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NZ was first to grant women the vote in 1893, but then took 26 years to let them stand for parliament
Today marks the passing of the much celebrated 1893 Electoral Act, 126 years ago, which made New Zealand the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote.
But it would take 26 years before the often twinned step of allowing women to stand for parliament happened. On October 29, it will be a century since the passing of the 1919 Women’s Parliamentary Rights Act, which opened the way for women to enter politics.
Women’s suffrage and women’s right to stand for parliament are natural companions, two sides of the same coin. It would be fair to assume both happened at the same time.
Early women’s suffrage bills included women standing for parliament. But, in the hope of success, the right was omitted from the third and successful 1893 bill. Suffragists didn’t want to risk women standing for parliament sinking the bill.
The leader of the suffrage movement, Kate Sheppard, reluctantly accepted the omission and expected that the right would follow soon afterwards. But that didn’t happen.
After women won suffrage, agitation for several egalitarian causes, including women in parliament, continued. The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement (WCTU) and, from 1896, the National Council of Women (NCW) both called for the bar to be removed.
Women including Kate Sheppard, Margaret Sievwright, Stella Henderson and Sarah Saunders Page kept up the battle. But the unity found in rallying around the major women’s suffrage cause was lacking and the heady and energetic climate of 1893 had receded.
From 1894 to 1900, sympathetic male politicians from across the political spectrum presented eight separate bills. Supportive conservatives emphasised the “unique maternal influence” that women would bring to parliament. Conservative MP Alfred Newman argued that New Zealand must retain its world-leading reputation for social legislation, but he downplayed the significance. He predicted that even if women were allowed to stand for parliament, few would be interested and even fewer would be elected.
Left-leaning supportive MPs George Russell and Tommy Taylor saw the matter as one of extending women’s rights and the next logical step towards societal equality. But contemplating women in the House was a step too far and all attempts failed.
The failure in the pre-war years was largely because any support for women in parliament was outweighed by enduring prejudice against their direct participation in politics.
At the beginning of the new century, Prime Minister Richard Seddon was well aware of public opinion being either indifferent to or against women in parliament. A new generation of women with professional careers who might stand for parliament, if allowed, comprised a small minority.
Much to the chagrin of supporters, New Zealand began to lag behind other countries. Australia simultaneously granted women the right to vote and stand for parliament in 1902 at the federal level, with the exception of Aboriginal women in some states.
Women in Finland were able to both vote and stand for election from 1906, as part of reforms following unrest. In 1907, 19 women were elected to the new Finnish parliament.
The game changer: the first world war
Importantly, during the first world war, women’s status improved rapidly and this overrode previous prejudices. Women became essential and valued citizens in the war effort. Most contributed from their homes, volunteering their domestic skills, while increasing numbers entered the public sphere as nurses, factory and public sector workers.
Ellen Melville became an Auckland city councillor in 1913. Ada Wells was elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1917. Women proved their worth in keeping the home fires burning while men were away fighting.
In 1918, British women, with some conditions, were enfranchised and allowed to stand for parliament. Canada’s federal government also gave most of its women both the right to vote and stand for parliament.
Late in 1918, MP James McCombs, the New Zealand Labour Party’s first president and long-time supporter of women’s rights, opportunistically included women standing for parliament in a legislative council amendment bill. It was unsuccessful, mostly due to technicalities, and Prime Minister Bill Massey promised to pursue the matter.
Women’s wartime work, renewed feminist activism and male parliamentary support combined to make the 1919 act a foregone conclusion. Introducing the bill, Massey said he did not doubt it would pass because it was important to keep up with Britain. The opposition leader, Joseph Ward, thought war had changed what was due to women, and Labour Party leader Harry Holland pushed women’s role as moral citizens.
The Legislative Council (upper house) held out and women had to wait until 1941 for the right to be appointed there. It took until 1933 for the first woman, Elizabeth McCombs, to be elected to parliament. The belief that a woman’s place was in the home and not parliament, the bastion of masculine power, endured.
Between 1935 and 1975, only 14 women were elected to parliament, compared to 298 men. It was not until the advent of a second wave of feminism and the introduction of proportional representation in 1996 that numbers of women in the house began to increase.
Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury and current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi James Cook Research Fellow
In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.
When Grata Flos Matilda Greig walked into her first law school class at the University of Melbourne in 1897, it was illegal for women to become lawyers. But though the legal system did not even recognise her as a person, she won the right to practice and helped thousands of other women access justice. In defying the law, Greig literally changed its face.
That she did so is a story worthy of history books. And how she achieved this offers key insights for women a century later as they navigate leadership roles in the legal profession and beyond.
Flos, as she was known, grew up in a household full of possibilities unlimited by gender boundaries. Born in Scotland, as a nine-year-old she spent three months sailing to Australia with her family to settle in Melbourne in 1889. Her father founded a textile manufacturing company. Both parents believed that Flos and her siblings – four sisters and three brothers – should be university educated at a time when women rarely were.
She grew up firm in the knowledge that women could thrive in professional life, and witnessed that reality unfold as older sisters Janet and Jean trained to become doctors. Another sister, Clara, would go on to found a tutoring school for university students. The fourth sister, Stella, followed Flos to study law.
