Mary Ethel Hunter

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Prohibitionist, nurse, lay preacher and matron.

Mary Ethel Hunter was born on November 21st 1884 at Auckland, the seventh child of Richard Hemming Hughes and his wife Hannah (nee Graham).

Hunter May Hughes with her doll and family

Mary (May) Hughes with her doll and family - 5 Bourne St Mt Eden Auckland. Back Row : Arthur, Herbert, Richard Jnr, John. Middle Row : Hannah, Richard Hemming Hughes, Agnes. Front Row : Charles, Mary ( May ), Wilfred

Hunter Mt Eden 1910

Mount Eden Methodist Church Sunday School 1910. Image supplied by Margot Haley

Mary or "May" as she was known, studied art at the Elam School of Art for a time, and taught music, and Sunday School at the Mount Eden Methodist Sunday School. On the death of her mother Hannah in November 1914 (when the Great War had just begun) she went over to New South Wales Australia. With a family background inherited from her Graham grandparents, and Hughes parents, Mary was very much involved not only in Church activities, Women's Suffrage, but especially in the Prohibition Movement, very energetically campaigning at that time to have Six O'clock Closing of hotels introduced.

Mary May Hughes

Mary May Hughes 1916. Image supplied by Margot Haley

In July 1915, in Sydney N.S.W., Mary Hughes was appointed the City and Suburban  Organiser for the Alliance, which involved the hiring of halls, arranging speakers conducting meetings, and the distribution of publicity pamphlets and posters to shops and premises, urging Six O'clock Closing. She travelled extensively in the states of New South Wales and Queensland and her diary records that on August 16th, 1915 the Alliance had obtained over 144,000 signatures (2.5 miles long!) on their petition for Six O'clock Closing.

Taking her bicycle with her wherever she travelled, Mary Hughes gave open-air addresses, held meetings in many Church and Public Halls. She was the guest speaker at many denominations of churches, Baptist, Congregational, Salvation Army, Anglican and Methodist. She also gave talks in schools and Sunday Schools to her young listeners on the evils of alcohol. Arriving in a town or city, where a hall would have been hired by a committee in advance, she would organise a spectacular concert with children and young people dressed as the Nations of the World, with costumes carried in a large trunk which travelled with her. The next day Mary would move on to another venue, and there organise another group to a well-supported and appreciative audience.

Hunter Mary May Hughes July 16th 1917 Nursing Brisbane Qld Australia at time of great flu epidemic

Mary Hughes 16 July 1917. Nursing in Brisbane at the time of the flu epidemic

At the outbreak, in 1915, of the deadly Spanish Influenza epidemic, she volunteered her services and helped in the nursing of the thousands of victims. In October 1917 New Zealanders voted for Six O'clock Closing of Hotels and, in October 1918 at a Women's Christian Temperance meeting, Lady Stout, the wife of the Premier Sir Robert Stout was their guest speaker. Sir Robert was also sympathetic to Women's Suffrage and the W.C.T.U. Movement in Wellington.

Back in her home territory of Mt. Eden Auckland, Mary Hughes was in charge of six booths for taking signatures in a petition and, on October 25th 1919 her diary records that she went with a Deputation to present their petition to Mr Massey, and Sir Joseph Ward, and these two gentlemen showed the ladies around Parliament Buildings, and received them very politely.

Arthur Hunter

Sergeant Arthur Hunter 24 182 in World War One

It was while in Wellington as an organiser for the N.Z. Alliance that Mary met a co-worker, Mr. Arthur Hunter. He was a recently returned soldier who had been overseas serving in Egypt and France in the 1914-18 war.1 They became engaged and were married at the Mt. Eden Methodist Church Auckland on February 11th, 1920. Mr and Mrs Hunter decided to settle in Nelson where Arthur Hunter had bought a small farm at Richmond, Nelson. Their first child, a daughter was stillborn (1921) and they had a son Lloyd in June 1923, and a second daughter Amber in May 1925.

Mt Eden Methodist Wedding 1920

Mt Eden Methodist Wedding 1920. left to right: Nessie Hughes, Esme Hughes, Richard Hemming Hughes, Olive Bishop,Andrew Ernest Graham, May Hughes and Arthur Hunter.

