This biography is largely based on information from the memoirs of Daisy’s son John, the Karori Historical Society (Inc.), and New Zealand historical publications by Dorothy Page. Further secondary resources are listed in the bibliography at the end. We are very grateful for the assistance of Adrian Humphris and Peter Anderson, members of the Karori Historical Society and the generous feedback from Dorothy Page.
Class of 1900
Daisy Elizabeth Platts was born to Emma (nee Walton) and her husband, Rev. Frederick Charles Platts, an Anglican clergyman, (2) at the parsonage of Holy Trinity Church, Sandridge (now Port Melbourne), Victoria, Australia on 13 July 1868. (3)
Daisy’s father was born in Barrackpore, Bengal, India on 5 November 1823 and died on 28 May 1900 at the age of 76 in Port Chalmers, New Zealand. He came from an old Nottinghamshire family and was the son of Captain Robert Platts of the old East India Company army. He graduated with his M.A. from the University of Aberdeen and taught in a college in Delhi and later as a Classical Master at Bedford Grammar School, England. He came out to Australia at the direction of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and had a parish in North Adelaide which stretched 400 miles north of the city. (4, 5) The story goes that in his duties into the outback of his parish he encountered Ned Kelly, the infamous highwayman of Australia, and told him how much he needed God and soon nuggets of pure gold began to appear on the church offertory plate. (5) Another of the stories which Daisy’s son said were told exactly to him by his mother follows: Twice her father was unfrocked for punching two bishops in the nose when they did not see eye to eye with him on a matter. Bishop Neville of Dunedin was passing through Melbourne, on his way to London for the 2nd Lambeth Conference held in 1878, when he sought out her father, who had been relegated to Melbourne to teach Classics at Melbourne Grammar School, and asked him if he was the fellow who had punched two bishops on the nose to which he replied: (5)
“Yes I am, and do you want to be the third?” “Oh please, no more violence, but you are the man I want for our parish at Port Chalmers in New Zealand. This is the sea port on the East Coast of South Island which is supplying the biggest Gold Rush in the history of the Southern Hemisphere. There arrive each year 10,000 souls who have suffered the perils, both physical and moral, of the Eastern Passages and are thirsty for the Word of the Lord. There are good men ready to help you build church and parsonage and there will be a rich life for you and your family.”
Daisy’s mother Emma Walton was born in Leeds, England in 1831 and died in Victoria, Australia in 1873 at the age of 42. (6) Daisy would have only been five years of age when this occurred.
Little is known about Daisy’s very early family life. We know she came from a large family (7) and was the fourth daughter. (8) Her father remarried and in 1880 at the age of twelve, Daisy moved with her family to Port Chalmers where her father became the vicar at Holy Trinity Anglican Church. (2) Snippets from Papers Past indicate Daisy took part in church and community activities by using her ability to accompany at concerts as well as contributing with her lovely singing voice. (9, 10) Like many of the early women medical graduates, Daisy attended Otago Girls’ High School. (2) She entered the University of Otago Medical School sometime during her twenties. Prior to embarking on her university studies, she spent six years working as a governess in Central Otago. (11) This may have been to accumulate funds to support her university education, but this is only speculation.
It is interesting to note in a 1921 article on “The Otago Girls’ High School – An Historical Sketch”, Dr J. Hislop (a very highly respected educationalist, scholar and school inspector (12)), who presided over the annual school break-up gave the following quote from the notes of Mr. A. Wilson who had been rector (principal) of the school from 1884 to 1895 (13) and had promoted the higher education for girls more effectively than any female principal of the day could:
“Medicine is a subject in which girls might find an opening for their energy and ability. Medicine has attracted a number of ex pupils of the Girls’ High School, many of whom have made quite distinguished names for themselves. Nine very early graduates from 1896 to 1906 were mentioned; these included Drs Margaret Cruickshank who had been dux of the school in 1891, Emily Seideberg, Jane Kinder, Daisy Platts, Eleanor S. Baker, Winifrede Bathgate, Agatha Adams, Emily Ridley, and Ada Paterson. There were only four other medical women from 1896 – 1906 who came from other schools.”
