Given names: 
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Sheet No: 376

Biographical information and image contributed by Jennifer Clark

Mary Dunstan

Possibly the daughter of Mary Brown, who signed below her on the same sheet of the suffrage petition. Mary Brown junior married Richard Dunstan in Thames on 9 November 1876.  It is wondered if Mary Dunstan and her mother signed the petition together and Mary used her maiden name of Brown?  Her signature on the petition has been compared with her signature on her marriage certificate and they appear to be the same.  School records for Mary’s son George Dunstan show that his last day at Waiokaraka school in Thames was on 13 April 1893, his destination being Waihi.

Mary Dunstan (nee Brown) was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 3 November 1859.  She was the oldest child of William Brown (1832-1914) and Mary Carswell (1836-1925), who arrived in New Zealand on the Viola on 4 April 1865. On 9 November 1876 Mary Brown married Richard Dunstan in Thames, where five of their six children were born.  In 1893 they moved to Waihi.

Mary had had four children by the time she was 22.  Mary took up maternity nursing when a neighbour asked if she would 'do for me when my time comes'.  Thinking that meant looking after her house she agreed and when she was called over by the woman's child, she asked where the midwife was and the women said 'it's you'. She protested she had had no training but the neighbour said Mary was a friend, had had four of her own babies and she trusted her. 

From then on she nursed until she was 70 years old and delivered at least 1400 babies. Dr Carrick Robertson worked for her as a student doctor and had great respect for her.  Mrs Iris Quigg remembers nursing a few elderly patients in Waikato hospital with the middle name Dunstan. They had been named after their midwife!   

Richard and Mary also had a milk run. Mary milked and Richard delivered. They also canned fruit.  In the early 1930s a house in Waihi where Mary was living burnt down and all photos etc. were lost.  Nothing was insured.  The only room left standing was the maternity room as the walls were filled with sawdust for soundproofing!  

At that stage Mary Dunstan had stopped her midwifery and moved into a converted garage on her son Charlie Dunstan's property in Waihi, as she wanted to be independent.  Grandson George Dunstan (1917-2007) can remember the renovations and said they were very nice.  District Electors' List of the Borough of Waihi shows Mary Dunstan (nurse) living at 435 Clarke Street, Waihi.  She later moved to Mt Eden to live with her daughter Mary Quigg.

Obituary from Waihi Telegraph, Friday 16 March 1951: 

Mrs Mary Dunstan
Well-known nurse
Early days recalled.

The older residents of the Thames and Waihi district will regret the passing of Mary Dunstan, which took place at the residence of her daughter Mary at Mt Eden, Auckland, on Friday 9th March.  Deceased, who had reached the advanced age of 92 years was born at Glasgow, Scotland and came to New Zealand with her parents, the late Mr and Mrs W Brown, when a child of five years, travelling on the ship VIOLA in the year 1865. Incidentally, the Viola became a total wreck on the return journey to England.  It was a long and tedious sea voyage occupying five months and within sight of the Three Kings a big gale blew the ship many miles off course, ripping its sails and demasting it.  Eventually the disabled ship was picked up by another sailing vessel and towed to the Hauraki Gulf, the passengers being landed on the beach at the place named North Wairoa, since renamed Glencove.  Bullock wagons were used to carry the many passengers and their luggage over a very rough track across the country to Papakura where many of the newcomers made their home.

A year or two later the Brown family left Papakura to take up residence at Thames, which at that time was in the throes of a big gold rush, the township and surrounding hills being the scene of great activity and the population rising from a few hundred people to the proportion of a city.  It has been claimed that at one period there were approximately 30,000 people living at the once famous centre.  Mr Brown opened a butchery business and the family grew up in the town.

The late Mrs Dunstan, marrying the late Richard Dunstan, a miner who was born in Cornwall but had emigrated to NZ and eventually followed the crowd to the goldrush.  Several of the family were born at Thames.  In the year 1891[sic] Mr and Mrs Dunstan decided to remove their home to Waihi.  Mr Dunstan was compelled, on account of a severe leg injury, to retire from his occupation as a miner and at Waihi he made a living from his vegetable garden while his wife, who was a trained midwife, practised that profession, earning a reputation for skill and kindness to her patients that will never be forgotten by those with whom she came in contact.  The roads about Waihi at the concluding years of last century were all in unformed condition and when it rained, pedestrians had to make their way through quagmires to get to their homes.  On a dark and stormy night it was really an ordeal for any woman to have to face a sudden call to duty with no street lights to show the way.  Telephones at that time were unknown to the residents and there were no motor cars and taxis.  Nurse Dunstan had to do her visiting on horseback and rode many a mile on a dark night through all kinds of weather.  It was a big blow to all when their loved nurse was compelled to retire from the profession she had so faithfully served, on account of her age.

The late Mrs Dunstan for several years past had been living with her daughter, Mrs Quigg, at Mt Eden and in spite of her advanced age was full of vitality and often travelled to different parts of the city unaccompanied to visit her grandchildren. Just six weeks before her death, nurse Dunstan attended an old folks gathering in the Eiphany Hall, Newton and at the conclusion of the proceedings waited for a taxi to take her home.  Tiring of waiting, she set out and walked the long journey to Mt Eden.  Mrs Dunstan leaves a family of three sons and one daughter, twenty grandchildren,forty-three great-grandchildren and six great great grandchildren, a total of seventy-three descendants of four generations.  Her husband predeceased her some thirty years ago.  Interment took place at Waihi cemetery following a service in the Presbyterian Church and at the graveside, conducted by the Rev. A. Keller.'


Ancestors & Descendants of William & Mary Brown (nee Carswell) researched and compiled by their great great grand-daughter Jennifer Clark (nee Ginn) September 2004

Photograph from family collection

Click on sheet number to see the 1893 petition sheet this signature appeared on. Digital copies of the sheets supplied by Archives New Zealand.

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