Emily Helen Violetta Nees (nee Ridley)

This biography is largely based on information received from secondary sources which are listed in the bibliography. Photos supplied by Alan Edwards. 

Class of 1904

Dr Emily Nees (nee Ridley). Date unknown.


Early Life

Emily Helen Violetta Ridley was born on 24 June 1877 in Dunedin to William White and Emily Hannah (nee Carpenter) Ridley. Emily was their third child and the eldest daughter in a family of nine siblings (three brothers and six sisters). Little is known about her family and early childhood. (1)

She attended Otago Girls High School and appears to have excelled at French receiving the third, fifth and sixth form prizes for this subject at the annual prize giving ceremonies. (2-4) In 1895 she passed the medical preliminary examination. (5). This same year she wrote the examination for the Women’s Scholarship but her classmate Winifrede Bathgate had a higher mark and was the recipient. (6) It is not known what motivated Emily to pursue studies in medicine.

Otago Witness, 11 April 1895. (5)

In 1892, which was Emily’s third form year, the Otago Girls High School roll was 198 pupils. The rector, Mr. A. Wilson, in his report at the breaking up ceremony and prize giving in mid-December 1892 provides some insight into the educational environment Emily was exposed to during her high school years: (2)

The health of the school generally has been good till within the last fortnight, when a number of pupils succumbed to the prevailing influenza epidemic. Fortunately so far the attacks of this trying sickness have been slight, though I am afraid they have been sufficiently severe to imperil the prospects of some of our candidates for matriculation and university scholarship examinations….

During the currency of the second and third quarters I organised for the senior girls a course of lessons in domestic economy – cooking and laundry work – and was fortunate enough to secure the efficient services of Mrs Miller as teacher. I myself was present at most of the cooking lessons, and was much pleased with the interest the girls took in the lessons. No doubt, with the necessary practice at home, most of the girls who attended this class will find the instruction they received of great practical value….

Pupils of the Third and Second Botany Classes were invited to bring as many varieties of wild flowering plants as they could collect between November 20 and December 5….in all, 231 species were brought to Mr Thomson. In the third form one pupil collected 130 species….

The object of the Drawing School… in the first place, to enable pupils to draw in correct outline and perspective; in the second to show them how to manage the lights and shadows, and to model; and after that, when the pupils have become good draughtswomen, to teach them how to use colours. The process is just as laborious as any other part of the school work….

During her high school years, Emily appears to have been quite involved in the Church of England Sunday School Union. In 1892 she received a second class certificate (7) and in 1895 a first-class certificate (8) in the Scholars’ Examinations in the Senior Division (over 14 years) of the Union. During these years she was attending All Saints Church (7, 8) which was established in 1865 and located in the northern part of Dunedin close to the University of Otago.

Otago University

Emily commenced her studies at Otago University in 1896. She was successful in passing Chemistry, Practical Chemistry, Biology (including Zoology and Botany), Practical Biology, and Physics. (9-12) For the majority of these subjects she received a third class mark.

In 1904 she was successful in achieving the degrees M.B. and Ch.B. along with two other women Agatha Adams and Winifred Bathgate. She was also in the same class as the first Māori graduate, Peter Buck. (13)

Auckland Star, 24 February 1904 (13)

In April 1904 Emily placed the following advertisement notice in the Evening Star which was published in Dunedin. (14)

Evening Star, 07 April 1904. (14)

Marriage and Family

Emily married on 17 February 1904, the same year she graduated with her medical degree. (15)

Otago Witness, 24 February 1904 (15)

Her husband, Berthold Hermann Nees, who was born 4 September 1874 (16) to Henry Frederick William and Harriet Ann (nee Mannix) Nees was from a well-known Dunedin family who were involved in the manufacturing and retailing of good quality furniture. (17) He was one of eleven children. (1) Berthold and Emily made their home for the latter part of their lifetime in a lovely home built in 1930 at 132 Cannington Road, in the affluent suburb of Māori Hill. (18-20)

132 Cannington Road, Māori Hill, Dunedin (19)

In 1918 Berthold is recorded as being a factory manager with two children. (21) He passed away in Dunedin on 23 February 1948 at the age of seventy-four. (1)

They had two sons, Berthold Ridley (Bert) born in 1905 and Harry Mannix in 1908. (16)

Emily with Harry, Hermann with Bert, circa 1908.