The exam results from Otago University indicate Daisy’s improvement over the years. In November 1895, she successfully passed in the following subjects: Physics, Physical Laboratory, Chemistry Lectures, Chemistry Practical Laboratory, Practical Biology, Zoology, and Botany. (14) Two years later, she obtained a first class pass in Organic Chemistry and second class passes in Class of Surgery and Anatomy. (15) She graduated with her Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery with first class honors in 1900, along with three other women: Jane Kinder, Constance Frost and Alice Woodward. (16) In 1900 five women and 706 men were recorded on the New Zealand medical register. (17)
Daisy does not appear to have been employed as a house surgeon following graduation but went directly to be an assistant to Dr. W. G. Stevens at his Kurow and Duntroon practices, located inland from Oamaru. The Oamaru Mail advised she would be paying special attention to the diseases of women and children. (18)
Daisy stayed here for a year and seems to have been warmly embraced by the community. The ‘Duntroon Notes’ reported in May of the following year: (20)
Regret was universally felt, when it became known that we were about to lose our lady medico. Apart from her professional ability, a matter in which the majority of us are hardly capable of forming an opinion which may be worth anything – those who came in contact with Dr Platts have been struck with her fascinating personality and her gentleness in the treatment of her patients. So marked is this that some of those who have not seen her performing a dangerous operation have been led to believe that she was too tender hearted to be a doctor! This, however, is a mistake, as in Dr Platts there is that blending of steady nerve and warm heart so essential, but also so rare, in the profession.
The article goes on to say that some of her lady friends in the community put on an afternoon tea at The Pringle Hotel prior to her departure for Wellington and presented her with a frosted silver tea service and half-a-dozen apostle spoons. Daisy was asked to sing “By the fountain” during a social time of singing. (20)
Daisy moved to Wellington in the middle of 1901 and started to establish herself in her own private practice, the first woman doctor in private practice in Wellington. (2) In September of 1901, her engagement to a Wellington merchant, Mr. John Fortescue Mills, (but known as Jack) (5) was announced and on 11 February 1902 they were married at Holy Trinity Church, Port Chalmers. (21, 22) Following her marriage, Daisy changed her surname to Platts-Mills. Interestingly, Jack was the fourth son and Daisy was the fourth daughter in their respective families. On their marriage certificate, one of the witnesses was John H Scott – almost certainly Professor John Halliday Scott, Dean of the Medical Faculty at University of Otago from 1877 to 1914. (23) Interesting, that Daisy would have invited him to be a witness and suggests a friendly relationship usually lacking in accounts of his dealings with female students. (23)
Jack’s father, Edward William Mills, arrived in Wellington in 1842 and as a teenager went off to the Australian gold rush where he soon discovered providing material to the prospectors was more lucrative than prospecting. (5) According to his grandson’s memoirs, his grandfather made a fortune, and returned to Wellington where he set-up the hardware and engineering firm E. W. Mills and Company Ltd in 1854 which amalgamated with the Wellington branch of Briscoe and Co in 1932.(24) He built a grand house on Aurora Terrace in the suburb of Kelburn which he called Sayes Court and had a large family of five daughters and four sons. Jack, the youngest son, was associated with his father’s company for many years but according to his son’s memoirs he was mostly kept at home to tend the family’s horses, dogs, carriages and to act as guardian and keeper of his mother and sisters and his most outstanding achievement was finding Daisy Platt to be his wife. (5) Jack was also prominent in Wellington rowing and sporting circles, being a member of the Star Boating Club as well as Hunt, Racing and Polo clubs. (4) According to his son, it was fortunate that Daisy wanted to work because her salary was needed. His father was not a good money manager and went through his inherited family money twice. The family generally did not have an abundance of money. (5)
Early Career Wellington
Daisy and John started their married life in the family home at Sayes Court, Aurora Terrace, Kelburn. On marrying, Jack used his inheritance to purchase the old ‘Donald Tea Gardens’ in Donald Street, Karori. (25) Prior to 1900 this 26-acre property was a tree nursery and tea gardens developed by a Robert Donald who had immigrated from Aberdeenshire in 1850. By 1900 the property was being split up and sold. (26) John and Daisy employed a series of caretakers to run this business while they pursued their own careers. Teas were still served during the early part of their ownership but by 1914, the grounds had deteriorated – it was sold in 1928 to the Karori Gardens Estate Company Ltd. (27)
Over the next few years of marriage Daisy and John welcomed three children into their family; Edward in 1903, Adah in 1905 and John in 1906. (28)
