Mary Ursula Bethell was born in Horsell, England, a daughter of Richard Bethell, a lawyer and sheep farmer, and his wife Isabel Anne. As a baby, she emigrated with her family to New Zealand. In 1881, the family settled in Rangiora, where she wrote and illustrated stories. She attended Christchurch Girls' High School, then returned to England to enroll at Oxford High School for Girls. She also studied at a boarding school in Switzerland, where she began writing poems, before returning to New Zealand in 1892. There she devoted herself to charitable work. She returned to Europe three years later to study painting in Geneva and music in Dresden. She went to London to do social work with the Lady Margaret Hall Settlement in Lambeth, and in 1899 joined the Women Workers for God, an Anglican community in south London known as the "Grey Ladies." After World War I, she was back in New Zealand, sharing a home with Effie Pollen. Her most productive writing and publishing period was the decade 1924-1934, and most of her poems appeared anonymously or under the pseudonym Evelyn Hayes or the initials EH. She was the center of a literary and artistic circle in Christchurch that included Ngaio Marsh, Monte Holcroft, Basil Dowling, and J.H.E. Schroder.