Adela Mary Roche was born at Te Awamutu on 3 April 1878, the second child of Emily Adela Malcolm and her Irish-born husband, Hungerford Roche, a farmer and local politician. Her aunt, Fanny Osborne, was a well-known painter of New Zealand flora. Adele, as she preferred to be known, was raised and educated at Paterangi, near Te Awamutu. Her artistic talent was evident from an early age, and against the wishes of her family she insisted on learning photography. After working as a photographic retoucher in Hamilton she spent some time in Gisborne, where she met Frank Younghusband, a grocer. Married in Christchurch on 1 August 1905, they lived in Hamilton, then Auckland. Adele continued to paint and draw, and in 1909 she became a member of the Auckland Society of Arts.
The marriage did not last, however, and Adele and Frank separated around 1917; he died in 1921. With two sons and a daughter to care for, Adele taught art for a time in Hamilton before returning to photography. In 1919 she took over Ernest de Tourret's photographic studios in Whangarei, establishing herself as a successful portrait photographer. In 1921, with the artist and photographer George Woolley, she set up the Art Studios; she did the retouching and most of the darkroom work, while Woolley taught drawing and painting. Together they helped to establish the Whangarei Art and Literary Society, of which Adele became secretary. She was devastated by the death of her daughter in 1924, and three years later, unhappy in her partnership with Woolley, moved to Dargaville. By 1930 she had set up a photographic studio in Devonport, and after a short time in Tauranga she returned to Hamilton around 1934.
Although she had brought an artist's perspective to her photography, it was not until her 40s, under the influence of Woolley, that Adele Younghusband made a serious commitment to painting. In August 1934, with Ida Carey, she convened the inaugural meeting of the Waikato Society of Arts in Hamilton. She became its secretary and represented it on the Association of New Zealand Art Societies. In 1937 she travelled to Australia, exhibiting successfully in Sydney and studying under George Bell in Melbourne, where her interest in abstract art gained momentum and direction. In 1940 she returned to teach art in Hamilton. She held a successful exhibition in Auckland in 1941, and settled there permanently several years later, living and working at a small studio in Panmure. Adele founded the Phoenix Group in 1952 and the Studio Art Group in 1957, and continued to work and exhibit until the mid 1960s. In 1964 she and Ida Carey were made life members of the Waikato Society of Arts. Adele also retained her links to Northland and donated a collection of her work to the city of Whangarei.
Adele Younghusband was a competent and versatile artist, adept at design and composition. She expressed her fascination for the abstract using a variety of media, including charcoal, linocuts, oil, pastel, pen and ink. Variously described as derivative, stylised or art deco, her work was highly subjective, often depicting everyday life – her neighbourhood, landscapes, people at work and play, flowers – as well as broader themes such as Maori mythology, religion, peace and war. She was always ready to discuss and explain abstract art, and was described as a pioneer of surrealism in New Zealand.
Often unsettled, but persistent and determined, Adele Younghusband was a kind woman who frequently gave her work away and quietly helped women in need. An Anglican, she was also interested in spiritualism and theosophy. After a productive life, arthritis, deteriorating eyesight and heart problems made her last years sad and difficult. She died in Auckland on her 91st birthday, survived by her two sons. Her work, which is represented in many public and private collections, has received greater acclaim since her death.