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

Topic type:

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


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 day.

Reviewed by Chris Wright (Bookrapt).

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion