A Biographical Sketch of Kate Nunneley (1872-1956)
By Mark Ryan
Kathleen Mary Nunneley was born on 16 September 1872 in Little Bowden, an area within the market town of Market Harborough located on the borders of the English counties of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. Kate, as she was popularly known, was the third child and the second daughter of John Alexander Nunneley, a wholesale grocer, and Kate Nunneley (née Young). John Nunneley was also a native of Little Bowden (more the Northamptonshire side than the Leicestershire side of the border); he had been born there in 1845.
Kate Young was born in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire on 23 December 1846. She was the youngest child of William Henry Young, a watchmaker and jeweller, and Sarah Ann Young, both of whom were natives of the county of Norfolk. Kate Young married John Nunneley in Cambridge during the third quarter of 1867.
In addition to Kathleen, John and Kate Nunneley had eight other children, all of whom, except the first, were also born in Little Bowden: Francis William (b. 1868 in Bedford), Amy Louisa (b. 1869), Edward (b. 1870), Harold William (b. 1874), Wilfrid Alexander (b. 1877), Basil Philip (b. 1879), Mildred Isabel (b. 1880), Olive Madeline (b. 1881) and Richard Bertram (b. 1884).
Kate Nunneley’s ancestors on her father’s side were liberal/radical and non-conformist. In the 1860s, her paternal grandfather, Joseph Nunneley (b. 1812) was one of the people who opposed Church rates in Market Harborough and also one of those who eventually took the matter to High Court after the Lower Courts had ruled against them. The High Court eventually decided in their favour, a decision which ultimately meant the end of Church rates not just in Market Harborough, but throughout the country.
Joseph Nunneley’s father – Kate’s paternal great-grandfather – had established the family wholesale (and retail) business in the mid-1700s, helping build it into what at one time was probably the largest business of its kind in the English Midlands. However, with increasing competition, particularly from the mid-1800s onwards, the Nunneley family business began to experience a decrease in profits and a corresponding increase in expenses. Despite this, there is little doubt that Kate Nunneley and her younger brothers and sisters had a relatively privileged upbringing in Market Harborough. There is some evidence that Kate was educated not only in England, but also in Germany.
Kate Nunneley probably took part in a lawn tennis tournament for the first time in July 1890, when she was seventeen years old. That summer she reached the semi-final of the women’s handicap singles event at the tournament in Market Harborough – a local tournament for her, and one which in its early years did not feature non-handicap events for women. In the same month, July 1890, at the tournament held in Leicester, Kate was runner-up in the open mixed doubles event with an unidentified player, R.W. Miller.
The following year, 1891, Kate Nunneley reached the semi-final in the open women’s singles event at one of the bigger English tournaments for the first time. In the last important tournament of the season, the South of England Championships, held in Eastbourne, she won two matches against relatively modest opposition before her countrywoman Maud Shackle, then one of the top players in the country, beat her, 6-3, 6-3. At the same tournament Kate also reached the semi-final of the open mixed doubles with Herbert Baddeley before losing an all-English match to the husband and wife team of George and Blanche Hillyard, 6-1, 6-1.
One year later, in the summer of 1892, Kate Nunneley reached her first big final in an open singles event, at the prestigious North of England Championships tournament held in mid-August in the resort town of Scarborough in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Her success caused something of a sensation and was reported on in a rather ironic manner by some of the local newspapers. The ‘Leeds Mercury’ newspaper of Saturday, 20 August, 1892, carried a detailed report on this tournament, which included the following extract:
“Lawn tennis has been played today under most unusual conditions. It was high water here at half-past one, and with the tide there came a heavy sea fog, which has hung over the town all the afternoon. Competitors have been flitting about like so many weird beings, for it has been impossible to seem more than half the length of the ground. Happily, the light remained fairly good, and the players were not much interfered with. The two matches in the semi-final round of the ladies’ open singles event ended in the victory of Miss Kate Nunneley, of Market Harborough, who defeated Miss Crosby, of Scarborough, with the greatest ease [6-2, 6-0], much to everyone’s astonishment, and of Mrs Draffen, who overcame Miss Crossley, after an exceedingly tight contest [4-6, 6-1, 7-5].”
