Wellington, where she was one of the first to realise the need for homes for chronic and aged poor. She had a home in Buckle Street, and then went to Island Bay, where she built a large home, calling it the Home of Compassion, where women suffering from incurable disease were taken; children, deformed and deficient in many ways, and the little unwanteds were here given a refuge and loving care from the sisters, whom she gradually established round her.

She spent practically all her private fortune, and when that was gone relied on voluntary contributions. Sometimes page 104 funds were at a low ebb, but she never despaired; she and her band of helpers lived most penuriously, and to help feed her large family they daily collected the remains from the various restaurants and hotels in the city. Dear to Mother Mary's heart was the desire to have a proper hospital and to have her nursing sisters trained and registered as nurses. In this she often called upon me for help and advice; but there were many difficulties in the way, and it was not till after her death that the Nurses' and Midwives' Board decided to recognise the Home of Compassion as a training school for nurses. By that time hospital wards had been erected and an operating theatre equipped, and the number of beds available for acute cases suitable for training nurses increased to 60 per cent. The medical practitioners in Wellington gave their services freely in attending the patient and in lectures to the sisters. Several trained nurses joined the order, Sisters Webber and Sexton, of the Wellington Hospital, being the first about 20 years ago.

During the latter years of her life the Rev. Mother went to Rome to obtain the sanction of the Pope to the establishing of a new religious order—the Sisters of Compassion. She was unfortunate at first in that two successive Popes whom she interviewed, and whose sanction she secured, died before it was confirmed. She tried yet again, and succeeded in her mission. During that time the great earthquake at Messina occurred, and this old lady helped with the rescue and succour of the victims.

The personality of Mother Mary Aubert was very impressive, and her memory will not die. A little woman, square built, very short, with a face rugged from exposure to all weathers, and with keen, bright eyes, she was very page 105 strong, and thought nothing of walking into town from Island Bay and back.

I remember her first visit to me in my office shortly after my arrival. She was interested in me from my connection with Mr. Douglas Maclean, of Hawke's Bay, whose father, Sir Donald Maclean, had been a great friend and supporter in her schemes for the Maori welfare. In spite of her long residence in New Zealand, she never spoke English very fluently, and I sometimes had difficulty in understanding her. I felt a great regard and respect for this wonderful woman, who had accomplished so much by her own efforts. She died in 1926 at the age of 92.