Lady Liverpool's and Mrs Pomare’s Maori Soldiers' Fund

1915 – 1921

Lady Liverpool's and Mrs Pomare’s Maori Soldiers' Fund

1915 – 1921

Theme: Māori

This essay written by Tania Rei was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

In 1915, Mīria Woodbine Pōmare and Lady Annette Liverpool, wife of the then Governor-General, together began Lady Liverpool's and Mrs Pomare's Maori Soldiers' Fund to support the soldiers of the Maori Pioneer Contingent, formed in September 1914. [1] Mīria Pōmare was already a member of the Navy League, spinning wool to make seaboot stockings; she had also frequently hosted visitors in Wellington, in connection with her husband Dr Māui Pōmare's work as the first medical officer for Māori health from 1900, and representing Western Māori in Parliament from 1911. This enabled her to discuss many issues pertinent to Māori at that time with Māori women from all over New Zealand, in particular the wives of the other four Māori Members of the House of Representatives – Hēni Materoa Carroll, Arihia Ngata, Kātarina Parata and Rosie Hēnare. She was thus well prepared for her demanding war work. [2]

A group of women wearing Māori korowai (cloaks)

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/1-014579-G.

Mīria Pōmare surrounded by some members of her Maori Soldiers’ Fund Committee and two of their daughters. Back from left: Mrs W. Waitai, Mrs F. Morrison, Mrs Raukura Tamahau, Mrs W. Ngahana, Lady Mīria Pōmare, Mrs Kahui Grace, Mrs Te Puni, Mrs H. Love (Ripeka Wharawhara Love). Seated: Mrs Heketā, Mrs Uru, L. Love, Ana Pōmare.

By 1917, Lady Liverpool was president, ‘Lady Carroll vice-president, Mrs Grace chairwoman, Mrs Pōmare honorary secretary and treasurer, Mrs Mur[i]wai Mutu assistant secretary'. The organisation's efforts were said to be co-ordinated by 28 Māori women's committees throughout New Zealand, 'from Port Awanui in the North to Ōtakau in the South', with more being formed. [3] They used the money they raised, for example through sales of Māori craft work, concerts, and auctions, to send parcels to Māori soldiers, containing letters, knitted garments, personalised tāniko, and foods such as strings of dried pipi and preserved mutton birds. [4] On occasion, Pākehā women's patriotic societies also raised money for the Māori Soldiers' Fund; for example in Dunedin, in 1918, the Otago and Southland Women's Patriotic Association donated the proceeds of stalls and a street collection, and sold badges with a Māori motto. [5]

Mīria Pōmare is said to have personally knitted a pair of socks for every one of the 512 soldiers in the first group of the contingent. In every pair of socks she put a gold sovereign. Her war work necessitated travelling to committees around the country. She received the OBE in 1918, one of the first women and first Māori to do so.

Front cover of 'Her Excellency's knitting book' showing a seated woman with knitting watching soldiers outside her window

Private collection, Heather Nicholson. Te Ara.

Published in August 1915, this is one of two books authorised by Lady Liverpool as part of a fund-raising effort to contribute to the war effort. It is also New Zealand's first locally published knitting book.

As Māui Pōmare noted, when introducing a fundraising performance in the Wellington Town Hall, the women involved 'each and all paid their own expenses, and all had worked faithfully and lovingly for the boys at the front'. [6] At war's end, the government ceased to provide administration and distribution services, but an obvious need still existed, and the Māori groups focused on assisting their returned soldiers.

The accumulated patriotic funds were paid into a Common Fund for general rehabilitation purposes, and for a short time Mīria Pōmare was the Māori representative on the board handling this fund. But even after she ceased to hold this position, returned soldiers wrote to her from around the country seeking assistance, and she lodged many applications with the board on their behalf.

In 1922 the original organisation became Lady Pōmare's Welfare Committee; as such, it continued to assist the needy, sick, and suffering, including returned soldiers. Its best-known achievement stemmed from 1936, when a group of young women came to Wellington, under the direction of Sir Apirana Ngata, to make tukutuku panels for the meetinghouse at Waitara being built to honour Sir Māui Pōmare. To raise funds for the opening ceremony, the young women formed a concert party named Ngāti Pōneke. In 1937, prompted by concern about young Māori coming to the city, Lady Pōmare's Welfare Committee decided to form a club to occupy them and arouse their interest in Māori culture. Using the concert party as a nucleus, they named the new group the Ngāti Pōneke Young Māori Club.

Tania Rei


[1] Strong representations by Māori leaders led to the volunteer Māori Pioneer Contingent being formed, serving first in Malta, then at Gallipoli. Conscription was introduced in 1916; at the insistence of Māui Pōmare, who chaired the Māori Regimental Committee (the Māori recruiting board), it was widened to include Māori men in June 1917. By war's end, 2227 Māori men had served overseas.

[2] Lady Pōmare's entry in Who's Who in New Zealand stated that she was also honorary president of the Central National Māori War Fund, with 72 Māori women's committees throughout New Zealand. The lists of patriotic organisations in AJHR (H–46, 1916–20) included very few specifically Māori organisations; among them was 'Wellington Lady Liverpool and Mrs Pomare's Māori Soldiers' Fund'.

[3] Lady Liverpool Scrapbook, Vol. 5, April 1917–October 1917, pp. 41, 50.

[4] Parcels were also sent to the Rarotongan troops serving in Egypt.

[5] Otago Daily Times, 7 September 1918.

[6] Lady Liverpool Scrapbook, Vol . 6, October 1917–1918, p. 73.

Unpublished sources

Lady Liverpool Scrapbook, Vols 1-5, ATL

Māori Women's Welfare League, 'Lady Miria Woodbine Pomare OBE', paper prepared for New Zealand Pan-Pacific [and Sourh-East Asia] Women's Association, 1952, ATL

Rei, Tania, interview with Māui Pōmare,Wellington, 1992

Te Kopara, 1917–1919

Published sources

'Pōmare, Lady Miria Woodbine', Who's Who In New Zealand, 7th edition, A.H. and A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1961, p. 234

Sturm, J.C., 'The Ngātipōneke Young Māori Club', Te Ao Hou, vol. 3, no. 12, 1955, pp. 29–30

Further information

Watch: Great War Stories: Lady Liverpool 

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