Although she lost the final of the North of England Championships to the local player Beatrice Draffen (née Wood), Kate Nunneley had shown that she was a much improved player. The following report on this final comes from the ‘Yorkshire Herald’ newspaper of Monday, 22 August, 1892:
“The final of the open championship (ladies’ singles) was between Mrs Beatrice Draffen and Miss Kate Nunneley, of Market Harborough, the lady who has been doing so much execution during the present tournament. There was a great crowd of spectators, and, as is generally the case, the sympathies lay with the new player. She did remarkably well, but was not, in the first set at any rate, within half-fifteen of the Yorkshire lady. Her service was somewhat weak, although overhead, but her low drives to the service line were swift and well judged. She showed, however, one great fault, the fault generally of young players – she was far too keen. Had she attended less to the score and more to the play it would have been better.
“Mrs Draffen, on the other hand, was as cool as the proverbial cucumber, and at once saw her advantage. She kept her opponent on the run back and forward across the court. The Yorkshire lady rarely gets flurried when at play, and this always stands her in good stead. She won, 6-4, 7-5, and the victory, though it might not be popular with a few of the sympathetic onlookers, was certainly well earned. Though Miss Nunneley had the best of luck, Mrs Draffen played by far the most scientific game.”
Because she did not take part in many lawn tennis tournaments in England, it is somewhat difficult to gauge just how good a player was before she emigrated to New Zealand. However, it is clear that she was not in the first rank of players, and that she might not have been among the second rank either. Her actual tournament wins in open singles events in England were almost non-existent, although she did manage to win the women’s singles title at the Nottingham tournament in the summer of 1893 and again in 1894. But this was a minor tournament with very small draws, even in an era when the draws at most tournaments, including Wimbledon, tended to be small (Kate Nunneley never took part in the Wimbledon tournament).
In later years, when Kate Nunneley had achieved fame as a lawn tennis player in her adopted country of New Zealand, some newspapers and other types of publication, when looking back on the tournaments she had taken part in her native country in her late teens and early twenties, stated that her early successes had included a victory over the aforementioned Blanche Hillyard (née Bingley), who would win the women’s singles title at Wimbledon a total of six times. Although this is true, this victory, which occurred at the aforementioned Nottingham tournament in the summer of 1894, was in the handicap women’s singles event. Arguably more impressive was Kate’s victory in the final of the open women’s singles event, where she defeated Helen Jackson, from Hexham in Northumberland, 6-1, 6-0.
The English sports publication ‘Pastime’ reported on Kate Nunneley’s success at the Nottingham tournament in 1894 as follows in its edition of 25 July 1894 (Kate used the pseudonym ‘Miss Graham’ while taking part in the tournament): “The ladies’ singles, both open and handicap, was won by ‘Miss Graham,’ who played a consistently strong game, a trifle beyond her form if anything, her best point being her powerful forehand drive across the court; but she has a steady backhand and can volley at a pinch. She did not lose a set in the singles, a very fine performance against such opponents. She defeated Miss Helen Jackson in the final, but the game was very much closer than the score indicates.
“Her opponent in the final of the ladies’ singles handicap was Mrs Blanche Hillyard, who had pluckily struggled through this under the heavy penalty of owe 40, but she was unable to owe half 40 to ‘Miss Graham’, who beat her fairly easily [6-3, 6-4].”
The Nottingham tournament of 1894 was one of the last tournaments, if not the last tournament, in which Kate Nunneley took part in her native England. By the summer of that year a tragedy had occurred within her family, one that resulted in a decision which would change the course of the lives of several of its members. As already indicated above, although the Nunneley family business had prospered for almost a century, until the mid-1800s, by that time increasing competition had resulted in decreasing profits and a corresponding increase in expenses.
This state of affairs had ultimately led Kate Nunneley’s father, John, to sell the shop and warehouse he had managed on the High Street in Market Harborough. In this respect, the ‘Northampton Mercury’, newspaper of 17 June 1892 noted the following: “Co-operation. The Co-operative Society here have purchased the shop and warehouse of Mr Nunneley in the High Street, for their business premises. The price given was £1,800.”
A few months later, Mr Nunneley moved his family to London, where he hoped to re-establish himself in business. The ‘Leicestershire Chronicle and Leicestershire Mercury’ newspaper of 10 September 1892 noted as follows how Mr Nunneley had begun to cut his various ties with his native town: “Market Harborough. Mr J.A. [John Alexander] Nunneley.–At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Harborough Division Liberal Association on Saturday, the following resolution was passed: ‘That this Committee regrets to hear that Mr J.A. Nunneley is about to remove from the district, thanks him most heartily for his cordial cooperation and valuable work in the cause of Liberalism in and around Market Harborough, and trusts that wherever he may settle down he may find a useful work to do, and with him he will carry the best wishes of the committee.’”
