Page 1: Biography
Spurdle, Flora Park Cave
Journalist, museum worker, local historian
This biography, written by Randal Springer, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Flora Park Cave Calman was born in Wanganui on 3 March 1883, the daughter of Mary Boyce and her husband, George Calman, a storekeeper. She received her education at Miss Stedman’s private school and Wanganui Girls’ College. On 3 April 1907, at St Paul’s Church, Wanganui, she married Frederick Maurice Spurdle, a partner in a firm of hardware merchants; they were to have three daughters and a son. Maurice Spurdle, who had fought in the South African War (1899–1902) and was a keen oarsman, served on the Wanganui Borough Council from 1911 to 1913.
Flora Spurdle took up journalism in the 1920s and was employed by the Wanganui Chronicle from 1923 to 1929. She was also the local correspondent for the Dominion (1930–36), the Weekly News and Weekly Herald (1930–34) and the New Zealand Free Lance (1930–52), and often wrote articles under the pen name Ann Harden. During the depression Maurice Spurdle’s hardware business failed and he left his wife and family, moving to Wellington and then Australia; he later returned to Wellington, where he died in 1943. Flora supported herself and her family through her journalism and also earned some income by letting part of her substantial home on St Johns Hill to tenants. The family later moved to a more modest home in Wanganui’s city centre.
Spurdle developed a keen interest in Wanganui’s history and in Maori culture and lore, and became well known locally for her radio talks on historical subjects. She also gave children lessons in Maori poi and stick games. She was the first national housekeeping secretary of the Women’s Division of the New Zealand Farmers’ Union in 1927, and in 1939 was a co-author of its collection of stories of pioneer women, Brave days. She later wrote two historical books, New stories of old Whanganui (1958) and More stories of old Whanganui (1963), and edited a historical survey, My district (1966).
In 1935 Flora Spurdle began part-time employment in the Wanganui Public Museum, and in 1938 she was appointed museum attendant. Her duties included office and accounting work, receiving exhibits, light cleaning, and security, but she also did much to publicise the museum and acquired some of its Maori artefacts. It was both an interesting and challenging period for Flora, as she clashed with the museum’s board of trustees on a number of occasions. Members of the board accused her of carelessness in her work and of exceeding the conditions of her appointment, even of flouting their authority. She was eventually forced to retire from the museum in 1951.
A foundation member of the Wanganui branch of the New Zealand Founders’ Society in 1945, Spurdle was its secretary from 1946 to 1948, president from 1957 until 1971 and then patron until her death. In 1971 she was awarded a gold badge and a citation for her service to the society. Other local interests included membership of the Whanganui Historical Society, the Wanganui Horticultural Society, the Wanganui Social Centre for the Blind, the YWCA and the Pan-Pacific and South-East Asia Women’s Association. In retirement she travelled extensively through Europe and Asia.
Flora Spurdle died at her Wanganui home on 7 October 1973, survived by her children. Her unpublished stories, anecdotes and memorials form a collection of several notebooks now housed in the Whanganui Regional Museum. A woman of ‘strong and independent character’, she was considered by some to be quarrelsome and interfering. However, she had a deep commitment to the museum, was energetic in promoting it to the public and was an assiduous collector of historical information and artefacts.