The Kate Sheppard house has outstanding historical significance as the home of the woman who led the suffrage movement in New Zealand. This campaign succeeded in 1893 with women obtaining the right to vote for members of the House of Representatives. It was an important event which impacted around the world, as New Zealand was the first country to recognise women’s rights by enfranchising them, a major step towards women achieving greater equality within society.
The house which was built for Kate and Walter Sheppard in 1887-8 was the centre of activity in the key years of the suffragists’ struggle for recognition of their arguments. It was here Kate Sheppard wrote letters, pamphlets and articles to promote the suffrage cause and directed the actions of supporters throughout the country.
There is added significance because of the important visitors who came to the house to discuss tactics and identify the social reforms they sought. Among the notable figures who met here with Kate were politicians like Sir John Hall and Alfred Saunders. Other visitors were the many dedicated and able women involved in promoting women’s political and legal rights through the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and later, the National Council of Women.
Social Significance or Value
Kate Sheppard is an outstanding figure in the early years of feminism in New Zealand. Because of her leadership in the successful battle for women’s franchise she is seen as one of the country’s most notable persons, as indicated by her photo being featured on the New Zealand ten dollar bank note. Her political achievement was accompanied by her efforts towards social reform. With the growth of feminism, women have increasingly recognised Kate Sheppard as a heroic figure. The house where she lived provides information about her social standing, financial position and lifestyle as well as illustrating the character of a typical late Victorian New Zealand home.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
It was in this house that essential work of the Women’s Suffrage Movement was planned and executed by the leader of the movement, Kate Sheppard and by her many notable associates. The passing of the Electoral Bill which gave women the right to vote is an important aspect of New Zealand’s history.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
83 Clyde Road is associated with its owner Kate Sheppard, one of the key figures in the development of feminism in New Zealand and the ideas of equality for women that they were espousing. Meetings here with significant people in the campaign for women’s suffrage were important preliminaries to the passing of the Electoral Bill of 1893, a landmark event.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
Kate Sheppard’s home is in private ownership and is not visible from the street so that it is not readily accessible to the general public. However, because she is held in such esteem by the public at large the house where she lived is highly regarded as an important place. A plaque explaining the house’s significance has been placed on the gatepost by the Christchurch Heritage Trust, there is a national memorial to Kate Sheppard beside the Avon River in Christchurch and she is featured on New Zealand’s ten dollar bank note.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The house’s design, construction and layout are typical of Victorian villas in Christchurch in the 1880s, although this is an especially fine example. It reflects the status of its owners, who had financial means but had no wish for an ostentatious home. The character indicates refinement and comfort and the property’s qualities have remained appealing to succeeding owners who have mostly only modified the kitchen and bathroom features of the house.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place
The retention and conservation of this house and its garden environment has ensured that the place commemorates its first owner, Kate Sheppard, who lived here during the most important years of her leadership of New Zealand’s campaign for women’s suffrage.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, g, h.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.
The Kate Sheppard House at 83 Clyde Road, Christchurch can be considered to qualify as a Category I historic place because it has outstanding historic values. This was the home of Kate Sheppard, the key figure in New Zealand’s women’s suffrage campaign. She lived here from 1888 to 1902, the years of her most significant work in advancing social reform and the rights of women. It was here that the crucial work and activities were carried out to successfully enfranchise women, a result that is of major importance in New Zealand’s history.
Other buildings remain in Christchurch that are linked with Kate Sheppard. For instance there is the house where she lived from 1920 with the Lovell-Smith family in Riccarton Road (not registered) and the former Tuam Street Hall (now known as the Odeon Theatre, Category I historic place) where she held meetings and which was a polling booth during the first election when women voted and the Canterbury Provincial Government Buildings where the National Council of Women was established with Kate as its first president. It is her home however, that has the greatest significance. It was not only her home but also the prime location associated with the suffrage movement, the place where Kate Sheppard worked tirelessly to achieve her goals.