Women could not vote or hold legislative office, let alone be lawyers, when 16-year-old Flos began to study law. Yet she did not let this deter her. As she approached graduation she focused on, “the many obstacles in the path of my full success. I resolved to remove them”.
Other feminine aspirants, she noted, had previously wished to enter the profession, “but the impediments in the way were so great, that they concluded, after consideration, it was not worthwhile”.
Flos felt otherwise. She declared, even in 1903 when women were largely excluded from public life: “Women are men’s equals in every way and they are quite competent to hold their own in all spheres of life.”
‘The Flos Greig Enabling Bill’
Six years after entering the University of Melbourne, Flos witnessed the Victorian Legislative Assembly’s passing of the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill, also known as the Flos Greig Enabling Bill. Suddenly, women could enter the practice of law. How had she made this happen?
While childhood had provided Flos with role models from both sexes, she did have to rely upon a series of men to navigate her entry into the exclusively male club of the legal profession. Her male classmates had initially questioned the capabilities of a woman lawyer and resisted her presence, but she soon persuaded them otherwise.
Not only did Flos graduate second in her class, but the men took a vote to declare – affirmatively – that women should be allowed to practice law. Their support undoubtedly fuelled her ambitions.
Next, Flos turned to one of her lecturers, John Mackey, who happened to also be a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly. Together they worked with other supporters to craft the legislative change. Mackey argued that by passing the law, Parliament could ease the concerns of women who believed they could not get justice from a legislative body made up only of men.
Still, Flos needed to complete a period of supervised training known as “articling” before she could be sworn into the bar. No Australian woman had ever engaged in the “articles of clerkship” before. A Melbourne commercial law solicitor Frank Cornwall employed her, and she was officially admitted to the practice of law on August 1, 1905.
At her swearing-in ceremony, Chief Justice John Madden described Flos as “the graceful incoming of a revolution”. He also expressed some scepticism about her future success:
Women are more sympathetic than judicial, more emotional than logical. In the legal profession knowledge of the world is almost if not quite as essential as knowledge of the law, and knowledge of the world, women, even if they possess it, would lie loth to assert.
Flos would prove him wrong about her knowledge of the world, both in law and in her other passion, travel.
‘What did I wear? Don’t ask me!’
At the ceremony, her name was the third called – in alphabetical order – before what was reportedly an “unusually large gathering of lawyers, laymen, and ladies … seldom seen in halls of justice”. Attendees noticed smiles that “flickered over the faces of the judges as they entered the crowded chamber” at the sight of Flos among her “somberly-clad male” counterparts.
News accounts focused more on the physical attributes of the first lady lawyer than her qualifications. When questioned by a reporter about her clothing choice for the occasion, Flos blushed, “What did I wear? Don’t ask me!” But then confessed, “Well, if you insist! I wore grey, with a greenish tinted hat, trimmed with violets!”
Another news reporter critiqued the flower-adorned hat as “a most unlegal costume”. As if there was any basis for making such an assessment – until that moment the nation had never seen the “costume” of a female lawyer. The media’s fixation with female lawyers’ appearance endures more than a century later.
Flos soon established a solo practice in Melbourne focusing on women and children. Among other endeavours, she represented the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in lobbying to establish the Children’s Court of Victoria.
Media fascination with Flos’s attire did not diminish once admitted to practice. She delivered a speech in 1905 to the third annual National Congress of Women of Victoria on a paper she wrote titled, “Some Points of the Law Relating to Women and Children”.
The reporter noted that Flos “treated her subject in a masterly manner, and gave an immense amount of useful and, at times, startling information”. But Flos’s “stylish, yet simple, gown of grey voile, with cream lace vest” was equally newsworthy as were “her pretty black hat and white gloves”. The fashion choices of other (male) speakers went unmentioned.
Flos also helped open the legal profession to other women. She founded The Catalysts’ Society in 1910. Two years later it became the prestigious Lyceum Club in Melbourne, devoted to advancing the careers of women and offering networking opportunities.
After the launch of the Women’s Law Society of Victoria in 1914, Flos was elected its first president. She cared deeply about the right of all women to vote, arguing in a 1905 debate that if “politics were not fit” for women, “the sooner they were made so the better.” (In 1908 Victorian women won the right the vote.)
Law was not Flos’s only pursuit. She travelled extensively. Two decades after graduating from law school, she took a lengthy trip through Asia, spending time in Singapore, China, Bali, Java, Malaysia and two weeks in the Burma jungle. She stayed in local homes and on her return, spoke to audiences about the experience, delighting them with tales of “leopards, tigers, wild pigs, peacocks, … and wild jungle fowl”. She lectured publicly and on radio stations about the geography, religion and race.
The end of her career took Flos to Wangaratta in Northern Victoria. She practised at a law firm headed by Paul McSwiney, and was known to explore the countryside in a “Baby Austin” tourer. She remained an activist, supporting higher education for women and the Douglas Credit Party, a political party that aimed to remedy the economic hardships of the 1930s depression.
Flos died in 1958. While she did not live to see other female firsts, such as the appointment of the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 2003, Flos’ capacity to envision women as equals under the law places her among the profession’s greatest innovators.
Renee Newman Knake’s book Shortlisted: Women, Diversity, the Supreme Court & Beyond will be published by New York University Press in 2020.
It’s a simple enough equation: good soil is the key to good food. And good soil starts with trees.