Unfortunately for John Nunneley, his wife and their nine children, most of whom were still financially dependent on him, he did not have much luck in business after moving to London (during their time in the capital, from about September 1893 to September 1894, the Nunneley family lived in a house in Mount Edgcombe Gardens in the suburb of Clapham in south-west London). Although he acquired a share in a spice business in London, this did not enable him to earn a steady, sufficient income. In addition, the fact that the premiums were becoming due on some life policies taken out for members of his family placed Mr Nunneley under more pressure because he was unable to pay the sums necessary to prevent these policies from lapsing.
These growing financial difficulties proved too much for John Nunneley, who as a result decided to take his own life. To this end he returned to his native town of Market Harborough in the late summer of 1893, where he shot himself with a gun in a room at the Three Swans Hotel on Wednesday, 30 August. He was 48 years old. Mr Nunneley’s suicide caused a great shock in Northamptonshire and the surrounding counties. The event and all the related circumstances were reported on in great detail in local and national newspapers, both in England and abroad. The following long article is taken from the ‘Northampton Mercury’ of 1 September 1893:
“Distressing Suicide at Market Harborough – Mr John A. Nunneley Shoots Himself
“Shortly between six and seven o’clock on Wednesday evening a rumour got abroad in Market Harborough that Mr John A. Nunneley, of Mount Edgcombe Gardens, London, and late of Market Harborough, had shot himself at the Three Swans Hotel, and, unfortunately, the rumour proved only too true. It appears that Mr Nunneley arrived at the hotel shortly after midday on Wednesday.
“The landlord (Mr Bowles) spoke to Mr Nunneley, and remarked that he did not look so well, and Mr Nunneley replied that he was all right. The deceased went into the commercial room, and after a time he asked to be allowed to go to his bedroom as he wanted to wash his hands. One of the maids showed him into room No. 7 on the second landing and nothing more was heard of him.
“About a quarter to six o’clock in the evening the ‘boots’ went upstairs with a commercial gentleman’s luggage and went to this room, which is a double-bedded room, when he saw the deceased sitting on the floor, between the two beds, with his head leaning on the left side on the large bed, and blood running down his face. He immediately acquainted the landlord (Mr Bowles), and Dr Costin and the police were at once sent for.
“Dr Costin attended immediately, and found a wound in the right temple, and a six-chambered ‘bulldog’ revolver lying by the deceased’s side. Death had taken place about two hours previously. On the dressing table were found five letters: two of which were stamped – one was addressed to his wife at their home in London; one to his brother at Orlingbury, Northamptonshire; one to Mr Eady, Market Harborough; one to the landlord (Mr Bowles), and one to the coroner. The police at once communicated with the deceased’s brother, and a messenger was dispatched to London the same evening to acquaint Mrs Nunneley of the sad fact.
“The inquest was held at three o’clock on Thursday afternoon, in the lodge room at the Three Swans Hotel, Market Harborough, before Mr G.E. Buskell (district coroner) and the following jury:– Messrs J.C. Eady (foreman), G.P. Trasler, W. Sulley, W. Main, W. Pettifer, W.H. Stevens J. Healey, F. Smith, G.F. Allen, W. Falkner, W. Richards, H. Shales and W.H. Peck. Mr E.F. Jeffries, solicitor, attended on behalf of the family.
“Sarah Austin, housemaid at the Three Swans Hotel, Market Harborough, having given evidence, Mr Edward Mial Nunneley, of Orlingbury, farmer, brother of the deceased, deposed that the age of the deceased was 48. He lived at 7 Mount Edgcombe Gardens, Clapham Road, London, and was a spice agent. He had not seen the deceased for seven or eight months. When witness last saw him he was rather better than usual, but he had been a great deal troubled about business matters. In reply to the coroner, witness stated that some time ago the deceased mentioned something to the effect that if his business went on as it had done, it would be enough to make him put an end to his life.