Timber frame, external cladding, window frames, interior linings, floor boards and piles. Slate and corrugated iron roof.
The significance of Kate Sheppard, the major figure in the campaign for women’s suffrage in New Zealand, had been largely forgotten until 1993 when the centenary of the enfranchising Electoral Act was celebrated. The house at 83 Clyde Road was her home from 1888 to 1902, fourteen crucial years when she undertook her notable work. It was in this house that she met with important national and local figures here, activities were planned, speeches were prepared and she wrote letters, pamphlets and numerous articles, all aimed to assert the message of women’s right to vote and to have greater equality within society.
Born in Liverpool on 10 March 1847, Kate Sheppard was the second daughter of Scots parents, Jemima and Andrew Malcolm. Named Catherine Wilson Malcolm, she preferred to be known as Kate. The family, which grew to include five children, lived in London and when all were still young, Andrew died. Time was then spent with relatives in Dublin and Kate also enjoyed a period staying in Nairn with her uncle, a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. He espoused the support of worthy causes, igniting Kate’s passion for such work. A highly intelligent woman, she had strong religious convictions and benefited from a very good education. Marie, Kate’s elder sister, met and became engaged to George Beath, a young draper in Dunfermline who migrated to Melbourne and then travelled to Christchurch where he established a successful drapery business. In 1867 Marie journeyed out to marry him. Their tales of life and opportunities in Christchurch inspired Jemima Malcolm to join them. The family reached Lyttelton in February 1869, shortly before Kate’s twenty-first birthday.
The family quickly settled into the life Christchurch offered and Kate became actively involved with the Trinity Congregation Church. Through family friends, she met Walter Sheppard, a prosperous business man twelve years her senior. He was interested in local affairs and had served on the Christchurch City Council in 1868. On 21 July 1871 they were married at Kate’s mother’s home in Cashel Street by the Reverend Habens of the Trinity Congregational Church. They lived in Madras Street, between Peterborough and Kilmore Street, close to the city centre and not far from Mrs Malcolm. The couple enjoyed a quiet, refined life with cultural and social activities to the fore. In March 1877 Kate and Walter left for England to visit relatives, returning in April of the following year when the first attempt was made to get a bill to allow women’s suffrage through the House of Representatives. Despite support by many politicians, this attempt and another in 1879 was unsuccessful, in part because it was argued that women themselves did not want the vote. There is no evidence that Kate had developed a specific interest in the suffrage cause at this time, though she had met Alfred Saunders (1820-1905), a close friend of Walter’s. A frequent visitor to their home, Saunders had been committed to women’s franchise for many years and may well have first drawn Kate’s attention to the subject. A gifted orator and passionate activist for temperance and universal suffrage, he had a lengthy career in politics and public affairs. After initially serving on the Nelson Provincial Council in 1855 and then becoming the local Member of Parliament, he had moved to Christchurch by1872. His Parliamentary career continued as he served terms as member for Cheviot, Lincoln and Selwyn. It was his position in the House of Representatives that later enabled him to become one of Kate’s most important and active supporters and advisors during the crucial years of the suffrage campaign.
Through the nineteenth century the position of women in New Zealand and their role in society gradually underwent change, as they increasingly united to voice their need for a greater degree of equality in both public and private life. Similar trends were evident in other English speaking countries and Scandinavia but New Zealand kept pace and often led the way in the various struggles. From Nelson, Mary Ann Muller under the pen name of ‘Femina’ had been publicly advocating for votes for women since 1869. Secondary education for girls was established from 1871 and by 1877 girls as well as boys were provided with free primary education. Universities opened their doors to women and in 1877 when Kate Edgar graduated as Bachelor of Arts it could no longer be argued that women’s intelligence was inferior to men’s. A further change was the growth of women undertaking paid employment to become breadwinners and attain independence. The field of work they undertook had widened beyond domestic service and teaching by the end of the century, with a fuller range of educational opportunities equipping them to enter professional roles.
