Volume 4

Thames Hospital Matrons

Althea Barker


Thames Hospital was officially opened 2 November 1868. This followed a public meeting on 14 March that year; where it was agreed there was urgent need for a hospital. The land was donated by Te Hoterini and Wirope Taipari; with extra land purchased at a later date. (The Taipari family gifted approx one acre for the Anglican Church, Hospital & High School).

Early photos of Thames Hospital

Above: On the left c1868 (cottage in fenced area, centre of photo) and on the right is Thames Hospital 1873 (1)

During the first years of Thames Hospital, patient care was delivered by male assistants/wardsmen who worked twelve hour shifts, seven days a week, along with a Dispenser. This continued until November 1882 when a request was made for a reduction in hours, which was eventually approved. Over this period female nurses were employed at times depending on hospital needs. An advertisement 20/2/1875 in the Evening Star advertised for a nurse in the Female Ward. This was not always viewed favourably especially by members of the public; even as late as 10/3/1887 a letter to the editor in the Evening Star noted debate over a readers comment on the 'impropriety of employing female nurses.' The evolution of nursing at Thames Hospital and the valued nursing training school that developed will be discussed in a later article; for now the Matrons of Thames Hospital will be discussed.


Mrs Roberts was the first documented Matron at Thames Hospital 1886-1889, during the years when the role of nurses was very much evolving. There is little information within the newspaper about Mrs Roberts, with the exception of an important mention on her resignation. The Hospital Trustees 'recommended that she [Mrs Roberts] be accorded a cordial vote of thanks and a suitable testimonial presented to her for the manner in which she carried out her duties since she had been connected with the Hospital.' Dr Williams (Surgeon) made recommendations regarding the role of Matron that would result in dramatic changes to nursing at Thames Hospital.

Dr Williams stated: 'I have the honor to report upon the appointment of a successor to Mrs Roberts, whose resignation is in the hands of the Secretary. I am of the opinion that the matron should have more authority granted to her than is allowed at present, and that she should exercise a general supervision over the whole Hospital in its various departments, nursing, cooking, washing, &c.; I am also of opinion that to secure such a person, the salary paid at present should be raised at least 20 pounds per annum.'

MATRON SHEEDY: 1889-1890

Miss M E Sheedy (spelt SHEEPY in many later history books) was Matron of Thames Hospital 1889-1890. The report of her arrival in Thames 20/5/1889 states:

'Miss Sheedy, the newly appointed Matron at the Hospital, arrived by the s.s. Rotomahana on Saturday evening, and assumed charge of her duties yesterday morning. On leaving Auckland Hospital, where she had been dispenser, she was presented by the staff of the institution with a very handsome album as a mark of the esteem in which she was held by them.'

Miss Sheedy's yearly salary was £70. The Matron's resignation was discussed by the Thames Hospital Trustees on 1 September 1890; where Miss Stewart's appointment as the new Matron was approved. Matron Sheedy agreed to stay on until Miss Stewart arrived. On the 1893 and 1896 Electoral Rolls for Westland there is a Margaret Sheedy, Matron at Kumara; along with a few other mentions. Miss Sheedy moved to Australia, where she was Matron at Stawell Hospital and Benevolent Asylum. On 16th March 1897, Miss Sheedy died following a bicycle accident.

Margaret Sheedy was aged 35 years and was a native of County Cork, Ireland. The notice in the Thames Star Newspaper 30 March 1897 reported:

'The many friends of Miss Sheedy, who was matron of Thames Hospital a few years ago, will regret to hear of her death...Miss Sheedy was also known at Wellington and Auckland, having served in the hospitals of those cities with credit to herself and to the profession to which she belonged.'


Miss Matilda Stewart was number three on the nursing register. 'Matron of the Thames Hospital was born at Port Stewart in the North of Ireland. She came to Auckland in 1880, and served for five years and a half at the Auckland Hospital, where she gained her certificate as a nurse. Miss Stewart was appointed to her present position at the Thames Hospital in September 1890.'

Having spent twenty years as matron of Thames Hospital, it was with deep regret in 1910 that staff and the public of Thames bid her farewell. A report stated: 'At the Thames Hospital yesterday afternoon Miss Stewart, who is retiring from the service of the Board after having been Matron of the Thames Hospital for twenty years, was presented with a handsome illuminated address, and a handbag containing 200 sovereigns, which had been subscribed in the most hearty and spontaneous manner by the general public, who hold Miss Stewart in the highest esteem.' Also noted was, 'It is a source of gratification to Miss Stewart that one of her own nurses has been appointed to carry on her work.' [Miss Wilson]

Miss Matilda Jane Stewart died in 1934 aged 83 years of age and is buried at Purewa Cemetery, Auckland. (BA R16 Plot 046)

Miss Matilda Stewart

MATRON WILSON: 1910-1919

Miss Wilson trained at Thames Hospital gaining her state registration in 1904, continuing as a Nursing Sister until 1910 when she was appointed Matron of Thames Hospital, a position held until 1919.

