Unsung Methodist Personalities: Biographies from the history of New Zealand Methodism by Donald Phillipps

Women of Property

If you were to ask retired ministers for their experiences with parsonage committees, you might get a colourful response.

When in 1973 it was proposed that ministers should own their own furniture, they were, doubtless with the backing of their wives, overwhelmingly in favour of the change. It is more than likely their support was based as much on personal experience as on general principle.

Parsonages were owned by the Church and their management was in the hands of trustees under the Model Deed. Though trusts were male-dominated, the day-to-day oversight of the parsonage was considered ‘women’s work’.

There was usually, a parsonage committee, in which churchwomen played the principal role though it was dependent on the trust for their finances. It is a fair generalization to say that they were not generously endowed.

Parsonage furniture, linen, carpets, kitchen equipment – pretty well everything – was second-hand. Parsonage committees did the best they could but, to put the most charitable slant on it, they made the most of frugal means.

Methodist women did not become involved in financial management of the Methodist Church of New Zealand at a Connexional level until the 20th century was well underway. But what about the local trusts?

By 1900 there were at least 400 of these around Aotearoa and my initial search up to that year yielded not one woman trustee. Wakefield and then Hope appointed women to their trusts in 1908. This was also Ruth Fry’s conclusion when she was writing Out of the Silence, her book about women of the Methodist Church of NZ.

However, I had overlooked an instance, specially noted by William Morley in his History of Methodism in New Zealand.

At the little settlement of Taonui, a few kms east of Marton, on what was then known as the Rangitikei Line, the farmer William Francis Brogden had donated a piece of land for a Wesleyan Church. A trust was set up, and on its first list of trustees, officially entered in the Connexional Register on September 3rd 1896, are two women, Matilda Brogden and Parthenia Mary Lovelock.

While only Parthenia’s portrait has been found, we can briefly trace the stories of both women. By way of introduction, the Connexional Register has a column for the occupation of each trustee, and in this instance, each of them is simply described as the wife of her husband.

Matilda was born Matilda Thompson, the daughter of William and Elizabeth Thompson, formerly of Yorkshire (where she was born) and early settlers in Wellington from 1841. They had lived in the Hutt Valley at the time of the Land Wars, and then moved to Tawa Flat.

Matilda married Stephen Mexted, of the notable Tawa Flat pioneering family, and when he died she married William Brogden (1847-1917). In 1876 they moved to Taonui, and “out of virgin bush they carved their home” as her obituary noted.

They later moved to Palmerston. “Mrs Brogden witnessed the transformation of the Rangitikei Line from its original closely wooded condition to its present fertile state.” Obviously the Brogdens were involved in Wesleyan church life in Marton before they made it possible for themselves and their neighbours to have their own local place of worship. When Matilda died in 1914 it was said of her that “she was of a very kindly nature, always ready to extend a helping hand to those in need”.

Parthenia Mary Bannister, born in Wellington in 1850, was the daughter of Edwin and Mary Bannister. Her father was a printer with a local newspaper. She married Isaac William Lovelock (1847-1926) at the Taranaki St Wesleyan church in 1868 – the first couple to be married in the then new church.

They, too, moved to the Rangitikei, where he was a roading contractor, then farmer and horse breeder. They were neighbours to the Brogdens, and a Brogden son married a Lovelock daughter. Parthenia died at Rongotea on January 4th 1927, a year after her husband.

It would be good to think these two ‘firsts’ made a difference to the way the business of the Taonui Wesleyan Trust was done.

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