A monument to loss, and a touchstone for action

A monument to the short life of Emily Keeling; murdered aged 17. Monument erected by members of her church and other well-wishers. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

A monument to the short life of Emily Keeling; murdered aged 17. Monument erected by members of her church and other well-wishers. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

Monument: something erected in memory of a person, event, etc., as a building, pillar, or statue

A headstone (tombstone, gravestone) is – for most of us – the only monument that will be erected in our memory. Whether it is a simple wooden cross, an elaborate marble angel, or anything in between, the placing of a headstone is an act of remembrance.

The headstone of Emily Keeling stands next to that of her parents. It is weathered and damaged and the ground around it is broken and uneven, but the inscription is clear and tragically poignant.

Sacred to the memory of Emily Mary the beloved daughter of George and Emily Keeling of Arch Hill who was shot while on her way to the Primitive Methodist Church Bible Class Alexandra Street April 2nd 1886. Aged 17 years.

I discovered Emily’s story because of her monument. The Big T and I were wandering around Symonds’ Street Cemetery in central Auckland and read the inscription. Curiosity about that word “shot” sent me to Papers Past* to find out more. New Zealand even now is not a nation of gun-owners, and the idea of someone – especially a young woman – being shot in 1886 seemed not only tragic, but quite bizarre. Was it an accident? Or murder?

Sadly, the latter.

Emily Keeling was murdered a few metres from her home by a man who had that day written to his family ‘… I am going to shoot myself tonight. I love Emily Keeling as no-one ever loved before.’

It was an autumn evening and Emily was on her way to Bible Class. After shooting her, the man – Edwin Fuller – ran a few hundred metres to an adjacent street and fatally shot himself.

Emily Keeling was a victim of domestic violence; another name on a too-long list of women attacked and killed by men who claimed to love them. It is shocking that Emily was so young, a teenager living with her parents. It is shocking that she died in the arms of her neighbours on the street where she lived. But for me what is truly shocking is that Emily Keeling died one hundred and twenty eight years ago but her story is that of countless women now; women who are still suffering and dying at the hands of their husbands, partners and lovers – past and present.

Buried next to, but many years before, her parents. George and Emily Keeling (snr) grew old, robbed of their only daughter. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

Buried next to, but many years before, her parents. George and Emily Keeling (snr) grew old, robbed of their only daughter. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

An anniversary and a chance to reflect

Today is the anniversary, not of Emily Keeling’s death, but of her birth; 18 April 1868. Had her life not been so brutally cut short, she might have married, had children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who would remember her. She might have become a teacher, a nurse, a businesswoman. She could have been one of the 25,000 women in New Zealand who signed the Suffrage Petition in 1893 and been amongst the first women in the world to cast a vote in a general election.

Page 1 of the Suffrage Petition; signed by over 25,000 women. New Zealand was the first country in the world in which women gained the right to vote – in 1893.

She may have joined – or been part of the formation of – the Society for the Protection of Women and Children (1893), or the National Council of Women, formed in 1896.

We can imagine any number of lives for Emily Keeling, but she experienced none of them.

Small country, big problem

New Zealand has a shockingly high incidence of domestic violence. In 2013 alone, the Independent Collective of Women’s Refuges helped 20,000 New Zealand women in abusive relationships. And if that number seems high, it represents only a small percentage of the victims of domestic violence. For this is a crime that is terribly under-reported.

NZ Police statistics show that:

- 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime

- 78 percent of partner homicides in NZ are men killing their current or ex female partner

- on average, 14 women and eight children in New Zealand are killed by a member of their family each year

Fourteen women and eight children

That’s twenty two names on headstones; 22 futures we can only imagine; 22 lives remembered in monuments to pain and violence and loss.

I went to see Emily today; as I know a friend went on the anniversary of Emily’s death. I went in sadness; having read in the newspaper this morning that police going to tell a woman of her husband’s death in a car smash instead found her dead body. According to the news Police are treating the woman’s “violent” death as a homicide and say it is linked to her husband’s fatal crash this morning. This comes only one day after a man was charged with the murder of his estranged wife in Wellington, and a week after another man was arrested in Auckland for the murder of his partner.

I would have liked to tell Emily that things have got better; that men don’t kill and maim and terrify women and children in the name of “love” any more. I would have liked to tell her that organisations like Women’s Refuge – which didn’t exist in Emily’s lifetime – are no longer needed now.

