Meet the locals – The hockey playing Pearce sisters of Kaiapoi

I am mentally scarred from the experience of playing High School hockey. Competitive, fast moving and with an abundance of determined Scottish lassies wielding wooden sticks, it was actually terrifying.

Hockey History

But for women in New Zealand between 1890 and 1914, hockey was the leading team sport and for many a liberation. Kaiapoi was the home of the Hinemoa Hockey Club, one of New Zealand's earliest recorded women's club starting in 1896 with 30 members. Kaiapoi Park was used for practice sessions, the Reverend H H Mathias "consented to act as coach" and after-match socials and meetings were conducted in the coffee room of the local Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

By 1900 there were female hockey clubs in Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson, Auckland, Palmerston North and Wellington. Of course not everyone was a fan, a letter by "Public Decency" in 1908 objected to the rowdy behaviour and "animal spirits", opens a new window of the hockey girls. This Lyttelton Times article from 1909, opens a new window  had a more sympathetic, albeit still patronising, take on "The Hockey Girl".

Hinemoa Hockey and the Pearce girls

The Pearce family of Kaiapoi embraced the sport with exceptional vigour and success. Matriarch of this hockey dynasty was Mary Elizabeth Pearce, opens a new window, president of the Hinemoa club and a life member of the Canterbury Women's Hockey Association. Daughters Myrtle, Pansy and Dorothea were key players for Hinemoa (sisters Laurita, Hazel and Ivy played at various stages too). Myrtle was a particularly talented player and went on to represent Canterbury and New Zealand. 

Myrtle Pearce

We hold a transcript of Myrtle's baptism at Tūranga, opens a new window. She was born 9 August 1891 and baptised 6 September 1891 at Kaiapoi. Her father Alfred's occupation was listed as carpenter (Alfred later became Mayor of Kaiapoi). Myrtle attended the Kaiapoi Borough School, where she received several prizes and a Junior National Scholarship. In 1907 Myrtle passed the Junior Civil Service examination.

Before her marriage Myrtle worked as a typist but her primary passion was for hockey. Myrtle was a goal scorer extraordinaire, a July 1911 Star article declared that Myrtle "stands out as such a vigorous player all through, and such a tremendous hitter at the right time" further "no one displays a better sporting spirit than this brilliant forward does". In September 1913, now playing for Canterbury, Myrtle scored 10 out of 14 goals against an overwhelmed Taranaki side. The Star writer noted "the game might have been almost called Miss Myrtle Pearce's game, opens a new window"

1914 - Myrtle takes on England

The English women's hockey team toured New Zealand in 1914. They played Canterbury at Lancaster Park on 12 September, and after a fairly even start England were pipped at the post 3 goals to 2. Myrtle scored all three goals and at the end of the game was carried aloft by an exuberant Christchurch crowd, opens a new window. The Sun newspaper reported that "her dash and vim were soon conspicuous" and she was "quite the most brilliant player on the field". , opens a new window

The Canterbury Hockey team hosted a sumptuous dinner for the English players at the Henrietta Team Rooms, opens a new window on Cashel Street and then held "a very jolly dance" at the Art Gallery. Myrtle wore a white French muslin dress, opens a new window and was presented with a bouquet by Mayor Henry Holland.

In September 1914 Myrtle was also selected for the first ever New Zealand hockey team. in the opening test, opens a new window, Myrtle scored the first goal by a New Zealander in international hockey. New Zealand were leading England 5-4 until two late goals gave England the win. In the second test, in Christchurch, New Zealand beat the visitors 3-1, opens a new window and the third outing between New Zealand and England was a draw, opens a new window. The matches were extremely well covered by New Zealand newspapers and the tour was considered a great success. 

Myrtle marries

Myrtle married, opens a new window Clarence Victor Leslie in December 1921 at St Bartholomew's in Kaiapoi and the bride wore pink. Myrtle and Clarence went on to have four children and farmed at Cave until retiring to Levels in 1959. Clarence also caught the hockey bug and was instrumental in securing 9 acres of land to provide a home for hockey in South Canterbury. Leslie Park in Timaru carries his name.

All four children played hockey but their daughter June was particularly successful. She captained the South Canterbury women's hockey team, travelled to South Africa as part an international Wanders team, opens a new window and finally also represented New Zealand at hockey in 1953. June's son Rob has continued the fine family tradition. He was made a life member of The Tauranga Hockey Association.

Myrtle died in 1979 and Clarence in 1984.

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