Topic: Emma Birkett (nee Nixon) (1864-1930)

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Emma Nixon was the mother of six children, two who died as babies. She was a signatory to the Women’s Suffrage Petition presented to Parliament in 1893. Her only surviving son died of meningitis in France, just four months prior to the end of World War I. Emma was my third great aunt - Debbie McCauley.

Emma Nixon was born in 1864 in Hexham, Northumberland, England. Her parents were William and Mary Nixon. William was a miner at the Stonecroft Lead Mine which was worked for lead ore and baryte from 1851 to 1898. Stonecroft was located at Fourstones, a village in Northumberland, England, which lies on the north bank of the River South Tyne, about 4 miles (6 km) west of Hexham.

Emma was the second youngest of at least six children. She began her teacher training in England.

It is not yet known when Emma arrived in New Zealand.

Emma was living in Opunake, Taranaki when she signed the Women’s Suffrage Petition presented to Parliament in 1893 (Sheet No. 520). This petition led to the Electoral Act and New Zealand becoming the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the right to vote. Emma was surely one of more than 90,000 women who voted for the first time on 28 November 1893. 

On 23 August 1894 (reg. 1894/3824) Emma married farmer James Henry Birkett who was born in New Zealand in 1865 to Edward and Ellen Birkett (nee Hart). Ellen was aged 9 when her family arrived in Wellington on board the Tyne on 9 August 1841. 

Emma and James lived in Inglewood and six children between 1895 and 1911.

  1. Hugh Carlisle Birkett (1895-1917). Born on 9 September 1895 (reg. 1895/9468) in Inglewood, New Zealand. Lisle survived the Somme (1 July 1916 to 18 November 1916), only to die of cerebrospinal meningitis after measles in a Belgium hospital. He was buried in the Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France. He is also remembered on the Brooklyn War Memorial in Wellington, New Zealand. 
  2. Hazel Birkett (1896-1976). Born on 13 November 1896 (reg. 1897/953). In 1940, at age 44, Hazel married John Wilkie who was born to Isabella Wilkie and John Collingwood on 27 August 1882 (reg. 1882/14542). John died on 13 April 1964 (reg. 1964/27100) and was buried in Purewa Cemetery on 15 April 1964 (Block M Row 16 Plot 45). Hazel died on 11 January 1976 (reg. 1976/26650) and was cremated at Purewa Cemetery on 14 January 1976.
  3. Dulcie Ellen Birkett (1904-1976). Born on 14 July 1904 (reg. 1904/4159). She never married. Dulcie died on 24 March 1976 (reg. 1976/26443) and was cremated at Purewa Cemetery on 26 March 1976.
  4. Marjorie Annie Birkett (1906-1982). Born on 21 January 1906 (reg. 1906/6306). She never married. Marjorie died on 31 May 1982 (reg. 1982/32641) and was cremated at Purewa Cemetery on 3 June 1982.
  5. William Edward Birkett (1906-1906). Born prematurely on 15 July 1906 (reg. 1906/13804). William died aged just one day, on 16 July 1906 (reg. 1906/4433).
  6. Charlotte Emma Birkett (1911-1911). Born at Opunake on 22 March 1911 (reg. 1911/2018). Charlotte died at six months of age on 11 September 1911 (reg. 1911/5961).

Emma's two youngest childred died as babies. The family were members of the Methodist Church. Emma maintained her teacher’s registration between 1898 and 1919. Emma was a popular school teacher at Huiroa, Mangahume and Pukearuhe schools in the 1900s; the dance held in her honour when she left the latter position ‘kept merrily going until it was time to go and bring in the cows for milking in the morning’.

In 1912, when he was 17 years old, Emma’s son Lisle moved to Brooklyn, Wellington, to board with relatives. He worked opposite Parliament Buildings as an apprentice motor engineer with Stanton and Evans Motors. On 24 September 1915 the Evening Post reported the Lisle, along with Frederick Sage, was fined £1 and 7s for being part of a group of Terratorials who 'failed in their obligations under the Defence Act' (p. 5) by 'failing to attend a military parade'.

Lisle signed up for World War I (1914-1918), becoming a Sapper (combat engineer) with the New Zealand Engineers Unit (Service No. 9/1777). He embarked from Wellington aboard the Maunganui on 8 January 1916 with the 9th Reinforcements Otago Mounted Rifles. The ship called into Albany in Australia, then sailed on to Suez, Egypt, arriving on 26 January 1916.

On 5 April 1916 Lisle was on a ship of reinforcements sailing for Marseilles in France. They occupied Armentières in Northern France. They then marched to the Somme, over 100 kilometres to the south, where battles took place between 1 July 1916 and 18 November 1916.

Lisle wrote to Emma from France on 8 January 1917:

Dear Mum,

I think it is your turn for a few lines from me. I hope you are all well and going on nicely. I am well and at the present I am having a pretty good time. I suppose you see the date. Just a year today since I left New Zealand's shores or rather embarked. I remember every little detail. Ask Hazel what she remembers about it. I have been through a good bit but nothing remains so clear to my memory as that day.

