Selwyn’s role in women’s vote marked
by Kent Caddick
A Hororata man’s pivotal role in New Zealand becoming the first country in the world to give women the vote was marked at a special event over the weekend.
This year marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. On this day (September 19) in 1893, the Electoral Act was passed, giving all women in New Zealand the right to vote.
As a result of this landmark legislation, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
Key to getting the necessary legislation through parliament was the then Selwyn MP Sir John Hall from Terrace Station near Hororata, who worked with suffragist leader Kate Sheppard to ensure women’s right to vote was enshrined in statute.
On Saturday his role was celebrated during a Victorian-themed Lincoln Farmers and Craft Market, which was held to mark the 125th anniversary of New Zealand women getting the vote.
A street theatre performance featuring actors portraying the key figures of the era, like Sir John, was put on by the Centrestage Rolleston theatre group.
Among the crowd watching was Sir John’s great-granddaughter Kate Foster who, along with her husband Richard, is a joint custodian of the historic Terrace Station homestead.
A number of Sir John’s descendants watched the performance at its two showings, with a great-grandson, five great-granddaughters and one granddaughter in attendance.
Kate Foster said the casting of Glen Clark as Sir John was brilliant.
“All the family thought he was so much like Sir John and he looked the part. There was some great interaction with the crowd.”
She said the family were delighted their great-grandfather was remembered in this way.
“Over the years his role in bringing women the vote in New Zealand has been forgotten, even though, in my opinion, he was just as important as Kate Sheppard, with whom Sir John worked closely.”
Kate Foster said Sir John wasn’t just about the enfranchisement of women — but he wanted equality for all people, not just women.
“He came from an English society where regardless of your own merits you needed patronage to progress.
“When he first came to New Zealand he wanted to see equality for all men, not just landowners. He was already talking about women getting the vote in the 1870s, but knew at that time; it would be hard to achieve, so he first had to ensure all men got the right to vote.”
She said Sir John’s involvement in the local community in Hororata was important to him and that carried over into the sort of social reforms he was interested in.
“If you take that into the women’s suffrage petitions it is not surprising then that Hororata was the first rural community in New Zealand to sign the petitions.
“He knew his local people, he knew his employees, and he and his wife Rose along with daughter Mildred went around the Hororata area in their horse and gig collecting signatures for the petitions.”
Sir John, who arrived in Lyttelton in July 1852, was a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council and first sat in New Zealand’s House of Representatives in 1856. He held cabinet rank several times and was premier from 1879 to 1882.
He represented both Selwyn and Ellesmere in parliament and later became honorary mayor of Christchurch, for the New Zealand International Exhibition from November 1906 to April 1907.
He passed away in June 1907, shortly after the international exhibition had finished and is buried in the St John’s Church graveyard in Hororata.
One of his granddaughters, Mary Grigg, became an MP for the National Party in Mid Canterbury in 1942. In doing so she became the fourth woman to be elected to parliament in New Zealand, and the first woman not from the Labour Party.