Charlotte Eliot Warburton MBE

The Granddaughter of the Irish travel writer, (Bartholomew George) Eliot Warburton, Charlotte was born on 14 March 1883 in Palmerston North, New Zealand. Charlotte’s parents were solicitor George Hartopp Eliot Warburton and his wife Sophia Isabella Budd.

The Warburton family were involved in the busy social scene of the Palmerston North. Charlotte later recalled tennis, horse racing, picnics, polo tournaments and riding.

Maud and Molly Warburton.

Charlotte and her two younger sisters, Maud Agnes (1896-1991) and Mary (known as Molly) Eva Eliot (1898 – 1958) had a pony, and riding was a favourite pastime. Charlotte was an accomplished equestrienne, winning prizes for the best girl rider at both the 1896 and 1897 Manawatu Agricultural and Pastoral Shows. She also received distinctions for her participation in local riding events for many years.

Charlotte’s education began at the Craven School for Girls in Palmerston North. In 1898, the family went to England. While in her father’s country of birth, Charlotte attended Queen Elizabeth College, London, before studying at a Swiss finishing school.

Sketching and painting in watercolours brought Charlotte much enjoyment. While her father was agreeable to education for his daughters, he was opposed to the thought of women working or undertaking a career. Charlotte had ambitions of becoming an architect. George, however, was not having a bar of it. It was only after the death of her father in 1922 that Charlotte was fully able to participate in community life.

Returning to New Zealand in 1903, Charlotte lived with her family. More accolades were to come from the agricultural and pastoral show, this time for photography. Charlotte undertook several trips up the Whanganui River, visiting some of the river settlements.

She established a poultry farm on land behind the Warburton house. In 1920 Charlotte’s White Leghorns took out first prize in an egg-laying competition held by the Auckland Poultry Breeders’ Association. Charlotte also specialised in Orpington ducks. It appears that Charlotte may have introduced the Light Sussex poultry breed to her home town.

Charlotte obtained her St John Ambulance Association certificates for both first aid nursing in 1916. From this time, she assisted on both the administrative and practical sides of the organisation. Charlotte served as both a member of the committee and vice-chairman. From 1948-1950 she was chair of the Palmerston North sub-branch. 1957 saw her admitted to the Order of St John as a serving sister.

In 1925, the Girl Guide Association formed a company in Palmerston North. Charlotte Warburton served as the first District Commissioner for Palmerston North. Her great love was camping, and Charlotte was appointed as a training officer and camp adviser.

Charlotte Eliot Warburton (r) with HRH The Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth)
inspecting Girl Guides in North Palmerston, New Zealand 1927.

During the 1927 visit to New Zealand by Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), Charlotte – in her capacity as District Commissioner – accompanied the Duchess on an inspection of Girl Guides in Palmerston North.

In 1931, she resigned from her commission but remained actively involved in guiding. On many occasions, she represented the Girl Guides Association and was regularly the honoured guest at special functions.

Charlotte Warburton became the first matron of Massey Agricultural College’s newly built refectory and hostel in 1931. In 1935 she was granted a leave of absence. While visiting England, she was presented at Court. Charlotte also attended an international domestic science conference. On her retirement from Massey in 1938, the college recorded its appreciation of her efficient services.

Warburton joined the Palmerston North Business and Professional Women’s Round Club, of which she was both an executive member and president.

Charlotte was also an active supporter of the New Zealand National Party for many years. She was a foundation committee member of the women’s section of the Palmerston North Branch in 1936, becoming chair in 1950.

Palmerston North became an important training centre for several military groups during World War II. In 1940, the Women’s War Service Auxiliary was established. The organisation coordinated women’s war work in New Zealand. Warburton was elected chairman of the Palmerston North district committee. In 1946, Charlotte was awarded an MBE for meritorious service during the war years.

Charlotte Warburton wrote two books in her seventies. Changing Days and Changing Ways (1954) recounts the social life of Palmerston North in the late nineteenth century. It is still widely used by historians.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one was compiled from notes and letters written by her Uncle, Piers Egerton Warburton (1850 – 1927). Part two is based on her mother’s memories, as well as Charlotte’s own early recollections. Among the book’s illustrations is an 1896 sketch by Charlotte.

The Wanganui River: The Rhine of New Zealand (1965) was published after Charlotte’s death. It recalls her impressions of her journey from Wanganui to Taumarunui by steamer. The book describes the scenery and the traditions and histories of the people along the Wanganui.

Charlotte Warburton was never married. She died on 17 December 1961 in Palmerston North.

Charlotte is buried in Palmerston North’s Terrace End Cemetery with her parents and sister Mary Eva. The grave also honours Charlotte’s oldest brother, Piers Acton Eliot Warburton, who died aboard HMHS Mashobra in Suvla Bay after being wounded at Gallipoli in 1915. Piers lies in the Lone Pine Cemetery, Turkey.


Find a Grave, database and images ( accessed 13 November 2020), memorial page for Charlotte Eliot Warburton (14 Mar 1883–17 Dec 1961), Find a Grave Memorial no. 158407694, citing Terrace End Cemetery, Palmerston North, Palmerston North City, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand; Maintained by Carl Armstrong (contributor 47730472).
Index No. M. R. 6 Lone Pine Memorial Gallipoli Part IV New Zealand. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 13 November 2020.


Photograph purported to be of Mary & Molly Warburton; Unknown. Manawatu Heritage
Charlotte Eliot Warburton & HRH The Duchess of York inspecting Girl Guides, Palmerston North, New Zealand 1927; Uknown. Personal Collection.
Changing Days and Changing Ways (1954); Unknown. World of Rare Books.


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