Mereana Tangata--the first maori registered nurse.
Subject: Registered nurses
Author: Masters, Diana Stuart
Pub Date: 09/01/2001
Publication: Name: Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand Publisher: New Zealand Nurses' Organisation Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2001 New Zealand Nurses' Organisation ISSN: 1173-2032
Issue: Date: Sept, 2001 Source Volume: 7 Source Issue: 8
Product: Product Code: 8043110 Nurses, Registered NAICS Code: 621399 Offices of All Other Miscellaneous Health Practitioners SIC Code: 8049 Offices of health practitioners, not elsewhere classified
Geographic: Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand
Accession Number: 180797377
Full Text: HISTORY IS so complex. Just when we think everything is nicely in place and all the acts lead neatly to the conclusions, another twist happens. That is the delight and the frustration of history. Diana Stuart Masters' research has placed Mereana Tangata, who came from Peria near Kaitaia and trained at Auckland Hospital, graduating in 1896, at number 252 on the register.

Mereana Tangata may very well have been the first Maori to register or were there others before even her? The Maori use of English names in pakeha institutions was common and there is evidence of Maori graduating from universities around this country under their English names well before the documented Maori ones.

Whatever history has yet to reveal, we celebrate the achievements of Mereana Tangata. I also congratulate Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand for bringing this addition to our knowledge of early nursing in Aotearoa and Te Waipounamu to a wider audience. I wonder whether Mereana and Akenehi Hei spent time together during Akenehi's practice in Te Taitokerau? It would befitting to think these two Maori women, who brought their skills to their people through nursing, knew each other.

Nga mihinui kia korua, nga wahine e tino hohonu ana.

By Irihapeti Ramsden


TOWARDS THE end of the 19th century, with the Maori population devastated by introduced diseases and demoralised after the land wars, many educated Maori felt the main hope for their survival was by accepting European ways. Napier's Te Aute College was to be the catalyst of many endeavours for Maori education and training for assimilation into a European world.

In 1897, at a meeting of the Te Aute College Students' Association, student Hamiora Hei read a paper entitled "Maori Girls and Nursing". (1) This advocated a scheme to train Maori women in nursing the sick, advising in basic hygiene, and by this to "strike at the heart of many evils". Other Maori political figures like Apirana Ngata, Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter Buck) and Maui Pomare also saw Maori women taking an active role in raising the health standards of Maori. The nurse trainees were to be chosen from Maori girls' secondary schools, would work at a public hospital for a year, and be supported by the Education Department. This system, revised over the next ten years, was never really successful and was abolished in 1913.

One of the few nurses who qualified was Akenehi Hei, the sister of Hamiora Hei. She registered in 1908, and has until now been regarded as the first Maori registered nurse. (2) Despite her short-lived career (she died in Gisborne in 1910 from typhoid), she was seen as a leader of Maori nursing at that time.

But my research has proved she was not the first. That distinction is due to an Auckland Hospital nurse, Mereana Tangata, previously unrecognised, because she trained and registered under her European name of Mary Ann Helena Leonard. (3)

Mereana Tangata was born at Peria, near Kaitaia in 1869 to exceptional parents. Her father, Renata Wirimu Tangata, was educated at the Waimate Mission School, St Stephens, Parnell, and was ordained Deacon by Bishop Selwyn in 1867. He was priested at St John's, Waimate, by Bishop Cowie and assigned to Oruru Peria. Mereana's mother, Tiareti Harata [Charlotte Gerrard], widow of the Rev Rota Waitoa, married Renata Tangata and moved with him to Peria, where her husband became one of the leaders of the Maori church.

Mereana was educated for seven years at the Peria Native School, being a foundation pupil at the age of four. In 1883, aged 14, she was sent to Napier's Hukarere School for Maori girls, which had been established eight years previously by the Anglican Church. She is listed on the roll as Mereana Tangata. (4) Girls were given religious instruction, taught Latin, algebra, physiology, drawing, history, the "three Rs", as well as domestic skills, hygiene and dressmaking. Both the state and church regarded Maori women as critical change agents in the move from the older Maori world to a new one, and Hukarere School was seen as pivotal to this. The school became a partner with Te Aute.

Mereana stayed at Hukarere for three or four years, returning to Peria, where her father died in 1887. We next see her in a photograph of the staff of Auckland Hospital in 1889. At 20 she would have been too young to start formal nurses' training, but the hospital did employ girls as domestics. If they proved to be satisfactory they were promoted for training.

On August 1, 1893, Mary Ann Helena Leonard entered the hospital as a probationer for a three-year course of training. (3) She would have had to be over 21, of excellent character, in perfect health, and have at least a standard six certificate. Probauoner nurses were not paid for their first year of training, but were provided with board, lodging, uniforms and washing. They were taught anatomy, physiology, minor surgery and the properties and use of common drugs from resident medical officers. The lady superintendent taught the theory and practice of medical, surgical and fever nursing, bandaging, invalid cookery all duties relating to the sick. Examinations were held half-yearly. Successful candidates were called assistant nurses, and received 20 pounds a year. After another year's training and examinations, they became senior assistants. After passing the Auckland Hospital Board's final examination at the end of three years, the nurses were publicly presented with the Board's certificate of "trained nurse".