Both boys attended Māori Hill School which went up to Standard VI. Berthold attended Otago Boys High School from 1920 to 1921. Harry was dux at Māori Hill School in his last year there (Standard VI).   (22) Both boys were musical and in later life played in many orchestral concerts (Berthold- viola and Harry- flute). Both boys also took part in the family sport of yachting.

Berthold attended the University of Otago and in 1922 was studying Bookkeeping, Accounts, Business Organisation and Methods in preparation for joining the family firm William Nees & Sons Ltd.  He received a second class pass in his exams. (23)  He married Koa Elaine May, a resident of Dunedin and a well-known pianist, in 1932. (24) After World War II, he succeeded his father as Chairman of the company and retired in the 1950s at a relatively young age. He passed away in 1990. (1) They had two children.

Harry declined the offer to go to secondary school, instead starting work at the Nees furniture factory. He became a talented furniture designer and possessed fine business judgment. He retired from the firm and the role of Chairman in 1964. During World War II, he was a Lieutenant in the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve.  In 1944, while still in England, he married Enid Margery Carter, an English nurse. They had three children.  He passed away in 1986. (1) In the 1948 vice-regal investiture in Dunedin he received the distinguished service cross for his services in the military. He is recorded as being a resident of Māori Hill at this time. (26) The following report was given in 1942 after he was mentioned in dispatches. (22)

News has been received that Lieutenant Harry M. Nees, Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve, has been mentioned in despatches in connection with the Dieppe raid…. Knowing his capabilities as a sailor and being aware of his courage and of his keenness for the task overseas for which he volunteered, yachtsmen friends of Lieutenant Nees will hardly be surprised at the announcement indicating that his services have won special recognition…. Last October he was promoted to command one of those fast little warships which are such a constant source of annoyance to enemy vessels in or near the English Channel and in the North Sea.


Very little is known about Emily’s medical career except what can be found from Papers Past. In personal correspondence, Dorothy Page, a well-known New Zealand medical historian from Dunedin, concurred that little could be gleaned on Dr Nees (nee Ridley) when she was doing her own research in past years. There are only two references that were found which referred to her actually practicing medicine. However, Emily maintained her New Zealand medical registration up to 1957. (27)

In 1917, an article in the Otago Daily Times, refers to Dr Emily Nees requesting the admission to Dunedin Hospital of a woman who was suffering from varicose veins. The woman was very upset that she had been redirected by the Dunedin Hospital to the Benevolent Institution at Caversham. As a soldier’s wife she believed this was very inappropriate as this was known as a place for the poor and needy. (28)

In 1919, a brief entry in the Hospital and Charitable Aid Board report in the Otago Daily Times, indicates she relinquished her position as a visiting medical officer to Dunedin Hospital perhaps coinciding with the return of medical doctors following World War I. (29)

Otago Daily Times 17 April 1919 (29)

Other Avenues of Service

Through the years it appears she maintained some on-going interest and contribution as a medical doctor. She was one of seven medical women (six were Otago Medical graduates) who met on 27 October 1921 with the purpose of considering the formation of a New Zealand Medical Women’s Association. (NZMWA). Those present were Drs E Siedeberg (chair), W Bathgate who hosted the meeting at her rooms, M Whyte, G Stevenson, E Irwin, Emily Nees, and I Moody. (30) She was also included in gatherings of a more social nature which had a health component to them such as the following party where the minister of health’s wife Mrs Peter Fraser, Dr Ada Paterson, Director of the School Hygiene Division of the Department of Health, and Miss Lambie, the Director of the Division of Nursing were visiting from Wellington and were entertained by Dr Siedeberg-McKinnon. (31)

Otago Daily Times, 30.05.1936

There are also a few entries which show her contributing as a community speaker on health topics. For example, she lectured to the Kaikorai branch of the Home Economics Association – in 1926 she gave an instructive lecture on how to act in various emergencies (32) and in 1927 on the subjects of respiratory diseases and treatments for the simpler ones. (33)

In addition, she had an interest in the Otago University Women’s Association and at their twenty-first annual reunion she was acknowledged as having been one of several secretaries during this time. (34)

Over the years from 1916 to 1925 she consistently was one of several women who hosted children from the Dunedin orphanages and entertained them at a picnic after they were transported by the Otago Yacht and Motor Boat Club to Broad Bay near the entrance to the Dunedin harbour. (35, 36)

She passed away on 17 September 1958 at the age of eighty-one.



