Mary Elizabeth Davidson

Mary Elizabeth Davidson (1847-1920) and her husband, the Reverend Charles Edward Davidson about 1900. She is one of the many women who signed the 1892 women's suffrage petition, but appears not to have signed the better-known 1893 suffrage petition.

Biography and images contributed by Dorothy Dowgray

Mary Elizabeth Davidson was born in Dumfries, Scotland in 1847, the first child and daughter of William Haining and Mary Ross. William was a tailor and worked in the business owned by Mary’s father William Ross. William Haining died in 1856 of Typhus Fever leaving Mary Ross with a small and very young family: Mary Elizabeth; her brothers, Thomas Richardson Haining, John Corrie Haining and William Egan Haining; and a sister, Jessie Nicholson Haining, born posthumously. Mary Ross Haining continued work as a seamstress and dressmaker in the shop that had been her fathers in High Street, Dumfries. Mary Ross Haining died in Dumfries in 1904 and is buried near her husband in Dumfries Cemetery. The grave is believed to be near that of Robert Burns and Mary Elizabeth told her daughter about playing on the monument to Burns in the cemetery, while her mother attended to her father’s grave.

In the 1861 census in Dumfries the family are all together and the children are at school. In 1871 Mary Elizabeth was living in England in Thornton, Yorkshire and working as a domestic servant for a Walton family. John Walton was a Master worsted wool spinner, and the Waltons had a small boy.

In 1874 Mary Elizabeth Haining married Charles Edward Davidson. Mary was 26 and her husband 23. They married in the Stannary Congregational Church in Halifax where Charles Edward was working as a cabinet maker. This church was a significant one in their lives together and they may have even met at the church. Stannary was a break away church from an older Halifax non-conformist Church, Sion and the break away had occurred over the Temperance Movement which was gaining momentum among the lower middle classes and working classes throughout the Midlands.The Stannary Congregational Church established a Band Of Hope. The Non-conformist churches, Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists and others were leaders in the Temperance Movement. In 1881 Mary Elizabeth and Charles Edward were living in Habergham Eaves, Burnley, Lancashire. They had four small children born between 1875 and 1880: Jane Davidson known as Jeannie and named for Charles Edward’s mother Jane nee Turner, Margaret Davidson known as Peg or Maggie, Jessie, and George Davidson. In 1882 tragedy struck the little family with first George dying aged one-year-and-ten-months then Jessie dying aged three years. Both children were buried in Burnley Public cemetery in graves that remain unmarked today. Not long afterwards another daughter was born Mary, always known as Polly.

Davidson family

Mary Elizabeth Davidson nee Haining with some of her family: Margaret Tait, James Edward Davidson, Polly Cullen, Hermione Cullen.

In the early 1870s and 80s, Charles Edward Davidson was very involved in the Band of Hope Temperance Movement, something he had become part of in Halifax before his marriage. He wrote letters to the Burnley Gazette newspaper on temperance matters and ran on a Temperance ticket for a local council. He was not successful. Early in 1884 the Davidson family boarded the sailing ship Hermione and immigrated to New Zealand. During the voyage Mary Elizabeth gave birth to another daughter and the birth register says it was off the West Coast of Africa. The baby was named Hermione, the ship’s name, and she was my Grandmother.

Davidson family group

The Davidson family at Waipu Cove circa 1887: left to right: Jeannie Davidson, Charles Edward Davidson with Hermione (Mione) Davidson, Maggie Davidson, Mary Elizabeth Davidson nee Haining, holding baby James Edward Davidson. Mary (Polly) Davidson.

The Davidson family lived in Auckland at first and Charles Edward was a Deacon at the Mount Eden Congregational Church, and he studied to enter the Ministry. In 1886 he was 'called' to be the Minister of the Congregational Church in Maungaturoto. Two sons were born to the couple while they lived there, James Edward Davidson and Charles Turner Davidson. In the history 'The Albertlanders' it was said of the couple:

Mr Davidson stood through his post through prosperity and adversity. He won the hearts of the people as a faithful preacher, minister and as a personal friend, while Mrs Davidson ever strengthened her husband’s hands by loyal co-operation, and more especially when the shadow of sickness and bereavement was over the homes of the people, she excelled in those deeds of kindness and practical sympathy which so well fit a minister’s wife. ('The Albertlanders', page 432)

In 1892 Mary Elizabeth Davidson signed a petition calling for the right of women in New Zealand to vote, probably because of her involvement in the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement which were one of the groups leading the cause.

In 1904 Mary Elizabeth and her family left Maungaturoto and moved to Hobson Street in Auckland. Charles Edward Davidson continued as a Congregational Minister and Temperance worker at the Beresford Street Congregational Church (now the Alpha Centre). In 1907 the Congregational Union sent him to Kawhia to take up work as a Minister and Home Missioner to this isolated farming community. In 1908 Charles Edward caught a chill and died of pneumonia, aged 58. Mary Elizabeth was now a widow and left Auckland to return to Maungaturoto where three of her daughters had married three Cullen brothers: Jeannie Davidson married Will Cullen in 1895 and died in childbirth in 1898; Hermione Davidson married Herbert John (Jack) Cullen in 1905; and Mary (Polly) Davidson married Robert Stanley (Bob) Cullen in 1908. Mary Elizabeth lived with her son James Davidson on a farm in Maungaturoto. In 1914 James Edward Davidson signed up and went to war. While he was in England and staying with his Uncle Job Davidson in Kingston upon Thames, he met and later married his cousin Dorothy (Dorrie) Davidson. In 1919 Mary Elizabeth moved to Mangere in Auckland to live with her oldest daughter, Margaret (Maggie) Tait and died there in 1920 after a life devoted to her church, the cause of Temperance and her family. Before her death, she saw the newly built Congregational Church in Maungaturoto being named the Davidson Memorial Congregational Church in memory of Charles Edward and herself and their work.


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