Alexander the Great conquered a vast empire that extended from Greece all the way to India. However, his ancestors’ fortune was a mixed bag. A new series of studies show the ancient Macedonians may have been struck by one of the earliest environmental disasters linked to human activity.
Ancient sediment records sealed in lakes for thousands of years reveals how logging may have affected erosion, which ultimately destroyed the capacity of the ancient Macedonians to grow food.
More trees, on the other hand, appears to have made soil erosion less susceptible to climate change. The lessons for modern people – and our future prosperity – are clear.
Soil is a kingmaker
Something wonderful happens when rocks, formed in the guts of the Earth, come into contact with air and water: they break down into clays (and other things) to form soils. Because of their ability to store water and nutrients, soils are the food basket of land plants and all the animals that feed on them, including us.
Preserving soil has been the key for success to all past civilisations. Those who lost it would rapidly be precipitated into oblivion. This happened everywhere: the Middle East, Greece, Rome and Mesamerica.
Preserving our soil should therefore be at the centre of our concerns (although it rarely gets a look-in on the nightly news).
Erosion isn’t just a problem because the land loses soil. This soil enters waterways, increasing the sediment load of rivers. This high sediment load harms freshwater and coastal ecosystems, including fish population and, ultimately, us. We therefore need to better understand how climate change and humans shape soil erosion.
Macedonian timber and the first environmental disaster
The chemistry of sediments deposited on lake’s bottom records how the environment changed over hundreds and thousands of years. Recently, we have studied sediments from Lake Dojran, straddling the border between Northern Macedonia and Greece. We looked at the past 12,000 years of sediment archive and found about 3,500 years ago, a massive erosion event happened.
Pollen trapped in the lake’s sediment suggests this is linked to deforestation and the introduction of agriculture in the region. Macedonian timber was highly praised for ship building at the time, which could explain the extent of deforestation.
A massive erosion event would have catastrophic consequences for agriculture and pasture. Interestingly, this event is followed by the onset of the so-called Greek “Dark Ages” (3,100 to 2,850 years ago) and the demise of the highly sophisticated Bronze Age Mycenaean civilisation.
Further to the west, at the crossroads between Albania and Norther Macedonia, Lake Ohrid holds a much longer storyline: an international scientific drilling program is uncovering the past million year of climate and environmental stories locked in Lake Ohrid sediments.
We recently looked at Lake Ohrid on a more modest time scale, similar to the Lake Dojran project: the past 16,000 years.
At Lake Ohrid, there are also signs of increased soil erosion around 4,000 years ago. These results are consistent with previous suggestions of a human role on soil erosion at other lakes in Greece.
Overall, there are clear signs that deforestation and the development of agriculture precedes the Greek “Dark Ages”. While the causal link cannot be established with certainty, this timeline could represent the first negative feedback loop where humans depleted environmental resources, which in turn harmed communities.
Trees can make soil less sensitive to climate change
Lake Ohrid tells us another interesting story: until 8,000 years ago, soil erosion was closely following climate change. During dry and cold periods, erosion was shallow, probably as a consequence of dry conditions; while during warmer periods, higher levels of erosion delivered more sediment to the lake.
Around 8,000 years ago, something interesting happens: trees become the dominant type of vegetation cover. While trees were already abundant in previous warm periods (and less during cold periods), from 8,000 years ago onwards, they overwhelm the type of pollen that fell into the lake and became trapped in the sediment.
This tree dominance has an important consequence for soil erosion: after 8,000 years ago, soil erosion became shallow and remained so, even while the climate continued to oscillate. We can see soil erosion became less sensitive to climatic fluctuations.
We already knew that trees, thanks to their deep roots, help stabilise soil and prevent its loss; what we learn here is that over a certain threshold of tree cover, they also make soil erosion much less sensitive to climate change.
Lake Ohrid provides us with an important lesson, especially as we are increasingly concerned with how our soil and water resources will be affected by global warming. If we want to preserve our soils and rivers (and feed our communities) we need to ensure that enough of our landscape is covered with trees.
Planting trees and forest management should not be a concern for nature enthusiasts only, but for all us – regardless of political inclination – who enjoy eating. Understanding the past is not simply about learning from our ancestors’ mistakes so we do not repeat them, but freeing ourselves from their grip so new paths unfold ahead of us.
In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.
“It belongs in a museum.” With these words, Indiana Jones, the world’s best-known fictional archaeologist, articulated an association between archaeologists, antiquities, and museums that has a very long history. Indeed, even Jones himself would likely marvel at the historic setting of the world’s first “museum,” and the remarkable woman who is believed to have been its curator, the Mesopotamian princess, Ennigaldi-Nanna.
Ennigaldi-Nanna was the priestess of the moon deity Sin, and the daughter of the Neo-Babylonian king, Nabonidus. In the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur, around 530BCE, a small collection of antiquities was gathered, with Ennigaldi-Nanna working to arrange and label the varied artefacts.
This collection was considered by the British archaeologist, Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, to be the earliest known example of a “museum”.
In 1925, Woolley and his team were excavating at Ur (now in the Dhi Qar governate of southern Iraq). They discovered a curious collection of artefacts among the ruins of a Babylonian palace. Especially unusual was that while the items were from different geographical areas and historical settings, they were neatly assembled together.