By the time Kate and Walter’s son, Douglas, was born on 8 October 1880, Kate would have been aware of moves to promote greater equality. Her circumstances as the wife of a man of means allowed her involvement in activities outside the home, free from the normal household and child caring duties which tied working class women. She was teaching Sunday School at Trinity Congregational Church by the beginning of the 1880s and in 1884 when the Trinity Ladies’ Association was founded she became its first, very involved secretary, developing valuable organisation skills. She worked to set up the YWCA, by the end of the 1880s becoming a member of the management committee.
The evils associated with the consumption of alcohol concerned many people at this time, including Kate, her family and the wider circle of her friends. In the United States and in England temperance groups had been established to promote control of liquor. The visit to Christchurch in 1885 of an American temperance missionary, Mary Leavitt, brought about an emphatic change in Kate’s life. During Mrs Leavitt’s two weeks in the city, she spoke daily at well attended public meetings to promote the establishment in New Zealand of a Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). These meetings were fully reported in newspapers. Mrs Leavitt’s eloquence and calm, rational manner of delivery made her message convincing and she ‘produced the spark which set off a suffrage campaign in New Zealand’. It was not just the need for abstinence that she advocated but also that women should be acknowledged to be an integral part of humanity, entitled to the freedoms enjoyed by men.
Involvement with the WCTU brought new challenges to Kate who first worked on a petition to ban the employment of barmaids and the sale of intoxicants to children. It is possible that it was this aspect of the Union’s work that initially captured her interest, but from its 1886 annual conference the WCTU formally resolved to work for women’s suffrage. Their belief was that with women able to vote, prohibition would be achieved. By this time there were ten WCTU branches in New Zealand. The branches organised themselves into departments led by superintendents. In Christchurch, Kate began as Superintendent for Relative Statistics and her sister Isobel May led the Department of Hygiene, later taking over the national leadership of this area. At the beginning of 1887 Kate was elected Superintendent for Franchise and Legislation, a national and local position, which she held for the next 13 years. It was from this date that she became the effective leader of the New Zealand campaign, which in 1893 led to this country becoming the first to give women the parliamentary vote.
By 1884 Isobel May and Frank Malcolm had relocated to Riccarton, each building family homes on blocks of land they purchased from a subdivision of land formerly part of the large Deans estate, settled by William and John Deans in 1843. The healthier living and countryside atmosphere in this environment away from the densely settled city centre was also attractive to Kate and Walter. In November 1887 Walter purchased, for ₤400, a neighbouring two acre (.81 ha) section on Clyde Road for a new home. At the time, the location some three miles (4.8 km) from central Christchurch, it was considered to be rural. Kate’s other sister, Marie Beath, lived just a short distance away on Riccarton Road. Nearby is Putaringamotu or Riccarton Bush or Deans Bush, a rare surviving patch of forest on the plains, which had long been important for the Ngai Tahu hapu, Ngai Tuahuriri, as mahinga kai and kainga nohanga and it also had significance as a place where certain rituals were performed.
The new Sheppard home at 83 Clyde Road had two large living rooms in which the increasing numbers of visitors could meet. Access to the city was achieved by walking to catch the coach which ran frequently along Riccarton Road from the 1870s. By the 1890s Kate and sister Isobel followed Henry May’s and Walter’s enthusiasm for cycling and Kate was considered possibly the first woman cyclist in Christchurch.
From her comfortable location Kate carried out her increasing range of work for the WCTU. It was to this house that individuals came and groups gathered to discuss action, especially over the years of most intense struggle, from 1888 to 1893. It was also where Kate wrote. In 1888 she produced her first one page leaflet, Ten Reasons Why the Women of New Zealand Should Vote. It reads as follows:
Ten Reasons Why Women Should Vote
1. Because a Democratic Government like that of New Zealand already admits the great principle that every adult person, not convicted of crime, nor suspected of lunacy, has an inherent right to a voice in the construction of laws which all must obey.