“That was about twelve months ago, when the deceased was about to leave Market Harborough. Witness did not attach any importance to that statement, and had not thought of it since. Witness was not aware that there was any insanity in the family. By Mr Jeffries: He did not take the deceased’s remark about suicide as being serious, and it was rather said in a jocular manner. When witness saw him on a later occasion he seemed more cheerful, and witness took no further notice of the remark.– Harry Hodson, the ‘boots’ at the Three Swans Hotel; Mr Bowles, the landlord, Sergeant Barrs, and Dr John Q. Costin having given evidence bearing out the statement of the occurrence given above, the coroner read the following letter, written in ink, which had been addressed to him by the deceased:–
“‘August 29th, 1893. Sir.– I am about to end my life, because I believe that in the end circumstances in which I am placed it is the best thing I can do, not for myself only, but for others, and that, in fact, I am in honour bound to do it. I have no money left, and without it I can carry on no business; and I know and have found that at my time of life it is almost impossible to get employment of any kind. If I succeeded in doing so it would be at such a small salary that I could not possibly keep up my life policies. The premiums on these are due very shortly, and I cannot pay them. The policies have been in existence many years, and I dare not let them lapse. If I did there would be nothing at all, in case of my death, for my wife and family, and, moreover, I should never be able to make good a sum of money placed in my hands long ago by a relative whose sole source of income almost it is.
“‘Through various causes profits so diminished, while expenses increased rather than otherwise, that the business in which I was engaged for many years ceased to pay (as I know is the case throughout the country with similar ones), and as I could not dispose of it as a going concern, I wound it up at a heavy loss in order that I might, if possible, pay everyone what I owed them. Another and a lucrative business to which I might have reasonably expected to succeed I was deprived of under circumstances about which it is useless saying anything further.
“‘Whether or not you and the jury will find me to be of unsound mind I cannot tell – possibly I cannot say myself. I know that with the anxiety I have had for months and years past it may well be so, though I am not conscious of it. As publicity will probably be given to this letter, I will add that I trust that if any of my old friends or anyone who has had any regard for me has any opportunity, they will not forget to do anything they can for my poor wife and children by finding something for the boys to do or in any other way they can.
“‘I daresay it will be said by some who have never known what it is to be in such a desperate dilemma, and to whom life is easy and pleasant, that it is a cowardly act which I have done – perhaps so! I dare not live and know that my last chance of leaving anything whatever for my wife (it is very little as it is) had gone, and that the lady to whom I have referred was reduced to perhaps the workhouse through my default. At the same time it will, I think, require some courage and resolution to do the deed which will separate me from the best of wives, from children whom I love, and which will cut me off forever from a life which, in spite of anxieties, I have much enjoyed. – I am, sir, yours faithfully, John A. Nunneley.’
“‘The coroner, in summing up, said that so far as they could see the business troubles had so preyed upon the deceased’s mind as to have unhinged it for the time being. After a very short deliberation, the foreman stated that the jury concurred in the views expressed by the coroner, and gave a verdict of ‘Suicide whilst temporarily insane’.”
Mrs Kate Nunneley, John’s widow, was granted probate in his will, which showed that he left effects to the value of just over £2,678. This was quite a large sum in those days, but it is possible that, in addition to the aforementioned premiums due on the life insurance policies taken out for his family, John Nunneley also left debts that had to be settled. In any case, a decision was clearly taken by Mrs Nunneley and some other members of the family, possibly including the younger Kate, who was twenty years of age at the time of her father’s suicide, to make a fresh start in a different country, far away from the source of their misfortune. The country chosen was New Zealand.
Due to the huge distance between England and New Zealand – nearly 11,700 miles – and the limited travel options available in those days, the move involved a sea journey of seven weeks. Existing immigration and travel records and passenger lists show that the Kaikoura, a ship owned by The New Zealand Shipping Company, Limited, left the port of London for Wellington, New Zealand, on Thursday, 18 October 1894. The passengers travelling in the Second Saloon included Mrs Kate Nunneley, (aged 46, and listed as a housewife), Miss Kathleen M. Nunneley (21), Mr Harold W. Nunneley (20), Master Basil P. Nunneley (15), Miss Mildred I. Nunneley (14) and Master Richard B. Nunneley (10). The same ship docked in the port of Wellington 50 days later, on Friday, 7 December 1894.
