January 1900 – This month last century

St Joseph’s Home for Incurable opens 113 years ago (29 January 1900)

This home for so-called ‘incurables’, in Buckle Street, Wellington, was an initiative set up by Reverend Mother Mary Joseph Aubert, with the help of Catholic nuns, the Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion. Mother Aubert was the founder of this religious congregation, in 1892.

Prior to her work in Wellington with urban poor, she had gained notice for work in rural areas, especially with Maori in the Whanganui. This French-born nun was also well-versed in the use of Maori medicinal practices and herbs and had manufactured her own medicines, like the one shown below.

’Paramo’ medicinal preparation in box, circa 1895, Wanganui. Mother Mary Aubert. Gift of The Sisters of Our Lady's Home of Compassion, Island Bay, 1990. Te Papa

’Paramo’ medicinal preparation in box, circa 1895, Wanganui. Mother Mary Aubert. Gift of The Sisters of Our Lady’s Home of Compassion, Island Bay, 1990. Te Papa

Her new venture began with 11 beds for men and women. From 1901, a soup kitchen was being run from the premises. Then, in November 1903 a crèche opened in nearby cottages for the babies of working mothers.

In October 1903, an article in the Evening Post called the Home a ‘resting place for the decrepit, the unfit, the unfit, the maimed people the outside world has no use for’. Mother Aubert and her Sisters were praised for their dedication ‘to lift[ing] fallen humanity from the slough of the world, no matter how they got there’.

Old men's home, Ashburton, New Zealand. Muir & Moodie, Te Papa

Old men’s home, Ashburton, New Zealand. Muir & Moodie, Te Papa

The Home, which depended on public donations, was the first of its kind to open in New Zealand. A reliance on private charity was normal for many other similar institutions, such as the one shown above.

Although the Old Age Pensions Act had been passed in November 1898, it was not until after 1935 that the New Zealand government became the main provider of social welfare.

Find out more about on the government’s changing role in the lives and welfare of New Zealanders on the Slice of Heaven exhibition website

View a television clip to discover more about Mother Aubert and her medicines

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