2. Because it has not yet been proved that the intelligence of women is only equal to that of children, nor that their social status is on a par with that of lunatics or convicts.
3. Because women are affected by the prosperity of the Colony, are concerned in the preservation of its liberty and free institutions, and suffer equally with men from all national errors and mistakes.
4. Because women are less accessible than men to most of the debasing influences now brought to bear upon elections, and by doubling the number of electors to be dealt with, women would make bribery and corruption less effective, as well as more difficult.
5. Because in the quietude of home women are less liable than men to be swayed by mere party feeling, and are inclined to attach great value to uprightness and rectitude of life in a candidate.
6. Because the presence of women at the polling-booth would have a refining and purifying effect.
7. Because the votes of women would add weight and power to the more settled and responsible communities.
8. Because women are endowed with a more constant solicitude for the welfare of the rising generation, thus giving them a more far-reaching concern for something beyond the present moment.
9. Because the admitted physical weakness of women disposes them to exercise more habitual caution, and to feel a deeper interest in the constant preservation of peace, law, and order, and especially in the supremacy of right over might.
10. Because women naturally view each question from a somewhat different standpoint to men, so that whilst their interests, aims, and objects would be generally the same, they would often see what men had overlooked, and thus add a new security against any partial or one-sided legislation.
In essence, the message was the absurdity of franchise for men, while women along with children, criminals and lunatics were excluded. This was in an age when women were increasingly the employers of men who could vote while they could not. It also indicated that women’s vote would allow for greater focus given to social issues.
As well as being the base for Kate’s prolific writing, the house was where many notable visitors came and where many decisions were made. While there were many women of considerable ability throughout the country who devoted time and energy to gaining new members, public support for their objectives and taking practical steps to achieve their aims, Christchurch and Canterbury were particularly fortunate in the calibre of their Union members and supporters. Many of these people would have been visitors to the house. Politicians Sir John Hall and Alfred Saunders played major political and advisory roles and among the other men of influence were the key local prohibitionists, Rev. Leonard Isitt and Tommy Taylor, a later member of the House of Representatives. Mrs Emma Packe, first president of the WCTU’s Christchurch branch soon became president of the National Executive, supported by Christchurch women who were treasurer and secretary. Kate, Isobel May and Ada Wells held posts as national superintendents. Ada Wells, worked closely with Kate, who valued her fervour, efficiency and organising ability. Ada exemplified the incredible amount of dedication this burgeoning group of women made to the cause of women’s rights. After 1893 Ada’s work continued as president of the Canterbury Women’s Institute and as secretary of the National Council of Women while she campaigned for educational and social reforms. Her best known achievement was in 1917 when she was elected as the first woman on the Christchurch City Council.
Apart from Kate’s family members involved in the WCTU and the franchise movement there were many others who became close friends, including the extended family of William and Jennie Smith (from 1908, Lovell-Smith). William ran a printing business which undertook the printing of leaflets and pamphlets for the WCTU. This data was distributed widely and given out at meetings as reminders of the campaign’s aims and message. After 1895 the firm printed The White Ribbon, the first journal started, owned, edited, managed and published by women. Kate was the editor from 1895 to 1903.
Kate now frequently left home to travel to different parts of Canterbury and beyond, often accompanied by her younger sister, Isabel. She began an intensive programme of addressing meetings and smaller groups, initially reading papers she had prepared and gradually, as she was so favourably received, gaining confidence to speak less formally. Reports in papers indicated approval and sometimes surprise over her lucidity and gentle manner, as there had been frequent negative comments about some raucous, screeching women who promoted the franchise cause. Kate always dressed in elegant fashionable clothes, her appearance adding to her status as a refined lady of personal charm with a worthy message to impart. She was effective because she was not a shrieking eccentric without well-reasoned arguments.
