Esther Tubman

Esther Maude Tubman, No. 22/517
New Zealand Army Nursing Service
Died of disease, 18 September 1918.

Born in Moa Flat, Central Otago in 1887, Esther Tubman was the fourth of six children of Jane Tubman and Edward Tubman, a farmer. Esther was educated locally and in her twenties began training at Dunedin Hospital to become a nurse. She sat and passed the state examination for nurses in 1913, and shortly afterwards began midwifery training at Dunedin’s St Helens maternity hospital.

Upon completing her nursing qualifications Esther was appointed as a visiting nurse attached to the tuberculosis department at Dunedin Hospital. She was then a district nurse for about a year before taking up private nursing. She worked in various parts of the country, including as matron of Denniston Hospital on the West Coast.

In June 1918 Esther enlisted in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service. She was the second member of her family to serve in the war; her younger brother Reynold Tubman, a private in the Otago Infantry Regiment, had been killed in action at Passchendaele during the disastrous attack on 12 October 1917. On 10 July 1918, Esther embarked from Wellington with the 40th Reinforcements for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force aboard the troopship Tahiti.

On 22 August the Tahiti called at Freetown in Sierra Leone, West Africa. People in the city had recently been infected with the deadly influenza virus, and although preventative measures were taken, within three days at least two-thirds of those on the ship were sick. The medical staff, including Esther, were quickly overworked and Esther herself soon became ill. She was probably the nurse mentioned in a letter home as seeming better one morning before suddenly worsening in the afternoon. ‘She raved terribly all night and next morning became unconscious.’ [1]

When the Tahiti reached England, Esther was taken to No. 3 New Zealand General Hospital in Codford, Wiltshire. She continued to deteriorate and was transferred to an isolation hospital at Salisbury, where she died on 18 September 1918. Esther was one of about 80 people who died after taking ill aboard the Tahiti. She was given a military funeral and buried in Tidworth Military Cemetery on 20 September. A tribute in a Dunedin newspaper after her death stated, ‘If ever a woman was born for nursing, she certainly was.’ [2]

Further information

Auckland War Memorial Online Cenotaph record – Esther Tubman

Auckland War Memorial Online Cenotaph record – Reynold Tubman

Commonwealth War Graves Commission record – Esther Tubman

'State examination of nurses', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 July 1913, p. 13

'State examination of midwives', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 January 1915, p. 17

'Personal', Otago Witness, 25 September 1918, p. 42

'Sister Esther Maude Tubman', Evening Star, 26 September 1918, p. 3

'Sister Tubman', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 October 1918, p. 50

'Military funerals', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 January 1919, p. 19

‘Nursing an Epidemic on a Troopship’, Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 January 1919, p. 24

'For the Empire's cause', Otago Daily Times, 18 September 1919, p. 4

'Nurses memorial tablet', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 January 1921, p. 40

'In memory of overseas nurses', Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 July 1925, p. 45

Influenza on the SS Tahiti (WW100 article by Ryan McLane)



[1] ‘Nursing an Epidemic on a Troopship’, Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand, 1 January 1919, p. 24.

[2] 'Sister Esther Maude Tubman', Evening Star, 26 September 1918, p. 3.

 

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