Suffragist grandmother honoured in new book

Author Debbie McCauley with Eliza’s granddaughter, 101-year-old Ynys Fraser. Images: Maia McCauley

To mark 125 years since New Zealand women won the vote, award-winning Tauranga author Debbie McCauley has released a non-fiction bilingual children’s book on her suffragist ancestor.

Eliza and the White Camellia: A Story of Suffrage in New Zealand tells the story of Debbie’s fourth great aunt, suffragist Eliza Wallis (nee Hart), a first-wave feminist who actively sought the vote for women.

Eliza also happens to be the grandmother of Ynys Fraser (nee Wallis) QSM, the ‘grande dame’ of Rotorua, who on August 3 of this year turned 101-years-old.

Ynys is related through her father, Wilfred Stanley Wallis OBE, who was the youngest of Eliza and her husband John’s twelve children. During the book launch on Saturday December 1, Ynys attend the launch at the Tauranga City Library with her son Iain.

“I was so pleased to receive her blessing for the book,” says Debbie. “Ynys will be the guest of honour.”

Visually beautiful, with period-setting illustration by Wellington artist Helen Casey, the book was translated into te reo Maori by Tamati Waaka, and skilfully laid out by designer Sarah Elworthy.

The endpapers feature suffrage related political cartoons from the time. Extensively researched, the fact boxes sit alongside the read aloud and story and cover a wide array of topics such as the history of elections in New Zealand, dirty politics, the National Council of Women, Minnie Dean, Maori women, the freedom of bicycles, rational dress, the suffrage petitions and the 1893 election.

“I’ve always been fascinated by my suffrage connection,” says Debbie, who won a Women’s Suffrage Centennial Year Scholarship in 1993.

“Women’s history is often more difficult to uncover, but I hope I have done Eliza’s story justice.”

On April 13 1896, Eliza attended a women’s convention held in the Provincial Council Buildings in Christchurch. Eleven women’s groups from throughout New Zealand had sent representatives to the convention, during which the National Council of Women was formed.

Eliza was one of the founding members and the first president was fellow suffragist and Eliza’s friend, Kate Sheppard.

The NCW aimed to; ‘unite all organised societies of women for mutual counsel and co-operation in the attainment of justice and freedom for women, and all that made for the good of humanity; to encourage the formation of societies of women engaged in trades, professions, and in social and political work; and to affiliate with other national councils of women for the purpose of facilitating international conferences and co-operation’.

Eliza appears in the first photographs taken of the NCW, including the delegates to the women’s convention, and another taken outside the council chamber. She is also in a Suratura Tea National Council of Women photograph from 1896.

“I was unsure about the Suratura Tea advertisement,” says Debbie.

“Until I remembered the temperance connection to the suffragist movement, and then it became very appropriate.”

Debbie is on the Suffrage 125 Tauranga committee which has organised various exhibitions and events in Tauranga this year, including talks by former Prime Minister and United Nations Development Programme Administrator, Rt Hon. Helen Clark, and MP Jan Tinetti who was invited to speak at the book launch.

Suffrage 125 commemorations have run from the anniversary of the ‘monster’ suffrage petition being submitted to Parliament on July 28 1893, the signing into law of the Electoral Act on September 19, the first election in which New Zealand women could vote on November 28, the election of the first woman mayor in the British Empire (Onehunga) on November 29, and will finish on December 20 when women first voted in the Maori electorates.

Chris Wright from the Bay of Plenty Children’s Literature Association reviewed Eliza and White Camellia: A Story of Suffrage in New Zealand, saying the book is itself a celebration, showing younger generations some of the struggles people, especially women, went through to win this right.

“Details of the struggle towards women’s suffrage are shown in articles, photos and cartoons from newspapers of the time together many together many other historical events and personalities. The protests and petitions are joined on these fact pages by an array information that shows the changing times such as the advent of bicycles and the resultant changes in fashion for women.

“By reading of her life the reader learns of the poverty and hardship in England that caused her parent to leave, the suffering endured on the long voyage to New Zealand, and their attempts at a better life in New Zealand.

“Author Debbie McCauley is to be commended for her extensive research into the life and times of Eliza. With its extensive Glossary and Index, this is a reference text while also being the interesting story of a New Zealand woman activist, one of many reaching forward to the present day.”

Debbie is well known for her beautifully produced non-fiction picture books for children which include, Ko Mauao te Maunga: Legend of Mauao, The Treaty of Waitangi in Tauranga: Te Tiriti o Waitangi ki Tauranga Moana, Motiti Blue and the Oil Spill: A story from the Rena Disaster, and Taratoa and the Code of Conduct: A Story from the Battle of Gate Pa.

Eliza and the White Camellia: A Story of Suffrage in New Zealand is available as a quality hardback picture book with extra educational pages which include a New Zealand timeline, a world suffrage timeline, suffrage activities, classroom activities, a suffrage quiz, a glossary, an index and fact boxes throughout.

“It was important to produce the best book possible,” says Debbie.

“Providing extra information rounds out Eliza’s story and helps teachers cover the topic of suffrage more easily in the classroom.”

Tauranga bookshop ‘Books A Plenty’ currently have a window display of Eliza and the White Camellia: A Story of Suffrage in New Zealand in support of Suffrage 125.

The book is available from all good bookshops throughout Aotearoa, and through Debbie’s indie publishing business, Mauao Publishing.

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