An influenza memorial in Manurewa

In old St Luke’s Anglican Church, Manurewa, is a poignant reminder of New Zealand’s 1918 influenza epidemic. Tucked away in one corner of the chancel is a carved and polished rimu lectern. This has a tiny brass plaque affixed which reads:

To the Glory of God
And in memory of
Dorice Whittingham
Sometime Organist of this Church
Who died for the sake of

Bruce Ringer. Interior old St Luke’s, Manurewa. 2018. 

Dorice (usually known as ‘Doris’) died on 8 December 1918 of influenza contracted while nursing patients at Papakura hospital. She had been married to local quarryman and ex-serviceman Alexander Whittingham for little more than a year.

A death notice was published in the NZ Herald the following day. A brief tribute was also published in a local newspaper:

“When the epidemic was rampant at Papakura both Mrs Whittingham and her mother volunteered assistance. The former had the advantage of having had considerable nursing experience at Te Aroha, and therefore was entrusted with some of the serious cases. About a week ago she herself contracted the disease …”
Manurewa: Nurse’s roll of honour’, Pukekohe & Waiuku Times, 10/12/1918, p. 3.

Dorice had been a member of the St Luke’s congregation, serving both as an organist and a Sunday School teacher. Parishioners funded a lectern in her memory, which was dedicated along with a sanctuary chair on 24 August 1919 (‘Mangere with Manurewa’, Church Gazette, vol. XLIX, no. 10, October 1919, pp. 160-1).

Bruce Ringer.  Memorial lectern, old St Luke’s, Manurewa. 2018. 

Ironically, Dorice’s home town, Manurewa, had been one of the safest places in South Auckland during the influenza epidemic. Perhaps because of its relatively elevated position and healthful air it suffered only three reported deaths. The death rate was far higher in Papakura, where the district’s temporary hospital had been established (19 deaths). It was higher still in the low-lying Māori villages along the Firth of Thames and the Waikato River, where medical aid was non-existent or slow to arrive. (References to the effects of the influenza epidemic on South Auckland can be found on Manukau’s Journey.)

G.A. Robertson.  St Luke’s Anglican Church, Russell Road, Manurewa.  About 1925. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 01225.

Author: Bruce Ringer