1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition

Archives New Zealand and the National Library of New Zealand have developed a significant exhibition centred around three key documents in our history: He Whakaputanga (the 1835 Declaration of Independence), Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi) and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition (Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine). The exhibition, He Tohu, is accompanied by a trio of books which contextualise the documents and provide background on some of the people who signed them.

The signatories to the Women’s Suffrage Petition included Lydia Williams, wife of photographer William Williams, who is featured in a number of his photographs in Young Country. I provided biographical information on her in support of the exhibition and am delighted to see her represented in the volume on the petition.

Immediately under Lydia’s signature is that of her sister Mary Ellen (Nellie) Devereux. Raised in Lower Hutt, Nellie took up work as a music teacher in her teens and performed on occasion in orchestras and solo recitals in the Wellington region. She seems to have lived with Lydia and her family in Dunedin for many years, operating her View Bank Violin and Pianoforte School from their homes in Maitland Street and Royal Terrace. Photographs of Nellie, usually in the company of her sister or nephews, are also among the National Library’s archive of images by William Williams.

He Tohu can be seen at the National Library, Molesworth St, Wellington, 9am-5pm, Monday-Saturday.