Sybil Maude (1862 – 1935) was born to fulfill three future options:
1. Marry well
2. Become a Governess
3. Be a lady’s companion
…Sybil did none of these!
The eldest of a well-to-do-family, Sybil was born in Hagley Lodge – her birth certificate listing the Maude family under the St Peter’s Parish, Riccarton Bush, Christchurch.
She was christened at St Michaels and All Angels a month later.
Her father Thomas had arrived in Lyttelton in 1855 where he pursued a career in sheep farming. Along with his brother Edmund, the two leased 8000 acres off John Thomas Brown who owned the Mt Thomas (near Okuku & Ashley Rivers) property.
Finding the life too boring, Thomas took a job in the customs department at Lyttelton. Through his job there, he was able to learn of good properties that were coming up for sale and he became a great landowner.
Thomas moved through the ranks pretty quickly, having high profile jobs with the local court and police force.
He also became one of the directors of the Lyttelton Times.
In 1861, Thomas married Emily Catherine Brown, the daughter of John
Thomas Brown of Mt Thomas. The two men began do business deals together
and were firm friends. They opened the Brown & Co Brewery in
Christchurch, situated on Cashel Street.
Sybil was born 1862, soon followed by Thomas Jnr 1863, Charles 1865, Mary 1868, Cordelia
1869, Arthur 1872, Edward 1881 and Eva 1883. While Emily was kept busy
with her brood at home, Thomas continued to climb the ladder – he became
the Provincial and Public Works Secretary and socialised in circles
with William Moorhouse and William Rolleston.
In 1874, Thomas decided he wanted to pursue law and sold all his New Zealand interests
and took the family back to London. The family were there for 4 years
and it was there that Thomas met up with Leonard Harper (son of Bishop
Harper – 1st Bishop of Christchurch) who had opened his own law firm
back in Christchurch. Thomas eagerly accepted a job in the firm.
Back in Christchurch, Sybil busied herself with helping her mother with
her younger siblings. She was a devoted Anglican and enjoyed visiting
the poor through the church. She was encouraged by Mrs Flora Acland to
visit Christchurch Hospital – which she did, taking her very good
girlfriends, Amy and Edith Rhodes. It was then that she decided she
wanted to be a nurse. Unheard of for a lady of her standing.
In 1889, she returned to London and trained as a nurse for 12 months.
She stayed on, taking on more training in surgery. In 1892 Sybil was
back in Christchurch and found her family in near ruins. Her father had
been struck off the lawyer roll due to the dodgy dealings of Leonard
Harper. Thomas was financially devastated and socially embarrassed.
Determined not to be dragged down by the family dramas, Sybil pursued
her dream and was soon offered the role as Matron at Christchurch
She caused waves almost instantly. She saw the need
for great improvements – not only for the patients but also for the
nurses. Speaking her mind quite freely, she stepped on many toes –
resulting in a inquiry into her work. Cleared of any wrong doing, Sybil
had already left the hospital mentally. She had become concerned for
those who couldn’t make it to the hospital or couldn’t afford too.
Through the church, she saw the families in need and she began to share
her concerns with others. One of these friends was Mrs Jessie Heaton
Rhodes who loved projects like Sybil was talking about. She agreed to
fund a district nursing scheme where Sybil would tend to those in need
in their own homes. She resigned from Christchurch Hospital in 1896 and
a new era of nursing began.
Sybil became a well known figure, briskly walking down Christchurch’s streets with a bed pan under one arm
and a medical bag under the other. Responding to pleas of help through
St Michael’s and All Angels, Sybil would pray before every job and then
deal with the need before her. In her first year, she visited 1100
homes – on foot.
Sybil soon discovered that not only her nursing skills were needed but some just needed to be consoled. She
found herself cleaning, providing food and clothing. Her first office
was situated in St Asaph Street but she soon outgrew it. Her second
office was in Durham Street which included a shop of second hand clothes
In 1898, Sybil moved to Richmond and so she
brought herself a horse and cart. By 1900, the whole city was asking
for help – the population now at 40,000. In 1900, Sybil returned to
London to learn midwifery which only increased the demand on her
services. She only had a staff of 4 at this time.
and fought the T.B and Flu epidemics and World War One. She supported
Kate Sheppard and the woman’s movement – although the two women would
butt heads over things from time to time – especially when Kate would
try and a make a political platform out of Sybil’s work.
By1910, Sybil had replaced her horse and cart with a bicycle and off she
went, all sorts of contractions hanging over the handlebars! In 1925,
after a short illness, Sybil continued her work from the District
Nursing building in Madras Street, letting the other nurses hit the
In 1935, Sybil had a heart attack and died 3 days
later in her home in Redcliffs. Her funeral was at the Christchurch
Cathedral and she is buried with her parents at St Peter’s Anglican
Church at Church Corner, Upper Riccarton.
*Nurse Maude Profile image courtesy of the Christchurch Public Library: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 13, IMG0039*
*Nurse Maude Grave image taken by Annette Bulovic*