This biography is largely based on an oral interview with Isabel’s daughter and son, Catherine (Kitty) Wishart and John Wishart, in May 2021 for the Early Medical Women of New Zealand Project. The interviewers were Michaela Selway and Rennae Taylor.
The Early Years
Margaret Isabel Moore (known as Isabel) was born on 3rd September 1918 at the Mount Eden home of her grandmother in Auckland. She was the first and only child of Rupert Cyril Moore and Margaret Roberta Moore (nee Scott) who were both teachers and had married in 1917. Rupert tragically died in World War I on the 12th of September 1918; there is no record that he was aware of Isabel’s birth prior to his death.
Roberta returned to teaching sometime after the birth of Isabel and lived in Kingsview Road Mount Eden with her mother, Isabella Scott (nee Coghill), who helped to raise Isabel. Roberta never remarried. Grandmother Isabella had emigrated from Scotland and met her future husband, Captain Edward John Scott, a Master Mariner, on the sea voyage from Scotland. Not long after they met, he was left a widower with three young sons and later began his courtship of Isabella, who worked as a dressmaker and tailor. He obtained a position as ship’s captain on Pacific Island routes and later the Auckland-Thames run. He and Isabella married in 1884 when she was 31. She took responsibility for her husband’s three sons and had five children of her own. All their children were well educated, Roberta having attended lectures at Auckland University after training to be a teacher, and Isabel grew up being encouraged to achieve a good education. Isabella, a widow since 1908, passed away in 1930 when Isabel was twelve years old. World War I took a heavy toll on their family, with two of Isabella’s sons dying as well as Roberta’s husband Rupert.
Isabel’s mother, Roberta, taught at Mangawhau Primary School, and Isabel probably attended the same school, followed by Epsom Girls’ Grammar for her secondary education. She maintained the family tradition of focusing on her education, being a hard-working, studious girl who achieved well academically, especially in Latin which was useful for medical school. She was not sporty but sang in the school choir. It is not known why she wanted to go into medicine. Isabel’s children are not aware of anyone having worked in the medical field in either family’s history.
Her grandmother Isabella was quite a canny businesswoman and eventually owned sections in Mangere and Kohimarama as well as the family home in Mt Eden. It is thought that she and Roberta would have financially supported Isabel’s medical schooling. Roberta and Isabel were also very close to her late husband’s family, the Moores, who lived in Grafton. Rupert’s sisters later ran a boarding house in the family home, on the site where the Cancer Society Domain Lodge now stands.
Studying at the Otago Medical School
As far as her children are aware, Isabel attended Otago University for her medical intermediate year. As was common in girls’ schools of that era, Epsom Girls Grammar had not prepared her enough in the subjects of Chemistry and Physics, so she had a lot of “catching up” in these subjects and found it very hard work during that first year.
Her time in Dunedin commenced in 1936 and she graduated with the requisite examination results in 1942. As far as her children are aware, she stayed in St Margaret’s University Hostel for women throughout her medical training until her marriage in 1941. She worked very hard and did not socialise a great deal. She did comment that a couple of the lecturers were particularly tough with the women medical students.
She always spoke fondly of her time in Dunedin and the lifelong friendships she made. On weekends, she participated in the women’s tramping club and enjoyed going to the university balls with her friends. Several of her university years were during “the war years”, so life was quite austere.
Two of her close friends from these university years were doctors M. Elizabeth “Betty” Macready (nee Cuttle) and Roma Roberts (nee Chatfield). They maintained a close “telephone” friendship into their late eighties.
In 1941, Isabel married Paul Wishart from the Medical School Class of 1940; he was thirty-one years of age and Isabel was twenty-two. Paul was born in 1909 in Hereford, England and had an unusual childhood. His parents George Wishart and Lilian Cooke separated after his birth and George was sent out to New Zealand to work for relations who were farming on the Chatham Islands.
