Pioneering Botanist Outside Of Her Time - Lucy Moore

In a year when we celebrated the lives and achievements of many women, Lucy Moore seems to have been overlooked. Warkworth’s Lucy Moore Memorial Park is named after this determined woman who was often referred to as the ‘mother of New Zealand botany’, gaining both national and international recognition for her achievements.

Lucy Moore was born in 1906 in Warkworth into a large family that had strong roots in the area. Her father, Harry Moore, is described as a “poultry farmer” on her birth certificate but he is better remembered as the local librarian. Her mother, Janet Morison, managed the Post Office at Kaipara Flats until her marriage.

Family finances were never robust but the children enjoyed a family environment that valued discussion and education. Like many others at that time, the Moore family had to create their own entertainment and enjoyed pleasures that would be scorned today, such as catching a steamer from Warkworth to Waiwera and at the end of their day walking home to Warkworth. As Lucy’s father had a keen interest in botany it is easy to imagine this walk involving an examination of specimens along the way.

There was no secondary education available in Warkworth at this time - forcing Lucy to work hard to be granted a scholarship to Epsom Girls Grammar School. With an aunt in Auckland, who took in school boarders, Lucy was able to live there, helping to pay her way by assisting with the housekeeping. She continued to live there after gaining a scholarship to Auckland University, adding to her meagre income by being employed to mark students’ work.

While studying, Lucy developed a friendship with Lucy Cranwell, a fellow undergraduate. They had a common passion for botany and fieldwork and were joint recipients of a scholarship in 1929, granted to investigate the vegetation of Mt Te Moehau at the top of the Coromandel Peninsula.  The journey there would have discouraged many but the two Lucys visited many times, travelling by steamer, cream truck and on foot, carrying everything they needed. In 1930, they added the Ureweras to their areas of study, tramping from the Papatotara Saddle to the base of their mountain destination and from there taking an almost vertical route to the summit, camping overnight in the cold before starting their investigation into alpine vegetation.

These field trips were to be the forerunners of many undertaken by Lucy, resulting in important research papers. Trips included a double Tararua crossing in 1932 and time on both the Hen and Chickens Islands and the Poor Knights Islands - always carrying what was needed on her back.

During this time she struggled to obtain positions that were worthy of her achievements. Applications to theDepartment of Scientific and Industrial Research were obstructed by their policy of not employing women. Other applications were similarly rejected, the rejection letter from Victoria University contained the explanation that the position had been given to “a better man”. This left Lucy in the role of a demonstrator and a weekly lecturer in basic botany at Auckland University, working for people who were less qualified than she was. During this time, despite her workload, she published a number of papers based on her own ongoing research.

Eventually the DSIR relaxed its policy against employing women and in 1938 she was appointed to their Botany Division in Wellington. During the war she worked on locating local sources of agar, made necessary by the loss of New Zealand’s Japanese source and needed for medical research. After the war her focus switched to the problem of the loss of tussock grassland.

Lucy never sought fame but her achievements were recognised and she received many well documented honours, including being appointed a Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London in 1945 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of NZ in 1947. An MBE followed in 1959 and the University of Canterbury gave her their DSc in 1963. She gained the Hutton Medal in 1965 and the Marsden Medal for service to Science in 1974. She was appointed Hon. Research Associate in Botany by the National Museum in 1983.

She returned to live in Warkworth in the 1970s where she continued researching and writing both botanical and local history items. Lucy Moore passed away in 1987 - leaving behind a great legacy of research and findings enabled by a keen mind and undeterred passion for botany and ecology.

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