CLARK [E], Kate Emma McCosh

1847 - 1926

Born Kate Emma Woolnough at Ipswich, Suffolk on 15 May 1847, daughter of Henry Woolnough, an architect, and his wife Susan née Bonner. She worked in London where earned a living doing research for writers, often in the British Museum and at the same time studied art. She married at Melbourne, Australia on 8 April 1875, James McCosh Clark (1833-1898) who became wealthy through his investments in Thames gold-mining companies, particularly the Moanataiari, of which he was a founder and for some years a director and chairman and senior partner in the family business, Archibald Clark & Sons. After her marriage she and James made their home in Portland Road, Remuera, Auckland, where their five children were born. Kate was described as an excellent musician, 'an accomplished painter and a woman of rare good sense', she was a generous patron of music and art. At her home, The Tower, Remuera, she organised groups of women for painting, reading and dramatic activities. She and her husband helped to reform the Auckland Society of Artists as the Auckland Society of Arts in 1880. Kate was on the society's committee for 10 years, and exhibited oils, watercolours and drawings; James was president from 1881 to 1888. They made generous donations of pictures to the Auckland Art Gallery when it opened in 1888. James was a director of the New Zealand Insurance Company, the Auckland Fibre Manufacturing Company and the Bank of New Zealand. From 1879 to 1881 he was president of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and in 1880 a member of a royal commission investigating the country's railways. He published in 1879 an influential analysis of New Zealand's finances, arguing that an inadequate share of government loan expenditure was allocated to Auckland. Kate Clark was an important figure in charitable organisations in the city. In 1882 she worked closely with Eliza Cowie, wife of the Anglican bishop of Auckland, to establish the Girls' Friendly Society, of which she was vice president. She was on the management committee of the Women's Home in Parnell, for which her principal role was that of publiciser and fund-raiser, and she was involved in the Jubilee Institute for the Blind. Also keen on physical recreation and the outdoors, she went on climbing expeditions, and was active in the Auckland Skating Club. The family firm continued to prosper in the 1880s but James McCosh Clark's other commercial ventures were less successful. Like many other business leaders he was infected by the speculative mentality engendered by gold discoveries: encouraged by the economic boom of the early 1880s, he borrowed heavily to invest in several ambitious companies. The Te Aroha Battery Company, which he established with Josiah Firth, yielded little gold and was sold in 1887 at great loss. In December 1881 he was one of a group which set up the Thames Valley and Rotorua Railway Company to open up land acquired from the Maori. With Thomas Russell and others he was involved in the New Zealand Native Land Settlement Company, formed to sell land they had acquired in Waikato to British investors and settlers; but as the economy declined, few sales were made. At the height of his popularity as mayor, McCosh Clark was described as 'one of our nouveaux riches'. In 1889 there was little esteem or sympathy for him when, after several business failures, he left with Kate for England. In England Kate Clark pursued a career as a writer: she had completed her first book, which she partly illustrated, 'A Southern Cross Fairy Tale' (1891) before her husband's financial ruin forced them to leave New Zealand. In 1894 she published a collection of verse, 'Persephone and Other Poems' and her last work was 'Maori Tales and Legends' (1896), in addition to her books she also wrote newspaper articles and short stories for magazines. She painted in oils, watercolours, and drew with pen and ink. Exhibited at Society of Artists, Auckland 1879; ASA from 1881 (on committee for over 10 years); NZ Industrial Exhibition 1885; Centennial Exhibition, Melbourne 188889 and in England a member and exhibitor at the Ipswich Fine Art Club in 1890. In 1899 Kate Clark represented the National Council of Women of New Zealand at the London meeting of the International Council of Women. James McCosh Clark had died in St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex, on 26 January 1898, and Kate returned to New Zealand in 1900. Little is known of her life after this time. She died at Auckland on 3 November 1926, survived by her two sons. Her sister Emily Woolnough (1857?-1920), married artist Edward Payton (1854-1944).