A Century of District Nursing in Wellington, 1903-2003

A Century of District Nursing in Wellington, 1903-2003

Arcus, Kerri

‘Often wearisome, sometimes saddening, but always interesting’

Research abstract

District nursing commenced in Wellington just over a century ago when Annie Holgate, a ‘trained, professional’ nurse, was employed to care for the ‘sick poor’ in October 1903. As the second district nurse in Aotearoa New Zealand, Holgate pioneered this role in the North Island. She was employee! by the Wellington St John Ambulance District Nursing Guild, which provided free district nursing to the people of Wellington for over fifty years.

From 1945, the Wellington Hospital Board assumed responsibility for district nursing and expanded the service to the greater Wellington region. In 1974, the Community Health Services were formed, with Pauline Maclnnes as the nurse leader. Expansion of health care in the community ensued, with district nurses becoming pivotal to client-centred communitybased and collaborative health care. This service was dismantled in the wake of health sector restructuring in 1989. The philosophy and operation of the Community Health Service of this period bears a striking resemblance to the current concept of Primary Health Care.

Historical research revealed a dearth of published literature on district nursing in Aotearoa New Zealand. Primary sources were used to compile this descriptive narrative history. Themes that emerged are the autonomy of district nurse practice, the invisibility of district nursing and the impact of visionary leadership. All have implications for the future of district nursing. In the words of two Wellington district nurses in 1908, the work goes on Often wearisome, sometimes saddening, but always interesting’.


Bazaar. (1904). St John Ambulance Nursing Guild [Brochure]. Wellington, New Zealand: Alexander Turnbull Library.

Sexton, A., & Macandrew, M. (1908). The St. John Ambulance Association District Nursing Guild: Some notes on district nursing in Wellington. Kai Tiaki, July, 59-60.

Copyright School of Nursing and Health Studies 2004

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