Zealanda Aitken (nee Marshall)

Zealanda, Circa 1920

This biography is largely based on information received from Christine Hall at the Waitaki Museum and Archive Collection (including articles from the Oamaru Mail), Zealanda’s New Zealand Medical Journal obituary, and personal communication from her grandson Ian Ramage and her great-niece Andree Dolby. Secondary sources are listed in the bibliography.

Class of 1922


Early Life

Zealanda and older sister Eliza (known as Elsie), Circa 1903 (Courtesy of her Family)

Zealanda Marshall was born 1 April 1898 to Eliza Findlater (nee Weir) and Alexander Marshall. She had an older sister Eliza (always known as Elsie) who obtained her BSc in Home Science at the University of Otago (1) and became a teacher (2). She also had a younger sister Alexandra who died at the age of one year and was buried in the Taieri Cemetery at Mosgiel where the family were living at the time. (3)

Zealanda’s father was the headmaster at Kurow District High School for several years until his sudden death in 1908 at the age of forty-one. (4) At the time of his passing Zealanda was ten and Eliza eleven years of age.

Zealanda attended Otago Girls High School and later Waitaki Girls’ High School where she was dux in 1915. During these years she was consistently recognized for her scholastic ability. In December 1910, she received an Education Board Junior Scholarship from the Otago Education district with a score of 524 out of a total of 800. This allowed her a junior free place in a secondary or district high school. (5) In 1911, she was attending Otago Girls High School and had the top marks for girls for the Otago Education Board in the Junior Scholarship exams. (6) By 1913 she was attending Waitaki Girls’ High School and had achieved a Senior Scholarship with top marks. (7)

In 1915, she was still attending Waitaki Girls’ High School and had successfully passed the University of New Zealand entrance scholarship. (8) The following year at the Waitaki Girls’ High School (student roll of 110) prize giving it was noted that the school had sent three scholarship students to Otago University in 1916 and all were taking science courses. This exceptional record was not expected to be replicated for a long time. (9)

Otago University

Zealanda was one of the three students sent to Otago University, where she enrolled in the Medical Intermediate course. She boarded at St Margaret’s College for at least part of her time at university, as she was the St Margaret’s College Students’ Association President for 1920. Her university friends referred to her as Zeala. (10)

Zeala at 4 William St. (Photo courtesy of the family of Helen Isabel Houghton, Class of 1928)
St Margaret’s College, University of Otago (Photo courtesy of the family of Helen Isabel Houghton)

It is not known what motivated Zealanda to enroll in medicine but during 1916 she was successful in passing her medical intermediate examinations in Biology, Physics, Organic Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry. (11) She passed both her first (12) and second (13, 14) professional examinations before successfully passing her third and thus gaining her M.B. Ch.B (NZ) in 1922. (15) Shortly after, on the 18th August 1922 she placed an advertisement in the Wanganui Chronicle to advise that she was applying to have her name placed on the Medical Register of the Dominion of New Zealand. (16)

New Zealand Times, 11 August 1922.

Early Career

Zealanda spent two years (1922-1923) as a house surgeon at Wanganui Public Hospital prior to commencing her private practice in 1924 in Raetihi. (17) It was a small North Island town about eleven kilometres from the Ohakune ski fields and eighty-seven kilometres inland from Wanganui. She was the only medical practitioner servicing the Raetihi Hospital which had just opened in 1922.

Raetihi Hospital opened in 1922 (18)

Her responsibilities included all the hospital and maternity work. In addition, there was a large timber industry in the district which entailed some very arduous travelling into heavy bush country to assist injured and sick bushmen. We are uncertain exactly how long she served the Raetihi community but probably from 1924 to the end of 1926 when she most likely moved to Wellington in anticipation of her marriage in early 1927. (19)

Marriage and Family

At the age of twenty-eight, on 29 January 1927, Zealanda married Dr Robert Finlay Aitken at the Presbyterian Church in Khandallah, Wellington. (20)

