Headstones and hidden histories

Headstone, Nurse Isabella Maude Manning (1870-1918). O’Neills Point Cemetery, Bayswater, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2020

Anabel at The Glasgow Gallivanter often writes about the women who have helped shaped history in her part of the world; sometimes telling their stories through the physical memorials that exist to them.

A couple of years ago, Anabel’s post Hidden Histories inspired me to search Auckland for public art that commemorates women (Suffrage and service, celebrating women in Auckland’s public art). More recently, her visits to the Glasgow Necropolis and Cathcart Cemetery reminded me how much I enjoy wandering around cemeteries reading the headstones – and how easily I fall down the rabbit hole of researching the lives those inscriptions only hint at.

Which brings me to Isabella Maude Manning (1870-1918).

I first read about Maude (the name she seems to have gone by) Manning about a year ago, on an information board at O’Neill’s Point Cemetery in Bayswater, Auckland. The board commemorates twenty one victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic who died in the Fort Takapuna army camp nearby at Narrow Neck.

Twenty are buried at O’Neill’s Point; nineteen soldiers and Nurse Manning.

It was easy to find the soldiers’ graves, as almost all are official Commonwealth War Graves, with well-tended and easily identifiable headstones. But despite quite a lot of trudging up and down (it’s a hilly cemetery), I couldn’t find Maude Manning.

Some of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones, for servicemen who died in the influenza epidemic. O’Neills Point Cemetery, Bayswater, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2020

Fortunately, the Auckland Council website has an online register of burials.

Unfortunately, while I found the plot reference, I couldn’t find a map to tell me where that particular plot was located, and the graves themselves had no numbers attached.

Eventually I found it by searching the names on headstones I could see, and using their plot numbers as a guide.

It seemed from her rather neglected — and definitely not CWGC — headstone, that Nurse Manning wasn’t, as I’d assumed, a military nurse.

That piqued my interest, and sent me off researching her life.

Although I found Nurse Manning’s name on the “Roll of Honour” of New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS) members who died in the 1918 pandemic, an article I found about her life makes it clear that she had spent her career as an Anglican Mission nurse, working specifically with Maori communities.

Her history

Maude Manning was born in Christchurch in 1870; the fifth of 10 children born to Samuel Manning and Ellen Piper (m. Christchurch 1861). 

The Manning family was one of Christchurch’s most affluent. Samuel Manning had arrived in New Zealand as a sixteen year old in 1856. Both he and his father were brewers by trade, and after working in his father’s business for a few years, he established his own brewery. During the course of his life, he held directorships of a number of companies and served as the Mayor of Christchurch between 1885-1890.

It’s not clear exactly when Maude became a nurse. I found a newspaper article from June 1891 which reports that had she sat and passed the St Johns Ambulance First Aid exam, but the first record I can find for her that clearly shows her in a nursing role is in 1909, when she joined the Anglican Mission House in Paeroa, as a nurse/midwife.

This is supported by a memorial article in an Anglican newsletter (October 2018, vol. 8; issue 9) which says that she trained at Christchurch hospital before joining the Mission as a nurse/midwife to local Maori, where she learned Te Reo Maori (the Maori language). The article goes on to say that in 1910 she transferred to another mission house at Kaitaia in the Far North, again working with Maori communities. The following year, during an outbreak of typhoid in nearby Ahipara, she volunteered to nurse fever patients, until she too contracted typhoid and was eventually sent home to Christchurch to recuperate.

By 1914, the electoral shows that she had returned to the Mission House in Paeroa, where she continued to nurse until the 1918 when she volunteered to move to Auckland and nurse influenza patients.

This decision was in response to a nationwide call by the government for nurses to care for the many returned servicemen who had contracted influenza. Military camps in New Zealand (and probably worldwide) recorded a very high incidence of influenza infections. This is hardly surprising given the communal living arrangements, and the fact that most of the men living there had very recently returned from war.

Fort Takapuna had been a military base since the late 1880s. In 1915 it began housing a training camp – known as the Narrow Neck camp — specifically for the Maori Contingents of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Nurse Manning’s experience working amongst Maori, and her ability to speak the language, would have made her invaluable.