In the 1890s, Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and its economic and political centre, was growing rapidly, so it was a logical choice as a new home for Kate Nunneley and the members of her family. Although not all of the members of the Nunneley family who emigrated to New Zealand in 1894 remained there for the rest of their lives, Kate Nunneley, the subject of this sketch, did so, and nowadays is therefore still thought of as a New Zealander rather than as an Englishwoman. It is clear from existing sources such as newspapers that Kate in particular quickly and successfully adapted herself to her new homeland.
One of the first things Kate Nunneley did after arriving in Wellington was join the Thorndon Lawn Tennis Club, which had been founded in that city in 1879. Coincidentally, it was that club which hosted the New Zealand Lawn Tennis Championships in late December of 1895, the year after Kate’s arrival, and it was there that she won the championship of her adopted country for the first time.
Contemporary newspapers show that Kate Nunneley’s reputation as a lawn tennis player had preceded her and that she was someone to be reckoned with on the court. The ‘Grey River Argus’ of 27 December 1895 noted the following: “New Zealand Telegrams (per Press Associaton). Wellington, December 26. The annual championship tournament of the Lawn Tennis Association was begun today. There was a large attendance of spectators; but gusts of wind were blowing down the country, and considerably lowered the standard of play. […] Miss Nunneley, a lady from England, is expected to win the ladies’ championship.”
One day later, the ‘Star’ newspaper carried the following report: “Perhaps the second round of the ladies’ singles roused the greatest interest of all in the first day’s play. Miss Nunneley, a player with an English reputation, had entered and great things were expected of her. She serves better than most men, has a splendid forehand volley and can volley. Miss Nicholson (Auckland) could get few points and no games from her.”
The ‘Evening Post’, a Wellington-based newspaper and a good source for reports on lawn tennis in the early years of its existence in New Zealand, noted the following on 30 December 1895: “In the ladies’ singles championship Miss Nunneley (Thorndon Club) had no difficult in beating Miss [Constance] Lean [6-1, 6-1] and winning the event. She wins the New Zealand Association’s gold medal, and holds the Ladies’ Championship Cup (presented by Slazenger & Sons) for one year. Miss Nunneley played all through the tournament in a vigorous and clever style. Her brilliant driving and clean placing proved her to be far above any of the other New Zealand players. Miss Hilda Hitchings, last year’s champion, was beaten in the first round by Miss Lean, who in turn succumbed to Miss Nunneley.”
For good measure, Kate Nunneley also won the women’s doubles event at the same tournament with a player listed only as Miss Trimnell. Impressive as Kate’s debut in the New Zealand Championships tournament was, it is important to remember that the women’s singles event that year had only five entries and that the standard of play of the top New Zealand women at that time was rather lower than that of players from most other countries. Indeed, where Kate had been a class or two below players like Blanche Hillyard in her native England, in her adopted homeland she was a class or two above the other female players in New Zealand. Had she remained in England and continued to take part in lawn tennis tournaments there, it is likely that she would no longer be remembered today. But in New Zealand she was thought of as an exceptional player.
Kate Nunneley’s victory in the women’s singles event at the New Zealand Championships was the first of a record thirteen consecutive victories in that event at that tournament, a remarkable achievement despite the modest nature of the opposition. She also won the women’s doubles title ten times and the mixed doubles nine times with various partners at the same tournament for a total of thirty-two national titles.
In May 1896, Kate Nunneley was part of a team of New Zealand players that journeyed across the Tasman Sea to Sydney to take part in the New South Wales Championships in that Australian city. Kate was in impressive form and won the women’s single title, easily defeating Mabel Shaw, a native of Melbourne, in the final match, 6-2, 6-0. The New Zealand newspapers generally saw this as more proof of Kate’s invincibility.
However, when Kate Nunneley returned to defend her title at the same New South Wales Championships one year later, she was beaten in the Challenge Round match by Phoebe Howitt, another Victorian, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. This was an indication that some of the Australian players of that era would have been better able to offer Kate more competition than most of the players in New Zealand. But in those days teams of players, or even individual players, rarely travelled between countries, and in the years leading up to World War One the New Zealand Lawn Tennis Championships was virtually a closed tournament in the sense that it almost never attracted players from overseas.
It was not until 1909, twelve years after Kate Nunneley’s last visit, that New Zealand sent another team across to take part in the New South Wales Championships in Sydney (Kate captained the women’s team). That year another New Zealander, Lucy Powdrell, won the women’s singles title, defeating the holder Annie Kellett Baker, a native of New South Wales, in the Challenge Round.