Robert was born in Dunedin on 8 February 1901 and was educated at Otago Boy’s High School. He graduated with his M.B. Ch.B (NZ) in 1924, two years after Zealanda. He was a house surgeon at Christchurch and Wanganui Hospitals in 1924 and 1925, possibly overlapping with Zealanda’s time there, before doing post-graduate study in Edinburgh and Coombe Hospital, Dublin in 1926. He received his MRCP (Edin) and FRCS (Edin) in 1926. He returned from his overseas studies and worked in general practice in Johnsonville, Wellington from 1927 to 1937 and as a visiting anaesthetist at Wellington Hospital from 1936 to 1937. (21) He and Zealanda had two children John Finlay Aitken (18 January 1928) and Elizabeth Ramage nee Aitken (23 March 1930). From Zealanda’s obituary it appears she had left Wellington by 1933 to reside in Oamaru (19) and she and Robert were divorced circa 1936. In August 1937 Robert had commenced general practice in Hokitika possibly to be closer to his children. He returned to Wellington in 1943 and retired from practice in 1966. (21) He died in 1996 at the age of ninety-five. (22)

Career in the Kurow Area

Zealanda’s obituary in the Oamaru Mail indicates she was a senior house surgeon at Oamaru Public Hospital in 1933 where her work was noted to be of a particularly high standard and her kindness to her patients was appreciated.

Dr Zealanda Aitken and Dr Orbell, a physician at Oamaru Hospital circa 1933 (courtesy of Waitaki Museum and Archive Collection)
Sister Miller, ??, Dr Z Aitken, Sister Allan, Matron Mackie, Sister Angus. Christmas at Oamaru Hospital circa 1933 (courtesy of Waitaki Museum and Archive Collection)

She commenced her medical practice in Duntroon sometime in 1934 and two years later had taken over the Kurow practice. Kurow, up the Waitaki Valley about seventy kilometers from Oamaru, is close to where the first hydro-electric dam was built on the Waitaki River in the late 1920s – 1930s. (23)

It was a large country practice stretching to Omarama and beyond. Zealanda also had sole charge of the Kurow Maternity Hospital. She practiced in this district for over twenty years until she moved to Oamaru in July 1955. (19) Her grandson, Ian Ramage, said she and her children, Elizabeth and John, grew up sharing a farm in the Kurow area with her sister Elsie and her two children, Alec and Barbara.

One family story which her great-niece, Andree Dolby, provided shows the unflappable nature of Zealanda:

In Kurow John and Elizabeth were a bit wild at times. On one occasion John chopped the tip of his finger off – it was quite a distance away from the house. When he got up to the house Zeala, with no fuss made them run back to find the finger top.

Eliza died in 1954, at the age of fifty-seven years. (24) From information provided by the Waitaki Museum and Archive Collection her son and daughter went to the primary school at Duntroon during 1935 and 1936. John then went as a boarder to John McGlashen High School in Dunedin where he was Dux in 1945. Elizabeth attended the primary school at Kurow from 1937 and after one year of high school in Kurow she shifted to Dunedin from 1944 to 1948 where she attended the Presbyterian girls school, Columba College, as a boarder.

Kurow Hospital Circa 1930s (courtesy of Waitaki Museum and Archive Collection)

The extended Kurow community farewelled Zealanda with much love and affection as evidenced by the Upper Waitaki Notes in the 5 July 1955 edition of the Oamaru Mail. (25)

The Kurow Memorial Hall was filled to capacity on Friday evening, when residents met to farewell their very popular doctor, Dr Zealanda Aitken, who is leaving after almost 20 years of splendid service to the district, to reside in Oamaru….

The first speaker Mr. G. Lister in thanking Dr Aitken on behalf of the residents of Duntroon mentioned her work in connection with Kurow Maternity Hospital and stated how much the mothers and fathers of the district would miss her.

