Elizabeth Jane Matthews was born at Earls Colne, Essex, England, on 16 August 1862, the daughter of Quakers Rebecca Allen and her husband, William Matthews, a farmer. Known as Eliza Jane, she was educated at the Friends' Preparatory School for Young Ladies at Lewes, Sussex, and at Mount School, York, also a Friends' school. After completing her schooling she returned to Earls Colne. There she was 'active and eager in social work', becoming the mainstay of the local Band of Hope and conducting a class for girls employed at Courtauld's factory.
Eliza Jane Matthews became engaged to Robert Leaper Pudney, a fellow Quaker from Earls Colne, who had studied at the Royal Agriculture College, Cirencester. In 1885 Robert went to Victoria, Australia, where he became the first principal and professor of agricultural sciences at Dookie Agricultural College. He was later principal at another agricultural college but in 1890 decided to take up sheepfarming and corn growing in New Zealand. Eliza Jane and Robert were married at the Friends' Meeting House, Mount Barker, South Australia, on 22 August 1892.
The couple settled in New Zealand on a 600-acre farm at Colyton, near Feilding. They soon helped establish a regular meeting for worship, which was often held at their home. Their daughter, Elizabeth Allen, was born at Colyton on 5 December 1894. Along with an older brother, Robert, and a younger sister, Annie, Elizabeth grew up in a home known for its hospitality and friendship.
In August 1897 Eliza Jane Pudney became a founding member and first president of the Colyton branch of the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union. She was president until 1900 and later held other executive positions. The Pudneys sold their farm in 1905 and moved to England so that the children could attend Sidcot School, run by the Society of Friends. The family returned to New Zealand in 1909 and settled at Herne Bay, Auckland. Eliza Jane joined the Auckland branch of the WCTU and became a valued member of the local Quaker community.
She and Robert were founding members, in March 1913, of the New Zealand Freedom League, and the children also became involved. The organisation was established with the aim of having the Defence Act 1909 and an amendment act of 1912 repealed. The defence acts introduced compulsory military training for young men and boys, and the Pudneys, as Friends, opposed the measure because they saw it as preparation for war. Though Friends were exempt from military training, because pacifism was a tenet of the Society, they argued that there should be exemption on grounds of individual conscience, and also that alternative service (provided for under the act) was unacceptable.
The Freedom League was founded by members of the Auckland branch of the International Arbitration and Peace Association. Eliza Jane had been active in 1912–13 with an allied organisation, the Auckland Women's Peace Committee. As a member of its women's committee, Eliza Jane Pudney was involved in preparing and distributing literature, collecting funds and arranging public lectures. She also monitored defence act cases in the Magistrate's Court and assisted boys who were prosecuted and taken into military detention.
Quakers continued to oppose conscription during the First World War and many male Quakers were imprisoned as they refused to claim exemption. Eliza Jane Pudney visited conscientious objectors in Mount Eden prison and she and Elizabeth made at least one trip to Wellington to visit Friends held in custody there. After the war Eliza Jane remained active in Quaker circles. The Pudney home, where she had created a beautiful garden, was familiar both to Friends in New Zealand and to many visitors from overseas. When she died there on 1 March 1938, it was said that 'her ministry in Auckland Meeting, of which she was a beloved Elder, was tender, wise, and fruitful'.
Her daughter Elizabeth (called Daisy by friends and family) had meanwhile trained as a nurse at Auckland Hospital. After graduating in 1920, she nursed at a private hospital in Wanganui in 1922. She intended to become a medical missionary at the Friends' mission station in west China, but was prevented by a serious bout of influenza on her way to China via England. Returning to New Zealand in 1924, she involved herself in her family and the Society of Friends. She looked after her mother when she became ill and her father before his death in 1941. Six years after her father died Elizabeth and her brother Robert moved to Avondale, where they developed a garden of flowers, fruit and vegetables.
Elizabeth served as clerk of the Auckland Monthly Meeting during 1944–45 and actively participated in the production of the New Zealand Friends' newsletter for many years. Her interest in mission work continued and she promoted the work of the Friends' Foreign Mission Association. The British and Foreign Bible Society was very important to her and as a member of the WCTU she was firmly opposed to the use of both alcohol and tobacco. In 1956 she nursed her brother prior to his death.
On 3 November 1956, at the age of 61, Elizabeth Pudney married Harry Frank Storey at the Friends' Meeting House in Auckland. Harry, a taxi proprietor, was a widower and an old friend of the Pudney family. The couple moved to Tauranga where they were largely responsible for establishing regular weekly Sunday meetings for worship. Elizabeth was also active in plans to build a meeting house in Tauranga. After Harry Storey's death in 1973 Elizabeth returned to Auckland to live with a nephew in Oratia, where she died on 21 May 1976.
Eliza Jane and Elizabeth Pudney had been women of strong faith and the Society of Friends had played a major part in their lives. Through them we can glimpse the actions and concerns of Quaker women of their time.