In 1887 two petitions requesting franchise were signed by over 350 women but these had no impact and a Women’s Suffrage Bill introduced by Julius Vogel made no headway. Kate understood that large petitions could convincingly demonstrate the force of women’s feelings and over the following years worked tirelessly to acquire impressive numbers of signatures. Through 1888 she established a close relationship with Sir John Hall who now became the leading campaigner for women’s suffrage in the House of Representatives. Although his home base was at Hororata (Terrace Station) he had a town house in Christchurch, allowing them to meet, though their communication was chiefly by letter. The survival of most of this correspondence and that with Alfred Saunders provides an understanding of Kate’s ‘inside knowledge’ of the best ways to achieve her goals. Saunders, though of lesser status in Parliament than Sir John, was a very active lobbyist. He wrote Kate numerous lengthy and detailed letters and also sent frequent telegrams to provide an immediate update on progress, current attitudes and opinions. Apart from work getting petition signatures Kate continued with endless meetings, organised the distribution of leaflets she wrote, contributed frequent items to newspapers and worked with other WCTU members in practical ways to keep the issue of prohibition to the fore. An example was the provision of tents at public events like Agricultural and Pastoral Shows providing tea with refreshments as alternatives to the liquor stalls. The leaders of franchise in the WCTU through the country were instructed to take all opportunities to publicise women’s franchise and always respond when letters on the subject appeared in local papers.
In 1888 two petitions seeking the enfranchisement of women with 800 signatures were sent to the Legislative Council. In 1891 eight petitions with over 9000 women’s signatures were sent to the House of Representatives but the Suffrage Bill introduced by Sir John Hall was supported in only the House of Representatives and was defeated in the Legislative Council. The Electoral Bill giving franchise to women that was introduced in 1892 by John Ballance was abandoned because of an impractical amendment for postal votes for women (to avoid their being hassled at polling booths).
The year 1893 was busy and anxious for the suffragists. Sir John Hall had advised Kate that large numbers of signatures on petitions were essential and she rallied everyone she could into the task of taking the forms around. As the pages came in, from her home Kate pasted them onto rolls of wallpaper making a huge roll containing around 32,000 signatures for Sir John to dramatically present to the House of Representatives. In June 1893 Richard Seddon introduced the Electoral Bill giving all women in New Zealand the right to vote. It was passed with little difficulty by the House of Representatives, then by the Legislative Council and finally signed by the Governor, Lord Glasgow, on 19 September 1893.
Following celebrations, work continued. There was a new challenge, to ensure that women would enrol before rolls closed in six weeks time and would vote in the election scheduled for 28 November 1893. The participation by women was satisfying with 65 per cent of women over the age of 21 voting. There was little noticeable impact of their voting, no evidence as opponents had suggested of women being assaulted at polling booths or children being left unattended. The new Liberal government had been set to win without the women’s votes.
In December 1893 Kate was elected president of the WCTU and was also kept busy responding to requests for information and advice from women seeking enfranchisement in other countries. In mid-1894, with Walter and Douglas she left for a two year visit to England where she was much in demand as a speaker. She had health problems, requiring an operation while there. On her return, although she still needed time to recover her health, she was soon heavily involved in the recently formed Canterbury Women’s Institute and was appointed editor of The White Ribbon, the WCTU’s newspaper. In 1895 a convention organised by the Canterbury Women’s Institute was held in Christchurch’s Provincial Council Chamber and it reorganised into a National Council of Women, with Kate as its first president.
Her most active years as a political leader continued until 1902. Through her speaking and writing she emphasised the need for women to make use of their role as citizens to promote broad ranging social reform. Specific objectives were the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act 1869, economic independence for married women, government reform and women’s rights for guardianship of children, then regarded as their father’s legal property. Health, dress reform, general education and education against alcohol, women’s legal disabilities and equal wages for women were the subject of her articles and pamphlets.