A very old resident of the district, Mr. L. Pavletich, who was one of those who had waited on Dr Aitken almost 20 years ago and invited her to reside in Kurow spoke on behalf of the residents of Hakataramea district. In a very sincere tribute, he described Dr Aitken as a Christian woman, a good citizen and a good doctor. He thanked her for the courtesy and attention extended at all times to patients in his district….

Mrs. Ian Anderson, in presenting Dr Aitken with a nest of mahogany tables and a cheque from the Omarama residents, thanked her for her outstanding work in that district mentioning that in spite of her arduous medical duties the doctor had found time to conduct a Sunday School in Omarama….

The chairman in presenting the guest of the evening with a substantial cheque, endorsed the previous speakers remarks of appreciation and esteem, and on behalf of Kurow and district residents extended all good wishes for the future….

On Sunday last at a Church social held in the Kurow Presbyterian Sunday School hall, opportunity was taken to bid farewell to Dr Z. Aitken who has left the district after having spent a great deal of her life here. For the presentation, Mr A.H. Chapman, spoke very highly of Dr Aitken’s work for the church and the Young Mothers’ Club and of her activities for the church she had entered into over the years, and presented her with a large suitcase….

Mrs. J. R. Cleave spoke of the work of the Presbyterian Womens’ Missionary Union of which Dr Aitken was an active member and Mrs R. Smith spoke very highly of Dr Aitken’s keen interest in the Guild work.

On Thursday evening last the Adult Education Choir led by Dr Aitken met for their usual practice but also took the opportunity to bid farewell to their leader. Mrs. F. McCaw spoke very highly of Dr Aitken’s keenness in this type of singing and over the years stated she was instrumental in forming the choir and keeping it going.

Her obituary also mentions that in addition to her medical work she took great interest in local matters, particularly the Drama Club and other works which would interest and entertain the women of the district. She would often conduct Sunday school classes for children on distant sheep stations. (19)


Zealanda joined the Department of Health’s School Medical Service circa 1955 and just prior to her untimely passing had been to a conference of school medical officers where she was enthusiastic about the new methods of teaching deaf children to hear. (19)

After a sudden serious illness, she passed away in Oamaru on 31 March 1957 one day short of her fifty-ninth birthday. Her mother was still living in Oamaru at the time of her passing.

Both her children, John Finlay (Class of 1951) and Elizabeth (Class of 1959), attended Otago Medical School. John was practicing in Alexandra in 1958 (26) but by 1962 was working in Auckland. (27) It appears that Elizabeth only practiced for a few years in New Zealand. The New Zealand Medical Register records her conditional registration in 1959 and the last New Zealand record is in 1964 which records her address as Deep Cove, Southland. (28) On 1 July 1964, she was registered with the New South Wales Medical Board (29) and at some point she became a medical officer in the NSW Health Department. She passed away in 2012. (30) Her son, Ian Ramage, advised us he never had the privilege of meeting his grandmother Zealanda, but he has incorporated her name into the name of one of his children – Zeala Son Ramage. Both her daughter and grandson appear to have been influenced by Zealanda, as their career paths indicate a strong bent towards helping better their communities, with Ian’s work serving the community of Cambodia and beyond. (31)

Her obituary in the Oamaru Mail gave tribute to Zealanda and the source of her devotion to her community: (19)

There can be little doubt that Dr Aitken’s noble record of service to the community was inspired by a very vital and intelligent Christian faith. Her library of religious book, together with her personal contribution to the Christian church, clearly reveal that she had a thorough appreciation of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and that she was the possessor of a clear religious insight…..On such it can be said: ‘Their works do follow them.’