In his memoir, “Muck, Silk and Socialism”, her son John recounts his own start in life: Daisy was impatient as her expected due date came and went; she decided to hurry things along by taking a brisk walk up the hill to the Wellington gardens with instructions to a Mr Pierce (possibly the gardener) to come with his wheelbarrow if she blew the whistle. She succeeded in establishing her labour and John was quickly born up on Campbells Hill weighing over twelve pounds; mother and child had to be conveyed down to flat ground in a wheelbarrow. (5)
At the same time as she was starting her family, Daisy was establishing herself in private practice in Wellington. (2) A 1903 advertisement in the Free Lance, stated that “Dr Platts-Mills would be present on Tuesdays and Fridays from 3-4 pm for free vaccination at Fletcher’s Pharmacy, 1 & 3 Willis St; (29) this probably would have been the smallpox vaccine (30) although by 1900 vaccines for rabies, plague, cholera, and typhoid had been developed but with no regulation of vaccine production. (31)
Her daughter Adah, said from the beginning Daisy combined medicine and home life and remembers her as a splendid cook. (25) Her son remembers her driving him to his Saturday afternoon rugby games and then she would go straight back home to do her weekly baking session. (5)
It is not known where her early medical practice was, but during a downturn in their “fortunes”, from 1913 to 1916 their home and her private practice were located at 81 Abel Smith Street, in the suburb of Te Aro – an area known as the medical heart of the city. (25) It was here in the kitchen, her son recalls, that he and his siblings had their childhood operations of removal of tonsils, adenoids, and appendixes. A surgeon would come to their home where they would be laid out on the kitchen table which had been scrubbed and pumiced until it shone, then varnished and disinfected. Chloroform was used for the anaesthetic agent. (5) This wooden building which she lived and practiced from burnt down at the end of World War II but was rebuilt by Dr Ewart, an obstetrician, (32) and is now one of a group of 13 heritage properties that were relocated and preserved as part of the Wellington Inner City Bypass. It has a representative history as one of the group of doctor’s houses/consulting rooms that were once prevalent on upper Willis Street. (33)
From the timeline in her son’s memoirs, they again had a brief time of affluence when Jack’s eldest brother Edward, a widower, passed away in June 1916. As the only brother still living, he received his brother’s inheritance. They moved back into the family home at Sayes Court; he recalls the halls, reception rooms, the ballroom with mirrors and chandeliers, and ample stabling. They had two “lady helps” who lived with them and did much of the housework. But by 1920 the business was in “real trouble” and his father, as managing director, took the blame, was fired, was made to sell his shares in the business, and the family was “turned out of Sayes Court”. (5) They moved back to their old house at the Tea Gardens and the estate was divided into sections and sold off. In 1926 they moved nearby to a very modest home at 18 Amy Street (now Marsden Avenue), Karori. (25)
From her son’s memoirs, it seems that although her husband was not overly ambitious or successful in business and enjoyed spending and enjoying the Mills’ money, he and Daisy remained devoted to each other and the changes to their family fortunes left her “unperturbed”. Jack became the houseman of the family in their Amy Street home. This would have included helping his wife in the care for her stepmother, Sarah Huff Platts, who came to live with them circa 1923 until her death in 1932. (34) His son recounts these sentiments about his father; “It could be said that he never succeeded in anything except to arouse a wealth of extreme pleasure and sympathy. He was loved by many, and above all by his third and youngest child.” Of his mother, he said they were very proud of her. (5)
In the early days of her practice, Daisy got around in her horse and buggy on the unsealed roads of Karori and out to Makara. She purchased a sturdy Hupmobile circa 1910 to 1913. Her son John, who often accompanied her on her rounds as a young boy, remembered it was the first of its type in the country. (5, 25) The Hupmobile went into production in 1909 in the USA and from 1910 agencies in Australia and New Zealand took up sales. (35) In 1914, Daisy was in an accident with it at 2:00 a.m. while out on an emergency call. She was driving in the rain at twelve miles per hour when she collided with a tramway pole in the middle of the roadway along Customhouse Quay. She was unsuccessful in her claim for injuries received to herself and her car due to poor street lighting. (36)
Although Daisy left her private practice in 1915 for reasons unknown, she continued to lead a very full professional life in Wellington until her retirement in 1933. (25)
Later Career Wellington
Daisy was described as tall, of striking appearance with masses of dark brown hair and an excellent speaker. (5) No doubt these qualities assisted her as she came to the forefront in public issues. She was associated with the early struggles of several movements which championed the welfare of women and children. Some were positions of employment, but many would have been voluntary. She communicated clearly which resulted in many letters to newspaper editors as well as reports and pamphlets dealing with many aspects of health and hygiene. In addition to her written communications, she was often asked to lecture. (5, 25, 37, 38) Her involvement to her community included:
