Clare Ashton

Honorary Associate, Researcher Nursing History Research Unit


Clare is a New Zealand trained general nurse and midwife, her nursing practice has been in a wide range of settings: - operating theatres, psychiatry, maternity, general medical practice and on ships at sea. In the 1980s she contributed to nursing politics as an elected council member of the association that is now the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. Much of her work in organizations has been as a volunteer. She was a founder of Guardians of Pauatahanui Inlet, an award winning conservation organization that is a model for training volunteers in ecological research methods. She started Friends of Porirua Hospital Museum to retain the Museum on its site in a 1906 ward building and the Friends continue to run the Museum.

With a library degree Clare worked as a research assistant in the Graduate School of Nursing and Midwifery at Victoria University of Wellington, in 2001 curating a national exhibition for the centenary of nurse registration in New Zealand. She designed and maintained the School’s first website. She has exhibited ‘Nurse installations’, created with health and medical ephemera.

Areas of expertise

  • ANZAC nurses of the First World War
  • Karitane NSW 1923-2000
  • The history of nurse regulation in New Zealand
  • Voluntary work in 19th and 20th century

Current research

The lives of the Anzac First World War Army Nurses: Miss FE McMillan the fist Matron of Tresillian and founder of Karitane in NSW was in the AANS throughout the war, working on Lemnos in 1915. Her later life was tragic raising questions about the later lives of the nurses returning from the War.

The life of Mary Truby King 1904-2001. She worked in 1930s Sydney furthering the mothercraft methods of her father Sir Truby King, then lived with her family for the rest of her life in South Australia.


‘Commemorating the Anzac Nurses.’ Kai Tiaki New Zealand Nursing, 2015, 21:3, 2.

‘Remembering the ANZAC Nursing Sisters: a centenary voyage in the wake of the nursing sisters who cared for the sick and injured in the Aegean in 1915’ The Bulletin of the UKAHN, 2014, 3, 5-21.

‘Historical Novel or ‘Chick Lit’?’, Conference Proceedings, Australia and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine, Darwin, July 2013, 326-349.

'Karitane Products Society Factory Surry Hills', Dictionary of Sydney, 2013.

'The Nurse in Grey and Scarlet: 1941', Exhibition Review, Health and History, 14:1 191-194.

'Karitane in the Twentieth Century', Dictionary of Sydney, 2011

'Inside 'inside' lives: inside the medical 'family' of New Zealand's Mental Hospital Service 1917-1920.' In Telling lives: essays in biography and history, eds Colebourne, C, M Houlahan and H Morrison, 131-149. Hamilton, New Zealand: Departments of History and Humanities, University of Waikato, 2006.


Commemorating the First World War’s Nurses - Centenary Reflections, September 2015. With Professor Christine Hallett and Susan Sherson, at the American Association for the History of Nursing Conference, Dublin, Ireland, September 2015.

The Iconic First World War Nurse: History and Fiction. Campsie Library, City of Canterbury, NSW, May 2015.

Kitten for comfort: an Australian nursing sister on Lemnos 1915 City of Sydney Historical Association, Sydney Mechanics Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, May 2015.

Remembering the ANZAC Nursing Sisters: a centenary voyage in the wake of the nursing sisters who cared for the sick and injured in the Aegean in 1915. ‘New Zealand in the First World War’, New Zealand Studies Network Conference, University of London, July 2014.

Reading Emotion in the Images of World War One: Sister McMillan and her Gallipoli Kitten, ‘Rethinking War: Is there anything new that can be said about the First World War?’ Stout Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, November 2013

Historical novel or ‘chick-lit’? New Zealand’s World War One Army nurses and the problematic relationship of history with fiction, 13th biennial conference of the Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine, Darwin, July 2013

Kitten and koala; threads of a normal life for the Australian World War I Sisters, presented at the Australian College of Nursing, Inaugural History Conference, Melbourne, November 2012

How much do mothers matter? The case of the Registered Mothercraft Nurse in New South Wales Australia, 'Nursing History in a Global Perspective' Conference, Kolding, Denmark, August 2012

What the ‘new’ social history did to Dr King – evaluating Olssen’s "Truby King and the Plunket Society: an analysis of a prescriptive ideology”’ , presented at Past Tensions: Reflections on Making History, New Zealand Historical Association Conference Hamilton, New Zealand November 2011

'War is good for babies': how Europe’s World War One shaped mothercraft services in New South Wales, Australia, 'International Perspectives in the History of Nursing Conference, London, England, September 2010

Faithful followers of fashion? Interpreting Karitane, College of Nursing, Burwood NSW, October 2008

Community work

Clare’s community interests have been in history and conservation. She is a long standing member of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, The Royal New Zealand Forest and Bird Society. She is a Foundation member of the Guardians of Pauatahanui Inlet, a member of the NSW Committee of the Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine and she is involved in auditing the collection of the Society for the Preservation of the Artifacts of Surgery and Medicine in Sydney.