The items ranged in dates from around 2100 BCE to 600 BCE. They included part of a statue of the famous early king, Shulgi of Ur, who ruled around 2058 BCE, a ceremonial mace-head made of stone, and some texts. The statue, Woolley observed, had been carefully restored to preserve the writing.
There was also a Kassite boundary stele (called a “kudurru”), a written document used to mark boundaries and make proclamations. The stele was dated to around 1400 BCE, and contained, Woolley noted, a “terrific curse” on anyone who removed or destroyed the record it contained.
Many items were accompanied by labels giving details about the artefacts. These were written in three languages, including Sumerian. The labels have been described in modern scholarship as early examples of the “metadata” that is so critical to the preservation of antiquities and the historical record.
The museum, over 2,500 years old, was centred on cultural heritage, and it is thought to have perhaps had an educational purpose. Along with her other roles, Ennigaldi-Nanna is believed to have run a scribal school for elite women.
When considering the discovery, Woolley noted that the discovery of a museum associated with the priestess was not unexpected, given the close connection between religious specialists and education. He also commented on the “antiquarian piety” of the time of the museum’s construction — an interest in history was a common feature among monarchs from the Neo-Babylonian period.
A family fascination with history
Indeed, Ennigaldi-Nanna’s appreciation for the past seems to have been a family trait. Her father Nabonidus had a fascination with history which led him to conduct excavations and discover lost texts. Many of the items in the collection were discovered by him, with Nabonidus sometimes described in the modern day as the world’s first archaeologist.
Nabonidus was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and a religious reformer. His eldest son, Belshazzar, ruled as his regent for many years, but is perhaps best known for his appearance in the biblical Book of Daniel. In a famous scene, the unfortunate regent sees the end of the Neo-Babylonian kingdom coming when it is foretold through the writing of a disembodied hand on a wall.
King Nabonidus’ interest in history didn’t end with archaeology. He also worked to revive ancient cultic traditions relating to the moon deity, Sin (Sumerian Nanna). His daughter Ennigaldi was an important part of these efforts, indeed, her name is an ancient Sumerian one, meaning “the priestess, the desire of the Moon god.”
The appointment of Ennigaldi as high priestess in Ur reinvigorated a historical trend made famous by Sargon of Akkad, who installed his daughter, the poetess Enheduanna, in the role over 1000 years earlier.
By the time of Ennigaldi-Nanna’s appointment, the religious role she would inhabit had long been unoccupied, and the rituals associated with the post had been forgotten. Nabonidus, however, describes finding an ancient stela belonging to Nebuchadnezzar I, and using it to guide his actions.
The historic aspects of the appointment of Ennigaldi-Nanna were further emphasised by Nabonidus when noting his research into the requirements of her role. The king describes consulting the writings of a previous priestess, a sister of the ruler Rim-Sin named En-ane-du.
Rim-Sin reigned over 1200 years before Nabonidus came to power. While some scholars doubt Nabonidus’ discovery of the stela of Nebuchadnezzar I, his recovery of the writings of the priestess, En-ane-du, has greater acceptance.
Little known today
Ennigaldi is largely unknown in the modern day. An exception to her modern anonymity may be found in the luxury fashion line, Ennigaldi, which creates pieces inspired by ancient Babylonian architecture.
While relatively little is known of the life of Ennigaldi, there are other well-known women in her family tree. Ennigaldi’s grandmother, Adad-guppi, was also a powerful priestess involved in the political world of her son, Nabonidus. Adad-guppi is best known in the present day from her “autobiography,” a cuneiform account of her life, written in the first person. Adad-guppi’s autobiography records the blessings she received from the moon deity such as living to the age of 104 with a sound mind and body.
The city of Ur and its museum were abandoned around 500 BCE, due to deteriorating environmental conditions. These included a severe drought, along with changing river and silt patterns. The prevalence of drought has also been cited as a likely cause of the falls of many earlier kingdoms from the Bronze Age.
The story of the world’s first known museum, its curator, and her family, shows the timeless appeal of conserving the treasures of the past. At the same time, the disappearance of this early institution of learning over two millennia ago demonstrates the significant overlap in the important areas of cultural heritage and environmental conservation.
In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.
On 22 January 1856, an extraordinary event in Australia’s history occurred. It is not part of our collective national identity, nor has it been mythologised over the decades through song, dance, or poetry. It doesn’t even have a hashtag. But on this day in the thriving gold rush town of Castlemaine, two women took to the polls and cast their votes in a democratic election.
Two days later, Melbourne newspaper The Argus unwittingly granted one of them posterity, writing “two women voted – one, the famous Mrs. Fanny Finch”. Fanny Finch was a London-born businesswoman of African heritage, a single mother of four and is the first known woman to cast a vote in an Australian election.
Victorian women over the age of 21 (excluding Indigenous women) would not receive full unconditional suffrage until 1908. (Victorian Indigenous women were not enfranchised until 1965.) But Fanny Finch, as a local business owner who paid rates, was able to exploit a loophole in suffrage law that was yet to discriminate against gender or race.
The Municipal Institutions Act of 1854 granted suffrage to ratepaying “persons”. The loophole was eventually closed in 1865 when “persons” became “men”.
Who was Fanny?
Frances Finch was born Frances Combe in London in 1815. At eight-weeks-old she was orphaned by her mother after a tryst with a footman ended in a pregnancy but no marriage proposal.