  1. University Degrees. Evening Post. 1919 06.10.1919. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19191006.2.72
  2. Teachers Classified. New Zealand Times. 1922 09.12.1922. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTIM19221209.2.10
  3. Births, Deaths & Marriages Online Wellington: New Zealand Government Te Tari Taiwhenua Internal Affairs; [05.09.2022]. Available from: https://www.bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz/
  4. Deaths. Otago Daily Times. 1908 17.11.1908. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19081117.2.42
  5. Junior Scholarship Lists Otago and Southland. Otago Daily Times. 1911 13.01.1911. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ODT19110113.2.6
  6. Otago Education Board Scholarships Awarded. Otago Witness. 1912 31.01.1912. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/OW19120131.2.38
  7. Senior Scholarships. Evening Star. 1914 22.01.1914. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19140122.2.29
  8. University Examinations. Evening Star. 1916 26.01.1916. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19160126.2.66
  9. School Vacations Waitaki High Schools Prize Distribution. Otago Times. 1916 14.12.1916. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NOT19161214.2.8
  10. Grant S. Vision for the Future: A Centennial History of St Margaret’s College 1911-2011. Dunedin: St Margaret’s College; 2010.
  11. University of New Zealand Medical Intermediate Examination Results. Dominion. 1916 03.11.1916. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/DOM19161103.2.8
  12. University of N.Z. Medical Examination Results. Dominion. 1918 03.06.1918. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/DOM19180603.2.21
  13. University Examninations. New Zealand Herald. 1919 26.09.1919.
  14. Medical Examinations. Press. 1920 07.06.1920.
  15. Medical Examinations. New Zealand Times 1922 11.08.1922. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTIM19220811.2.104
  16. Advertisements Column. Wanganui Chronicle 1922 23.08.1922. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WC19220823.2.2.1
  17. Obituary Zealanda Aitken. New Zealand Medical Journal. 1957;LVI(119).
  18. Battersby D. A township carved from the bush 2021 [cited 2022 02.09.2022]. Available from: https://www.raetihi.nz/blog/post/66172/a-township-carved-from-the-bush/
  19. Obituary Dr Zealanda Aitken. Oamaru Mail. 1957 05.04.1957.
  20. Weddings: Aitken–Marshall. Wanganui Chronicle. 1927 29.01.1927. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WC19270129.2.102
  21. Aitken, Robert F. Wellington: Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand: Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley; 2016 [updated 29.10.2016; cited 2022 03.09.2022]. Available from: https://www.ccdhb.org.nz/about-us/history/wellington-hospital-smo-archive/appointments-made/1921-1940-stipendiary-staff/anaesthetists/aitken-robert-f/
  22. Robert Findlay Aitken: Geni; 2017 [03.09.2022]. Available from: https://www.geni.com/people/Robert-Aitken/6000000068555095822
  23. Up the Valley – The 3 Dams Kurow Kurow Waitaki Valley; 2020 [05.09.2022]. Available from: https://www.kurow.org.nz/news-1/2020/10/19/up-the-valley-the-3-dams
  24. Deaths. Press. 1954 15.9.1954. Available from: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CHP19540915.2.2.2
  25. Upper Waitaki Notes Farewell to Dr. Z. Aitken at Kurow. Oamaru Mail. 1955 05.07.1955.
  26. Supplement to the New Zealand Gazette: New Zealand Medical Register 1958 [Internet]. Wellington: NZLII; 1958. Available from: http://www.nzlii.org/nz/other/nz_gazette/1958/67.pdf
  27. Supplement to the New Zealand Gazette: New Zealand Medical Register 1962 [Internet]. Wellington: NZLII; 1962. Available from: http://www.nzlii.org/nz/other/nz_gazette/1962/6.pdf
  28. Supplement to the New Zealand Gazette: New Zealand Medical Register 1964 [Internet]. Wellington: The New Zealand Gazette; 1964 [cited 05.09.2022]. Available from: http://www.nzlii.org/nz/other/nz_gazette/1964/61.pdf
  29. New South Wales Medical Board [Internet]. Sydney: NSW Government 1964. Available from: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/220340646
  30. Valé Liz Ramage South Sydney: Redwatch; 2012 [07-09-2022]. Available from: http://www.redwatch.org.au/media/120501sshz
  31. Team Profile / Mr Ian Ramage: Open Development Cambodia; 2020 [updated 02/12/202001/12/2022]. Available from: https://opendevelopmentcambodia.net/p_profile/mr-ian-ramage/





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