A few months earlier, in December 1908, at the New Zealand Championships, held that year in Nelson, Lucy Powdrell had achieved what many had thought impossible by dethroning Kate Nunneley as women’s singles champion. Admittedly, Kate had lost more than one singles match during the previous season, but she had nevertheless retained her national title for the thirteenth consecutive time at New Plymouth in late December 1907 (in those days a different city hosted the New Zealand Lawn Tennis Championships each year).
The following report on the women’s singles final at the New Zealand Championships is taken from the ‘Evening Post’ of 30 December 1908 (it was written by ‘Huka’, the pseudonym used by George Goldie, lawn tennis correspondent of the ‘Evening Post’ for several decades):
“Everything falls aside – clean out of court – in the face of the sensational win of Miss Lucy Powdrell. For thirteen years Miss Kate Nunneley has scored wins, but many felt that it was only a matter of time until Miss Powdrell would secure the championship. At Napier, she nearly did it, and again at Dunedin, the lack of experience only stopped her.
“Both started well, but Miss Nunneley went away with the help of her forehand drive and led 5-3. Her chance came in the ninth game, for repeatedly she only wanted an ace for the set, which may have meant the match, but Miss Powdrell kept her out. The excitement was now intense as ‘five-all’ was called. Miss Nunneley led 6-5, but the Taranaki champion took the next game, 40-15, the two severe deuce games followed, when Miss Powdrell led 7-6. The air seemed too close for the spectators to breathe in freely; in deadly silence 40-0 for Miss Powdrell was signalled. Miss Nunneley, never looking back, still went for her shot, evened and secured ‘vantage, but the Patea player was too safe and the end came by Miss Nunneley netting. Possibly she was just a shade too hasty in going for a winning shot. A peculiar silence followed – then came the thunderous applause. Set, 8-6, gamely fought by both.
“Miss Nunneley led 2-0 in the second set; then 3-1, only to see her opponent make it 3-all. Miss Nunneley led, 40-30, in the sixth game, and had hard luck in not making it 4-2. Again, in the seventh, Miss Nunneley led 40-30, but netted with a splendid shot. Then Miss Powdrell went to the front, led 5-3, with games 15 [?], and had 40-30 on her opponent’s service. She put in a splendid volley from a drive, but it was just out. Still she was not to be beaten off, and secured ‘vantage. Then there was a volley, a hard drive coming down to her backhand, straight on to the line, and the match was over.
“A terrific shout, or shouts, went up, and the champion – and a great one at that – who had for thirteen years kept one and all off, had to haul down her flag. The winner took her success calmly, and the defeated, with a smile, congratulated the victor and shook hands. Miss Nunneley took her beating like a true sport, which caused general admiration, and is more eager than ever to regain her lost laurels.”
One year later, in late December 1909, at the Eden and Epsom Club in Auckland, the same two players met in the women’s singles final at the New Zealand Championships, and this time Lucy Powdrell had an easier victory, by the score of 6-2, 6-2. With this win Lucy Powdrell proved that she was now without a doubt the best female lawn tennis player in New Zealand. There was a consolation of sorts for Kate Nunneley when she won the mixed doubles event at the same tournament with Tony Wilding who in June of the following would win the first of four consecutive titles in the men’s singles event at Wimbledon.
That victory in the mixed doubles event at the New Zealand Championships in 1909 with Tony Wilding was the last of Kate Nunneley’s record thirty-two titles at that particular tournament. In subsequent years she won the women’s singles and other events at other tournaments but, although she continued to perform well at the New Zealand Championships, she was unable to add to her record number of titles.
The 1913/14 lawn tennis season saw a marked decrease in Kate Nunneley’s participation in lawn tennis tournaments. In his column of 27 December 1913 in the ‘Evening Post’ newspaper, George Goldie (‘Huka’) noted the following: “Miss Nunneley, who for 13 years held all at bay in the New Zealand Championships singles, will not be a competitor this year at Auckland, although she will be an interested spectator. This lady’s arm has given her a lot of trouble of late, and she has decided to rest it.” Kate’s name was absent from tournament draws during the 1914/15 lawn tennis season and by then the war was already adversely affecting participation in this and other sports. She did not return to tournament play after the end of the war, by which time she was forty-five years old.
