Story: Hodgson, Eliza Amy

Page 1: Biography

All images & media in this story

Hodgson, Eliza Amy

1888–1983

Botanist

This biography, written by C. Joy Axford, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.

Eliza Amy Campbell was born at Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay, on 10 October 1888, the fourth child of Hugh Campbell, a station manager, and his wife, Amy Allott. Amy died in 1890, and Hugh married her younger sister, Hannah Allott, by whom he had five more children. Hugh became a very successful farmer, eventually owning several large properties around Havelock North and a residence, Breadalbane, in the township. About 1911 he gave eight acres of land for Iona College, a Presbyterian girls school.

Amy (as she was known) attended Pukahu primary school and then Napier Girls’ High School, where she excelled in English literature, French and Latin. An interest in botany was nurtured by the headmistress, Bessie Spencer, who invited her to use her microscope in the evenings. On leaving school Amy lived at home and for a time taught at Havelock North School.

On 21 March 1912, at Havelock North, Amy Campbell married Frederick John Hodgson, who was working for her father. They were to have four children. Their first home was on a farm at Pakowhai, between Hastings and Napier. In 1919 John became manager of Hendley station at Patoka, 30 miles north-west of Napier. Amy began to collect flowering plants and ferns, and a photograph taken at the time shows her and three children walking up a dry creek bed; she carries her youngest child on her right hip and her collecting bag in her left hand. To identify specimens she referred to the orchidologist H. B. Matthews, and the retired schoolteacher and botanist Harry Carse.

About 1925 the Hodgsons took over their own farm at Kiwi Valley, south of Wairoa, where small remnants of coastal forest still existed. The lawyer and amateur botanist G. O. K. Sainsbury, who was to become a friend and mentor to Amy, lived in Wairoa. Both were interested in collecting the lower plants, and while Sainsbury was to become an authority on mosses, Amy found her niche in liverworts. Related to mosses, liverworts (or hepatics) are the small green plants found on the floors of New Zealand forests. Lacking formal training, Amy set about acquiring key publications and textbooks on mosses, and with Sainsbury’s encouragement purchased a second-hand microscope from London. In 1930, aged 42, she published her first scientific paper.

Because of her isolation, sharing information by mail was crucial to her work. From 1929 Amy started corresponding and exchanging specimens with amateur and professional botanists at home and overseas. For instance, she helped Professor Theodor Herzog of the University of Jena, Germany, write a paper in English describing 14 new liverwort species. The letters she received over 40 years are an invaluable historical record of hepaticology during that time. Working from home at her ‘moss bench’, her microscope in the light of a window and her typewriter on the dining-room table, Amy Hodgson published more than 30 papers between 1930 and 1972. She described two new families of liverworts and nine new genera; most have stood the test of time.

In 1946 Amy Hodgson was made an honorary member of the British Bryological Society, one of a select group of only 12. She was a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and the Royal Society of New Zealand. In 1976, aged 87, she was awarded an honorary DSc by Massey University.

Amy Hodgson was a conservationist at heart. The first meeting of the Wairoa section of the Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand was held at her home in 1961. She kept a beautiful and interesting garden and was a life member of the Wairoa horticultural society. An intense person with piercing blue eyes and a sense of humour, she was a firm believer in making the most of one’s talents. With devotion and determination she pursued her interest in the time left after fulfilling her duties as mother and wife in a farming household. Amy Hodgson died at Hastings on 7 January 1983 at the age of 94. Her husband had predeceased her in 1965.

How to cite this page:

C. Joy Axford. 'Hodgson, Eliza Amy', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5h26/hodgson-eliza-amy (accessed 17 December 2018)