Topic: Allan and Jess North by Etheljoy Smith

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Allan and Jess North by Etheljoy Smith was an entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

Jess North and her husband, Allan, retired to Athenree in the Bay of Plenty in 1971. 

Born in Blenheim on 6th December 1913 Jess was named Jessie Clywd Halliday.  She was raised with one brother and two sisters on a large sheep station in the back blocks of Marlborough.

“We were very isolated.  Our nearest neighbours lived seven and five miles away.  Mother was always so busy cooking for the men that we often ran wild.  When I was eight we had a pupil teacher and the cookhouse was our schoolroom.   Then we had Correspondence School but we often skipped out to play.”

When Jess was eleven and her sister ten, they went to a convent boarding school in Nelson.

“We got new clothes:  black gym frocks and blazers, white blouses and black lisle stockings; also black sateen bloomers, liberty bodices and short-sleeved vests.  And we wore straw boaters with a black ribbon around the crown and the school badge.  We loved the convent and the nuns were wonderful to us.  Of course we had to eat everything. Put in front of us.  I remember trying to eat lemon sago pudding long after everyone else had gone.  I just couldn’t get it down my throat.”

”I’d always wanted to be a nurse.  Three girls in my mother’s family were nurses.  My mother was a pupil teacher.  Born in Wales, she met my father there and came to New Zealand to marry him.”

“When I was seventeen, my father collected me and took me up to Christchurch where there was an opening for a ‘Bell Girl’ in Lewisham Hospital, a small private hospital run by nuns. Bell Girls were not trained but neither were they maids.  They answered bells, made beds and gave out meals and bed pans.”

When Jess was twenty, her family was living in Timaru; so she started her general training at Timaru Hospital

“Ward floors were sprinkled with wet tea leaves before we swept through.  The beds had to be perfect.  It was hard work.  We got so tired we could scarcely eat our meals. I’ve been six weeks without a day off.  But, we had good training and I qualified in 1937.”

Jess then went to Blenheim for six months maternity training at Holmdale Hospital, attached to Wairau Public Hospital.

“It was primitive.  Bedpans were washed then boiled in the copper.  Babies were bathed on our knees in front of coal fires.  Mothers stayed in hospital for two weeks with one week in bed.  Nearly all babies were breast fed.  There weren’t many complications.”

In 1939 Jess re-joined the staff at Timaru Hospital as a Sister.  There she met her husband-to-be, Allan, a house surgeon.

Allan North’s life was an example of achievement through adversity.  He was a very clever boy at school, winning scholarships, with the ambition of being a doctor.  But, his parents lacked money to put him through medical school.

Instead, he trained as a civil engineer, spending all his holidays with the Maori Mission, learning the language and taking services. 

Because of his dedication to this work, the Presbyterian Church eventually put Allan through medical school with the aim of him becoming a medical missionary.  But World War 2 intervened and Allan served as an army lieutenant in the Medical Core.

In 1941 Jess and Allan married in Chalmers Church, Timaru.  Married life started in Wellington with Allan seconded to the Medical Core of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.  Their first child, Aroha Mary was born in 1942 in Christchurch where Allan was then based.  

The family then lived on base in Whenuapai, Auckland before Allan was posted overseas in the Pacific.  Jess and her baby returned to her family in Timaru.

At the end of the war Allan came out of the Air Force.  He and Jess moved to Gisborne where Allan did a refresher course at Cook Hospital.  Their second child, Walter John, was born there in 1946. 

The Health Department decided a ‘Special Area Doctor’ was required.  It was a post fulfilling two of Allan’s goals in life – to care for people’s spiritual needs in addition to their physical needs.

So the family moved to Te Whaiti where Allan was contracted to the Health Department serving Maori people under the Maori Mission.

Jess went from having all modern conveniences to a small cottage without water or electricity.  She lit kerosene lamps, carried water from the well and coped with an old fashioned copper and tub.

“It was an adventure and it was Allan’s work.  We lived there for twenty five years in the end,” laughed Jess.

“I felt vulnerable at first,” Jess said.  “I had never having been in contact with Maori.  But, I found them to be warm and wonderful people.  However, it took two or three years before they accepted Allan completely.  When we had a new house and surgery no one would use the waiting room. Patients liked to wait in our kitchen and have a cup of tea. It was an unusual practice.  We never locked our home.  People just came in.  One night a young woman rushed in and laid her sick baby on our bed.  Allan did everything possible but the baby died.”

Allan was the only doctor in the area.  He was also an Elder in the Church, taught Sunday School and was Secretary of the Tribal Committee which ran the marae.  In emergencies he was also the local taxi driver.

Every meal was interrupted by one crisis or another.  There were bad accidents in the bush, specially logging accidents.  Although there was no serious crime, the community was affected by petty crime and family fights.

After the birth of their third child Alister Allan in 1947, Jess was unable to have more children.  Wanting to have another little girl, they applied to Childhaven. 

The Children’s Home told them it was a pity they especially wanted to adopt a girl.

There was a lovely part Maori baby boy no one seemed to want. . .   So four and a half month old Ian Te Rangiura joined the North family.

Jess and her husband still wanted another girl but somehow although the Children’s Home kept informing them of baby girls, none seemed right.

“Then, one evening the telephone rang.  It was the Children’s Home.  There was a newly born, part Maori baby whose mother felt she could not give her child a good life

“I remember walking away from the ‘phone, calling to Allan that our baby girl was waiting for us.”

Two weeks old Mariana Moerangi Jane completed Jess and Allan’s family in 1951. Jess was then raising five children, the eldest nine years of age, in a very busy household.  Jess said they were fairly strict with their children who all had their daily chores as they grew up.  But, there was unity and time set aside for family outings, like tramping.

An extra bunkhouse had to be built to accommodate guests.

There were always local missionaries passing through.  Overseas visitors interested in Maori and their ways of dealing with illness came to study this aspect of New Zealand life.  People from America, Canada, Holland, Samoa, France; and even a Danish count arrived to sojourn in the North household.

 Doctors with whom Allan had trained also visited.  Even naturalists interested in the titi – the mottled petrel – came enquiring and stayed to observe.

Then there were media people. A film director from the Polish national Film Unit; a director of photography and also the National Film Unit from Wellington landed on Jess’s doorstep.

Jess summed up her years in Te Whaiti: “We always had an open home. I’m grateful for my life with the Maori – wonderful people, so very loving.  I always felt we were family with them.

In 1971 when Allan retired, he was given three official send offs:  the Ruatahuna Farewell on Tatuata Marae; the Southern Urewera Parish Farewell at St Mark’s Church Murapara; and the Minginui Farewell. 

He and Jess moved to Athenree where they continued to keep in touch with over two hundred people.

Allan died suddenly the day after his 74th birthday.  Jess grieved as widows the world over grieve.

But she saw her husband reflected in the lives of her children and grandchildren.  Before she herself died she saw recognition of Allan’s work in the M.B.E. he received. 

And when she walked along the green banks of the quietly tidal waters near her home, she saw appreciation of her husband’s life in every planted tree in the Dr North Memorial Reserve.

Jess always said if people had God’s love in their lives, they would be happier.

She was a woman who had that love.  It glowed from her heart and warmed the hearts of others.


Jess North (nee Halliday)

b. 6th December 1913

d. 20th January 1997


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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