Clare Ashton

Honorary Associate, Researcher Nursing History Research Unit


Clare is a registered nurse and midwife and her nursing practice has been in a wide range of settings – operating theatres, psychiatry, maternity, general practice and on ships at sea.

Her first degree was in industrial relations and she contributed to nursing as an elected council member of what is now the New Zealand Nurses Organisation. Much of her work in organisations has been as a volunteer. She was a founder of Guardians of Pauatahanui Inlet, an organisation set up to assure the ecological health of this harbour in the lower North Island of New Zealand. Since 1993 this organisation has received regional and national conservation awards and it has proved a model for training volunteers in data collection for ecological research.

Clare’s introduction to the history of health was through founding Friends of Porirua Hospital Museum. Porirua’s hospital began as a lunatic asylum serving New Zealand’s Wellington Province and its museum is in a 1906 ward building. The museum is now secure on its site and the Friends continue to run the museum.

With a library degree she worked for the Graduate School of Nursing and Midwifery at Victoria University in Wellington, curating a national exhibition for the centenary of nurse registration in New Zealand in 2002. Clare established and maintained the School’s first website and she has also created and exhibited ‘Nurse' installations using paper wire and plastic.

Areas of expertise

  • Karitane mothercraft services in NSW
  • voluntary organisations
  • AANS nursing on Lemnos 1915
  • the history of nurse regulation in New Zealand

Current research

Mary Truby King: She worked in 1930s Sydney to further the mothercraft methods of her father Sir Truby King and died in 2001 having lived most of her life in South Australia. In Sydney, she converted to Roman Catholicism and this became an important part of her later output of poetry and her recordings for the blind. Her papers give insight into fame and managing relationships with both adoptive and natural families.

The life trajectory of WWI Nurses: Miss FE McMillan who founded Karitane in NSW had previously worked on Lemnos and the Western Front during WWI. Her later life was tragic and questions arise about the later lives of the nurses returning from WWI. Was her life pattern characteristic of the lives of AANS nurses?


Karitane Products Society Factory Surry Hills', [[i||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,

Inside 'inside' lives: inside the medical 'family' of New Zealand's Mental Hospital Service 1917–1920. In Telling lives: essays in biography and history, edited by Catherine Colebourne, Mark Houlahan and Hugh Morrison, 131-149. Hamilton, New Zealand: Departments of History and Humanities, University of Waikato, 2006.

A competency-based practicing certificate, New Zealand Nurses Journal, 1990, 83:5, 23.


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[[i||, '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

[[i||'War is good for babies': how Europe’s World War One shaped mothercraft services in New South Wales, Australia[[i||, '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

Inside 'inside' lives: inside the medical 'family' of New Zealand's Mental Hospital Service 1917–1920, Interdisciplinary Symposium around Biography and History, with a special focus on psychiatry and biography, Department of History, University of Waikato, October 2005


The Paper Nurse. Installation of paper, wire and plastic reconstructed in the Department of Nursing and Midwifery, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, May–August 1999

The Paper Nurse. Installation of paper, wire and plastic constructed in the foyer for the Annual National Practice Nurse Division Conference, Upper Hutt, New Zealand, 1996

Paper Nurses. Installation of paper, wire and plastic constructed in the foyer for the Annual National Practice Nurse Division Conference, Upper Hutt, New Zealand, 1995

Community work

Clare is the main organiser for a September 2015 Aegean voyage to commemorate the work of the ANZAC Army Nurses during the Gallipoli Campaign. See

Her community interests have been conservation and history and 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.