Katherine Blowes nee Phillips


Katherine Sophia Phillips was born 31 March 1885 in Sherry River, Nelson. Her father was William Henry Phillips Jnr, and her mother was Hannah Ada Hunt.

The story below is based on one which was written we believe as an obituary for the newspaper in Nelson, although we have to source a printed copy. The author is unknown. We have included corrections, and also additional material to complete the picture of her life.


Mrs Blowes was the 2nd eldest [Ed. 4th] of a large family of boys and girls, and grew up on a sheep run at Sherry River. The property had been bought by the grandfather in the early days of the settlement of the Nelson Province. he it was who gave the land for the first school in the district, and the timber for the little building was pit sawn by the settlers.


In due course little Katherine went to the school for her primary education. The teachers in these small country schools were for the most part well educated Englishwomen who had come to the colony as governesses, and when their charges no longer needed them, had to find other ways of earning a livelihood. Their teaching, augmented by the collections of fine books to be found in most homes, gave the children a splendid foundation on which to build their lives, even if they never passed beyond the sixth standard.


Kate aged 11yrs with Grandfather in back.


Mrs Blowes can still remember her mother's nightly readings of English classics and her own delight in reading Sartor Resatus before she was twelve.


[ Ed: Thomas Carlyle's major work, Sartor Resartus (meaning 'The tailor re-tailored'), first published as a serial in 1833-34, purported to be a commentary on the thought and early life of a German philosopher called Diogenes Teufelsdröckh (which translates as 'god-born devil-dung'), author of a tome entitled "Clothes: their Origin and Influence" The work is, in part, a parody of Hegel, and of German Idealism more generally.]




After she gained her proficiency, Katherine Phillips went to Nelson Girl's College as a boarder, but illness intervened, and she had to return home to be nursed by her mother. Later she went to Nelson Hospital to train as a nurse, but again her health broke down, and she returned home.


In 1902 Kate as listed as the Telephonist at the Sherry River Post Office, which was housed in the Phillips Homestead. In 1903, when the Post Office merged with the telephone office, Kate was appointed the Postmaster.



Some time later, as soon as she was well enough, she went back to nursing and, in between bouts of illness, made such progress that, when the First World War came, she was well qualified to nurse the wounded. After the end of the War in 1918, Katherine spent four years in the Military hospital at Trentham helping to rehabilitate returned servicemen.


It was here that she met her future husband William Blowes, whom she married later in life.



She was called home to help her mother nurse her father through a long final illness, after which she returned to her nursing.

Then one day in the 1920's an article in a newspaper caught her attention: Miss Jerome Spencer was the founder of the C.W.I. [Country Women's Institute] in New Zealand, the inaugural meeting being held on the lawn of Mrs Amy Hutcheson's home at Rissingdon, Hawkes Bay.



The first federation council of the Women's Institutes Movement in New Zealand, outside Amy Hutchinson's home 'Omatua' at Rissington, Hawke's Bay, in 1925. Elizabeth Jerome Spencer sits centre front. Amy Hutchinson is in the middle row without a hat. http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=6216

The first New Zealand branch of the Women’s Institute, an organisation that promoted women’s activities outside the home and in the community, was set up in Rissington (north-west of Napier), in 1921 by Bessie Spencer and Amy Hutchinson. By 1925 there were six institutes in Hawke’s Bay and together they formed the first provincial federation. In 2009 there were 445 local institutes and 50 federations nationwide. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/hawkes-bay-region/11

Bessie Spencer and Amy Hutchinson were involved with the Havelock Work. They lived a few miles south at Rissington but probably attended meetings at the Quaker-owned home Swarthmoor (which many years later became Peloha). Originally intending to set up a school, they turned their attention instead to empowering rural women and are remembered as the founders of the Country Women's Institutes. http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/radiant-living/the-havelock-work



The newspaper article told of the exciting things Miss Jerome Spencer was doing with dyes from plants. Katherine Phillips was fascinated and resolved to do likewise when the time came; but it was not till 1940 that the opportunity presented itself.



The lives of Amy Hutchinson (nee Large) and Jerome Spencer perhaps tell us alot about Kate, as they were friends intellectually as well as with regards to their hobbies. Amy, while not a nurse, had been an advocate for improved matenity services, was a Justice of the Peace, and awarded an MBE in 1948. Reflecting on the women's liberation movement in the 1970s, Amy Hutchinson argued that although men and women were 'equal in human rights and dignity', women needed ' love more than rights'.

