Given names: 
Given address: 
Sheet No: 321

Biography contributed by Rachel Baskerville (great-great-granddaughter)

Miriam Louise Ballard was born in Wellington on 26 July 1859, and died in her daughter’s home in Paraparaumu in 1948 aged 89. Jane Levy (née Harvey, 1828-1901), Miriam’s mother, was born in Somerset, coming to New Zealand with her parents and three younger siblings on the Birman, arriving in 1842 on the beach at Petone. Jane knowingly overstated her age as being 15, in order to qualify for what was called the servant’s fare. Jane married in Wellington when she was 16 to Solomon Levy, a Jewish orphan from London who had arrived in Petone in 1840 on the Oriental (Jane and Solomon’s family story is in a book, ref. National Library New Zealand). This young couple made their home in Mt Victoria, Wellington, having 13 children, of whom eight survived to old age. Oldest was Alfred (1845), and the youngest, Ernest, in 1870. Miriam, born on 26 July 1859, was particularly close to her brother George (1864). They were the favourite niece and nephew of her aunt, Louisa Snelson, whose story is also described on this Suffrage Petition website.

Miriam’s family lived at 26 Brougham Street. She told my mother of seeing prisoners in prison clothing, chained together from Mount Cook gaol, traipsing through Courtney Place to build retaining walls around Oriental Bay. By the time Miriam was 10, the nearby Basin Reserve (drained by the 1855 earthquake uplift) was transformed into a cricket ground using similar prison labour. She also told how women were very wary when ships arrived. 'Sometimes the sailors must’ve been ravenous, because they raided shops and ate the meat raw'; wives and daughters were kept indoors when ships arrived.

Miriam’s mother Jane was a stalwart of the Congregational Church in Cambridge Terrace, and there was no active Jewish custom practised in the household of her childhood. Her father Solomon had various trades as a carpenter, gold digger, and then established himself as a Rates Collector in early colonial Wellington. Both mother and father were buried in Bolton St Cemetery, but only his grave survived the desecration of the motorway construction.

Although there is no record of her mother Jane signing the suffrage petition, Miriam’s three closest aunts (as in photo on this site) did sign: Anne Jackson of Petone, Louise Snelson of Palmerston North, and Leah McKenzie, second wife of Thomas Wilmor McKenzie, a high-profile newspaper owner in early Wellington. There’s no doubt Miriam would’ve participated in political and societal discussions in her family. Miriam’s future husband, James Gardiner Ballard had been posted as a young clerk from Christchurch Post & Telegraph Office at Waipukurau, but then when transferred to Wellington he met Miriam. Both her father and future husband had been involved with defending stockades during the Land wars. Another family story was how Miriam went with her suitor by horse and gig along the unsealed Hutt road as far as Kaiwharawhara, and we have a jet black belt given to her by a proposer on one occasion. However James Ballard succeeded in his endeavours, marrying her on 28 August 1880 in Saint Marks Church, Wellington.

In late 1880 James was posted from Wellington to the Blenheim Telegraph Station and then to Picton in 1885. They spent 15 years in the Marlborough area, and their two children, Leonard and Ethel (Poppy), were born in Picton. When Miriam shifted to Dunedin with her husband the 1895 newspaper stated: 'Mrs Ballard will also be much missed in social circles. She has been a leading member of the Benevolent Society since its institution, and has always given her assistance most readily for the furtherance of any commendable object'.

On this move to Dunedin in 1895, James took the position in the Telegraph Office, eventually being Inspector of Telegraph Offices for the Dominion. He would have travelled around New Zealand, but conditions in coastal shipping were not to be envied and the family stayed in Dunedin which offered many facilities. In particular they enjoyed theatre, music, tennis, hockey, Poppy a keen rower on Lake Logan. Entertainment from overseas was attracted to Dunedin, it being the largest city in New Zealand between 1878 and 1881, and appeared with astonishing rapidity. Gilbert and Sullivan productions could be seen within two years of their first performances, and Verdi's Aida was seen in New Zealand within six years of its 1871 production. The 1877 premiere of Wagner's Lohengrin in NZ pre-dated the USA production. Miriam was a keen Wagner fan, judging by her cuttings from the Illustrated London News at his 1883 death. Much later on my mother recalled that she decorated greeting cards with pressed flowers for craft income in old-age, and left many skilled sketches and cartoons in her notebooks.

Their home in north Dunedin was at 75 Union Street, still standing in 2020 in the middle of the university campus was home to the Anthropology department when I studied anthropology myself. Their son Leonard qualified as a dentist, married Jessie Clack, and continued to live in Dunedin at 56 Warden St, Opoho the rest of his life. Daughter Ethel Beatrice Ballard, my grandmother, was known as Poppy (as the Poppy Roberts trophy at the Wellington Bridge club attests).

James, Miriam’s husband continued in his career in Dunedin until he died at the young age of 63. Miriam’s mother-in-law was the doughty Isabella Ballard, whose husband had also died young, and Isabella survived her son James’s death. Isabella is remembered in 'The Forgotten Forty-niners' Lyttleton history, being a landlady of the Lyttleton pub after her husband died.

Miriam survived 34 years after James’ death, and we know little about her later life up to her death in 1948 except for photos, letters, and scrapbooks. Two of her niece Jessie’s grandchildren, Ian and Malcolm McKinnon, remember visiting Miriam as an old lady when she was living at 104, Wadestown Road. From 1917 to 1919 her married daughter Poppy, with Thomas Roberts, was living in Cecil Road Wadestown, only three or four years after James‘s death. They then shifted to Patea and there are regular newspaper records of Mrs Ballard visiting and travelling with Poppy and Tommy. Without independent income in old-age, she would’ve turned 65 in 1924 and been eligible for a state pension for the last 24 years of her life, the pension system having been extended to include widows in 1911.

From a number of photos, Miriam dressed elegantly, decorating her hats (of which one survives), valuing respectability and reputation, very well read, and a very faithful Anglican churchgoer. Her notebooks and prayer books have many reflections on favourite bible passages and preachers, whilst silent about her Jewish ancestry, never mentioning it. Her granddaughters Shirley Rowe (Wellington) and Margaret Templeton (Queenstown) were both active in environmentalism and in civic duties, progressing women’s roles and rights.


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

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