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New Zealand’s forgotten teachers brought to life

Nov 10th, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

ellen ellis MAIN
KAPITI author Ellen Ellis has tracked down 20 women teachers lost from the pages of history 100 years ago when they left New Zealand.

Educating  Boer children in the internment camps of South Africa, was seen as a ticket out of New Zealand for the women.

They grabbed this “chance of a lifetime” from the British government, to spend a year ‘anglicising’ Boer children, and were criticised by some at the time for just wanting a good time.

Their forgotten story has been brought to life by Paekakariki resident Ms Ellis in Teachers for South Africa: New Zealand Women at the South African War Concentration Camps, launched last week at Paper Plus in Coastlands, Paraparaumu.

More than 70 friends, family, colleagues and local residents turned up to celebrate the launch of her book, including the great niece of one of the teachers, who traveled from Dunedin specially.

The evening was opened by Bronwyn Dalley, chief historian at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, who praised Ms Ellis’ “huge energy and sheer bloody-mindedness” to get the story told.

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ELLEN ELLIS: signed almost 40 copies of her book sold on launch night.

A researcher with 40 years’ experience, Ms Ellis spent 15 years tracking down diaries, albums, postcards, photographs, letters and official documents, taking her all over New Zealand, to the UK and South Africa.

Grant funding helped her track down these women, who she describes as having been “lost from the pages of history”.

Ms Ellis says the “detective” in her drives a compulsion to know why.

When asked to find out more about this small group of teachers, she says she just had to find out what was so special about these women chosen from 200 applicants.

The women ranged in age from 24 to 38, and were part of a new breed known as “the new woman” who led independent lives, some of whom had signed the women’s suffrage petition and were among the first women voters in 1893.

“These were not shy, retiring Victorian girls,” says Ms Ellis.

They were the first New Zealand-born generation of girls educated under a free public school system, and among the first to be professionally trained at teacher training colleges and universities.

She likes to think “her teachers’, as she came to call them, helped change Boer perceptions of English speaking people.

Ms Ellis says support from friends, family and colleagues kept her going with “you can do it”, especially during the two years it took to get the book published.

She eventually arranged it herself, with editing and layout design help from the students at Whitireia Publishing.

Ms Ellis produced The New Zealand Poster Book in 1977, and has collaborated on many other publications but says this is her first “real book”.

Teachers for South Africa: New Zealand Women at the South African War Concentration Camps is published under Hanorah Books and retails for $45. Paper Plus at Coastlands will donate 10% of sales to Friends of the Kapiti Library.

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is a Whitireia journalism student.
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  1. Very interesting piece of research. For a South African perspective on Britain’s use of the scorched earth policy to destroy the Transvaal and the Orange Free State read Owe Coetzer’s Fire in the Sky, The destruction ofthe Orange Free State, Covos Day Publishers, Johannesburg, 2000. The tragedy is that the colonies followed Britain into this shameful war that breached the Laws of War signed at the Peace Coference at The Hague in July 1899.
    Margaret Klaassen, historian (Auckland graduate)

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