Mary Jane Milne was born in Ireland in the same year that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The eldest of six children, Mary emigrated to New Zealand in 1863.
On arrival in New Zealand, Mary found work as a head milliner for Auckland company David Graham. She became an excellent hat maker and developed a wide range of business skills. After four years, she and her sister Charlotte decided to become business owners themselves an unusual but enterprising move for women of that day.
The Milne sisters bought a haberdashery and drapery in central Auckland in 1867. They promised they would always keep a carefully selected stock and supply a good article, executing all orders with taste, neatness and dispatch a mantra that served them well for many decades thereafter.
The business flourished, even in tough times, and in 1874 they moved to larger premises on the corner of Queen and Wellesley streets. They kept expanding and in 1909 moved to a three storey building in Queen Street that was enlarged to seven storeys just a year before her death.
Mary drove to work every day in a horse and gig from her home in Park Road, Grafton until she took the typically enterprising step of purchasing a twin-cylinder Darracq car in 1903.
Although she never married, Mary was devoted to family. When her sister-in-law died in 1889, Mary became guardian of the four children of her brother, John Stuart Milne, while still caring for her parents.
Mary Jane Milne was a remarkable woman. She had the Irish sense of humour and was known for her benevolence and devotion to duty. Her energy and ability ensured that the company adapted, and prospered.