Kōrero: Cumming, Francis George

Whārangi 1: Biography

Cumming, Francis George

1861–1941

Salvation Army officer, chaplain, social worker, probation officer

I tuhia tēnei haurongo e Gordon Parry,, ā, i tāngia tuatahitia ki Ngā Tāngata Taumata Rau Ko te wāhanga , 1996.

Francis George Cumming was born at Marnoch, Banffshire, Scotland, on 18 November 1861 to Catharine Horne and her husband, William Cumming, a farm servant. When in their teens he and his brother Robert ran away to sea where Francis worked for eight years. In 1884 he became a Salvation Army officer, serving in several small towns in Scotland before being posted to Australia in 1888. He specialised in dealing with young people, and within two years was promoted to staff captain and given charge of youth work for the whole of Australia.

On 14 December 1892 at Collingwood, Victoria, Francis Cumming married Annie Ellen Robson, Salvation Army officer. They were to have nine children. In 1896 he was given his first divisional command at Wimmera and in 1898 was promoted major and went to command the Java Division in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) accompanied by his wife and two children. He was transferred to New Zealand in 1903 to command the Dunedin Division.

In 1906 Cumming left the Salvation Army to take a position as assistant chaplain with the Patients' and Prisoners' Aid Society, Dunedin, a charitable organisation which provided chaplaincy services to hospitals and prison. A year later he took charge and rapidly transformed the society. Whereas his predecessor had worked from home, Cumming rented a city office and installed a telephone there and at his residence. Using skills developed during his Salvation Army days he tightened up administration, organised visiting teams for institutions, attended court to act as prisoners' friend, found work for discharged prisoners and regularly visited them and their families.

His work with prisoners matched the requirements of the Crimes Amendment Act 1910 which established the probation service. Cumming was appointed Dunedin's first part-time probation officer in 1913, and became senior probation officer in 1921. He held this post until 1926 when the probation system was integrated into the public service. At one time he had 114 probationers on his books.

In 1913 he was also elected to the Otago Hospital and Charitable Aid Board. In 1914 he was made a justice of the peace and, by now a devout Presbyterian, was ordained a minister of that church. When war broke out he was appointed chairman of the Employment and Relief Committee of the Otago Patriotic and General Welfare Association and in 1915 he was seconded to the association to formulate and implement a scheme for relief and aid to returned soldiers. On his return to the Patients' and Prisoners' Aid Society as a full-time worker in September 1916, the government recruited him to act as friend to the patients at Seacliff Mental Hospital.

As an advocate for patients he instituted the screening of films at Seacliff and organised outings. His society always had the resident Supreme Court judge as its president and leading businessmen on its committee and they gave him strong support for his progressive efforts. These included in 1921 the establishment of the James Powell Convalescent Home at Warrington.

A tireless worker, Cumming became an influential figure in Dunedin. He was canny in his charitable work, preferring to give opportunities rather than cash. He was motivated by Christian principles and was quoted as saying that it was profane to say a prayer over someone unless practical help was also offered.

A familiar sight on the large Humber motorcycle that he rode for many years, Cumming acquired another distinguishing feature after the first of two operations for cancer of the larynx in 1924: he could speak only in a gruff but penetrating whisper. This limited his chaplaincy role but he served as a church elder, continued as a member of the Loyal Orange Institution of New Zealand, of which he was grand master from 1923 to 1924, and was a keen member of the Balmacewen Bowling Club. In earlier years he had been a school committee chairman and a Maori Hill borough councillor.

Francis Cumming retired in 1933 to expressions of regret and congratulations from Bench, Bar and pulpit. He continued to live at his Maori Hill home until his death in Dunedin on 18 October 1941. He was survived by his wife, five sons and four daughters. Admired and respected by rascals and leading citizens alike, hailed for his skills as a worker with youth, and a typical Victorian paterfamilias, Cumming was a remarkable character.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Gordon Parry. 'Cumming, Francis George', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/mi/biographies/3c43/cumming-francis-george (accessed 9 December 2019)