Miss Margaret Primrose Rennie Wilson was born in 1867, the daughter of Margaret and John Wilson and died 18 April 1940 aged 72 years of age. Cremation records are at Waikumete Cemetery, Auckland and later ashes appear to be interred at Tararu Cemetery with her parents. (Plot 0722). The added inscription reads 'also Margaret Primrose Rennie Wilson eldest daughter born Waiuku 6 July 1867 died Auckland 18 April 1948 [1940] aged 73.'

An obituary in the nursing journal reads: 'The death has occurred in Auckland of Miss Margaret Primrose Rennie Wilson, aged 73 years. Born at Waiuku, Miss Wilson was for 13 years at the Thames Hospital, for ten years of which she was Matron. She subsequently acquired the hospital at Huia and was there for twelve years. For the past ten years she had lived in retirement in Auckland. A younger sister, Mrs Christina Broadbent, died at Carterton the day after Miss Wilson's death.'

Miss Margaret Wilson

MATRON HAWKINS: 1919 - 1920

Miss Clara Elizabeth Hawkins was a graduate of Thames Hospital (1914) who went onto complete four years of nursing service in World War, becoming Matron at Thames following Miss Wilson's resignation. 'Miss Wilson, Matron of the Thames Hospital, has resigned, and Sister C. Hawkins, a trainee of the Hospital, who recently returned to the Dominion after nearly four years' service with the Expeditionary Force, has been appointed Matron.' Miss Hawkins was Matron at Thames Hospital 1919-1920, leaving to work at a private hospital in Hamilton.

Born 1889, Clara was the daughter of Fanny and Henry Hawkins. Miss Hawkins died 18 December 1975 and was cremated at Purewa Crematorium Auckland, last residence given as Selwyn Village in Auckland; then interred at Karori Cemetery, Wellington. The monumental inscription reads: '22/124 Sister Clara E Hawkins, Army NS, 1 NZEF d 18 December 1975.'

Miss Clara Hawkins

MATRON POLDEN: 1920 - 1923

Miss Sarah Emily Polden completed her nursing training in England at St Bartholomews Hospital (1897) and worked there till 1899. Further experience was gained as Matron of Royal United Hospital, Bath (1900-1910); then coming to New Zealand and gaining registration here in November 1910. New Zealand experience included; Matron Infectious Diseases Hospital at Wellington (1910-1915); Matron Cambridge Sanatorium (1915-1916) ; followed by a period of military service. Miss Polden was Matron of Thames Hospital 1920-1923, leaving under very sad and controversial circumstances.

A detailed account of the farewell held in Thames for Matron Polden is in the Thames Star 30 November 1923 and Nursing Journals of the time. 'In his opening remarks the Mayor expressed his great pleasure at such a large and representative gathering to do honour to Miss Polden on the eve of her departure. He regretted that circumstances had arisen that made Miss Polden's departure possible, but the large audience at the previous public meeting, and the one that evening, clearly showed Miss Polden that she had a very large circle of friends in the Thames hospital district, who held her in the very highest esteem. He dealt with the efforts made to try and keep Miss Polden at Thames, and regretted that the Hospital Board could not see their way to accede to the request of the deputation which waited upon the Board on Miss Polden's behalf.' The unrest continued as was then noted. 'Subsequent to the departure of Miss Polden, the matron, from Thames Hospital, we hear there is much unrest among the nursing staff, and eleven nurses and, sisters have resigned. Several of these, who were willing to remain on duty until their places were filled, were informed that they could leave at once. This short sighted policy on the part of the authorities must, we fear, result in inadequate care for the patients. We understand the Thames public will demand an inquiry.'

The problem arose when the Thames Hospital Board added a maternity annexe, 'a matron with a maternity certificate was required.' Despite pleas to the Department of Health and Thames Hospital board; the decision was not overturned. This decision raised concerns amongst the matrons of many New Zealand hospitals, who were now in a similar situation. Miss Polden died in 1938 aged 76 years of age and is buried at Bombay, Auckland at the Anglican Cemetery. The monumental inscription reads: 'In Loving Memory Of Sarah Emily Polden died 21st Nov 1938.'