Lilian lived with her parents and raised Paul, helping to support him by playing piano for silent movies. In 1911 she met a talented pianist, and four children were born during the war years. Paul remembered there being two pianos in the lounge and endless music, but his stepfather definitely preferred his own children. Life was not easy for Paul before the pianist died in the 1918 influenza epidemic.
1920 brought more change. His father George had left the Chatham Islands to join the British army in 1914 and returned to the United Kingdom in 1920 after serving in Palestine. By this time, Lilian had met Captain Collins from Toronto and was preparing to leave with her children for Canada. Whatever negotiations transpired between his parents, the end result was George taking Paul, the son he barely knew, to the Chatham Islands in 1920. Paul never met his half siblings again, and only saw his mother once in the mid-1950s, not long before he died. George lived in a single man’s hut on a farm, so Paul spent his first year on the island boarding with the local doctor, who he credited with awakening his interest in medicine. The next year he went to Christchurch Boys High School, living in a boarding house where he worked to pay for his board. He did well academically and was able to enrol in the medical program at the University of Otago after completing his Intermediate Medical examination at Canterbury University. However, during the depression years he took several years off and worked on farms to earn money to fund more years of study. These jobs included rabbit shooting in the Mackenzie country, where he enjoyed the camaraderie and the scenery. He was tempted to become a farmer, but his co-workers persuaded him to complete his degree.
In March 1942 Paul and Isabel had their first child Anne, a second daughter Catherine (Kitty) in June 1943 and a third daughter Judith in 1945. Sometime during the years of 1942 to 1944 Margaret completed her sixth year and most likely her two years of registration at Auckland Hospital. Her certificate indicates her requisite examinations were completed in 1942 but the certificate is not signed until July 1944. Meanwhile, Paul was posted to the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force in January 1942. He was appointed Regimental Medical Officer to the 37th Battalion in February 1942 where he served in Fiji, New Zealand, and New Caledonia until July 1943. Paul then spent time in New Zealand to take a course at the Tactical School and was posted to the 22nd NZ Field Ambulance in Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands, and was involved in the commando raid on Nissan Island, Papua New Guinea in January 1944. (1) His son John has been transcribing the letters sent to Isabel during this time and he has seen a very different side to his father – “quite romantic”.
These would have been extremely challenging years for Isabel as she coped with marriage, her husband almost immediately being posted overseas for war duty, completing her studies and her sixth-year hospital work, plus three pregnancies in quick succession. She moved back into the family home in Mount Eden with her mother Roberta, who was able to give the same support to her daughter as she had once received from her own mother, Isabella. Around 1944-1945, Roberta bought a house on a large section with an orchard on Cockle Bay Road in Howick and she and Isabel and the children moved out there.
Like many others, Isabel took up smoking during the war years and it was only after suffering from acute bronchitis at the age of fifty-five that she finally gave it up, later blaming it for her COPD. She had rheumatic fever as a child, possibly why she was never the sporty type and had to pace herself while tramping as a student. She had interesting interactions with the medical profession over the years, once arguing with an emergency doctor when he would not be convinced by her own diagnosis of ruptured appendix (she was right) and again when she was ninety-one and developed breast cancer. The surgeon did not want to do a mastectomy under general anaesthetic because of her age and general health, but she insisted on having it done under local anaesthetic as “she did not want to die of brain metastases”. Her children said this toughness was very characteristic of her. She was a favourite patient for case studies when she was in hospital, the combination of rheumatic fever, seven pregnancies, COPD and living into her nineties being unusual.
The Post War Years
On his discharge from the army in 1945, Paul and Isabel moved to Tauranga. He worked for two years in Tauranga Hospital (it is unclear if these were his two house surgeon years) and then he went into private practice with his consultation rooms in the family home. It was hard work with long hours and involved a lot of travel into the surrounding countryside for deliveries and attending accidents.
Their fourth child, John, was born in 1948 and in 1949, Isabel, Paul and baby John went to the UK for 18 months where Paul gained the degrees of MRCP (Edinburgh) and DMRD (Diploma in Medical Radio Diagnosis) in London.