In 1902 Walter Sheppard retired and wished to return and settle in England with Douglas to study at the University of London. They departed in November that year, with Kate following in July 1903. Their life at 83 Clyde Road ended after more than fourteen years on 3 April 1902, with the sale of the house that had seen so much activity. The relationship between Kate and her husband at this time is uncertain. Her health deteriorated while she was in England and she was advised to spend winters elsewhere so she returned to New Zealand, moving in with William and Jennie Lovell-Smith and their family at their home Westcote on Russley Road on the outskirts of the city. She became a loved member of the large family, living in cramped conditions that strongly contrasted with her earlier home. Walter enjoyed his life in Bath but returned for visits until his death in 1915, while Kate visited England again when Douglas was married in 1908.
Her activities had lessened although her interest and involvement only gradually decreased as she saw the later advances for women. She contributed financially to the building of a new house for the Lovell-Smith family on Riccarton Road in 1920, living there until her death. In 1924 the year following Jennie Lovell-Smith’s death, Kate married William. He died some four years later and when Kate herself died in 1934, her husbands, son and only granddaughter had predeceased her.
The purchaser of the house in 1902, John Joseph Dougall was a prominent barrister and solicitor who served on the Christchurch City Council for ten years and was elected Mayor in 1916. He lived here with his wife and their four children until his death in 1934, when it was inherited by his son Leslie who followed his father’s profession. After a family ownership of 37 years, Leslie Dougall sold the property in 1939 to Helen Nicoll, wife of Henry Nicoll, a merchant. In August 1944 they sub-divided the eastern part of the section into five lots. Lot 5 contained the house but the adjacent Lot 4 remained in the same ownership. Most of Lot 4 was then sold, leaving the section as it is today when it was purchased by Reginald Warren, an assistant marine engineer, in July 1947. William George Weigel, a commercial photographer, was the purchaser in 1954. It is probable that all of these owners made some changes to the property while keeping the overall form of the house intact. At some date the featured timber of the interior was painted white. Weigel replaced the timber doors from the hall into the two front rooms with large glass doors so that a large space could be created. He sometimes used this area for functions and wedding receptions.
A short time later in January 1956 Dr Anthony Allison became the owner, living in the house for almost 30 years. It is understood that he used the house as a family home and medical surgery. In December 1985 Andrew and Julia Everist became the owners. The current owner is Julia Burbury (formerly Everist). It is since the ownership of the Everists that the garden has been given major attention that has made it into a show place. They made considerable changes to the kitchen and the western area of the house to make it fit twenty-first century living standards. These alterations were made to complement the original form and character so that this house can still be appreciated as the home where Kate Sheppard lived and associated with so many people who were major players in the campaign she led for women’s rights.
Kate Sheppard’s national significance is well recognised. A national memorial to Kate Sheppard is situated beside the Avon River in Christchurch and she is featured on New Zealand’s ten dollar bank note.
15th September 2010
Report Written By
Pam Wilson, Robyn Burgess
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
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Historic Places in New Zealand
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Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
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Pauline Bennett, et al. Living with the past: historical buildings of the Waimairi District, Waimairi District Council, Christchurch, 1983.
Judith Devaliant, Kate Sheppard: a biography: the fight for women’s votes in New Zealand: the life of the woman who led the struggle, Penguin Books, Auckland, 1992.
Brian Molloy (ed.), Riccarton Bush : Putaringamotu : natural history and management, Riccarton Bush Trust, Christchurch, c.1995.
Patricia Grimshaw, Women’s suffrage in New Zealand, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1972.
Margaret Lovell-Smith, Plain Living High Thinking: the family story of Jennie and Will Smith, Pedmore Press, Christchurch, 1995.
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Prohibitionist, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Christchurch, Wellington.
One page from 7 Oct 1898 provided from the Christchurch City Council records for 83 Clyde Road.
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.