An advertisement appeared in the Nelson Evening Mail seeking a Master and Matron for the Hospital Board's Alexandra Home for the aged and infirm. Arthur and Mary Hunter were chosen over thirty other applicants and took up their new position in July 1927. Both tireless workers they immediately set about making the Institution a 'Home' rather than an institution,2 and did all they could for the comfort of the old people. As Matron at the Home Mary Hunter played the organ for the Church Services held on Sunday mornings by the different denominations of churches. She also became a Lay Preacher in the Richmond Methodist Church and took services at Stoke, Hope, and Brightwater churches. If the appointed minister did not arrive, or was held up, Mary would take over the service after rushing home for her notes. Her lay preaching was mostly in the 1936's until the early 1940's.

Hunter Amber and Lloyd 1934

Amber and Lloyd Hunter 1934. Image supplied by Margot Haley

Mary Ethel Hunter retired as Matron of Alexandra Home and bought a residence in Nelson, and joined St. John's Methodist Church. With her experience with the elderly at the Alexandra Home, many of the Nelson doctors requested that, she take some of their frail patients, and this she did for quite a few years.

Arthur Hunter predeceased his wife on January 20th 1953, and with failing health Mary died on April 29th 1961 aged 77 years. She is buried at Richmond cemetery.

Written by Amber Elsie Haley, daughter of Mary Hunter (Elsie after Elsie Reid the Auckland Methodist Leader). Story submitted by Amber’s daughter, Margot Haley.

Additional notes from Amber Haley and Margot Haley
  • Mary Hunter looked after a near neighbour at the bottom of Princes Drive, Queenie Richardson, when Mary was living at 1 Maori Road. Queenie was the sister of Effie Richardson. 1 Maori Road overlooked the sea at that time.
  • In 1930 the Hunters purchased a couple of sections at Lake Rotoiti and built a holiday house. Days spent at the lake, and the journey to and from St Arnaud, form Amber Haley’s happiest childhood memories. She recalled these in an article written for the Nelson Historical Society Journal.3   In the article she also talks about a French harmonium, which had belonged to Mary and Arthur Hunter, and was moved to the Rotoiti house (“All Quiet”). This harmonium is now in the Nelson Provincial Museum.
    Hunter Amber family rotoiti3

    Amber Hunter and daughters Annette and Diane at Lake Rotoiti. Photo taken by Maurice Haley, Amber's husband.

  • Richard Hemming Hughes - married Hannah Graham, her brother Andrew Graham was Charles Blomfield4 the artists friend and Andrew Graham married Charles Blomfield's sister Ellen Blomfield.  John and Agnes Graham were buried at St Marks Remeura.
    Mary ( May ) and Arthur Hunter got a Blomfield painting as one of their wedding present. The newspaper clipping reads:

    Hunter-Hughes On Feb 11th 1920 at Mt Eden Methodist Church by the Rev J.J. Mather, Arthur Hunter 3rd son of Mrs and the late Arthur Hunter Church Bay Lyttelton to May Hemming Hughes younger daughter of Mr and the late Mrs Richard Hemming Hughes of 5 Bourne St, Mt Eden, Auckland.

Written by Amber Elsie Haley, daughter of Mary Hunter (Elsie after Elsie Reid the Methodist Leader). Story submitted by Amber’s daughter, Margot Haley.

Sources used in this story

  1. May married Arthur Hunter after he returned from Passchendaele, Sergeant 24 182 in the 2nd Rifle Brigade who was the carpenter of Bishopdale House. He is buried at Lyttleton RSA.
  2. Haley, Amber (1998) Alexandra Home: The Early Years Remembered. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 6(2)
    http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-NHSJ06_02-t1-body1-d2.html
  3. Haley, A. (1993) Lake Rotoiti holidays. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies 2(5)
    http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-NHSJ05_05-t1-body1-d1.html
  4. McClure. M. (1987) The story of Birkenhead, [Auckland, N.Z.] : Birkenhead City Council. p.53
    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/35287486

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