The three girls stayed in Howick with their grandmother Roberta and remember it as a wonderful, fun time. Isabel, Paul, and baby John lived in war-torn Croydon, in what she later described to her children as a “tip of a place”. This was a very difficult time for her as she was subject to food rations and had vivid memories of using a “lot of lard”. Paul was up in London much of the time studying, so she was subject to long days and nights of loneliness and missing her little girls and mother back in New Zealand. Attempts to engage with Paul’s English relatives met with limited success.
They returned from England in 1950 and Paul became both Physician and Radiologist at Tauranga Public Hospital, adding MRACR (Member of the Australasian College of Radiologists) and FFR (Fellow of the Faculty of Radiologists, Dunedin) to his qualifications between 1953 and 1957. He also worked at Rotorua and Whakatane Hospitals, sometimes sharing driving with another visiting specialist. He also fitted in private work as a radiologist at Norfolk Hospital in Tauranga. The children remember him working very hard and being constantly away from home, not, of course, unusual for that era. He also had a major interest in music and spent much of his spare time at rehearsals with the local orchestra or practising with a trio in their lounge, playing either cello or double bass. Then, he would go off to music school in Cambridge for his annual holidays while the rest of the family joined Roberta in Howick. (They think he would have loved to have had a career as a musician).
Meanwhile, Isabel was left to tend to their growing family. Both Isabel and Paul wanted a large family because of their childhoods, one an only child and the other from a fractured family. She suffered the loss of stillborn twins between John’s birth in 1948 and Scott’s birth in 1953. It was a happy and busy house and Isabel was a very calm and supportive mother, all the children being encouraged to read, play sport, and learn at least one musical instrument. The house was filled with music: the older children sang while doing the dishes, knew all the lyrics from South Pacific and tried to harmonise like the Everly Brothers. Paul and Isabel were involved with the Community Arts Service and the Chamber Music Society and overseas musicians would visit the house and sometimes join the children riding bikes around the backyard.
When Scott was five, Isabel started a part-time job at a private laboratory run by her old classmate Dr Graham (Slim) Somerville, doing allergy testing at first and later more varied work. However, she unexpectedly became pregnant again, and in 1958, at the age of forty-one, had Guy. He was what the older children describe as a much-beloved afterthought – “the sunshine child”. The late 1950s were good times for the family. Paul was more involved at home, bought a 16 ft runabout and the family learned to deal with broken shear pins and grounding on the sandbanks of Tauranga Harbour.
Unexpectedly in October 1959, Paul died of a heart attack just before his fiftieth birthday, leaving Isabel with six children ranging in age from one to seventeen years. The eldest, Anne, was soon to leave home for teacher training in Auckland and Kitty would go to university the following year. Unfortunately, this was a year when the Labour government had put death duties into place and so one-third of his estate went into the government coffers. Luckily Paul’s life insurance paid off the mortgage on their house, so Isabel did not have that to worry about as well. One year old Guy joined the next-door neighbours’ one year old George while Isabel worked, with Kitty looking after him during university holidays. The family tradition of one generation supporting the next then came into play again when Isabel’s mother, Roberta, moved from Howick to Tauranga to live with the family and assist with childcare and cooking until her death in 1976 at 91.
Science teachers were always in short supply, so Isabel taught for a year at Tauranga Girls College in 1960, her first year as a widow, but decided teaching was not her forte. The following year her colleague, Dr Graham Sommerville, again offered her a job at his laboratory and provided on the job training to become a pathologist. 1961 was the first year of her being on the Medical Register. The children remember her diligently studying at home in the evenings. There is one certificate from 1974 for membership in the International Academy of Cytology, which is the only evidence of a formal qualification they have. However, she studied and worked hard and eventually handled a wide range of work: in a regional town in that era, all pathologists were generalists. She did post-mortems, gave evidence in court cases and was proud of her work in this area, as it was initially harder than working behind a microscope. During this part of her life, Isabel’s social life largely focused on home-based celebrations. Family friends, Dr Tony Rockel and Bill Fleet, enjoyed Friday night social and musical evenings with the family.