Due to the City and Area Directories and Electoral Rolls existing for New Zealand in the final decade of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century, it is possible to locate where Kate Nunneley was living for most of the time she spent in her adopted country. In this respect, a distinction has to be made between Kate the lawn tennis player and her mother, who had the same first name.
Mrs Nunneley appears to have initially spent some of her time in New Zealand living in the city of Christchurch on the south island. However, by 1905 the she is listed in the Electoral Rolls as living in the town of Rotorua on the north island; she is described in these records as both a ‘manageress’ and a ‘widow’. Mrs Nunneley returned to England towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century and died in London on 1 August 1937 at the age of seventy.
Like her mother, the younger Kate Nunneley also had a paid occupation, that of librarian. She appears to have begun working at Wellington Public Library in 1905 – one local newspaper refers to her at one point as “Miss Nunneley of the reference section of the Wellington Public Library, and well known in tennis circles”. She remained an employee of the library in question for thirty years and a resident of Wellington for fifty or so years.
Although she retired from tournament play in 1914, Kate Nunneley continued to follow and support the development and promotion of the sport in New Zealand for the rest of her life. To this end in 1928, at the age of forty-nine, she decided to have the gold medals she had won at the New Zealand Championships made into a trophy and presented to the New Zealand Lawn Tennis Association. It was her hope that teams of female players in New Zealand would play for the trophy each year as part of an inter-provincial lawn tennis competition. The trophy was gratefully accepted by the New Zealand Lawn Tennis Association. The competition for what would become popularly known as the Nunneley Casket would begin in the early 1930s.
Kate Nunneley’s donation of the aforementioned trophy received widespread coverage in the New Zealand newspapers of the time. The ‘Evening Post’ of 28 April 1928 carried a long article by George Goldie (‘Haku’) from which the following extracts are taken: “Recently the New Zealand Association has received an offer from Miss Kathleen M. Nunneley of a shield bearing the gold medals won by her in New Zealand tournaments. The donor’s suggestion is that the shield be for competition among lady players. Needless to say this generous offer has been accepted with deep appreciation. Thus another handsome trophy will be in the possession of the association, and further than that it will in itself be a history of New Zealand tennis dating back to 1895, just thirty-three years ago. Miss K.M. Nunneley was not born in New Zealand, but at Market Harborough, Leicestershire, England. [...]
“There is not the slightest doubt that Miss Nunneley was the means of improving the play of the New Zealand ladies, and her back court play was as good and as strong as that of any of the men of her day, and there were some good ones in those days. Miss Nunneley could hold her own in any driving contest with such champions as Anthony Wilding, Harold Parker, James Hooper, John Collins, Henry Gore (although the latter’s cuts used to trouble her somewhat), Philip Marshall, Cecil Cox, Fred Laishley, Francis Fisher, and John Peacock.
“Miss Nunneley had a most wonderful forehand drive, delivered from right or left, which kept very low, and forced her opponent out of court. The pace of that drive was dazzling, and was always most accurate, invariably clipping the line almost at the corner. Her anticipation was almost uncanny. She had a powerful, accurate overhead service, and her stamina was the marvel of all beholders. Her confidence in her play, her temperament, and her fitness were always great assets. She never slackened in her play at any time, no matter what the conditions. Her backhand was very safe, but her anticipation was such that she nearly always made forehand drives of anything sent to her backhand, and those drives were mostly hurled at her opponent’s backhand. She seldom advanced to the net, but if drawn there could volley, and volley well.
“The K.M. Nunneley Shield will indeed be a unique trophy, which will increase in value each year. The shield will preserve for all time the wonderful record of a wonderful player, whose wins in the national events of any one particular nation has not even been approached. Miss Nunneley’s play had a fascination of its very own, and the writer has not seen any lady player who could so quickly demoralise her opponent by her court craft. Miss K. M. Nunneley was indeed a champion of champions for thirteen successive years in New Zealand.”
Four months later, on 30 August 1928, the New Zealand ‘Star’ featured the following report: “A HANDSOME GIFT – TROPHY FOR LADIES’ TENNIS – WELLINGTON, August 29
“A handsome casket, on which is mounted the numerous gold medals she won during her distinguished tennis career, has been presented to the New Zealand Lawn Tennis Association by Miss Kathleen M. Nunneley, of Wellington, for competition between ladies’ teams on the lines of the Anthony Wilding Memorial Shield competition for men. Her victories included 13 consecutive wins in the ladies’ championship singles, 10 successes in the ladies’ championship doubles, and 9 successes in the combined championships.