About the Maori Contingent

The formation of a separate Maori Contingent (which also included Pacific Islanders) in New Zealand’s military was an initiative of Maori leaders at the time, who:

…  hoped that military service would increase both the status of Māori, that Māori service (made more visible by separate units and Māori leadership) would result in their recognition as full and equal citizens of New Zealand, and that they would be treated as such. In short, Māori military service would serve to affirm both the rights of citizenship, reminding both the Crown and Pākehā that Māori were equal citizens as guaranteed under Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi, and to demonstrate that Māori could live up to the duties and the ‘price’ of that citizenship.

Equality and Autonomy:  An Overview of Māori Military Service for the Crown, c.1899-1945 Ross Webb A report commissioned by the Waitangi Tribunal for the Military Veterans Kaupapa Inquiry (Wai 2500)

In October 1918, the camp was home to around 400 servicemen – mostly Maori and Pacific Island – recently returned from Europe. Around 200 had already contracted the disease.

Within three weeks of arriving at Narrow Neck, Maude Manning had also contracted influenza and died.

The Influenza Epidemic

Worldwide, the 1918 pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people. In New Zealand, the number was around 9000, around 2,500 of them Maori.

The actual number may seem very low, but it has to be remembered that we are a small group of islands separated from the rest of the world by vast oceans, and at the time, the country’s total population was barely more than one million. One of the more sobering facts I found was that “half as many New Zealanders lost their lives in little more than two months than during the entire First World War.” NZ History.

Another is that the death rate for Maori in the epidemic was 49 per 1000 people, compared to about 6 per 1000 residents for Europeans. Amongst the military and medical staff the rate was over 20 percent, and included the country’s first woman GP.

Dr Margaret Cruikshank graduated from Otago University School of Medicine in 1897 and spent her career in the South Island town of Waimate. She died 10 days after Maude Manning, on November 28, 1918, aged only 45.


As well as the headstone in O’Neill’s Point, Nurse Manning is commemorated on her family’s headstone in Sydenham Cemetery, Christchurch, in the Nurses’ Memorial Chapel also in Christchurch, and on a plaque dedicated in her honour in St Paul’s Church, Paeroa.

41 thoughts on “Headstones and hidden histories

  1. Do you still follow Maggie Wilson (once a zombie but now a published author !), BB ? She has co-written a book that required the kind of research you’ve been doing; and you both render me almost speechless with jealous rage .. meaning that I should so love to have a topic I really wanted to research and write up .. Sighh ..
    You oughta work on a book about your country’s look and feel and smell and taste and pepper it with your terrific photos. I have SUCH a weakspot for Kiwiland ..

    Liked by 3 people

    • I haven’t seen any of Maggie’s posts for ages. I suspect WP disconnected us (as it seems to have done with several bloggers). Thanks for the nudge; I’ve been back to her site.

      Thank you for your faith in my abilities. I wish I did have A topic I really wanted to research (especially if it involved a particular archive here which awards an annual research grant), but I am an intellectual butterfly and think I’ve recognised that article-sized pieces are my thing. Not making excuses — I think I should get off my butt and do SOMETHING!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating post, Su, about both Nurse Manning and Maori history. I’m glad she has multiple memorials, but frustrated that she wasn’t easier to find. If they can write about her on an info board, why not tell people exactly where she is buried? Thanks for the mention, and I’m glad to have had a part in inspiring you. I remember a discussion on one of my posts where you said you had partially written posts requiring more research, and I said my approach was a “just enough” one, ie find enough to make an interesting story and move on. This certainly shows the difference in your approach which definitely pays off (though I suspect I’m too lazy for it)!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I love cemeteries. My dad passed when I was only five, but since he was a serviceman, he was buried with honors at one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world (The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, or Punchbowl as we call it). So I grew up regularly visiting them and find them remarkable ~

    They aren’t common here in Thailand as most bodies are cremated, but I remember seeking out an old missionary one when I lived in Chiang Mai. Talk about overgrown! I wonder if most folks know it even exists.