MATRON SMITH: 1923-1924

To-date only the name Miss Smith has appeared in Thames historical books as Matron of Thames Hospital 1923-1924. It would appear that Miss Smith was a short-term appointment following the shock dismissal of Matron Polden (which is detailed above). The New Zealand Gazette 1924 has the following information for Miss Margaret Smith: Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle-on-Tyne, England (Certificate 1913); Midwifery Certificate at City of London Lying in Hospital, London; New Zealand registration November 1922; Thames Hospital Matron 1923.


Details of Miss Ansenne's nursing service have been provided from the notes of a family friend and are as follows. Miss Ansenne's training was completed at Waikato Hospital (1919), Hamilton; where her uncle Hugh Douglas was the Superintendant. This was followed by Midwifery training (1921) at Wellington and Plunket training at Dunedin. Time was spent in a private surgical practise around the Waikato before coming to Thames in charge of the Maternity Annexe (1924). Miss Ansenne was Matron of Thames Hospital from 1924 to 1943. After leaving Thames Miss Ansenne was an Industrial Nurse at the Reid Rubber Factory in Auckland and also worked at Cornwall Hospital in Auckland.

Miss Ansenne had a house at Ngarimu Bay and 'was active in affairs in the town and the Beautifying Society and planting trees in the streets. She was later on Water Board and Domain Board at Ngarimu Bay.' One of her favourite pastimes was walking in the bush.

Miss Kathleen Minna Ansenne was the daughter of James and Frances Ansenne born 1886 at Whitianga and died 30 January 1966 aged 80 at Thames Hospital. Miss Ansenne was cremated and ashes scattered at the families plot at Tararu (Plot 158B). A memorial to Miss Ansenne was erected in the centre courtyard, between the old Thames Hospital blocks.

Miss Kathleen Minna Ansenne
Matron of Thames Hospital.

Garden Memorial to the memory of the late Miss Minna Ansenne
The yoke shape represents the shape of nursing (1)


Miss Lettice Corsbie was Matron at Thames Hospital from 1943-1945. Miss Corsbie trained at Christchurch Hospital, registering in June 1931. Further qualifications included training as a Maternity Nurse and in 1937 a Post-graduate Diploma in Nursing and Hospital Administration. From 1940 -1943 Miss Corsbie was Matron of Raetihi Hospital. When Miss Corsbie left Thames it was to become Matron of Wanganui Hospital.

Miss Lettice Marion Corsbie of Northland was awarded the Queen's Service Medal (QSM) 1979. Miss Corsbie was born in 1908, the daughter of Marion and Lewis Corsbie; she died 13 March 2000 aged 92 years of age and was cremated at Rotorua.

Miss Lettice Corsbie

MATRON HILL: 1944-1956

Wilhelmina Mavis Lottie Hill started her training at Auckland Hospital in November 1924 and following the completion of her training stayed on for some time before completing some private nursing. Miss Hill completed her maternity and plunket training at Kawakawa (1933); followed by midwifery registration at St Helen's Hospital in Auckland. Further nursing service was completed at: Matamata Maternity Hospital (1934-1936); Rotorua, Greymouth and she was Matron of Taumarunui Hospital (1939-1944). In June 1944 Miss Hill took up the appointment of Matron at Thames hospital, where she stayed until March 1956.

Miss Hill was without doubt a favourite amongst staff and patients, who personally did things such as making christmas cakes for all hospital wards and departments, plus helped with cooking for the Nurses' Ball. This was recognised by the Thames Hospital Board when Matron Hill tendered her resignation, 'The chairman, Mr W C Kennedy, and board members voiced sincere appreciation of Miss Hill's work, her personality, her unfailing human sympathy for the patients with whom she had to deal, and her understanding and leadership in handling the staff under her authority.' Miss Hill had completed twelve years in the position of Matron at Thames Hospital.

Miss Hill was born 1905 the daughter of Charlotte and Sidney Hill. Died 1994 and is buried at Buffalo Cemetery, Coromandel. (Plot Publ 3-1502, no headstone)

Miss Wilhelmina Hill


Miss Josephine Corbett began her training at Thames Hospital in 1938 and registered in 1941, then completed her maternity and plunket training; staying at Thames Hospital until 1946. Nursing experience was then gained at Wakefield Private hospital (1946); Public Health Nurse Auckland (1947-1948); Middlemore Hospital (1949); Sister-in Charge at Waihi Maternity Annexe (1950-1952); Assistant Matron Thames Hospital (1952-1956). In March 1956 Miss Corbett was appointed Matron of Thames Hospital and remained there until her retirement in October 1978.