“At the annual meeting of the Council tonight Miss Nunneley handed her gift over to the Association: ‘I am very glad to do this for the Association,’ she said, ‘for the Association has done so much for me in the past. I could not be more grateful to any Association than the New Zealand Association, and it is a pleasure for me to give them back my medals for competition among lady players.’ (Prolonged applause.)
“Mr George N. Goldie remarked that Miss Nunneley’s career had been a most glorious one. She was a pioneer of women’s tennis in New Zealand. In thanking Miss Nunneley for her gift, on behalf of the Association, the chairman, Mr A.G. Henderson, said that she had done more for a higher standard of play among women than any other lady player in New Zealand. ‘This gift,’ he said, ‘is the most handsome that has ever been made in the history of New Zealand tennis. The competition for which she has suggested the trophy should be awarded will undoubtedly raise the standard of play among lady players in this country.’
“As Miss Nunneley left the meeting room she received three hearty cheers, which were followed by the singing of ‘For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow’. The Association later placed on record its keen appreciation of Miss Nunneley’s generous and spontaneous gift.”
In this connection the ‘Evening Post’ of 12 September 1928 also reported the following: “Miss Kathleen M. Nunneley, of Wellington, a former New Zealand lady tennis champion, is to be elected a life member of the New Zealand Lawn Tennis Association. The honour is to be conferred on Miss Nunneley in recognition of the gift of her championship medals which she presented to the association for competition among ladies’ teams. The bestowal of the honour will necessitate an alteration to the rules of the N.Z.L.T.A.”
As a keen supporter of lawn tennis in New Zealand there is no doubt that the competition for the Nunneley Casket, which became a regular fixture in the calendar from the early 1930s onwards, was a source of great pleasure and of not a little pride for Kate Nunneley in later life. As already stated, she spent thirty years working as a librarian in Wellington Public Library, retiring in 1935 at the age of sixty-two. In this respect, the ‘Evening Post’ of 14 September 1935 carried the following report:
“A CORDIAL FAREWELL – MISS KATHLEEN NUNNELEY. After 30 years in the Wellington Public Libraries, Miss Kathleen Nunneley was entertained by the staff at the Central Library last night on the occasion of her retirement from the Corporation service.
“After an attractively-served supper in the junior room, which was decorated with daffodils in blue arid yellow vases, Mr Herbert Baillie, former Chief Librarian, and Miss F. Zohrab, until recently in charge of the central lending department, made brief reference to Miss Nunneley’s valuable services as cataloguer and head of the reference department. Mr J.E.F. Perry (former Deputy Chief Librarian) and Miss Vivienne Tait gave elocutionary items, and Mr Perry added his tribute to those of Mr Baillie and Miss Zohrab.
“In presenting Miss Nunneley with a handbag as the gift of the staff, Mr Joseph Norrie (Chief Librarian) spoke of the lasting value of Miss Nunneley’s work. She had, he said, done valuable work in her service to the public. Together with the handbag, Mr Norrie asked Miss Nunneley to accept a bound address signed by all members of the staff. As he finished the two youngest members of the staff handed her bouquets of spring flowers.
“Miss Nunneley replied with a clever and amusing speech, and alluded to her regret that so long an association with the staff should have come to an end.”
In later years Kate Nunneley’s name continued to feature in reports in the New Zealand newspapers. On 1 February 1938 an unsigned report carried in the ‘Evening Post’ noted the following: “The appearance of Miss Kathleen Nunneley, 13 times winner of the New Zealand women’s singles championship, was a feature of the Wellington Club opening, attended by a large number of members. Miss Nunneley played the traditional first ball of the season across the net.” (This short report cannot have been written by George Goldie, aka ‘Huka’, as he had died in 1933.)
Kate Nunneley continued to live an active life on into her seventies and eighties. In both 1949 and 1953, at the ages of seventy-seven and eighty-one respectively, she travelled by ship to her native land of England, where she attended the Wimbledon lawn tennis tournament both times. In the final years of her life Kate Nunneley lived in a residence on Murphy Street, in the Thorndon district of central Wellington. She died there on 28 September 1956, twelve days after her eighty-fourth birthday.
Last edited by newmark401; Jan 27th, 2018 at 11:02 PM.