Jerome on the other hand was single. Born Anna Elizabeth (Bessie) Jerome Spencer, she and Amy were friends and companions for over sixty-five years.

Jerome and the Large and Hutchinson families were involved in the movement that became known as the Havelock Work (1909-1939), as well as other religious and philosophical groups. Interested in esoteric thought, the ouija board, and telepathy, Amy, Bessie and her sister Josephine also founded the New Zealand Theosophy Society (Coney 1993, p.298). The Havelock Work began when Reginald and Ruth Gardiner came to Havelock in 1907. They founded The Forerunner (1907-1914), of which Jerome became editor.

Kate's Step-Mother Elizabeth Phillips had been borne into a Quaker family, and so she would have been exposed to what could have been termed, the New Age thinking of her time. This would have lead to common ground with Amy and Jerome.


Her mother's failing health called here home. Sherry river was a beautiful district, but it was nearly fifty miles from Nelson, and very isolated. An interest was necessary. Mrs Hutchinson, who over the years had become a close friend, had the answer, spinning and dying. The was an R.S.A. home in Hamilton where spinning wheels were made to a traditional pattern by a man or Orkney descent. The wheel was ordered and in due course, arrived. it was built of Kauri and had all the accessories. Delivered to Tadmor, the nearest railway station, the cost was about £5.


Learning to spin with no-one to teach her was not easy, but Katherine Phillips persevered and, about this time, was greatly helped by Perrine Moncrieff.


Perrine Moncrieff

For nearly 50 years Perrine Moncrieff was this country's foremost female conservationist. Born into an upper-class British family, she immigrated to New Zealand in 1921, settled in Nelson and bought land on the shores of Tasman Bay, which became a scenic reserve in the 1930s.

In 1942, to celebrate the three-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of New Zealand by Abel Tasman, the reserve was designated as Abel Tasman National Park. This was Moncrieff's greatest conservation achievement. She served on the park board until being required to stand down at age 81.

A founding member of the New Zealand Native Bird Protection Society (1923) and the New Zealand Ornithological Society (1940), she campaigned successfully for reservation of land at Lake Rotoroa and Maruia Springs, and for designation of Farewell Spit as a bird sanctuary. She also donated a large area of coastal bush at Okiwi to the Crown as a reserve. Her popular guide to the identification of New Zealand birds, published in 1925, was a standard reference for some 40 years.

She was an honorary wildlife ranger for 15 years, tramped extensively in the Nelson region and elsewhere in the South Island, and she wrote many articles at home and abroad.



When Mrs Hutchinsons' book on plant dyes was printed it proved to be the stimulus needed to set Katherine on the path that was to give her endless satisfaction.

There was an abundance of dyestuffs at Sherry River, sticta coronata [ This is a lichen unique to New Zealand and produces a wonderful range of colours ] was easy to get, and the big farmhouse stone was the perfect place for a collection of pots to simmer quietly while the contents gave out a wealth of rich and beautiful colours.

Dying with plants became an absorbing interest and, using only the safest of mordants - alum, soda and ocasionally a tiny pinch of "tin", she succeeded in producing beautiful colours that were part of life and time.


When she went to England after the Second World War, Katherine Phillips took samples of plant dyed wools, and these were much admired at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Students of plant dying in New Zealand are fortunate that both the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the National Museum have collections of her dyed wools that can be studied.

Katherine Phillips taught many people to spin, one of them being the late Joyce Lloyd, and among those who appreciated the beautiful spinners and exquisitely knitted and finished garments that Katherine Phillips made at the time was her friend Lady Freyberg.

Lord and Lady Freyberg


Around 1960 Kate met up again with William (Bill) Blowes, mentioned earlier, and they married.

In 1964 Kate wished to divest herself of the remaining land the family owned at Sherry Valley. This was the area that had previously been the location where her Grandfather had lived. The house had unfortunately been burnt in a forest fire. She donated the land to the local Forest and Bird Society for use as a reserve. The details were published in the Forest and Bird Journal.

An ambitious planting programme saw hundreds of trees planed, but unfortunately the land was not that productive, and most did not take. The project was abandoned some years later and the land returned to the family.

Bill Blowes died in 1978.

Kate moved in to a Rest Home called Green Gables, and had fall in 1883, went into a coma, and died a week later.



Article in "The Web", Journal of the  New Zealand Spinning, Weaving and Woolcrafts Society, in 1883 after Kate's death, by Iris Hughes-Sparrow.


Article about Kate at Nelson Girls College Reunion in Feb 1883