This biography is largely based on material from an interview with her nephew Russell Bain. His mother Veda was Mary’s younger sister. Correspondence with Mary’s great-grandson Toby Goodman was also very helpful. Further secondary resources are listed in the bibliography at the end.
Mary Jane Hulse Russell was born to Thomas Hulse Russell and Catherine (Kate) Russell (nee Fleming) at Milburn (north of Milton, Clutha District, South Island) on the 12th September 1895.
Her father Thomas (son of Alexander Russell, Lord Provost of Elgin) was born at Elgin, Scotland in 1863 and immigrated to New Zealand in 1881. (1) Initially he and his half-brother farmed in partnership on Inch Clutha (a large flat island in the Clutha River, downstream from the town of Balclutha) but in 1889 he leased and later purchased the “Lime Kiln” farm property at Milburn which adjoined the Milburn lime works. He farmed Shorthorn and Jersey cattle and Border Leicester sheep and was a leading prize-taker with wheat grown on his property. He also took an active role in local body affairs until retirement to Oamaru in 1943. He died in 1955 at the age of 91. Her mother Kate was born at Otokia (located between Balclutha and Mosgiel) in 1865 to a well-known South Taieri farmer, Alexander Fleming, a farmer who had emigrated to New Zealand in 1865 from Alyth, Scotland. Thomas and Kate had a total of seven children, five survived to adulthood – two sons Eden and Fleming, and three daughters Mary, Margaret, and Veda.
A further two sons died in infancy. Mary’s mother passed away in 1934 at the age of 69 (2) and her father remarried Mary Anderson in 1941. (1) Her parents were very active members of the Presbyterian Church all their lives.
For her secondary education, Mary initially attended the Tokomairiro High School in Milton which started in 1856 and today is still catering as a co-educational school for the students of this farming area. (3) Her nephew believes she was recognized as being quite intelligent and was then sent as a boarder to Columba College, a girls’ school established in 1915 by the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. It continues to operate today in the city of Dunedin. (4) He also said the family had a strong Presbyterian work ethic and all the children received tertiary education.
Studying at the Otago Medical School
Otago University records confirm that Mary graduated from Otago Medical School in 1927 at 31 years of age.
Mary gave birth to a daughter, later named Mary (“Mollie”), in Oamaru on 1 September 1917 when she was 21. This must have been a very difficult time in Mary Russell’s life due to the social mores at that time regarding having children “out of wedlock”. Mollie was adopted by her great-aunt, Margaret A Hudson (nee Fleming), the sister of Mary’s mother. Mollie’s grandson, Toby Goodman, indicated that she knew she was adopted, as did Mary’s family, but it was never talked about. Mollie’s grandson, Dean Goodman, wrote that Mary and Mollie never had any contact with each other, even when they later lived in Nelson at the same time. Mary’s nephew, Russell Bain, only found out about this daughter, who would be his first cousin, in 2014 through Mollie’s grandson Toby. Mollie died in 2013, aged 95. (5) Mary Russell’s great-granddaughter, Ainsley Goodman, followed in her footsteps and also became a doctor. Ainsley was re-elected to the Medical Council of New Zealand in 2021. (6)
It is unclear from university records if Mary Russell started university upon graduation from high school and dropped out to have Mollie or whether she commenced university after this time.
Otago University Medical School records in the possession of her great-grandson Toby, indicate she was enrolled on the 5th March 1918 at the age of 22 years in her Medical Preliminary. Further records (shown below) indicate she was enrolled in the second and third-year anatomy lectures in the spring, autumn and winter of 1919-1920 and 1920-1921. Other records are a little less clear but show attendance at some classes during 1922, 1923, 1924 and 1925. However, it is highly probable she either dropped out or repeated some subjects prior to graduating in 1927 as her records indicate she failed some of her subjects, particularly in 1925.
House Surgeon Christchurch Hospital
Three letters of reference written in 1934 from Christchurch Hospital practitioners’ Dr Stanley Foster, Dr John Guthrie and Dr Malcolm Robertson, which are in Russell Bain’s possession, indicate Mary had spent the previous six years there as a house surgeon. In particular, she spent considerable time in the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Department specialising in tonsil and adenoid surgery. Dr Guthrie praises her conscientiousness in her work and wrote that she exhibited more than ordinary ability. Dr Robertson, an ENT specialist, indicates her intention was to go to England to acquire further experience in ear and throat work with the view to specialisation and he could confidently recommend her for any resident post for which she may apply.
Ear, Nose and Throat Training and Employment in England
In a February 1946 letter of reference from Dr J.A. Wilson, the Assistant ENT surgeon at Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital, he writes that Mary came on staff in 1942 having previously had extensive experience over the previous 7 years (probably 1935 to 1941) in the ENT Department at the Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton located in the West Midlands
In 1942, she had been appointed temporary Surgeon and put in charge of the Ear, Nose and Throat Department. Her nephew recalls her speaking to him quite a lot about Coventry and how it was bombed extensively during World War II. Despite the challenges of the war years, it was his strong impression that she enjoyed her time there.
Back Home to New Zealand
In 1948, at the age of 52, Mary returned to New Zealand by ship. Russell thinks she returned at this time as she wanted to be closer to her family and to be away from the reminders of the war years. Friends picked her up in their car in Auckland and were driving through to Wellington. They had a very bad motor vehicle accident in Taupo which caused her to be crippled in one leg. She was in Dunedin Hospital for several weeks according to her nephew. Other than some contract work for the Health Department, she never worked again. Thankfully, poverty was not a problem Mary had to face, with this mid-life disability. According to her nephew Russell, Mary was quite a wealthy woman as evidenced in her estate. She was a canny saver and investor as well as inheriting money from her father and her Uncle Alexander in Scotland who she developed a strong bond with. Many of her possessions could be traced back to him.
On her return to New Zealand, she settled in Nelson, where her younger sister Veda lived. She lived here for the remainder of her life. She and her sister were always very close, and Veda’s only child Russell looked on Mary as his mentor, often giving him advice. He remembers her as being a fun, social person with a good sense of humour. The Russell family were musical, and her siblings loved getting together. Russell had several items of beautiful works of tapestry in his home which his Aunt Mary had done – he remembers her as having great dexterity and being very good with her fingers.
Mary died in Nelson Hospital on the 20th September 1991 at the age of 96. She was cremated in Nelson, and the ashes interred in the family plot at Fairfax Cemetery in Milton. (7)
- Find a Grave – Thomas Hulse Russell 1955 [cited 2021 14.5.2021]. Available from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/156651182/thomas-hulse-russell
- Find a Grave – Catherine Jane Russell 1934 [cited 2021 14.5.2021]. Available from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/156651162/catherine-jane-russell
- Tokomairiro High School – History Milton, New Zealand 2021 [cited 2021 12.05.2021]. Available from: https://www.tokohigh.school.nz/pages/3/About
- The Columba Story – Our History Dunedin 2021 [cited 2021 12.05.2021]. Available from: https://www.columbacollege.school.nz/columba-story/
- Find a Grave – Mary Fleming “Mollie” Hudson Watts 2013. Available from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/186189491/mary-fleming-watts
- Medical Council of New Zealand – Our People 2021 [cited 2021 18.5.2021]. Available from: https://www.mcnz.org.nz/about-us/our-people/
- Find a Grave – Dr Mary Jane Hulse Russell 1991. Available from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/156651349/mary-jane_hulse-russell