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Eliza Wallis

Signed family name
Signed given name
Given address
North Opawa
Sheet number

Biography contributed by Debbie McCauley

Eliza Wallis (nee Hart) (1846-1914)

Suffragist Eliza Wallis (nee Hart) was a first-wave feminist who actively sought the Vote for Women. She was a founding member of the National Council of Women formed in 1896. Her eldest daughter's signature appears directly under Kate Sheppard's on the first page of the 1893 Woman's Suffrage Petition, whilst Eliza's appears at the bottom of Sheet 532. Eliza was my fourth great aunt.

Eliza was born in Wellington on 30 March 1846, the fifth child of Edward and Sarah Hart (nee Culley). The Hart family had arrived in New Zealand, on board the Tyne on 9 August 1841. Eliza’s mother must have been a very strong character as she was pregnant with their second child in 1825 when her husband went on the run for 18 months after stealing food to feed his family. Once apprehended, he was sentenced to seven years gaol, which he served in appalling conditions on board a prison hulk. During the time he was away, Sarah had to provide for the family on her own.

Eliza was the family’s first New Zealand-born child. She was 16 years old when she married John Wallis at the private residence of Joshua Smith in Wellington on 13 January 1863. Her father, Edward, was a witness to their marriage. John Wallis was a carpenter from London, born in c.1839.

Eliza and John moved to Christchurch in the early 1880s. Whilst there they raised their illegitimate grandchild, Esther Wallis, who was born in 1879. Eventually caring for Esther as well as their other children in their small home became too much for the couple, and on 22 April 1890, Esther was adopted by Minnie Dean.

Esther was 15 years old when she was a witness at Minnie Dean’s trial for infanticide. Minnie was found guilty of murder on 21 June 1895 and hanged at Invercargill gaol on 12 August 1895. She remains the only woman to have been executed in New Zealand.

Eliza’s 12th and last child was born at Opawa in Christchurch on 15 May 1891.

Eliza was a signatory to the Women’s Suffrage Petition presented to Parliament in 1893 (Sheet No. 532) which led to the Electoral Act and New Zealand becoming the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the right to vote. She was surely one of more than 90,000 women who voted for the first time on 28 November 1893. 

On 13 April 1896, Eliza attended a women’s convention held in the Provincial Council Buildings in Christchurch. Eleven women’s groups from throughout New Zealand had sent representatives to the convention, during which the National Council of Women (NCW) was formed. Eliza was one of the founding members and the first president was fellow suffragist and Eliza’s friend, Kate Sheppard. The NCW aimed to:

unite all organised societies of women for mutual counsel and co-operation in the attainment of justice and freedom for women, and for all that made for the good of humanity; to encourage the formation of societies of women engaged in trades, professions, and in social and political work; and to affiliate with other national councils of women for the purpose of facilitating international Conferences and co-operation.

Eliza appears in the first photographs taken of the NCW, including the delegates to the women’s convention and another taken outside the council chamber of Christchurch’s Provincial Council Buildings. She is also in the Suratura Tea National Council of Women photograph that originally appeared in a supplement to the Auckland Star on 3 October 1896. Her speech bubble carries the words; ‘There's marvellous economy in Suratura Tea’.

John Wallis died at age 64, on 27 May 1903. That same year Eliza received a postcard from Kate Sheppard who had departed New Zealand in July 1903 to join her husband and son in England [Post Mark: Surbiton, 10:15 am, 1903. Addressed to: Mrs. Wallis, Ensors Road, Ferry Road, Christchurch, New Zealand]. 

I am going to attend a National Convention of Women Workers in London this week- to agitate for the franchise - I have been asked to tell about New Zealand. [Then on reverse] Thank you for your kind letter. You must keep as bright as possible for the sake of the others - Mr. S and Douglas are both well. I am visiting Mrs May at present. Mr May has gone to New Zealand on business. Best Wishes, from K.W.S 

[Mr. S. refers to Kate Sheppard’s husband Walter Allen Sheppard and Douglas is their son].

Eliza died at age 71 on 15 September 1914 at her home at 179 Ensors Road in Linwood, Christchurch. She was buried in Linwood Cemetery on 17 September 1914 (Block 33 Plot 234). She has no headstone.


1893 Woman's Suffrage Petition - Emily Wallis. Sheet No: 1, Riccarton, Christchurch (NZHistory).

1893 Woman's Suffrage Petition - Eliza Wallis. Sheet No: 532, Opawa, Christchurch (NZHistory).

Births, Deaths and Marriages Online (New Zealand). 

Christchurch Cemetery Records Online 

Frances Moss: Great granddaughter of Eliza Wallis (nee Hart) (personal communication, 17 April 2013, 2014 & 2018).

Click on sheet number to see the 1893 petition sheet this signature appeared on. Digital copies of the sheets supplied by Archives New Zealand.