A cross-stitch sampler attributed to Frances Coombe (sic) in 1830 at the age of 15 suggests she understood both her parents to be free people of African racial heritage (although the UK did not free slaves unconditionally until 1838.) The London Foundling Hospital, where Fanny was accepted as an orphan, provided her with some protection against slavery as well as an otherwise inaccessible education and access to an apprenticeship scheme in “household duties”.
By 1837, a 22-year-old Fanny was a free, literate, educated, and experienced domestic servant. In that year she was approved a labourer’s free passage to the new colony of South Australia.
In Adelaide, Fanny was a valued employee of Julia Wyatt, an author, artist, and wife of the surgeon and first Protector of Aborigines, Dr. William Wyatt. Over the course of the next decade Fanny left their employment, married a sailor, Joseph Finch, and started a family.
By 1850, for reasons unknown, Fanny had left her husband. With her four children in tow, she made her way to Victoria. She arrived in the colony 12 months before the start of the Victorian gold rush. By early 1852 she was operating a restaurant and lodging house on the Forest Creek goldfields, alongside approximately 25,000 gold digging men and a handful of women.
There, in the fledgling township of Forest Creek, Mrs Finch’s Board and Lodging House became “the only one in which any person could get respectable accommodation”. By 1854, she had moved to nearby Castlemaine where she ran a restaurant. She quickly became one of its most recognisable faces.
A successful businesswoman
Fanny was a successful businesswoman, known to dress in bright blue silk with her black hair adorned in artificial flowers. Strong and robust, with an even larger personality she was not one to shy away from attempting to remedy injustice when she saw it – be it with her words, her cooking or her fists. Evidently, she possessed visibility and power.
Her business acumen and conspicuity make it probable that her male contemporaries were unsurprised when they witnessed Fanny cast her vote at the Hall of Castlemaine (now the Theatre Royal). Did the men taunt her? Encourage her? Or were they complacent? We cannot know. We do know that no one stopped her. She selected her preference and signed her name.
That afternoon, however, the two assessors of the day disallowed both Fanny and the other unknown woman’s votes. Their reasons were cited as: “they (the women) had no right to vote”. Further details were not divulged.
Still, Walter Smith, the man for whom Fanny voted, was elected to council. Smith was an agent and brewer who arrived at Forest Creek at around the same time as Fanny. Little is known about what motivated her to vote for him but no one else, despite being allowed to vote in seven councillors. She was clearly determined to elect him to council.
A rare glimpse
During colonial times women were rarely identified by name in the press – particularly women of the working class. The 1856 Argus report now offers historians an unprecedented opportunity to identify an otherwise invisible minority – the 19th century Australian woman of colour – as an active participant in our political history.
Fanny was a woman, who, through relative privilege – wielded with her own blood, sweat and tears – refused to founder beneath the weight of a white, Anglo-male world of commerce. However, this came at a price. As a woman of colour occupying space in a white man’s world, assaults on her success were not uncommon. Yet she refused to disappear.
One of those assaults occurred in December 1855. Fanny Finch was fined £50 for the illicit sale of alcohol, known as “sly-grogging”. After a month-long trial, which involved scandalous cross-examinations of miners, policemen, and even her two young sons, she was charged and fined.
Despite the exorbitant fine and the public slandering of her character and commercial integrity, Fanny Finch was not defeated. Like many business people on the goldfields, she both owed money and was owed it by others, but over the following four months, she began an unprecedented campaign of self-representation.
The day following her conviction she published a letter in the local paper accusing the local authorities of injustice (a copy of this has not survived).
A month on, she cast that vote. Then a few months later in April, she published the following advertisement.
Mrs. Finch begs to inform the inhabitants of Castlemaine that henceforth she will carry on business for her children and would be happy to receive any outstanding debts … finding that the more she herself strives the more she is oppressed, although she can firmly state that if those who are in her debt would come forward each with one third, she will be relieved of all debt, have a good home for her family and about two thousand pounds in her pocket.
Fanny Finch also begs to state that as in her affluence she was so kindly trusted, they may be sure that she, from her own free will, may some day liquidate all, but she must have her time … and in spite of what enemies she may have, she intends to keep throughout the winter ready cooked Ham, Beef Soups (a la mode) from seven in the morning to seven in the night.
The vote of the famous Mrs. Fanny Finch adds a woman of colour’s voice to what Clare Wright has described as an unorganised movement for women’s rights during the 1850s.
Fanny died on the 15th October 1863, aged 48. She was remembered as “a strong minded woman” with “a genuine tenderness of heart, ever ready to serve another in distress … without the slightest ostentation”.
She was given a public burial in an unmarked grave at Castlemaine Cemetery.
One of Australia’s biggest banks, currently under scrutiny at the royal commission, has a long history.
The Bank of New South Wales, which later became Westpac, was established in 1817 under a charter of incorporation signed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. It was Australia’s first bank and first public company.
But there’s something brushed over in the official history. Its first depositor, Sergeant Jeremiah Murphy, put in an unusually large sum of money (far more than his official salary) three days before the bank opened.
Just as the banking royal commission has been using ledgers, transaction accounts, remuneration reports and meeting minutes to try to get inside the behaviour of today’s banks, I and my colleagues Jason L’Ecuyer, Tom Allinson and Tamson Pietsch examined kangaroo-leather-bound ledgers and microfilm of military paymaster reports to understand how the bank started and how some people were making money in early colonial Australia.
