Events · Places · Victorian

A Visit to Kate Sheppard House

Late last year, the Kate Sheppard House, the house where Kate Sheppard lived, and held meetings regarding the movement to win women the right to vote in New Zealand, was opened to the public.

Naturally, of course, I was interested in visiting it, when I next had an opportunity to travel to Christchurch, though I didn’t know when that would be. And then the Christchurch Victorian Society announced a planned visit. I just had to tag along, and my friends Kerri and Mel invited me to stay with them.

As 1893 was the year when New Zealand women won the right to vote, I knew that I just had to wear a dress from that year to visit such a place of historical importance. I had got my hands on some lovely black and white striped cotton sateen that I made up with the Truly Victorian Walking Skirt pattern, and the 1893 Blousewaist pattern. I changed the sleeve pattern to create a puff over a fitted sleeve however. And made a matching jabot.

On the day of the visit, Kerri, Mel, and I stopped at the cemetery Kate was buried to see her grave. The cemetery isn’t in the best state thanks to earthquake damage from 2011, but Kate’s plot has been kept well tended, with a hedge border and white camellias (the symbol of our suffrage movement).

We then visited Riccarton House for a cup of coffee, and sat outside to enjoy the warm autumnal weather until it was time to meet up with the rest of the group for lunch at Mona Vale.

Mona Vale was absolutely lovely, and the staff were delighted to see us all in our Victorian outfits. We had a few photos taken prior to our lunch being served.

I knew some members of the Christchurch Victorian Society through the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations, and it was very nice to see them again – and to meet some new faces.

Once lunch was over, it was time to make our way to Kate Sheppard House. I was absolutely amazed that such a piece of history was barely a stones throw from my old university, hidden away for so long. I also couldn’t help paying my admittance with ten dollar notes as we have Kate Sheppard on these notes. I know, I’m a bit of a nerd 😉

We were welcomed and given an oral history relating to Kate and her life, as well as the history of the house.

The house has been wonderfully set up, and had the cleverest little touches, such as the wallpaper that has signatures from the petition, and quotes embroidered on the curtain drawbacks.

While I did know a little of Kate’s history, I learned so much more about her, as I listened, read the signs and descriptions, and examined the objects on display. She was becoming a fully fleshed real person more and more.

I think what I found the most interesting was her vegetarianism, and her interest in fashion (she had an outdoor shed to store her clothes!). She also liked to cycle (belonging to the Atalanta Cycling Club) and played the piano.

Once we had explored the house, we moved into the gardens and then sort of gravitated towards the tennis court. Racquets and balls were offered, and Karen and Kerri had a match, running about and playing with their long skirts and corsets (proving that it is, indeed possible).

After saying our goodbyes, we parted ways, and Kerri, Mel, and I paid a visit to the Canterbury Museum to wander the Victorian Street, and examine the extant garments on display in the Costume Gallery.

And now, I’ll leave you with a photo of the sweet Dora, who likes to sit like this…

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