  1. Ancestors Family Search [12.09.2022]. Available from: https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/LVPL-QB8/berthold-hermann-nees-1874-1948
  2. Girls’ High School. Otago Witness. 1892 22.12.1892. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/OW18921222.2.131
  3. School Vacations. Otago Daily Times. 1893 23.12.1893. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT18931223.2.60
  4. School Break-Up. Girls’ High School. Evening Star. 1894 12.12.1894. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18941212.2.29
  5. Successes of Pupils Dunedin Girls’ High School. Otago Witness. 1895 11.04.1895. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/OW18950411.2.21
  6. University Council. Evening Star. 1895 07.05.1895. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18950507.2.47
  7. Church of England Sunday School Union. Evening Star. 1893 09.01.1893. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18930109.2.40
  8. Anglican Sunday School Teachers’ Union. Otago Daily Times. 1896 29.01.1896. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT18960129.2.36
  9. Otago University. Otago Daily Times. 1896 30.10.1896. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT18961030.2.32
  10. Otago University. Evening Star. 1896 03.11.1896. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18961103.2.15
  11. University of Otago. Otago Daily Times. 1896 31.10.1896. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT18961031.2.15
  12. N.Z. University. New Zealand Mail. 1897 06.05.1897. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZMAIL18970506.2.121.1
  13. University Senate. Auckland Star. 1904 24.02.1904. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AS19040224.2.39
  14. Advertisements. Evening Star. 1904 07.04.1904. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19040407.2.49.2
  15. Marriages. Otago Witness. 1904 24.02.1904. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/OW19040224.2.94
  16. Birth, Death & Marriages Online Wellington: Te Tari Taiwhenua Internal Affairs; [12.09.2022]. Available from: https://www.bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz/Home/
  17. Furniture Trade. Evening Star. 1912 29.05.1912. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19120529.2.70
  18. The New Zealand Gazette Register of Medical Practitioners [Internet]. New Zealand Internal Affairs; 1933 [cited 12.09.2022]. Available from: http://www.nzlii.org/nz/other/nz_gazette/1933/32.pdf
  19. Property Value by CoreLogic 2022 [12.09.2022]. Available from: https://www.propertyvalue.co.nz/otago/dunedin-city/maori-hill-9010/132-cannington-road-maori-hill-dunedin-9010-3234219
  20. Smallfield J, Heenan B. Above the Belt: A History of the Suburb of Maori Hill. Dunedin: Maori Hill Charitable Trust 2006.
  21. Second Division. Evening Star. 1918 21.08.1918. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19180821.2.9
  22. In Dieppe Raid. Evening Star. 1942 06.10.1942. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19421006.2.48
  23. University of Otago. Otago Witness. 1922 31.10.1922. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/OW19221031.2.17
  24. Marriage. Daily Times. 1932 02.03.1932. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19320302.2.35
  25. Awarded the D.S.C. Otago Daily Times. 1945 27.06.1945. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19450627.2.30
  26. Military Awards. Otago Daily Times. 1948 11.03.1948. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19480311.2.56
  27. The New Zealand Gazette Register of Medical Practitioners [Internet]. Wellington: Internal Affairs; 1957. Available from: http://www.nzlii.org/nz/other/nz_gazette/1957/75.pdf
  28. A Soldier’s Wife. Otago Daily Times. 1917 16.11.1917. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19171116.2.17
  29. Hospital Board. Otago Daily Times. 1919 17.04.1919. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19190417.2.82
  30. Maxwell MD. Women Doctors in New Zealand – An Historical Perspective 1921-1986 Auckland: IMS (NZ) Ltd; 1990.
  31. Personal and Social. Otago Daily Times. 1936 30.05.1936. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19360530.2.190.1
  32. General News. Otago Daily Times. 1926 10.07.1926. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19260710.2.134
  33. General News. Otago Daily Times. 1927 09.04.1927. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19270409.2.36
  34. Twenty-one Years Old. Otago Daily Times. 1934 21.08.1934. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19340821.2.115.4
  35. Orphanage Picnic. Evening Star. 1916 14.02.1916. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19160214.2.28
  36. Orphans Picnic – A Pleasant Outing. Evening Star. 1925 12.01.1925. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19250112.2.100
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