    I’m glad you followed your intuition and tenacity and were able to give us Maude’s story. Makes me think you should write a historical fiction! I’m already hooked that she came from a well to do family but decided to do something ‘beneath her station’ and help others. And no, those are not low numbers, twas not thinking that at all. Who will you research next? 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you so much Lani. I have visited several military cemeteries and am always so impressed by how beautiful and peaceful they are.

      I was fascinated with Maude’s family background too (and did quite a lot of research that didn’t make it into the post). She was already in her late thirties when she became a Mission nurse, and I’d love to know what she did before then.

      I have a few graves I’m keen to visit for “the next instalment” — a couple of missionary women, the first European child born in NZ, and an exotic dancer who led a really interesting life.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. What a fascinating post. And such a shame that her headstone is not as well looked after or more easily found. It’s a shocking statistic that the flu epidemic after WWI killed more people than died in that horrendous war. Let’s hope this current pandemic doesn’t follow that pattern, though we are on course to reach 100,000 deaths before the end of the month.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I was suprised by the death rate in that epidemic too. I guess, coming at the end of a war, it was a perfect storm in terms of people’s general health and the unprecedented amount of travel that was happening as service people were demobbed and sent home.

      I’m quite anxious about the UK’ my mum has regular hospital visits at the moment, and my brother’s not able to help her for various reasons. I think I’ve begun to really understand the helplessness of enforced separation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. I think we have become used to the idea that it is ‘easy’ to nip around the world at a moment’s notice. This kind of reminds me of when I lived in South Africa and it was far too expensive to return ‘home’ and our only communication was via blue airmail letters which took a good 3 – 4 weeks to get a reply, even phone calls were rare due to the cost. I wonder how many people will return to their country of origin after this.

        Liked by 1 person

        • What you’re describing was exactly how I remember the years after we emigrated to NZ. I have some of the airmails Mum got from various relatives, and the telegram my gran sent when grandad died 🙁


  5. This is a very interesting, well-researched and relevant article on the ravishes of the influenza pandemic of 1918. It is my hope that your post will contribute to a greater awareness of Maude Manning’s life. Perhaps it will also lead the authorities to restore her much-neglected gravesite.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I’m fascinated that you were moved to research so thoroughly the life of someone with whom you have no family connection. It feels as if this post deserves a wider audience than your usual one. Those of us who like your ideas, your photos, and are interested in your thoughts aren’t necessarily the only audience. Don’t let this post finish its life here!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much Margaret.

      I have to admit that I basically love doing research and get incredibly curious about things I see. Luckily, NZ historical records are very good and easily available.

      Thank you for your suggestion; I’ll check out other places for publishing/sharing the story. Though I must admit, I’ve found that posts like this seem to be found by people that are interested in the subject. The comments section of one I wrote about Gayhurst House in Bucks (where we lived when the boy-child was a baby) seems to have become the de facto Old Boys reunion page for the school that was once located at the House.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Lois. I have to admit I get a bit obsessive about research — one rabbit hole leads to another! I’m really fortunate that records in NZ — especially newspaper archives — are extensive and generally available online.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Fascinating post, Su! And I’m with Lani: you should write historical fiction!!
    I love cemeteries too, they’re like little calm and quiet islands in a busy city.
    Maude must have lived and extraordinary life and I love that she learned Maori. It’s good to know she’s commemorated. The pandemic in 1918 was horrible – so many deaths. It’s almost a wonder that it took over a hundred years to have this happen again. Sadly not a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Su—right up my alley! Where did Samuel come from when he came to New Zealand? And some things don’t change. As with the Maori in 1918, here in the US it is black and Latinx poor people who are dying at a much higher proportion than white people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Amy: I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Samuel was born in 1841, in Suffolk, England. He emigrated to NZ with his father (and possibly other family members — it’s not clear from the records) in 1856, which made them very early European settlers. His father was a brewer, and he served an apprenticeship with him before setting up on his own. When his first wife (Maude’s mother) died, Samuel married the widow of another brewer. Hopefully a love match — but also a canny business move.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: The Changing Seasons, February 2021 | Zimmerbitch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s