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Story: Maude, Sibylla Emily

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Maude, Sibylla Emily


Hospital matron, district nurse, social worker

This biography, written by Beryl Hughes, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

Sibylla Emily Maude, known throughout New Zealand as Nurse Maude, was born at Hagley Lodge, Christchurch, New Zealand, on 11 August 1862. Her parents, Thomas William Maude and his wife, Emily Catherine Brown, were of English origin.

The eldest of eight children, Sibylla grew up in a deeply religious Anglican family. Her father, who was at the time of her birth provincial secretary and a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council, was active in the life of the city. The example set by her father and two of her aunts who were nurses appears to have inspired in her a desire to help other people.

The family went to England in 1876 and Sibylla attended Linden School in Blackheath, London. They returned to New Zealand three years later but Sibylla went back to England in 1889 to train as a nurse. After completing her training as a lady probationer in Middlesex Hospital, London, she was put in charge of a large surgical ward. In 1892 she left for New Zealand, and early in the following year was appointed matron of Christchurch Hospital. Nurse Maude tried to improve conditions there but the reforms she supported were controversial. A commission appointed in 1895 to inquire into the management of Christchurch Hospital cleared her of a charge of mismanagement but afterwards she decided that she wanted to nurse rather than organise. She resigned in 1896 and began the work for which she is best remembered and which was to lead to the establishment of district nursing in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand.

From an early age, Nurse Maude had felt a deep concern for the difficulties faced by people, particularly the old and infirm, who were too poor to pay for nursing care. She was inspired by the work of the sisters of the recently established Deaconess Institution in Christchurch, who, while carrying out parish visiting, provided nursing care for the poor in their homes. She was determined to extend this work herself. The Reverend A. W. Averill, Archdeacon E. A. Scott and Jessie Rhodes helped her financially, and on 5 November 1896 she signed an agreement with them to undertake district nursing in the city. Equally valuable was the moral support which they and the sisters gave her. She established a headquarters for her work in a shop in Durham Street; this served as a dispensary and a place where minor ailments were treated, messages could be left and the needy were fitted out with clothes. In 1901 the District Nursing Association was founded to lend support to the work.

Dressed in a light-blue uniform and white apron with dark-blue cape and bonnet, Nurse Maude walked many miles every day in all weathers, carrying not only nursing equipment but often the pans for cooking, cleaning and washing which many people lacked. She tried to teach her patients the importance of cleanliness and fresh air, and as a woman of prayer she invariably prayed with them. Her short, sturdy figure and large, regular features were known throughout Christchurch. Although her manner was grave and almost forbidding, and she was often outspoken, she was loved for her selfless work for the poor.

In time enough money was raised to employ more nurses and to extend the service. A horse and cart were eventually provided, then she and her nurses were given bicycles (when necessary, she helped the nurses to learn to cycle). Later still, well wishers presented her with a car, which she drove in a manner alarming to other road-users. Carrying bacon sandwiches to sustain them throughout the day, the nurses showed remarkable dedication and energy. Nurse Maude worked hard along with them, usually preferring to do whatever task came to hand, rather than organise others to do it. She always impressed on her nurses that nursing was a vocation, and inspired love and loyalty in them.

Nurse Maude went to London in 1901 to obtain a diploma in obstetrics. Unfortunately, the District Nursing Association believed that it did not have the resources to support a midwifery service, so Nurse Maude could not use this qualification as she had hoped.

Completely practical in outlook, she understood the importance of preventing illness if possible and of treating it in the early stages. She raised money to establish a camp in 1904 at New Brighton for men in the early stages of tuberculosis. The first such sanatorium had been opened near Cambridge in 1902. Although conditions were rough and uncomfortable, the improvement to the patients' health was so great that in 1905 Nurse Maude established a camp for women at Burwood, appealing to the women of Christchurch for money. When a tuberculosis sanatorium was opened in the Cashmere Hills in March 1910, Nurse Maude closed the two camps.

During the influenza epidemic, which began in November 1918, Nurse Maude was put in charge of a central bureau to co-ordinate the nursing of influenza victims in Christchurch, and as always worked tirelessly. A local newspaper called her 'the hardest worked woman of the epidemic'.

With increasing age her amazing stamina diminished but she continued with district nursing. She opened a soup-kitchen for undernourished children during the difficult economic conditions of the 1920s. At about this time she took over responsibility for the after-care of patients leaving hospital and offered her rooms as a first aid centre for nearby factories.

Nurse Maude maintained very close ties with the Deaconess Institution, which in 1912 became the Community of the Sacred Name. She lived in the community at one time and used a room there as a consulting room. She took an active part in the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Trained Nurses' Association, of which she was a committee member, vice president and (elected in 1912) president.

Rather reluctantly she accepted appointment as an OBE in 1934 on the condition that the ceremony be held in private. In an earlier tribute to her work, tramway workers voted her queen in the queen carnival held in Christchurch in 1915 to raise money for charity. She was crowned wearing her nurse's uniform with a regal train attached.

Sibylla Maude died in Christchurch on 12 July 1935; she had never married. Her funeral was attended by large crowds, who came to pay tribute to the most celebrated woman in the city, whose work for the poor had won the respect of everyone. She is commemorated in two stained glass windows in Christchurch. One, entitled 'Nurse and sick child', is in the chapel in Christchurch Hospital. The second, depicting St Barnabas, is in the chapel of the Community of the Sacred Name and incorporates Nurse Maude's favourite flowers, delphiniums and love-in-a-mist, in the design.

Nurse Maude was one of the leading women in New Zealand nursing. Thanks to the impact of her work, district nursing was developed throughout the country. She was greatly respected and loved for her very genuine practical sympathy for the poor and for her complete integrity.

How to cite this page:

Beryl Hughes. 'Maude, Sibylla Emily', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2m42/maude-sibylla-emily (accessed 16 April 2024)