Story: Drummond, Alison Edith Hilda
Drummond, Alison Edith Hilda
Farmer, writer, historian, editor
This biography was written by Esther Irving and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 5, 2000
Alison Edith Hilda Craig was born on 22 January 1903 at Waitekauri on the Coromandel Peninsula, the eldest of six children of George Craig, a physician and surgeon, and his wife, Hilda Johnstone Gudgeon. Alison was the grand-niece of Elsdon Best, an eminent ethnographer and authority on Maori history and tradition. Her maternal grandfather, W. E. Gudgeon, fought in the New Zealand wars, and later became a Native Land Court judge. In 1914 the family moved to Devonport, Auckland, where Alison attended the Diocesan High School for Girls until 1919, and trained as a Karitane nurse at the Karitane Hospital and Mothercraft Home. By 1922 she had shifted to Morrinsville, where on 30 November 1935 she married Leo Roderick Drummond, a farmer. The couple farmed at Gordonton and had two sons.
Alison Drummond wrote and produced plays for the local dramatic society, and won short-story competitions in Auckland’s Weekly News. In 1950 she joined the New Zealand Women Writers’ and Artists’ Society. Her interest in New Zealand colonial social history had been sparked at the age of 16 by Gudgeon, but it was not until 1960 with Married & gone to New Zealand that she published her first book on the topic. It comprised extracts from journals, diaries and letters of women pioneers in the 1840s and 1850s. Drummond and her husband travelled throughout the country gathering information. With the assistance of his sketches, the end result was a valuable and well-authenticated account of the life of the early settler.
Her next publication, Early days in the Waikato (1964), recalled 100 years of settlement in the region. It gave a lively account of the first 30 years of colonisation and the everyday lives of settlers, especially the women. She described her book as ‘a potpourri of early social history mainly related to the military settlements’. This was followed by similar descriptive accounts of life in the nineteenth century: At home in New Zealand (1967) and ‘Children of the country’, published that same year in the School Journal , which recalled the lives of children – their work, play, schooling and adventures.
In 1967 the Drummonds retired to Kawakawa Bay, Auckland. Although devastated by Leo’s death in September that year, Alison became involved in the local community, helping to start a library and a Red Cross association, and continued with her literary work. For 20 years she had been interested in the journals of the Reverend Vicesimus Lush, a nineteenth century archdeacon of Waikato and an accomplished diarist. His journals contained details of his church, domestic, and social affairs, horseback journeys, notable public and religious figures, and conditions of everyday life. Drummond described the marathon job of editing these as a nightmare, for the diarist had little regard for dates. However, there were many pages of fine scholarly writing, and she worked through the originals (towards which she developed a proprietorial attitude) to produce, despite some omissions and errors, a coherent text. The Auckland journals (1850–63) were published in 1971, the Thames (1864–68) in 1975, and the Waikato (1864–68, 1881–82) in 1982; all have proved useful assets to researchers.
Alison Drummond was an amiable, affectionate woman with a sense of fun and a large number of friends. She was well organised and kept herself to a strict regimen when writing, but allowed herself many hobbies and interests. She was an exquisite needlewoman and collected antique work boxes, and was an avid gardener and rosarian, specialising in rare roses. While living at Gordonton she won prizes at local needlework and horticultural shows, was frequently invited to broadcast on social history and horticulture due to her deep, pleasing voice, and encouraged young Maori women in domestic skills. She was also an excellent cook and hostess, a cat lover, and had a strong Christian faith. Alison Drummond died at Manurewa on 3 July 1984, survived by her children.