You can guess how much I am looking forward to the day when I will get another glimpse of the old hills around Wellington. We sailed at daylight - I got up and went up on deck to watch the city I know so well disappear behind the hills which tower up on either side of the heads. All day on Sunday we watched the coast slip by and it was nearly five o'clock in the afternoon when the last peak faded away from our sight. I can't explain how I felt that first day out, although it is all as clear to me as if it happened yesterday. How we long for the return you can probably image.

I put in last night with Les Warner and he is doing very nicely too. I expect to see Fred Crawford tomorrow. I saw Sam this morning. He was going into the line for his spell among the mud and so on. I had a parcel from the school children and residents of Brooklyn - it was a very nice one too. I also had a parcel sent by a London firm, but I can't think who could be respon for its coming. Your parcel came to hand a week ago but I think I told you about it in my last letter. Eileen writes very regularly now and she told me Dad and herself were thinking of going to Auckland for their Christmas; not a bad place, what do you say.

I am wondering how George Short is getting on, the last accounts I had of him were not too bright - he does not want to be in hurry to get away with a complaint like that. Quite a lot of Opunahiter [?] are here. I am always meeting somebody from that part of the world, but there is such a lot that I know to come yet. Time will find them all here if reports are anything to go upon.

I am writing at the Y.M.C.A. and the table is a very rickety concern and it is constantly on the move so a chap can't write very decent.

The weather is getting more boisterious every day. We are now beginning to get pretty high winds and I reckon they are worse than snow. Up to present we have not had much to complain about as regards the weather, but it seems to have taken a change for the worse during the last week.

I have been getting papers galore this last fortnight; they are all evidently coming in heaps as I have not had any for ages previous to this lot. I have not had anything from England for a fortnight or so but perhaps something will come to light during the next day or two.

Well I think I have done fairly well to get this much written so good bye. Best wishes to all. I am, your loving son, Lisle.

On 18 April 1917 Lisle wrote to Emily about his recent stay in hospital with measles; 'Eight days in hospital, the general course of events. I should have had eight to ten days in convalescent, but I am back with my unit. They do not waste any time getting rid of you.'

At 8:30pm on 11 May 1917, Lisle died of cerebrospinal meningitis in No. 7 General Hospital in France. He had survived the Somme, only to contract measles. After recovering, he was then struck down by meningitis.

Just 18 days before he died, on 26 April 1917, Lisle wrote to his mother: 'I have not done much since coming back from hospital. I am on mess orderly. But we will all have to do our bit this spring' [Battle of Messines]. Lisle was buried in the Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France. He is also remembered on the Brooklyn War Memorial in Wellington, New Zealand. 

In 1992 Delysse Storey was given a tatty box of letters labelled Newspaper Clippings: Emma Birkett’s beloved son Lisle, by an antique dealer friend. Only one of Lisle's sisters married, and then it was late in life. When the youngest of the siblings died, the box of tatty letters was put up for sale as part of her estate. Delysse has deposited the letters with the Talbot House museum (a club which thousands of soldiers passed through in Poperinge, Belgium).

The Birkett family lived in Eltham, Te Kiri and Ōpunake, before finally moving to Auckland in the 1920s, settling in Manukau with their unmarried daughter Marjorie.

Emma died at the age of 65 in Epsom, Auckland on 17 May 1930. She was buried in Hillsborough Cemetery (Area 4 Block O Plot 440).

James died at the age of 92 in Auckland on 13 October 1957. He was buried with Emma in Hillsborough Cemetery (Area 4 Block O Plot 440).



1893 Woman’s Suffrage Petition - Emma Nixon. Sheet No: 520, Opunake, Taranaki (New Zealand History Online).

Auckland City Council Cemetery Records Online.

Births, Deaths and Marriages Online (New Zealand).

Archives New Zealand: Military Personnel File.

Auckland War Memorial Museum: Cenotaph Record.

Births, Deaths & Marriages Online (New Zealand).

Dominion (1915 September 25, p. 14).

Evening Post (1915 September 24, p. 8).

Ministry of Culture and Heritage: Brooklyn War Memorial (New Zealand History Online).

Purewa Cemetery Records Online.

Storey, Delysse (2012). A Mother and Son (Rosetown Print ,Te Awamutu Ltd). 

Taylor, Dean (2012, April 24). Sapper Lisle Birkett (Te Awamutu Courier, p. 5).

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Emma Birkett (nee Nixon) (1864-1930)

Note:520 Nixon, Emma (Opunake, Taranaki)
First Names:Emma
Last Name:Nixon
Date of Birth:1864
Place of Birth:Northumberland
Country of birth:England
Date of death:17 May 1930
Place of death:Auckland, New Zealand
Place of burial:Hillsborough Cemetery, Auckland
Spouses name:James Henry Birkett
Spouses date of birth:1865
Spouses place of birth:Wellington, New Zealand
Spouses date of death:13 October 1957
Spouses place of death:Auckland, New Zealand
Spouses place of burial:Hillsborough Cemetery, Auckland
Date of marriage:23 August 1894
Place of marriage:New Zealand
Fathers name:William Nixon
Mothers name:Mary

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