Topic: Kate Sheppard (1847-1934)

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This story about Kate Sheppard was Alexandra Tomkinson's entry in the 2011 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here

My name is Kate Sheppard. I was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England on 10th March 1847 to Scottish parents. My mother’s name was Jemima Crawford Souter and my father’s was Andrew Wilson Malcolm.

We first lived in London, then moved to Nairn in Scotland, then Dublin in Ireland. In these two cities I spent my childhood.

Although my birth name was Catherine Wilson Malcolm I preferred my first name as Katherine or Kate.

I received an exceptional education, as I had a high intellectual ability. My father had fine taste in music, which he passed on to me.

For a time I lived with my uncle, a free minister at Nairn, amongst the rolling hills with green pastures, free to roam after my schoolwork was done. Life was simple and easy blended with the few tasks my uncle expected me to do helping the household run smoothly.

In 1869 several years after the death of my father, Mother decided to emigrate to New Zealand, settling us in the township of Christchurch. The voyage to a young child seemed long, even though we children played as we could, with some friendships lasting into our adult years.

For the next few years mother and I were quite happy especially when Walter Allen Sheppard asked for his permission to court me. After our marriage, we were blessed with our son Douglas, born on 8th December 1880.

In 1885 I became the founding member of the Women’s Suffragette Movement including the Temperance Society, in which mother had fostered my beliefs. My purpose was to help my fellow citizens be aware that there was no harm in alcohol in moderation.  

As we grew, our women started looking to us for leadership then to become more involved in the politics of our new country.

Our unions suddenly discovered that proposed social and legal reforms concerning women and children would be far more effective if women possessed the right to vote as well as having the necessary representation in Parliament.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (as we were called) took the first of three major petitions to Parliament in 1891. To our surprise it was supported in Parliament by John Hall, Alfred Saunders and the Premier of that time, John Balance. This document was signed by more than nine thousand women, and the second in 1892 was signed by more than nineteen thousand women. Our third petition, still larger, was presented in 1893.

That year a women’s’ suffrage bill was passed successfully, granting women full voting rights. I was widely acknowledged as the leader of the women’s suffragette movement. The Electoral Act 1893 was passed on September 19th, and I received a telegram from the Premier Richard Seddon, who had been my political enemy in the House, finally conceding our victory.

The following year, I decided on a voyage to England for a rest. There I met with fellow suffragettes, who asked me if I would give some high profile speeches’ as words of encouragement.

On my trip home, time was spent on making friends with the women passengers sailing to their new home and describing how much had been achieved for us. Little did I know I had just been appointed as president of the newly-founded National Council of Women New Zealand, which had a considerable influence on public opinion. Later, I was involved in the production of the Council’s newspaper, The White Ribbon.

Many of the ideas I championed were to improve the lives of women, in particular, giving them legal and economic independence from men while agreeing in marriage men were still head of the home. Excepting in circumstances of any brutality the men caused in their marriage, due to excessive drinking, when they thought nothing of using their fists not only on their women-folk but also on their children.

In 1903, I resigned from my position at the National Council of Women due to my increasing ill-health. Winter saw my husband and myself moved back to England intending to retire there.

We briefly stopped in Canada and the United States, meeting Carrie Chapman Catt, who was a leading American suffragette.

In London, I was active in promoting women’s suffrage in Britain, but was soon unable to carry on due to my ongoing health problems.

The year of 1904 saw us returning to New Zealand, with me relatively inactive in the politics of the day although I continued with my writing. With the help of the New Zealand women’s movement, I was able to help and influence the renewal Council of Women, which had gone into recess.

In 1915, my husband Walter decided to return to England for a visit only to die, leaving me somewhat distressed and feeling lonely for the first time in my life. I think my one regret was not being at his bedside as he faced his last hours alone. Never in his letters to me did he inform me that he had felt unwell so I assume that Walter’s fatal illness was so sudden that the physician could not cure him. His extended family decided, due to the long weeks a sea voyage took, that it would be best if they buried him, sending messages of condolences to our son and myself.

Although I had met Mr. William Sidney Lovell-Smith befvore, it had never crossed my mind to think of marriage with him. Yet we did marry in 1925, only for me again to lose my husband only four years later. Looking back time seemed to pass by so quickly that it didn’t seem we had been married that long.

New Zealand history has turned me into an important figure with a memorial of me in Christchurch, as well as my image on New Zealand’s ten-dollar note.

Now I too lie in my bed, waiting for my last breath, wondering what my life would have been like if I had travelled a different path, and not realising that through me my adopted country would be the first in the world to give women the right to vote.

Finally, England and the United States too, gave women the same voting rights after many trials the suffragettes went through, some even being locked up in jail for their beliefs.

Now in my 87th year, the day is July 13th 1934. I am confident my years of faithful service will be recorded in Heaven where I am sure of everlasting peace.


‘Kate Sheppard’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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Kate Sheppard (1847-1934)

First Names:Katherine Wilson
Last Name:Sheppard
Date of Birth:10 March 1847
Place of Birth:Liverpool, Lancashire
Country of birth:England
Date of death:13 July 1934
Place of death:Riccarton, Christchurch
Place of burial:Addington Cemetery
Date of Arrival:February 1869
Name of the ship:Matoaka
Other places of settlement:Christchurch
Port of arrival:Lyttelton
Spouses name:Walter Allen Sheppard and William Sidney Lovell
Spouses date of death:24 July 1915
Spouses place of death:Bath, England
Date of marriage:21 July 1871 and 15 August 1925
Place of marriage:Christchurch
Fathers name:Andrew Wilson Malcolm
Fathers place of birth:Scotland
Fathers date of death:1862
Mothers name:Jemima Crawford Souter
Mothers date of birth:Scotland
Name of sibilings:Marie Beath
Name of the children:Douglas Sheppard