Topic: Eliza and the White Camellia: A Story of Suffrage in New Zealand by Debbie McCauley

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As part of the Suffrage 125 Commemorations in 2018, Tauranga award-winning author Debbie McCauley researched and wrote a children's narrative non-fiction book on her fourth great aunt, suffragist Eliza Wallis (nee Hart), a first-wave feminist who actively sought the Vote for Women. The book was released on 28 November 2018, 125 years after New Zealand women went to the polls for the first time. “Proud to be a part of the Suffrage 125 national event programme” #suffrage125 #suffrage125tauranga #whakatūwāhine

BLURBSarah Hart was pregnant with her second child when her husband, bricklayer Edward Hart, stole food to feed his hungry family. On the run for 17 months, when captured he served six years on board prison hulks. After his release the family searched for a better life and found it offered by the New Zealand Company. They arrived the year after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi after a four month voyage.

Eliza was their first New Zealander, born in 1846. A mother of 12, she became a suffragist and actively sought the vote for women, which was granted after a ‘monster petition’ was presented to Parliament in 1893. 

This bilingual book spans Eliza’s life, from poverty, emigration, elections, illegitimate children, women and the vote, the trial of Minnie Dean and the formation of the National Council of Women, concluding the month following the start of World War I.

THIS BOOK INCLUDES: • New Zealand timeline • World suffrage timeline • Suffrage activities • classroom activities • Suffrage quiz • glossary • index • fact boxes throughout.

Author: Debbie McCauley
Illustrator: Helen Casey
Translator: nā Tamati Waaka i whakamāori
Designer: Sarah Elworthy
Publisher: Mauao Publishing (Tauranga)
First Published: 28 November 2018
ISBN: 9780473449469RRP: $37.95

On 16 February 2019, Eliza and the White Camellia: A Story of Suffrage in New Zealand was listed on Trevor Agnew's Reservoir Road Book Awards for 2018: BEST New Zealand Books for Young People, published in 2018


This story of Eliza is an introduction for young readers (7 - 14) into the whole topic of suffrage, women's suffrage in particular. 2018 is 125 years since women first achieved the right to vote. This book is itself a celebration, showing younger generations some of the struggles people, especially women, went through to win this right.The text, in both English and te reo, is on right-facing pages complete with period-setting illustrations by Helen Casey. Details of the struggle towards women's suffrage are shown in articles, photos and cartoons from newspapers of the time 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. This book can be read as both a story of Eliza, daughter of Edward and Sarah Hart, born in 1846 after they emigrated to New Zealand and following her life through to her death in 1914. It can also be used as a classroom text with its variety of additional facts, the quiz and pages of activities, the timelines that follow. By reading of her life (Eliza has many siblings and eventually has twelve children of her own) the reader learns of the poverty and hardship in England that caused her parents to leave, the suffering endured on the long voyage to New Zealand, and their attempts at a better life in New Zealand. As a young girl, Eliza asks her mother why she is not voting on Election Day like Eliza's father. As a young married woman in Christchurch Eliza becomes a member of the CWI (Country Women's Institute, one of several organisations working towards votes for women).  Eventually she, like hundreds of other activists, is rewarded for her efforts and it is a proud day when Eliza and eldest daughter Emily can finally vote. However her efforts do not stop there. Eliza becomes a founding member of the National Council of Women. 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 dayChris Wright (Bookrapt, October 2018).

Today it has been 125 years exactly since women first voted in New Zealand. Here is one of the books that is celebrating this achievement: Eliza and the White Camellia: A Story of Suffrage in New Zealand. The level of detail in this book is astonishing - Booksellers NZ (28 November 2018).

This is a fantastic achievement from Debbie McCauley, combining her own thoroughly researched and interesting family history, with the broader history of New Zealand. This doesn’t only include women’s suffrage, though that plays a large part throughout the main story within the book, but also includes elements of the social history of England, convict history, and the dramatic tale of Minnie Dean. Debbie’s main story is clear and coherently told in the left-hand margin of the page, and is translated into te reo Māori at the bottom of each page. There is also a really welcome passage on how Māori women worked alongside the European women (many of whom were recent arrivals) to gain suffrage. Three-quarters of each spread is taken up with a startling array of fact boxes, giving a really thorough background to anybody studying suffrage, or early New Zealand history. McCauley is a skilled researcher. The final pages of the book are taken up with a history of women’s politics in New Zealand, a history of suffrage in other countries, and some inquiry-based teaching notes. There are even some craft ideas to do on suffrage day. I recommend this for Intermediate school groups and junior high school years who are running an enquiry about women’s history in New Zealand. It does an excellent job of explaining the full background of women’s rights, and is full of sources to follow up - Sarah Forster (The Sapling, 28 November 2018).

Eliza And The White Camellia is a beautiful hard-cover book, that serves many roles. It is a bilingual picture book, reference text, and history lesson all in one. The ‘story’ is told on the right-hand side of each double spread. It was a pleasant surprise to see it had been translated into te reo Māori by Tamati Waaka, opening it up to even more readers. The status of Māori women during Eliza’s life is also briefly touched on within the book. The left pages of each double spread feature text boxes, illustrations, quotes, and reproductions that support the story. These additions explain concepts that are unfamiliar to younger readers. Historical photographs, as well as a double spread of the women’s suffrage petition, bring the story to life. While the book can look a little chaotic on first glance, once you sit and read it all makes perfect sense. Author Debbie McCauley and book designer Sarah Elworthy have collaborated on a few books now, and their respect for each other’s work is evident. The story of Eliza is brought to life by the pair, ably helped along by illustrator Helen Casey. The book includes so much more than just Eliza’s story though. A New Zealand timeline that relates to the family, and a world suffrage timeline both help expand reader’s knowledge. The book also include activities to extend readers, including how to know a suffragist camellia or bunting. Classroom activity ideas that make the history accessible and interesting to students are also offered. Eliza And The White Camellia is a truly beautiful homage to an important part of our collective history. It will be a book that is treasured and revered for many generations - Rebekah Fraser (NZ Booklovers, 26 March 2019).

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