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:

http://dunelight.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/weekly-photo-challenge-monument-2/

http://bmagpub.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/wpc/

http://priorhouse.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/weekly-photo-challenge-monument-richmond-virginia/

http://janeykate.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://thisisfaa.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://photorambles.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://mrsaylasadventures.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://everythinginthemoment.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/weekly-photo-challenge-monument-old-burying-ground/

http://cindi-keller.com/2014/04/15/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://theapersson.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://wordswewomenwrite.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://rosekebab.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://leeannewalker1.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/monument-a-little-tribute-to-daisy/

http://2e0mca.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://drycrikjournal.com/2014/04/13/wpc-forgotten-monument/

http://kaldirimlar.com/2014/04/13/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://retireediary.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/weekly-photo-challenge-monument-hill-of-crosses/

http://tanzalongs.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/weekly-photo-challenge-monument-5/

http://nomineuk.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://ceenoa.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://ruraliowapastor.com/2014/04/17/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://katieprior.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/weekly-photo-challenge-monument-2/

http://lindylecoq.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/greatness-and-sacrifice-weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://pogirlshines.me/2014/04/15/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://isatinsilentmusing.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://pieterk515.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://nelabligh.com/2014/04/15/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://marialackey50.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://kcinaz.me/2014/04/14/monument-library-of-congress/

http://bluejbluej.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/momument/

http://bmagpub.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/weekly-photo-challenge-monument/

http://undefinedbydesignblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/weekly-photo-challenge-monument-roadside-monument/

 

 

Remembering Emily: an anniversary

Visiting Emily's grave on the 127th anniversary of her death.

Visiting Emily’s grave on the 127th anniversary of her death.

Yesterday I went back to Symonds Street cemetery; this time with two wonderful women friends who also wanted to remember and honour Emily Keeling (and all the other victims of domestic violence) on the 127th anniversary of her murder.

We brought flowers to lay on her grave; we took photos to share with our networks. We left our tokens of love and remembrance and an unspoken promise to remember not only Emily, but all of the victims of domestic violence.

Most of what I have left to say about the experience of remembering Emily is not really family history, so I’ve blogged about it elsewhere. But I do want to add a final thought.

Writing about Emily Keeling has reminded me how fundamentally good people are. Since my first post about her, so many people – men and women – have told me how moved they have been by her story. So it was really special for me to be able to share the anniversary with two such dear friends.

As I grow older I treasure friendships more and realise that, particularly in our modern world where we may be physically and emotionally estranged from family, friendships often provide the bedrock of our existence. For family historians of the future, really understanding the lives we are leading now will involve mapping not only the ties of blood and kinship, but those of friendship too.

A challenge indeed!

Remembering Emily

Flowers for the grave of Emily Keeling; shot to death in Auckland in 1886..

Flowers for the grave of Emily Keeling; shot to death in Auckland in 1886..

Well, it took me a the best part of a week to get back to Symonds Street Cemetary, but Emily’s grave now has flowers. They’re fabric, rather than “real” because I figured they will last longer (and because it’s impossible to buy fresh flowers in that neighbourhood on a Saturday afternoon), but I noticed that when I was there, a few more graves also had flowers laid on them. The cemetary is being tidied up by  a group serving community service sentences, and it looked a lot less overgrown than on my last visit. The group’s supervisor told me a few people had been in to bring flowers while they were there, so it’s nice to know that those long-dead Aucklanders are not totally forgotten.

On ancestry in the making

On ancestry in the making

I’ve been posting about “family history in the making” and then I read Helen Tovey’s blog post on “becoming an ancestor”. It’s made me think about how important it is to document the present (and recent past).

Today is a particularly appropriate day for such thoughts as it’s my son’s 15th birthday. He is my only child, so his birthday is not just a celebration of his life, but of his father and I becoming a family rather than a couple.

I sometimes wonder if our pleasure in that doesn’t almost outweigh the boy-child’s enjoyment of presents, cake and devoted parental attention for the day. And that got me thinking about his day.