The results can be heard on the latest 2SER History Lab podcast. To many listeners, the findings will be unsettling.
Just like Antarctic ice core samples or ancient tree rings, financial documents capture and preserve events over time. Through them, we can grasp glimpses of the period in which they were created.
The bank’s ledgers show the growing wealth of early entrepreneurs, such as Mary Reiby, the convict-turned-merchant who appears on the Australian $20 bill.
In colonial accounts, we can also see the sale of liquor licences to Sydney’s first establishments, and infrastructure spending on bridges, wharves and hospitals.
There is even a schedule of prices for Australia’s first toll road out to Parramatta.
But the records also contain sobering evidence of darker aspects of Australia’s past.
Disturbingly, we can see financial payments to settlers and the military for punitive expeditions against Aboriginal Australians.
Why trust the accounts?
Financial records can shed light on what happened because of the meticulous manner in which they were prepared.
Military payslips were cross-referenced against muster sheets. Colonial payments were reviewed by committees.
Customer withdrawals were matched against signatures. Ledgers were periodically balanced. The bank’s own clerks ran the risk of having their pay docked for errors or poor penmanship.
These records also make for compelling sources because, ironically, most were never intended for outsider eyes.
They lack the vague, self-conscious or euphemistic language often found in public proclamations.
Instead, they were working documents.
They served particular functions, such as keeping track of a bank’s funds, maintaining fiscal control over regiments spread across an empire or managing the revenue and expenditure of an emerging colony.
To be effective they had to be accurate, comprehensive, and complete.
Holding to account
In the year before his mysterious deposit Sergeant Jeremiah Murphy was sent out by Governor Macquarie “in pursuit of natives”.
It is highly doubtful that Jeremiah Murphy ever anticipated that some 200 years later, a team of researchers and radio producers would pore over his financial dealings to piece together an account of his movements and decisions.
Yet since his time, there has been an enormous expansion in both the legal and regulatory compliance requirements to maintain and preserve internal records, as well as avenues for public scrutiny, media attention and inquiry.
Bankers, like all of those who work in organisations and colonial institutions, should be mindful of the traces their actions leave behind in mere administrative records.
Sooner or later someone might look at their books.
The Bank, The Sargent and His Bonus is a collaboration between 2SER 107.3, the Australian Centre for Public History and the UTS Business School. It is available for download through the Think Business Futures and History Lab podcasts.
125 years ago today Aotearoa New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant all women the right to vote.
The event was part of an ongoing international movement for women to exit from an inferior position in society and to enjoy equal rights with men.
But why did this global first happen in a small and isolated corner of the South Pacific?
Setting the stage
In the late 19th century, Aotearoa New Zealand was a volatile and rapidly changing contact zone where British settlers confidently introduced systematic colonisation, often at the expense of the indigenous Māori population. Settlers were keen to create a new world society that adapted the best of Britain and left behind behind the negative aspects of the industrial revolution – Britain’s dark satanic mills.
Many supported universal male suffrage and a less rigid class structure, enlightened race relations and humanitarianism that also extended to improving women’s lives. These liberal aspirations towards societal equality contributed to the 1893 women’s suffrage victory.
At the end of the 19th century, feminists in New Zealand had a long list of demands. It included equal pay, prevention of violence against women, economic independence for women, old age pensions and reform of marriage, divorce, health and education – and peace and justice for all.
The women’s suffrage cause captured widespread support and emerged as the uniting right for women’s equality in society. As suffragist Christina Henderson later summed up, 1893 captured “the mental and spiritual uplift” women experienced upon release “from their age-long inferiority complex”.
Two other factors assisted New Zealand’s global first for women: a relatively small size and population and the lack of an entrenched conservative tradition. In Britain, John Stuart Mill presented a first petition for women’s suffrage to the British Parliament in 1866, but it took until wartime 1918 for limited women’s suffrage there.
Women as moral citizens
As a “colonial frontier”, New Zealand had a surplus of men, especially in resource towns. Pragmatically, this placed a premium on women for their part as wives, mothers and moral compasses.
There was a fear of a chaotic frontier full of marauding single men. This colonial context saw conservative men who supported family values supporting suffrage. During the 1880s, depression and its accompanying poverty, sexual licence and drunken disorder further enhanced women’s value as settling maternal figures. Women voters promised a stabilising effect on society.
New Zealand gained much strength from an international feminist movement. Women were riding a first feminist wave that, most often grounded in their biological difference as life givers and carers, cast them as moral citizens.
Local feminists eagerly drew upon and circulated the best knowledge from Britain, America and Europe. When Mary Leavitt, the leader of the US-based Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) visited New Zealand in 1885, her goal was to set up local branches. This had a direct impact, leading to the country’s first national women’s organisation and providing a platform for women to secure the vote in order to affect their colonial feminist concerns.
Other places early to grant women’s suffrage shared the presence of liberal and egalitarian beliefs, a surplus of men over women, and less entrenched conservatism. The four frontier US western mountain states led the way with Wyoming (1869), Utah (1870), Colorado (1893) and Idaho (1895). South Australia (1894) and Western Australia (1899) made the 19th century and, before the first world war, were joined by other western US states, Australia, Finland and Scandinavia.
