nursemaudeThe name Nurse Maude is seen by many as the brand associated with district nursing in Christchurch. However, the real Nurse Maude was a very interesting and complex person who devoted her life to the poor and sick of Christchurch and introduced district nursing to New Zealand. This is her story.

The Nurse Maude Story

Early life

Sibylla Emily Maude was born at Hagley Lodge in Christchurch on 11 August 1862, the daughter of Thomas William and Emily Catherine Maude. Thomas Maude was Provincial Secretary and a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council.

At an early age Sibylla developed a strong social conscience and a desire to help those less fortunate than herself.

In 1889 she travelled to England to train as a nurse, paying for her own training so that she could be free to return to New Zealand and practice nursing.

Nurse Maude, as she became known, returned to New Zealand in 1892 and was appointed matron of Christchurch Hospital the following year. There she tried to make changes in the way the hospital was run; in particular she pushed for improvements in the conditions and training of nurses. Unfortunately she was ahead of her time and her ideas were not implemented by the hospital board. Rather than continue to battle with the establishment Sibylla felt the time had come to begin the work she had prepared for over the past seven years. On 27 May 1896, she resigned from her position in Christchurch Hospital and set out on her mission to nurse the most marginalised in society.

New Zealand's first District Nursing service

On 5 November 1896, in the streets of Christchurch, Nurse Maude began what was later to become New Zealand's first district nursing service.

She was supported in this by Lady Heaton Rhodes and Rev Walter Averill, later Archbishop of New Zealand.

Nurse Maude worked from a converted shop in Durham Street, where she could dispense medicines, treat minor injuries and illnesses, and give clothes to the needy. She walked miles every day with her nursing equipment, often lugging pans for cooking, cleaning and washing, because her patients did not own these basic necessities. Eventually she was given a horse and cart and became a common sight bowling through the city with her black collie Gyp running behind.

Nurse Maude with Horse and GypNurse Maude with horse and Gyp

In 1901 the Nurse Maude District Nursing Association was formed. The uniform, which Nurse Maude wore constantly, was light blue, with a white apron, a dark blue cape and a bonnet.

Nurse Maude District Nursing Association

Money was raised to extend the service and employ more nurses. Later bicycles were supplied to the nurses and Nurse Maude was given a Model T Ford. It is said that local police often turned a blind eye to her somewhat dubious driving skills.

Behind Nurse Maude's uncompromising and direct approach was a real compassion and empathy for those most in need of her care. "The most cruel thing you can do", she often said, "is to take away a family's self-respect"

Madras Street

Madras Street

A two-story brick building on Madras Street was gifted to the Nurse Maude Association in 1918 by Sir Heaton and Lady Rhodes and its upstairs flat became Nurse Maude's home until she died. The association was based there until 1973. The building, damaged by the Canterbury earthquake of 2010, was subsequently demolished.

McDougall Avenue

McDougall Avenue

Another donation — the McDougall family homestead known as Fitzroy — became the Nurse Maude Hospital. Later renamed McDougall House, the building was severely damaged in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. The Nurse Maude board made a commitment to repair and restore McDougall House in recognition of the early support of the McDougall family and also to retain a small but important part of Christchurch's diminishing architectural heritage.

Responding in times of crisis

In 1904 Nurse Maude set up a camp at New Brighton for men suffering from tuberculosis, and another camp for women at Burwood in 1905. With a rapidly increasing workload Nurse Maude appealed for the Christchurch Hospital Board to take over the TB camps but it declined. A year later, however, the public called for a sanatorium to be built and in 1910 the camps were closed and the new sanatorium was opened on the Cashmere hills. Once again Nurse Maude had pioneered a change in the provision of health services. Eight years later she would be called on again; this time to coordinate the nursing of influenza victims during the influenza epidemic that began in November of 1918.

Honours and final years

In 1934 Nurse Maude was honoured with the OBE (Order of the British Empire), which she accepted only on condition it was presented to her in a private ceremony. She also reluctantly allowed a marble bust of her to be sculpted on the proviso that it was never publicly displayed in her lifetime.

Today it stands in the foyer of the Nurse Maude Hospital.

The funeral of Nurse MaudeThe funeral of Nurse Maude [14 July 1935]

In 1925 Nurse Maude suffered from a serious illness which forced her to give up direct nursing work. She died 10 years later on 12 July 1935 in Christchurch. People lined the streets of the city for her funeral and she was later remembered in two stained glass windows, one in the chapel in Christchurch Hospital, and another in the chapel of the Community of the Sacred Name.

Nurse Maude's legacy

One woman's mission to challenge, and then change, the status quo saw two initiatives that would forever change the face of nursing in New Zealand.

The first was to take nursing into people's homes, starting what was to become New Zealand's first district nursing service.

The second was her determination to improve and standardise training for nurses that was the driving force behind the establishment of the Nurses Registration Act of 1901.

There have been many changes since the time of Sibylla Maude. The organisation she founded has grown from one woman to around 1,500 staff and volunteers but the values and aspirations which motivated her remain strong and relevant to this day.

At Nurse Maude we remain committed to making life better for those experiencing ill health or the infirmities of old age; we continually develop the expertise of our staff through education and research and our motivation is not profit but the wellbeing of our community. While thoroughly up to date in our methods and practice we are proud of our past and continue to draw inspiration from the woman whose values and actions made such a significant and lasting contribution to our city and province.

Nurse Maude Association Act 2000

The Nurse Maude District Nursing Association was an unincorporated body before it was constituted as an incorporated body under The Nurse Maude District Nursing Association Act 1967. The Association has a constitution with statutory status through an Act of Parliament. To change its constitution it has to go before Parliament.

In 2000, the members of the Association wished:

  • the Association to be renamed as the Nurse Maude Association; and
  • the structure of the Association to be modernised and reorganised

On Wednesday March 1, 2000 the Bill to change the name and structure had its’ first reading in parliament and was introduced to the House by Tim Barnett (NZ Labour - Christchurch Central). The support the Association received was overwhelming and unanimous. Such was the reputation of Nurse Maude that the first reading of the bill was seen as ‘… an opportunity to celebrate the work of such an utterly worthwhile organisation as the Nurse Maude Association. It is the kind of organisation that makes our society a better place to live in’.

The Bill was passed in August 2000.

Click here for a link to the Nurse Maude Association Act 2000 or download the pdf.