Suffering and Suffrage – Visions of Victorian Life

Suffering and Suffrage - Visions of Victorian Life

The Head Gardener has been muttering to me about the fact that I haven’t yet planted broadbeans! I’ve been spending time in doors researching my Victorian family tree, staying warm, surfing with a cup of tea in hand and imagining the lives of my Great Grandmothers. I agree this is a gardening fail but it has been a lot of fun!

This is what I’ve found while surfing (don’t be alarmed I’m not about to go on and on about family history):

Visions of Victorian Suffering

The Art Gallery of New South Wales has an exhibition ‘Victorian Visions’ on from the May 20 to August 29. Their website hosts a fantastic lecture on the depiction of Poverty in Victorian Art, which I highly recommend, as the film shows the artworks that the speaker is referencing. To prove that this is still a gardening related post this lecture features the role of the potato in Victorian life and farming -woot!  The audio tour for the exhibition shows images of the painting in the exhibit.

Suffrage in Australia

Great Petition. Artists Susan Hewitt & Penelope Lee 2008. Commemorating 200th anniversary of Women's Vote

Some clever people have transcribed all the names of the women in Victoria, Australia who signed the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition.  These names are now searchable on our State Government’s website. So if you had female ancestors living in Victoria, Australia in 1891(city or rural) put their last name into the search window and see if you can find them. If you know roughly where they were living at the time it makes them easier to identify.  Once you have found their names a link will take you through to an image of their actual signature.

The ‘Monster Petition’ as it has come to be called collected 30,000 signatures of women petitioning the State Government for the right to vote.  The petition itself is a 260 m long role of paper that requires hours to unwind. This petition played an important role at Federation in 1901 (the process by which Australia became a nation) as Australia became the first country to give women both the right to vote and the right to stand for government by 1908. There is a great history of the petition that was collected during a six – ten week period in spring 1891 at this location.

The Exhibition Building - Site of Australia's first Parliament 1901

I found the signatures of two of my Great Grandmothers one maternal, one paternal and some of their female relatives and neighbours. I wish I knew more about how they felt about the petition on that spring day in 1891 when a woman knocked on their door and asked them to sign. Are my missing Great Grans on there and I just can’t find them, did they refuse to sign or where they out the back digging potatoes when the suffragettes came calling?

Interestingly there was an enormous difference in the living conditions between the two signing GGs. One a young unmarried woman living with her father and sister in a working class area of the city of Ballarat  and the other a wife of the local Mayor living on a large orchard in rural Lilydale. The struggle for women’s suffrage seems to have crossed class barriers I wonder if women at the time felt united by the petition? Clearly these women rocked and I feel very grateful to them.

There is a wonderful 3 minute clip on the Victorian Arts website that shows Diane Gardiner of the State Records Office talking about the petition and the petition roll itself.

This is something that I’m going to dig further into while it’s too cold to dig in the garden.

1 Response to “Suffering and Suffrage – Visions of Victorian Life”


  • As I was reading your post, it all seemed so real and immediate. My house was built in 1891. I wonder if the lady of the house was involved? I will definitely be searching that fascinating database for great grandmothers.

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