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Bessie - Portrait of a Master

by Jeanette Galpin; Maungatiro Press. RRP $34.95. 147pp.

Back in the days when women were supposed to accept their lot as housewives, Bessie Fullerton-Smith bucked the trends. Bessie was and is a legend.

Not only was she blessed with model looks, but she was also a champion golfer (representing New Zealand in England and Australia in the 1930s), a star horse rider, and was appointed the first female master of the Rangitikei Hunt in 1956. She was only one of two female masters in the country at the time. She followed the Rangitikei hounds for 70 seasons. 

Born in 1907, the young Bessie Gaisford had an impeccable pedigree -- much like the fine showing and hunting horses she had a special skill with. Her father, Henry Russell Gaisford, was from a Hawkes Bay farming family, and her mother, Ethel Elers, was a granddaughter of Chief Retimane Te Kouru.

Ethel's father was lawyer Carew George Elers, a lawyer and runholder whose great-great-grandfather was said to have been buried at Westminster Abbey.

The young Bessie enjoyed a life of sport, horses, and travel. She went to school at Nga Tawa, a private girls' school where students could bring their own horses and play "lacrosse on horseback", a forerunner of polocrosse.

It was here that Bessie had golf lessons, and she soon showed her skill. But she did not limit herself to horses and golf -- she was also in the top netball and tennis teams, and in the gym team.

Bessie has also been a show judge, and is rated by sports writer Joseph Romanos in the top 10 New Zealand women golfers of the past 100 years. She was awarded an MBE in 1972, and the list of her achievements goes on and on.

Jeanette Galpin, a long-time friend of Bessie's, has written an entertaining account of one of the country's sporting characters, filled with plenty of black and white photographs showing Bessie through the years -- from a stylish 20-something to a gracious 90-something.

 

 

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