But I can’t

So instead I’m doing what I can to make sure that domestic violence isn’t buried away as a “family matter” – something that can be ignored or downplayed. For me that means involvement with NZ Sculpture OnShore, a biennial sculpture exhibition that raises funds for Women’s Refuge. Established by a group of passionate, creative and highly organised women who began fundraising for Women’s Refuge twenty years ago, NZ Sculpture OnShore will hold it’s 10th exhibition in November 2014.


Bernie Harfleet 14 2012 photo Gil Hanly

Bernie Harfleet, 14, 2012. Exhibited at NZ Sculpture OnShore in 2012, each coffin represents a women killed in any one year in NZ by a family member. Photo Gil Hanly.

Like many people, I’m doing what I can, so that one day I can visit Emily and tell her that truly, things have got better.

Until then, if you would like to know more about the work of Women’s Refuge, click here.

And if you want to know about a NZ Sculpture OnShore, click here.

* Papers Past is an initiative of the National Library of NZ to digitise historic newspapers from all around NZ.

This post was written as part of the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge. Here are some other “Monuments” I liked:



































Six word Saturday: the day we went to Rothesay ‘O


Class of '63. Children holidaying in Rothesay, Scotland, August 1963. I'm the toddler in white at the front. Photo: Ron Leslie, 1963.

Wanna be in my gang? Children holidaying in Rothesay, Scotland, August 1963. I’m the toddler in white at the front. Photo: Ron Leslie, 1963.

Since talking to my mum about the photo of my toddler self making a bid for freedom in Rothesay, I have been looking for the other photos she reminded me were taken on the same holiday. I found this one.

And in case you’re wondering about the title of the post – it’s from this song:

What would I do without my mum?

mum sandra and cousin going to movies c 1949

My mum, centre. Go-to person for all family history questions.

When I posted this photo the other day along with some other examples of street photography (Street life: family through the eyes of a stranger), it got some interesting dialogue going with other bloggers about the process by which the photograph – taken by a professional street photographer – got into the hands of the person who is actually in the photograph.

I emailed my mother about it; here is her reply:

The photos were taken by a street photographer. They just  snapped away, gave you a slip of paper and if you wanted them you went to I think the Fife Free Press Offices.  They were very cheap and not too many families had a camera.

My INTJ brain is in overdrive. Did the photographer give out slips of paper to the people as the walked past? Did he (it probably was “he”) have an assistant? What was on the piece of paper? Was it like a flyer with the address for collection and a price? Or more like an order form? Maybe the numbers I found on the back of the photos matched up with the numbers on the slips of paper?

I’m guessing it had to be quite a quick, streamlined system. Looking at my mum with her sister and cousin, they are clearly in a hurry. My mum also said:

We were on our way to the movies to see Dick Barton Special Agent!!! Very big in those days; used to be on the radio every night.

Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder. Kirkcaldy High Street. circa 1940s.

Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder. Kirkcaldy High Street. circa 1940s.

Cynthia, at We’re All Relative noted that my grandmother Susan Elder, didn’t look like she wanted to be photographed, but the shot is here now, so someone bought it. Perhaps once she saw the photo, she actually liked it? It’s interesting that she even took the slip of paper – unless perhaps someone else took it on her behalf (my dad for example)?

Street photography seems a somewhat precarious way to earn a living; it’s a kind of deferred-enjoyment busking. My mum’s comment that the photos were collected from the local newspaper office got me wondering if the street photographer was also the press photographer and either this was a sideline, or it was actually a business run by the local paper as a way of making more money and utilising a resource (the photographer) who wouldn’t always be needed for “news” photography? Hm, the INTJ marketing brain’s in action now!

Not street photography, but photography on the street

A couple of weeks ago I found a photo of me on holiday in Rothesay, Scotland (Six Word Saturday: toddler on the run in Rothesay). I was about two at the time and in the photo I’m toddling away from my dad – whose legs are in the shot.

On the back of the photo was a name of someone I’d never heard of -  Mrs C Galbraith, and an address in Renfrewshire which was unfamiliar also.

My mum says that Mrs Galbraith was another guest in the hotel my family was staying in, and that she had an older daughter who used to play with me.

Mum also reminded me of two other photos taken during that holiday, both of which I remember seeing, but I’m not sure I have copies of. From memory, one shows me – clearly distressed – being held by an older child, while the other is a group shot of children outside the hotel. I’m not sure if I’m in that photo.

Now all I have to do is find them!!!

Me and my dad's legs; Rothesay Bay, Scotland, probably summer 1963.

Me and my dad’s legs; Rothesay Bay, Scotland, probably summer 1963. Photo by another guest in our hotel.