On her retirement Miss Corbett (now referred to as Supervising Principal Nurse) had the following to say about her years at Thames Hospital. 'Very happy years because of the co-operation and consideration given by all departments in the hospital service. There is an atmosphere of complete harmony, from chairman and board members to doctors, nurses, specialist staff, orderlies and household staff. This, plus good rapport between staff and patients, is an important part of healing the sick.'

In 1979 Queen's Birthday Honours List, Miss Corbett's 41 years of nursing service which included 22 years as Supervising Principal Nurse (Matron) of Thames Hospital Board was recognised with the award of Queen's Service Medal for public services. Miss Corbett was a popular and respected Matron with all her staff and patients; remembered for her daily ward rounds where she visited every patient.

Miss Corbett died 9 June 1993 at Thames Hospital, the daughter of the late John and Johanna Corbett. The family home was at Hikutaia and Miss Corbett is buried in the family plot at nearby Omahu Cemetery. (Plot 0418). The monumental inscription reads 'In loving memory of Josephine Matron Thames Hospital 1957-1978. Died 9th June 1993 aged 76 years.'

Miss Josephine Corbett


Mrs Roberts 1886-1889
Miss Sheedy 1889--1890
Miss M Stewart 1890-1910 (NZ Nursing Registration No 3)
Miss M Wilson 1910--1919(NZ Nursing Registration No 421)
Miss C E Hawkins 1919--1920(NZ Nursing Registration No 1464)
Miss S E Polden 1920--1923(NZ Nursing Registration No 943)
Miss Smith 1923-1924 (NZ Nursing Registration No not known)
Miss K M Ansenne 1924--1943(NZ Nursing Registration No 2410)
Miss Corsbie 1943--1944(NZ Nursing Registration No 7039)
Miss W Hill 1944--1956(NZ Nursing Registration No 4883)
Miss J Corbett 1956--1978(NZ Nursing Registration No not known)

(The Nurses Registration Act was passed 12 September 1901 and came into effect a January 1902 -New Zealand thereby becoming the first country in the world to have national registration)


In the late 1970s the title of Matron was replaced to that of Chief Nurse/Supervising Principal Nurse; as restructuring occurred at Thames Hospital and within nursing nationally. When looking at the Matrons of Thames Hospital it soon becomes apparent these women gave 100% to their role and in many cases devoted themselves to the service of others and in particular Thames Hospital.

Perhaps the mystique and power of the hospital matron may be hard to comprehend by some readers, but will be understood by those who undertook nursing training or worked within the hospital. In this era, etiquette and protocols existed that gave immense respect and power to the Matron. Long gone is this memorable era in nursing and the image of the Thames Hospital Matron - who calmly walked the wards, dressed impeccably in her white starched uniform and flowing veil.

References and Acknowledgments

Notes on Thames Hospital by Douglas Campbell (copy held at The Treasury)
The Evening Star Newspaper, 2 April 1889
The Evening Star Newspaper, 20 May 1889 page 2
The Evening Star Newspaper, 7 May 1889 page 2
The Evening Star Newspaper, 2 September 1890
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Auckland Volume 2, Published 1902
New Zealand Nursing Journal January 1911, Vol IV No 1
New Zealand Nursing Journal June 1940, Vol 33 No 66
New Zealand Nursing Journal April 1919, Vol XII Vol 2
NZSG Index 5 CD, by New Zealand Society of Genealogists
New Zealand Nurses Register CD (NZ Gazettes) from Colonial Books
New Zealand Nursing Journal Jan 1924, Vol XVII No 1
The New Zealand Gazette, Thursday 31 January 1924
Donated notes on Miss Ansenne, source unknown
Thames Star Newspaper, 1/2/1966
Evening Post Newspaper, 3/1/1944 page 6
The London Gazette 30/12/1978 page 41
New Zealand Nursing Journal June 1956 Vol 49 No 3
Oral History Recording: June Cosgrove. The Treasury
Thames Star Newspaper, Dec 15 1955 pg 4
New Zealand Nursing Journal June 1956, Vol 49 No 3
New Zealand Nursing Journal December 1978, Vol 71 No 12
New Zealand Nursing Journal Oct 1979, Vol 72 No 10
New Zealand Herald Newspaper, 11 June 1993

Photograph Sources:
(1) Thames Hospital A Pictorial History CD, Waikato Area Health Board
(2) Cyclopedia of New Zealand Volume 2 Auckland
(3) RNZAMC History Centre (also special thanks to Sherayl McNabb)


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