Died 1921 80

Mary Jane Milne was a milliner and businesswoman, known for her life-long leadership of Auckland’s Milne & Choyce department store.

Mary was born in Ireland, in 1840, the oldest of six children. After sailing to New Zealand in 1863, the family settled in Grafton, on a property Grafton owned by the Wesley Mission and Educational Trust Board. As a young woman, Mary Jane began work as milliner. She was a keen student of her profession, learning all sides of the business, and demonstrating a sharp sense of the marketplace and fashionable demands. 

In 1867 Mary Jane went into business with her sister, Charlotte. They advertised a range of millinery, straw goods, feathers, lace goods, headdresses and silk jackets; and for winter, sealskin cloth, waterproof tweed, and sable furs. Their store soon moved to an ideal location on the corner of Queen and Wellesley streets. When Charlotte married Henry Charles Choyce, he took over Charlotte’s share of the enterprise forming a new partnership with Mary Jane, naming the business Milne & Choyce. Keeping a close pulse on fashion in Europe, Mary Jane regularly traveled as a buyer. The business grew in stature, employing dozens and featuring a highly-sought-after dressmaking department. 

During her long career Mary Jane could be seen driving to work from her home on Park Road, first in her horse and buggy, and from 1903 in her flashy Darracq motorcar. Mary Jane remained a major shareholder and continued a leading role after the company went public in 1908.  She continued to look after her parents and while she never married, Mary Jane was the legal guardian of the her brother John Stuart Milne’s four children. 

A Darracq like Mary’s

Milne and Choyce shop floor

Milne and Choyce shop window

Mary Jane set the course for one of New Zealand’s early great businesses and inspired its growth throughout her life, providing livelihood for hundreds of families and setting the tone for quality and fashion for a century. 

Mary Jane Milne passed away in April 1921. 

Mary Jane’s Stop on Purewa’s Heritage Tours

Milne & Choyce Wikipedia Page

Mary Jane MILNE
Died 1921
Block A Row 30 Plot 007

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