- Appointed house physician in the children’s ward of Wellington Hospital from 1912 to 1918 on the lead up to and during World War I; (25) she also served two terms on the Wellington Hospital Board receiving the top votes in both elections (38)
- Worked for the St John Ambulance Association and was the Wellington Divisional Surgeon for 20 years (38) and provided many hours as a lecturer and examiner; she was made an officer of the Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem (25, 37)
- Became the first woman medical officer to the Public Service Commission and retired from this position in 1933 (5); she was very proactive in her concern and provision for the health of the young women flocking into the cities during World War I to take the places of men who had left for the war. These women, some as young as fourteen, needed assistance with good general health which included the state and care of teeth, diet, fresh air, exercise, habits of life. Many of them had decayed teeth and unhealthy gums which gave rise to other more serious health issues. In one small survey, out of twenty-six young women between fourteen to sixteen years, only one had a full set of teeth. (40)
- First Dominion President of the Women’s National Reserve and founded the branch in Karori (38); after 1918, she was active in making preparations if another epidemic arrived and helped to organize through the Women’s National Reserve nursing classes for women and volunteers from various government departments had short nursing training in the General Hospital. (40)
- She gave her services freely to St Mary’s Home, Karori (25) which provided housing for orphans and destitute girls and for those living in undesirable circumstances (42) as well as attending whenever called upon to accidents at Karori School. (25)
- The Karori Borough Council formally thanked her for her work during the 1918 flu epidemic. (25)
- First president of the Plunket Society in Wellington (25) The following quote from an article questioning whether as a nation there is a lack of importance attached to Infant Welfare. It follows a quote from Sir F. Truby King, the founder of Plunket. (43)
- Member of the League of Mothers, the Mother’s Union (25) and the Moral and Physical Health Society. (44) Her son said although Daisy lectured to young women about maturity and sexual problems nothing of the sort was discussed with her own children. (5)
- During the 1913 wharf strike, she gave service to the families of the waterside workers’ (37) and attended the injured wharfies. Her son John remembers that, aged seven, he carried water to her from Post Office Square, under the noses of the police horses. (25)
- President of the Women’s Committee of the Greater Wellington Town Planning Association (45)
- Provided support to the Y.W.C.A., was a member of the Women’s Borstal Association, (37) The Society for the Promotion of the Health of Women and Children, (38) and the Temperance Society (46)
Daisy was an amateur member of the Society of Musicians (37) and a faithful member of St Mary’s Anglican Church, Karori where she regularly played the organ from 1926 to 1933. (25) She was a holder of the rank of Past Noble Grand (Presiding Officer) of the Victoria Lodge, No. 2 of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. (37, 47) Like her husband, she must have enjoyed sport as she was an office bearer of the Maranui Surf Club (48) and president of the Ladies Seagull Amateur Swimming Club. (49)
In 1934, Daisy and John retired to Whakatane and later to Auckland. John died in Auckland following a short illness in 1944, aged 76. (4) Daisy survived him by twelve years and passed away in Auckland in 1956, aged 88. (38)
Edward, their eldest son who carried his grandfather’s name, kept his father’s surname of Mills and followed his father into the E W Mills and Company Ltd hardware and engineering family business and later settled in Palmerston North where his wife was originally from. (25) Their daughter Adah Platts-Mills (later Blomfield), like her mother, attended Otago Medical School and graduated in the class of 1930. She spent several years in England where she obtained her Diploma in Obstetrics & Gynaecology. She practised as a general practitioner in Foxton and later Auckland and passed away in 2000. Their youngest son John, graduated with a Law degree from Victoria University and was a successful Rhodes Scholar. After graduating from Oxford, he became a British barrister and a politician with left-wing leanings. He was the Labour Party Member for Finsbury from 1945 to 1948 when he was expelled from the party for his pro-Soviet sympathies. He then returned to his legal career and became a Queen’s Counsel in 1964. (50) Both Adah and John took their mother’s surname of Platts-Mills. (25) The family name continues to be remembered locally in Auckland by the “Dr. Adah Platts-Mills Bush Reserve” located on the Maraetai Loop Coastal Walk. (51)
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