New Zealand was fortunate to have many effective women leaders. Most prominent among them was Kate Sheppard. In 1887, Sheppard became head of the WCTU’s Christchurch branch and led the campaign for the vote.
The campaign leaders were well organised and hard working. Their tactics were petitions, pamphlets, letters, public talks and lobbying politicians – this was a peaceful era before the suffragette militancy during the early 20th century elsewhere.
The women were persistent and overcame setbacks. It took multiple attempts in parliament before the Electoral Act 1893 was passed. Importantly, the suffragists got public opinion behind the cause. Mass support was demonstrated through petitions between 1891 and 1893, in total garnering 31,872 signatures, amounting to a quarter of Aotearoa’s adult women.
Pragmatically, the women worked in allegiance with men in parliament who could introduce the bills. In particular, veteran conservative Sir John Hall viewed women’s suffrage as a way to a more moral and civil society.
The Suffrage 125 celebratory slogan “whakatū wāhine – women stand up!” captures the intention of continuing progressive and egalitarian traditions. Recognising diverse cultural backgrounds is now important. With hindsight, the feminist movement can be implicated as an agent of colonisation, but it did support votes for Māori women. Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia presented a motion to the newly formed Māori parliament to allow women to vote and sit in it.
New Zealand remains a small country that can experience rapid social and economic change. Evoking its colonial past, however, it retains both a reputation as a tough and masculine place of beer-swilling, rugby-playing blokes and a tradition of staunch, tea drinking, domesticated women.
Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury and current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi James Cook Research Fellow
During the nine-year-long Battle for Gaul, Julius Caesar fought his way across northwest Europe. He invaded Britain twice; in 55BC, and again in 54BC. But while archaeologists have found evidence of the war in France, there has been very little discovered in Britain – until now.
At a site called Ebbsfleet, in northeast Kent, my colleagues from the University of Leicester and I finally uncovered the site where Julius Caesar’s fleet landed in 54BC. A series of surveys and excavations, spanning from 2015 to 2017, revealed a large enclosure, defended by a ditch five metres wide and two metres deep.
We dated the ditch all the way back to the first century BC, by examining the pottery and using radiocarbon dating techniques.
At the bottom of the ditch, we found the tip of an iron weapon, which was later identified as a Roman spear, or “pilum”. Similar weapons were discovered at the site of Alésia in France, where the decisive encounter in the Battle for Gaul took place. What’s more, the defensive ditches at Alésia are the same size and shape as those we discovered at Ebbsfleet.
In Caesar’s own words
Our dig was situated next to Pegwell Bay, a large, sandy beach with chalk cliffs at its northern end. This striking landscape also helps to confirm that we really have found the location of Caesar’s base. Most of what is known about Caesar’s voyage comes from his own written accounts, based on his annual reports to the Roman senate.
When the Roman fleet set sail from France, they intended to use the wind to help them cross the Channel to find a large, safe place to lay anchor and prepare for battle. But the wind dropped, and the fleet was carried too far northeast by the tide.
At sunrise, Caesar saw Britain “left afar on the port side”. Only high land would have been visible from a small ship far out at sea. And the only such land in northeast Kent are the cliffs near Ebbsfleet. Caesar also describes how he left the ships riding at anchor next to a “sandy, open shore” – a perfect description of Pegwell Bay.
Given Caesar’s own words seem so clear, it’s surprising that Pegwell Bay has never been considered as a possible landing site before. Instead, Caesar was long thought to have landed at Walmer, 15 kilometres to the south. One reason might be that, until the Middle Ages, Thanet was an island.
The Isle of Thanet was separated from the mainland by the Wantsum Channel. But no one knows how big the channel was 2,000 years ago; it could be that whatever disadvantages it presented were offset by the presence of a large and safe beach, where 800 ships could land and disembark 20,000 men and 2,000 horses in one day.
Peace by force
Despite the imposing size of Caesar’s fleet, it was long thought that his landing had little lasting impact on Britain. Caesar himself returned to France immediately after the two campaigns, without leaving a garrison. Yet the discovery of the landing site gives us cause to question this assumption.
Historical sources, royal burials and ancient coins indicate that from about 20BC, the kings of southeast England had strong links to Rome. But historians have found it hard to explain how these alliances came into existence. The suggestion that they sprung from diplomatic ties forged by the emperor Augustus at that time has never been convincing.
But Caesar tells us that he reached a peace accord with the Britons in 54BC, even taking hostages from the ruling families to ensure the agreement was respected. Perhaps the alliances which came to light in the 20s BC were originally established by Caesar, a generation before emperor Augustus asserted his authority over the Roman Empire.
The close ties between Rome and the kings of southeast England assured emperor Claudius of a relatively easy military victory, when he first set out to conquer England in 43 AD. So it seems Caesar’s earlier conquest could have laid the foundations for the Roman occupation of Britain, which lasted more than 300 years.
For Caesar, the consequences of his invasions were clear. In his day, Britain lay beyond the known world. By crossing the ocean and conquering Britain, Caesar caused a sensation in his homeland. He was awarded the longest public thanksgiving in Rome, winning great acclaim and glory in the process. Mission accomplished.