Mereana received her certificate in November 1896, was appointed a charge nurse [equivalent to ward sister], and was entitled to 21 days' holiday each year. At this time the hospital had 44 nurses.

She left the hospital service on April 12, 1900. When the Nursing Registration Act was introduced in 1901, nurses who had completed an approved course of training were eligible to become New Zealand registered nurses. Mereana applied for this on June 5, 1902 and was number 252 on the register. It is this date and number that qualifies her as the first Maori registered nurse in New Zealand.

During her training, her best friend was Emma Hattaway. On a visit to the Hattaway farm at Pakuranga, Mereana met Emma's brother Vincent, and, after his return from the Boer War, they were married in 1904.

After their marriage the Hattaways went to live in the King Country where Vincent built the first boarding house, a temperance hotel and store at PioPio. (5) By 1908, he had opened a mail service and stables in Te Kuiti. The couple had six children, the last being born in 1912.

The King Country Chronicle announced on March 13, 1908 that "Nurse Hattaway, Certificated and Registered Obstetric, Surgical and Medical nurse, will be prepared to receive patients in her nursing home, Taupiri St, Te Kuiti". The nursing home was called Wharemana. Prior to this, the nearest general hospital would have been at Hamilton.

Family stories recount her continuing nursing in the community, and tearing up her best sheets when she needed bandages. She also looked after a frail baby, whose mother could not manage, and brought up the little girl with her youngest child, Barbara.

Vincent Hattaway was severely injured in about 1911, when thrown from his horse, but continued with his freight carrying business. He later became a resident of the Ranfurly Home in Auckland, where he died in 1943.

During the influenza epedemic of 1918, Mereana was the matron of the Te Kuiti Temporary Native Hospital situated at the Maori pa, where a total of 50 patients were treated. (6)

Mereana and the children later returned to her home at Peria, where she continued nursing and encouraging Maori girls to attend school. Many girls from the Peria district became nurses, including some of her grandchildren.

Aged 60, Mereana developed bowel cancer, and after unsuccessful surgery, died at Mangonui Hospital in Northland. On October 12, 1929 the matron wrote: "There were many days when, in spite of all we could do, she suffered a lot of pain, but throughout her illness she never once complained, but was brave and bright to the very end. We all loved her, she was so brave and bright, and could even joke about her operation though she knew its significance so well. Her pluck never once failed her. I should have loved to have known her in her nursing days, she must have been a tower of strength to many." (7)

This woman must be remembered for her dedication to nursing and Maori education. She was highly regarded all her life and always maintained the high standards of her training school, Auckland Hospital.

Research journey untangles web of history

UNCOVERING THE story of a Maori nurse who registered in 1902, thus predating Akenehi Hei by six years, has been an exciting journey for former Auckland Hospital nurse educator Diana Masters.

The journey was sparked by a letter from a fellow member of the Auckland Hospital Registered Nurses' Club, Marilyn Gendek in Australia, enclosing a photo of Gendek's great, great aunts and sisters-in-law Emma Hattaway and Mereana Tangata, who trained together at Auckland Hospital. Research into Hattaway family history revealed Mereana had been known as Marion Leonard.

"As I had a copy of the first Auckland Hospital nurses' register. I was able to ascertain that Mereana Tangata, known as Mary Ann Helena Leonard, had completed a three-year training course in 1896. This made her eligible for State registration in 1902 and she was listed as number 252," said Masters. "Via the Hattaway family in Auckland, I was able to contact Mereana's granddaughter Tui Gardner, living in Peria near Kaitaia, the place of Mereana's birth. Tui invited me to visit her there and we had a wonderful time together. Although she had never known her grandmother, she was able to show me many momentos."

Masters' research then took her to the Kinder Library at Auckland's St John's Theological College. Further information about the families was gleaned through the Auckland Museum Library, Auckland City Library and Anglican Archives. A research friend copied all references to the Hattaway family in back issues of the King Country Chronicle. Masters also checked census records and obituary notices in Kai Tiaki. An extensive obituary about nurse Marianne Hattaway in 1930 describes her as "a well-known nurse who used her nursing knowledge for the benefit of her neighbours, both Pakeha and Maori (she belonged to both races) right through her busy home life at Te Kuiti, and later in the northern district, where she died". (7) A study of papers about Te Aute College and Hukurere School in Archives New Zealand, the National Library and Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington helped Masters understand the context in which Maori girls were being encouraged to take up nursing during this era.

"My research has taken four years. I am always hopeful of finding more information about Mereana," especially a link with the Te Aute College Maori leaders. They were advocating nurse training for Maori women at a time when a woman from their sister school had already completed her training. I am sure there must be a connection but so far I cannot find it."

Diana Stuart Masters, RGON, Dip Nsg Studies, is a former nurse educator of Auckland Hospital. She was co-author of the 1994 publication Nurses of Auckland and first presented this research at a meeting of the Auckland Medical History Society in June 1999.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.