Unexpectedly, Dr Sommerville died aged 56 in 1973. Dr Philip Palmer acquired the laboratory and Isabel also enjoyed working with him. In 1978, at the age of sixty, the usual retirement age at that time, she retired.
Isabel enjoyed her retirement years, but her children believe she would have been happier working – at least until she was sixty-five. She had felt at home in the environment of Norfolk Laboratory but did not consider moving to a laboratory in another town. She did enjoy catching up with her colleagues at the Class of 1942 reunions.
Her mother Roberta enjoyed living in Tauranga and continued to live with Isabel until her passing in 1976. Isabel loved literature and was a great reader. While living in Tauranga she belonged to a literary group and the children remember her writing and delivering a talk on James K. Baxter. She also enjoyed painting landscapes of the Tauranga area. Like her own mother, gardening became one of her great loves. She was not particularly interested in travelling, though she went with Kitty to Australia to visit her sons John and Scott in 1984.
In 1979, when her last child Guy left to study at Massey University, Isabel moved to Pukekohe where her daughter Anne was living. Later Guy worked nearby in Ramarama. In 1989 she moved to the Herne Bay area and lived in a townhouse she and Kitty shared. Later Guy and his family lived with her while Kitty and John shared an adjoining townhouse. She led a busy life in both places. She was involved in church activities, first at St James in Pukekohe, then at St Stephens in Herne Bay where she worked with the outreach programs. She read and studied her Bible daily and Kitty said it was a well-marked book. In later years, family is what made her happy; she loved her children and extended family dropping in to visit her. In the family tradition of Isabella and Roberta, Isabel was able to help in the care of her grandchildren by providing after school care until she was well into her eighties.
Isabel passed away on the 17th June 2013 at the age of ninety-four after two years with increasing dementia. John, as main carer, and Kitty and Guy were able to care for her in the family enclave until the last four months of her life.
Isabel had many challenges to face throughout her life but met them with stoicism and good humour. She left a strong legacy in her children. They continue the tradition of Isabel’s family – “loving and caring for each other and the next generation”. Isabel was a loving and supportive mother who encouraged her often recalcitrant teenagers to persist with their senior exam studies. Interestingly, none of the six children were inclined to go into the field of health or medicine, but the grandparents’ and parents’ wider interests have emerged in various ways. Scott became a Presbyterian Minister and he and his large family are all very good singers and musicians. Guy is a science teacher, whose musical talent is evidenced by a Silver Scroll Award in 1990 for “Don’t Take Me For Granted”. His 2017 Tui Award winning album “North by Northwest” included the song “Kingsview Road” about 94-year-old Isabel looking back at her childhood in Mount Eden. (2,3) John, a journalist, and graphic artist, currently sings and plays keyboards in several singing groups and Judith had a great voice and sang in touring groups and as a soloist. The eldest girls followed Isabel’s literary leanings; Kitty working as a librarian and bookseller, organising book festivals, and writing workshops and Anne teaching and being the most avid reader in the family.
Isabel worked very hard during her secondary and university years to become a medical doctor. An early marriage, the arrival of six children and running a busy household interrupted her career pathway. However, on becoming a widow at the age of forty-one, she forged a pathway which incorporated the medical skills from her earlier training. She thoroughly enjoyed her years working in pathology and was able to nurture and support her family through her chosen vocation.
- Captain P. W. Wishart, N.Z.M.C. Auckland Auckland War Memorial Museum; [updated 2017]. Available from: https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph/record/142744
- Wishart G. Kingsview Road 2016. Available from: https://open.spotify.com/track/5Otewt6QX5JE5Ze2de7Rq3
- Wishart G. Kingsview Road 2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBIIne89Gy4&ab_channel=GuyWishart-Topic