The ancient Babylonians – who lived from about 4,000BCE in what is now Iraq – had a long forgotten understanding of right-angled triangles that was much simpler and more accurate than the conventional trigonometry we are taught in schools.
Our new research, published in Historia Mathematica, shows that the Babylonians were able to construct a trigonometric table using only the exact ratios of sides of a right-angled triangle. This is a completely different form of trigonometry that does not need the familiar modern concept of angles.
At school we are told that the shape of a right-angled triangle depends upon the other two angles. The angle is related to the circumference of a circle, which is divided into 360 parts or degrees. This angle is then used to describe the ratios of the sides of the right-angled triangle through sin, cos and tan.
But circles and right-angled triangles are very different, and the price of having simple values for the angle is borne by the ratios, which are very complicated and must be approximated.
This approach can be traced back to the Greek astronomer and mathematician Hipparchus of Nicaea (who died after 127 BCE). He is said to be the father of trigonometry because he used his table of chords to calculate orbits of the Moon and Sun.
But our new research shows this was not the first, or only, or best approach to trigonometry.
The Babylonians discovered their own unique form of trigonometry during the Old Babylonian period (1900-1600BCE), more than 1,500 years earlier than the Greek form.
Remarkably, their trigonometry contains none of the hallmarks of our modern trigonometry – it does not use angles and it does not use approximation.
The Babylonians had a completely different conceptualisation of a right triangle. They saw it as half of a rectangle, and due to their sophisticated sexagesimal (base 60) number system they were able to construct a wide variety of right triangles using only exact ratios.
The sexagesimal system is better suited for exact calculation. For example, if you divide one hour by three then you get exactly 20 minutes. But if you divide one dollar by three then you get 33 cents, with 1 cent left over. The fundamental difference is the convention to treat hours and dollars in different number systems: time is sexagesimal and dollars are decimal.
The Babylonians knew that their sexagesmial number system allowed for many more exact divisions. For a more sophisticated example, 1 hour divided by 48 is 1 minute and 15 seconds.
This precise arithmetic of the Babylonians also influenced their geometry, which they preferred to be exact. They were able to generate a wide variety of right-angled triangles within exact ratios b/l and d/l, where b, l and d are the short side, long side and diagonal of a rectangle.
The ratio b/l was particularly important to the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians because they used this ratio to measure steepness.
The Plimpton 322 tablet
We now know that the Babylonians studied trigonometry because we have a fragment of a one of their trigonometric tables.
Plimpton 322 is a broken clay tablet from the ancient city of Larsa, which was located near Tell as-Senkereh in modern day Iraq. The tablet was written between 1822-1762BCE.
In the 1920s the archaeologist, academic and adventurer Edgar J Banks sold the tablet to the American publisher and philanthropist George Arthur Plimpton.
Plimpton bequeathed his entire collection of mathematical artefacts to Columbia University in 1936, and it resides there today in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. It’s available online through the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.
In 1945 the tablet was revealed to contain a highly sophisticated sequence of integer numbers that satisfy the Pythagorean equation a2+b2=c2, known as Pythagorean triples.
This is the fundamental relationship of the three sides of a right-angled triangle, and this discovery proved that the Babylonians knew this relationship more than 1,000 years before the Greek mathematician Pythagoras was born.
Plimpton 322 has ruled space on the reverse which indicates that additional rows were intended. In 1964, the Yale based science historian Derek J de Solla Price discovered the pattern behind the complex sequence of Pythagorean triples and we now know that it was originally intended to contain 38 rows in total.
The tablet also has missing columns, and in 1981 the Swedish mathematics historian Jöran Friberg conjectured that the missing columns should be the ratios b/l and d/l. But the tablet’s purpose remained elusive.
The surviving fragment of Plimpton 322 starts with the Pythagorean triple 119, 120, 169. The next triple is 3367, 3456, 4825. This makes sense when you realise that the first triple is almost a square (which is an extreme kind of rectangle), and the next is slightly flatter. In fact the right-angled triangles are slowly but steadily getting flatter throughout the entire sequence.
So the trigonometric nature of this table is suggested by the information on the surviving fragment alone, but it is even more apparent from the reconstructed tablet.
This argument must be made carefully because modern notions such as angle were not present at the time Plimpton 322 was written. How then might it be a trigonometric table?
Fundamentally a trigonometric table must describe three ratios of a right triangle. So we throw away sin and cos and instead start with the ratios b/l and d/l. The ratio which replaces tan would then be b/d or d/b, but neither can be expressed exactly in sexagesimal.
Instead, information about this ratio is split into three columns of exact numbers. A squared index and simplified values of b and d to help the scribe make their own approximation to b/d or d/b.
The most remarkable aspect of Babylonian trigonometry is its precision. Babylonian trigonometry is exact, whereas we are accustomed to approximate trigonometry.
Read more: Curious Kids: Why do we count to 10?
The Babylonian approach is also much simpler because it only uses exact ratios. There are no irrational numbers and no angles, and this means that there is also no sin, cos or tan or approximation.
It is difficult to say why this approach to trigonometry has not survived. Perhaps it went out of fashion because the Greek approach using angles is more suitable for astronomical calculations. Perhaps this understanding was lost in 1762BCE when Larsa was captured by Hammurabi of Babylon. Without evidence, we can only speculate.
We are only beginning to understand this ancient civilisation, which is likely to hold many more secrets waiting to be discovered.