Naming Day, Thomas Alexander Gray.

The boy-child with proud parents and god-parents.

We’re not religious, so a christening was out of the question, but when he was born, I remember thinking that it was important to celebrate the significance of his life to us in some way. It took a while to organise (10 months), but on 17 January, 1999 we held a naming ceremony for our baby boy. Continue reading

And now for something completely different … (with apologies to Monty Python)

And now for something completely different … (with apologies to Monty Python)

I’ve temporarily exhausted my supply of wedding photos, so that theme is back on the shelf for a while. Meantime, something caught my attention the other day that relates not to my family’s story but to that of the city I live in. It also speaks of the on-going story of violence against women. This is particularly in my mind at the moment, I guess mainly in light of the high-profile fatal attacks on women that have made the news lately. For each for these cases, I know there are many, many more that are not reported. Violence is endured daily by so many women in so many places – and most go un-remarked and un-reported.

Text of memorial to Emily Mary KeelingSo … A couple of days ago, I was walking in Auckland’s oldest cemetery – Symonds Street – in central Auckland, when I found a memorial headstone that caught my attention.

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.

Symonds Street Cemetary was in use from 1842 until around the 1930s. It contains the graves of many early European settlers to Auckland, and walking amongst the headstones is a lesson in the hardships of life in the nineteenth century, and of pioneer life in particular.

Symonds Street Cemetary; in use between 1842 and the 1930s.

Symonds Street Cemetary; in use between 1842 and the 1930s.

However, New Zealand has always had a reputation as a very safe place, so death by shooting – particularly the death of a young woman – was both deeply sad, and really intriguing. I had to know more. Was she shot accidentally? Or was it a murder?

It was a murder.

Thanks to Papers Past, an initiative of the National Library of New Zealand to digitise New Zealand’s newspaper heritage, I was able to find newspaper accounts of the death of Emily Mary Keeling, which was widely reported throughout New Zealand.

From the articles I read, it seems that Emily Keeling was fatally shot by a man who lived next door but one to her family. He claimed to have fallen in love with her, and had – two years previously – asked her father for permission to marry her. At the time of the proposal, Emily was only 15 and her father had refused permission. In the intervening two years the man, Edwin Fuller, had moved around the Auckland region working in different jobs before returning to the city to pursue Emily again. According to the newspaper reports, he wrote a letter to his family outlining his plans to kill Emily and himself.

So on a Friday evening in April, a month that in Auckland can be beautifully autumnal, Emily Keeling died a few hundred metres from her home; shot in the chest by a man who wrote to his family ‘… I am going to shoot myself tonight. I love Emily Keeling as no-one ever loved before.’

Edwin Fuller did shoot himself – a couple of streets away – having left Emily to stagger across the street to a shop, where she died within an hour.

I’ve been thinking about this story since Saturday night, and it’s affected me on all sorts of levels. Most importantly of course, I feel an overwhelming sadness at the absolute tragedy of it. A young woman walked out of her front door to go to a Friday evening class, and didn’t even get to the top of her street before being killed. Even 120 or so years later when the murder rate in New Zealand has risen alarmingly, such an event is still rare enough to be remarkable.

I am also feeling something that I’m beginning to recognise quite a lot in family history research; what drives me to do research is curiosity and the pleasure of solving puzzles, and yet it’s often the case that the information which helps to solve those puzzles is only available because the people we are searching for have experienced tragedies that brought them into the public record in some way. So my enjoyment is often tempered with sadness.

flowersEmily Keeling was one of two children. Her brother had moved to Australia and she of course didn’t live to bear children of her own. I don’t know then if there is anyone left in Auckland who remembers her – certainly her grave appears (like most of those I saw in Symonds Street cemetery) untended. Tomorrow I’ll take flowers, in memory not only of Emily Keeling, but of all the women who die violent deaths and who are forgotten like Emily.