Te Papa buys rare piece of NZ suffragette history

The medal awarded to Frances Parker (Dix Noonan Webb)
The medal awarded to Frances Parker (Dix Noonan Webb)

A rare bravery medal given to a New Zealand woman during the suffragette movement in Britain has been bought at auction by Te Papa.

The award was bestowed on Frances Parker by the Women's Social and Political Union in the early 20th century, after having left New Zealand and later becoming a prominent figure in the British women's suffrage movement.

Te Papa's head of New Zealand and Pacific Cultures Bronwyn Labrum says being the successful bidder on the item which has "an incredibly important story to tell" was exciting.

"It's a powerful memento of the ongoing struggle of women around the world for civil rights, and is especially significant for New Zealand as a tangible link to our leading role in that struggle," she says.

The medal was bought for around NZ$40,000 from auction house Dix Noonan Webb in London overnight.

The museum is now working to transport the medal back to New Zealand and discussing the best way to display it as soon as they can.

Ms Parker died in 1924, and had led a life on the frontlines of the suffragette movement.

Born in Kurow, she left New Zealand in 1896 at age 22 to study at Cambridge and in 1908 had become involved in the British women's suffrage movement and eventually became a prominent leader of the Women's Political and Social Union in Scotland.

She'd been jailed numerous times for her part in violent protests and attempted arsons of prominent buildings including the cottage of Robbie Burns.

In 1912 and 1914 she went on a hunger strike, but was force-fed which included acts of physical violence and indecent assault.

Te Papa history curator Michael Fitzgerald says Ms Parker left New Zealand three years before women in the country gained the right to vote and she would have likely motivated her joining the movement in Britain.  

"This is the only medal of its kind that we know of with any New Zealand connection, we are looking forward to continuing our research into the important leadership role Frances Parker played in one of the most important movements of political and social protest in Britain last century," he says.

(Dix Noonan Webb)

Following her death, the medal was left with Ms Parker's friend and fellow suffragette Ethel Moorhead where it remained in her family until its sale at auction on behalf of her descendants.

Still in its original case, the inside is inscribed with the actions Ms Parker was recognised for.

"Presented to Frances Parker by the Women's Social and Political Union in Recognition of a Gallant Action, whereby through Endurance to the last Extremity of Hunger and Hardship, a Great Principle of Political Justice was Vindicated."