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Eliza and the White Camellia by Debbie McCauley


Sarah Hart was pregnant with her second child when her husband, bricklayer Edward Hart, stole food to feed his hungry family. On the run for more than a year, when captured he served six years on board prison hulks. After his release, his family searched for a better life and found it offered by the New Zealand Company.


Arriving in the country the year after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Eliza was the couple’s first New Zealand baby, born in 1846.


This book follows Eliza throughout her life, from poverty, emigration, elections, illegitimate children, and concludes the month following the start of World War I. A mother of 12, she became a suffragist and actively sought the vote for women, which was granted in 1893.


Eliza And The White Camellia is a beautiful hard-cover book, that serves many roles. It is a bilingual picture book, reference text, and history lesson all in one.


The ‘story’ is told on the right-hand side of each double spread. It was a pleasant surprise to see it had been translated into te reo Māori by Tamati Waaka, opening it up to even more readers. The status of Māori women during Eliza’s life is also briefly touched on within the book.


The left pages of each double spread feature text boxes, illustrations, quotes, and reproductions that support the story. These additions explain concepts that are unfamiliar to younger readers. Historical photographs, as well as a double spread of the women’s suffrage petition, bring the story to life.


While the book can look a little chaotic on first glance, once you sit and read it all makes perfect sense.


Author Debbie McCauley and book designer Sarah Elworthy have collaborated on a few books now, and their respect for each other’s work is evident. The story of Eliza is brought to life by the pair, ably helped along by illustrator Helen Casey.


The book includes so much more than just Eliza’s story though. A New Zealand timeline that relates to the family, and a world suffrage timeline both help expand reader’s knowledge. The book also include activities to extend readers, including how to know a suffragist camellia or bunting. Classroom activity ideas that make the history accessible and interesting to students are also offered.


Eliza And The White Camellia is a truly beautiful homage to an important part of our collective history. It will be a book that is treasured and revered for many generations.


Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Mauao Publishing, RRP $37.95

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