Visitors arriving to Kate Sheppard House being welcomed by staff.

Introduction to Kate Sheppard House

Number 83 Clyde Rd is a gracious four-bedroom kauri villa, the very epitome of a genteel Christchurch address – that is, aside from its incredibly colourful history of subversion and political agitation. This was the family home of Kate Sheppard between 1888 and 1902, where the pioneering suffragist and her fellow campaigners organised their movement to secure the vote for women, and it is now open for the public to visit, enjoy and to seek inspiration from. Bought by the New Zealand Government to be converted into a research centre and a heritage venue to showcase Sheppard and other New Zealand women responsible for significant social change, the house underwent a major renovation before the museum was officially opened by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in December 2020.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern cutting the ribbon to open Kate Sheppard House with family members in 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the opening of Kate Sheppard House in 2020 Photo Credit: Chris Hoopmann

A poster from Kate Sheppard House that says 'Do not think your single vote does not matter much. The rain that refreshes the parched earth is made up of single drops' - Kate Sheppard

Named Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House (the Māori component is a reference to the stream to the north side, also known as the Okeover), the property has been interpreted in a way that celebrates the life and work of Sheppard without attempting to exactly replicate her milieu. Where period furniture and treatments have been used, they’re given a contemporary twist. The Victorian-era wallpaper, for instance, which was sourced from Ewelme Cottage in Auckland, is imprinted with signatures from the suffragists’ dam-bursting 1893 petition. Likewise, the dining table, a gift from a distant relative of Sheppard’s sister, is strewn with the kind of gear you’d have at hand if you were pasting pages of a petition down, but it’s also engraved with Kate Sheppard’s own words. When you visit this room, ground zero of the suffragist movement, be sure to count the dining chairs – there are eight of them, each representing one of Sheppard’s key allies, including the politician Sir John Hall, who famously presented the petition to Parliament by rolling it out across the debating chamber, and leading figures such as Amey Daldy and Ada Wells.

There are more personal touches. The family of Sheppard’s second husband, William Lovell-Smith, has loaned some of Sheppard’s personal items to the museum, including a locket she wore bearing photographs of her mother and husband. Like many of the treasures in this place, you’ll have to hunt for it (spoiler alert: it’s tucked away in her bedroom wardrobe). There’s a mahogany sewing box inscribed in mother of pearl with her maiden name, Kate Malcolm, and contemporary photos of Sheppard and her circle that were laboriously sourced by our staff.

In other parts of the house, the story broadens. Sheppard’s former study has been recast as a ‘Legacy Room’, with pivotal social, economic and political developments affecting Aotearoa New Zealand women cited on the walls, from getting the vote to the advent of the Domestic Purposes Benefit to the election of female Prime Ministers. The story here recognises the important role played by Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia and other Māori women in the struggle for the right to vote.

In time, Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House will become a heritage destination of international significance and – as a domestic setting where great things were achieved – a source of inspiration, encouraging debate and progressive action. By contrast, the grounds are a far more serene and contemplative experience. Unusually, it’s a full acre, still graced by some of the handsome trees that Sheppard and her first husband Walter planted when they built the place, along with rose gardens, camellia and rhododendron stands, perennial beds and a riverside pathway. Very fitting for this Garden City villa.

When you’ve finished at the house, head to nearby Riccarton House and Bush/Pūtaringamotu. The grand historic homestead was built by another strong pioneering Canterbury woman, Jane Deans, and is well worth a look, although you’ll have to book a guided tour. Afterwards, check out humble Deans Cottage. Erected for the brothers John and William Deans in 1843, it’s Canterbury’s oldest surviving building. Then walk the Te Ara Kahikatea Track, a short loop through a remnant of the mighty podocarp forest that once blanketed the Canterbury Plains.