The two Bulstrode sisters were Englishwomen who came to New Zealand to take charge of Hukarere Native Girls' School in Napier after Anna Maria Williams retired in 1899. Their father, William Bulstrode, was a farmer; their mother's maiden name was Jane Taylor. Both sisters were born at Cookham, Berkshire: Jane Helena on 1 April 1862 and Emily Mary on 21 November 1867. Little is known about their formative years, except that Jane was educated at Craufurd House, Maidenhead. Tradition has it that after they saw an advertisement in the Church Missionary Society's journal for a principal and teacher for Hukarere school, they went to the society's office in London and said, 'Do you think we'd do?'
Jane Bulstrode, a qualified teacher full of missionary zeal, arrived first and was principal from 1900 to 1919. After training as a nurse, Emily Bulstrode followed to assist her in 1901, and was principal from 1920 to 1927. In recollecting the Misses Bulstrode, Hukarere old girls have found it hard to separate them. According to one, both left their pupils 'with not only a better education but with thinking minds and a sense of responsibility'. Jane they 'respected and admired'; Emily they 'came to love'.
Hukarere, in the Bulstrode era, was like a large family. Girls were given a comprehensive, Christian education with an emphasis on training in domestic skills to enable them to become good housekeepers, wives and mothers. But as a sister school to Te Aute College, Hukarere was drawn into the movement to encourage Māori students to enter university and the professions and work to ameliorate the social and economic conditions of their own people. Young women were urged to become trained nurses and serve within an autonomous Māori health service. Jane Bulstrode inherited a small matriculation class which offered a select few the opportunity of becoming teachers and nurses. In 1898 one of the newly instituted Māori Hospital Nursing Scholarships was provided for Hukarere. In 1903 it was reported that three old girls had been trainee nurses at Napier Hospital, and six more were teachers. The tide was turning, however, against academic education in Māori denominational boarding schools, particularly for girls.
Latin and other matriculation subjects were withdrawn from the Hukarere timetable and more time was devoted to improving the teaching of English and domestic subjects. Most hospitals, anyway, refused to take Māori girls as trainees. Then, in 1911, a district health nursing scheme staffed by Pākehā was established, ending any hopes for a Māori health nursing scheme. Jane Bulstrode, none the less, was determined to give her girls a good English education from the level of standard two to matriculation, and to fire their ambition to become teachers and nurses. Gradually she and her sister worked towards this goal.
Jane Bulstrode was a strict disciplinarian with fixed attitudes of mind. Unlike Maria Williams she did not speak Māori and she strictly enforced the rule that the girls must not, so that they would be as fluent in English as Pākehā. Yet many of these girls came from Māori-speaking homes and were quite old when they entered the junior forms. Some became frightened, quiet and shy; others who continued to speak Māori were given lines to write out.
When she became head monitress, Rangitīaria Dennan (later known as Guide Rangi) established a relationship with the Bulstrodes that was to endure for life. She considered that Jane, 'although English, had a most enlightened attitude towards her somewhat wild young Māori girls' who 'had few of the social graces befitting the average lass' of their time and age. Jane believed in allowing them to retain the best of their Māori traits, while absorbing some of the polish of the Pākehā. Few of them knew much of cooking and cleaning, dressmaking, waiting at table, sewing or darning, but most of them could sing, play football moderately well, swim like fish, and ride any horse.
In October 1911 the school burned down. A better site was procured and new buildings were erected to accommodate 80 pupils. Improvements and additions were made in 1918 to cater for increased applications for entry and for younger children. Jane Bulstrode considered that more lasting impressions were made if pupils were brought into the atmosphere and discipline of the school at an early age.
While on a well-earned rest in England in 1919–20 Jane Bulstrode became ill, and resigned before she returned to New Zealand. Emily, who had been left to conduct the school, was appointed to fill the vacancy. Because of financial stringency, the roll declined from 86 in 1921 to 52 in 1927. In 1925 past pupils contributed £500 to erect a school chapel as a jubilee memorial, and when Emily resigned in June 1927 the trustees acknowledged that she had 'done much to uplift Māori womanhood'.
In their Christmas holidays the Bulstrodes had travelled round the countryside visiting Hukarere girls in their own homes. After they left Hukarere, both became lady superintendents of Māori mission houses, which were staffed by women and had been set up to support the work of the Māori clergy and give attention to Māori women and children. Jane relieved at Manutūkē in 1922 and took charge of a new house at Pōrangahau in 1923. In 1928 they were put in charge of a more important mission house at Whakarewarewa. With the help of a car and improved roads they kept in touch with distant Māori settlements, holding regular Sunday schools and classes. Past pupils at Hukarere comprised the greater part of their congregation. They retired in 1938 feeling sad that much was neglected, that many homes had drifted to heresy and that a bad example was given by the English.
After Jane died at Rotorua on 6 March 1946, Emily returned to Slough, Buckinghamshire, to live with another sister, Alice, and kept up her keen interest in New Zealand and Māori people through correspondence. She died in Slough on Christmas Eve, 1959. A portion of the estate of Jane and Emily was left to the Te Aute Trust Board to be used to encourage education of pupils at Hukarere. The board awarded two scholarships annually from these funds.
As teachers and missioners, the Bulstrode sisters followed the school motto: Kia ū ki te pai (Cleave to what is good). To them, good existed in both cultures. Most of their old girls 'have carried on a sense of tradition & service' just as their brothers have done at Te Aute.