Saturday, January 17, 2009

Councillor Elizabeth Yates of Onehunga, 1899

Image from Wikipedia.

Elizabeth Yates is best known as the first female mayor of a borough anywhere in the British Empire, in 1893. Elected as Mayor of Onehunga, her period in office was stormy and ended in November 1894. However, in 1899 she came back, as councillor. From her biography on the DNZB site: "In September 1899 Elizabeth Yates made a triumphal return to the Onehunga Borough Council. She had lost none of her combativeness and was still forthright in expressing her opinions." The Auckland newspapers of the time must have thought all their Christmases had come at once. The following report comes from the NZ Herald, 3 October 1899.


When the town clerk was about to read the minutes at the ordinary meeting of the Onehunga Borough Council last night, Mrs. Yates said she would like to ask, be¬fore the business commenced, by whom the two new councillors had been installed. She wished it to be clearly understood she did not bring this forward with any ill-feeing but only that the Affairs of the Council might be conducted in a proper and businesslike-manner. There was only one way in which the installation of new councillors could be carried out, and that was by their making a declaration before the Mayor. This had not been done. She would like to know by whose authority the town clerk was empowered to receive declarations. The Mayor had no right to depute his authority to anyone. The two councillors were liable to a penalty of £50 for taking their seats at the Council in the manner in which they had done. Seeing that the two new councillors had made their declaration before the town clerk, she contended that that gentleman had usurped the prerogative of the Mayor in allowing them to do so.

On Mrs. Yates pausing for a reply, the Mayor asked: Have you any further remarks to make, Mrs. Yates?

Mrs. Yates: I want to know who installed you when you were elected to office. Did not your predecessor do so? I maintain it is your duty to first swear in each councillor, and then induct him in his seat.

The Mayor: Anything further, Mrs. Yates?

Mrs. Yates: I am waiting for a reply to my question, Your Worship.

The Mayor ruled that no discussion could take place on any question until the minutes had been read and asked the town clerk to read the minutes.

Mrs. Yates: Oh, but stop a minute, Your Worship. You can't burk discussion like that. I want to put things right at the start and I demand an answer.

The answer not being forthcoming, the town clerk proceeded to read the minutes.

Mrs. Yates (gesticulating and raising her voice): I protest against the minutes being read. By whom were the new members sworn in?

The town clerk proceeded to read the minutes and both he and Mrs. Yates kept raising their voices until they almost shouted. The former getting the best of it, Mrs. Yates suddenly ceased speaking, but remained on her feet until the town clerk had finished. When the town clerk sat down Mrs. Yates said: Now, Mr. Mayor, before these minutes are confirmed I would like to state that they were not written by the town clerk. I have three objections to those minutes being confirmed, and I wish to tell you that the Council must be unanimous in confirming the minutes.

The minutes were then put and confirmed

Mrs. Yates again jumped up and said: Mr. Mayor, I decidedly object to the way in which this vote is taken. Our standing orders say that the Councillors must vote either aye or no, whereas you have allowed them to a vote by a show of hands. Such a method is decidedly obsolete, and illegal, and that is why I declined to vote. Proceeding, Mrs. Yates again asked the Mayor if he was going to answer her question now the minutes were confirmed.

The Mayor, however, remained silent, and Mrs. Yates contented herself with the remark, "Very well, Mr. Mayor, I can only conclude that your answer is not as it should be.”

Subsequently, when the financial statement was read, Mrs. Yates asked what were the liabilities of the Council in the general account, and in the waterworks account.

The Mayor referred her to the treasurer who, he said, was most courteous.

Mrs. Yates: I want the information made public, and I hope the town clerk will supply it at the next meeting. She also wanted the petty cash book laid on the table, so that the Council could know where the money went to.

When the town clerk read out an account for £1 for a deed box, Mrs. Yates asked by whose authority the box had been ordered.

The Mayor: I ordered it, Mrs. Yates.

Mrs. Yates: Then I say you had no right to do so without the sanction of the Council. You have no power to spend even 5s, without the authority of the Council.

Subsequently Mrs. Yates took exception to the manner in which the various accounts were passed for payment. She said: I see you just move that this account be paid, Mr. Mayor, but nobody seconds your motion. Therefore you will have to pay the account yourself. (To Mr. Vause): I wonder if he will pay them himself.

Mr. Stoupe here interjected a remark, when he was called to order by the Mayor.

Mr. Stoupe (to the Mayor: I wish you would call her to order.

Mrs. Yates (to Mr. Stoupe): Who do you call her. I would like to know? Her, indeed. Don't say her. You must say Councillor Yates, and courteously at that. (Laughter)

The Mayor: I must ask you to address each other as councillor.

Mrs. Yates next objected to the Council advertising for tenders for the Iease of the old library building. She asked why the Council should put money into the pockets of the newspaper proprietors. An advertisement on the notice-board was quite sufficient.

Mr. Rowe reminded Mrs. Yates that they had all agreed in committee to lease the build¬ing in question, and they had received one tender as the reult of that agreement.

The last and final conflict of the evening took place on a motion of Mr. Rowe to call for tenders for water pipes.

Mrs. Yates said she was surprised to see a businessman like the mover wanting the Council to pass such a resolution without giving them some idea of the cost. He should have supplied a schedule of the cost of the proposed work and the income to be derived when the work was finished.

Mr. Rowe: The work was promised to be done long ago.

The Mayor (to Mr. Rowe): Please do not interrupt the speaker. It is bad manners.

Mrs. Yates: Oh, I don't mind being interrupted. We are not here for manners, but for business. Continuing, Mrs. Yates said: I am also surprised at you, Mr. Mayor, wanting to expend £400 or £500 just as your term of office is expiring. Do you think the present government would do such a thing on the eve of an election? I know they would not, and I should like to know who in the name of creation would. If you wanted to do this work you should have included it in the list of proposed new works when you took office. And fancy any man seconding such a resolution. When I move a resolution I can’t get it seconded and I am in the unfortunate position of having to ventilate the views of the ratepayers single-handed.

Mr. Stoupe: I seconded the motion with my eyes open and wish I could have my ears shut to this twaddle.

The Mayor: Oh, dear, how much more? Please do not let us have any altercations with other speakers.

Mr. Rowe: I can explain –

Mrs. Yates (to Mr. Rowe): Excuse me. The idea of you speaking again before the Council has discussed your motion! You can't do it.

Mr. Rowe: Mr. Mayor, can I make an explanation?

The Mayor: Certainly.

Mr. Rowe: I would suggest that further discussion on this matter stand over to enable me to bring up an estimate of the cost of the proposed work.

Mrs. Yates: There will be a difference of £110 between 3in. and 4in. pipes and you don’t know which size of pipes you want. It ought to stand over.

Mrs. Yates concluded by asking when the town clerk was going to present the balance-sheet. The Mayor said she could get a copy from the treasurer.

Mrs. Yates. Thank you, Your Worship.

Elizabeth Yates was defeated finally in 1901. Sadly, in 1909 she was admitted to Auckland Mental Hospital and died there in 1918. She is buried at St Peter's Church cemetery, just beside the main street of Onehunga, Onehunga Mall.

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