Hutt City Mayoress Mary Dowse

Lower Hutt Mayor Mr Dowse and Mary outside the new Lower Hutt Civic buildings, 1957. Evening Post, Ref: EP/1957/0871-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ.

Mary Dowse (1900-1964), described as fun-loving, warm-hearted and energetic, was Mayoress to Lower Hutt Mayor Percy Dowse for 20 years.

Mary was one of the key workers behind the establishment of Hutt Hospital and on the Plunket Society executive. A keen supporter of the arts, she helped found the Hutt Repertory Society and for 21 years acted and produced plays. She enjoyed the social whirl of being Mayoress – hosting visitors, such as overseas actors Googie Withers and John MacCallum and attending functions where she was known for her ‘repartee’ and liveliness. Mary was also an avid reader – of authors such as Tolstoy, Mansfield and Dickens.

Mary nee Kirkman married former Air Force man and mines inspector Percy Dowse in March 1922 and the Lancashire-born couple promptly came to New Zealand as assisted immigrants on the ship Waimana.

dowse marriage 1922
Marriage certificate. From, available in all Hutt City Libraries.

They initially lived in Glen Afton, a small mining town in the Waikato (with one shop) where Percy was a mine engineer. It was a culture shock after Manchester and a trip to Huntly on the train was an adventure. They also lived in West Auckland.

In 1928 they moved to Wellington and in 1933 Percy Dowse was first elected for one term to the Lower Hutt Borough Council. Percy Dowse’s father was killed in a mine accident when Percy was young and growing up in hardship drew him to Labour politics. He was re-elected in 1947, becoming Lower Hutt Mayor in 1950. Under Mayor Dowse Hutt entered a new era with many new buildings constructed.

The social whirl of the 1950s and ’60s – Events and Celebrations

Governor General, Sir Willoughby Norrie, and VIPs on dais at the opening of the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library, 28 February 1956. Ref: 1/2-177064-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ.
US Ambassador, Mr Russell and Mrs Russell with Mr and Mrs Dowse outside the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library, 1957. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002). Ref: EP/1957/4487-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ.
Walter Nash and Mrs Nash with hosts Mr and Mrs Dowse (Mayor and Mayoress) at a civic reception luncheon in Lower Hutt, 1958. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002). Ref: EP/1958/1160-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ.
Mary and Percy Dowse with visiting actors Googie Withers and John MacCallum, on the left is H.R.Bach (City Engineer), c1950s. Hutt City Libraries Collection.
Mary Dowse with Queen Elizabeth and Percy Dowse outside St. James Church 1954 royal visit. Hutt City Libraries Collection.
L to R; Mrs Moohan, Nora Dowse, Mr Moohan, Mrs Nash, Mr Dowse, Mr Donald, Mrs Dowse, Mrs Donald, Mr MacDonald. Hutt News 18 December 1957.
Percy and Mary Dowse visiting Karitane Hospital, [Melrose, Wellington?]. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002). Ref: EP/1959/2287-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ.
Sir Francis Kitts (Mayor of Wellington), Mr Moohan (Petone MP), Mary Dowse, Viscount Cobham (Governor General) and Mayor Dowse at a civic event 1959. Photographer: Priestley.
Mayor Dowse and Mary Dowse with guests of honour Canadian High Commissioner Mr G Heasman and Mrs Heasman, at the 1962 Civic Ball. Hutt News 29 August 1962.
Mr and Mrs Dowse at a Māori cultural event. 1950s/60s. Hutt City Libraries Collection.
Mary and Percy Dowse with Major Joyce Mitchell and Lance Corporal Jeane Steer before the girls left for the Girl’s Life Brigade diamond jubilee celebrations in London. Hutt News 9 May 1962
Plunket Ball 1963. Prime Minister Walter Nash, Mary and Percy Dowse with Mrs Webb, French Ambassador Mr Lucien Felix and Mrs Felix. Hutt News 3 July 1963.
Mary and Percy Dowse with daughter Nora and Siamese cat. Weekly News.

Tragically Mary Dowse died in a car accident in November 1964, after 42 years marriage to Percy. There was a huge outpouring of  grief and support for Mayor Dowse. Daughter Nora Dowse acted as Mayoress in place of her mother until Mayor Percy Dowse retired due to ill health in 1970, dying that December. They also had a son, Desmond.

Both Mary and Percy Dowse were buried in the old cemetery at St. James Anglican Church, Lower Hutt, with funeral cortèges that brought Hutt City to a standstill.

m dowse funeral
Evening Post 20 November 1964.

The Mary Dowse Trust Fund was created in 1965 in memory of the popular Mayoress and in 1971 the Trust gave a special collection of books to Hutt City Libraries, forming a ‘Mary Dowse Collection’ of theatre books and a plaque was placed in War Memorial Library. A cultural scholarship for Hutt City youth was created also.

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Current location of this plaque is unknown.

The Dowse Art Museum was built in the 1970s and named as a tribute to both Mary and Percy Dowse.


percy grave

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