Page 1: Biography
Suffragist, temperance and welfare worker
This biography, written by Sandra Coney, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Elizabeth Russell was born in Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland, on 26 April 1832, the eldest child of David Russell, a carpenter, and his wife, Elizabeth Adam. According to family information the Russell family lived in Perth, Perthshire. When Elizabeth was 10 years old the family emigrated to New Zealand on the Jane Gifford, arriving in Auckland on 9 October 1842.
The Russells lived in Mechanics Bay in two raupo huts, then in a wooden house. Elizabeth found employment with a cobbler in Queen Street, walking long distances to deliver boots. On 10 October 1848, at the age of 16, she married 25-year-old James Caradus, a prize-winning ropemaker. James commented that he had 'got a good wife who tries to make me and herself comfortable and has a desire to love God, which is a great treasure'. The couple were to have at least 15 children, seven of whom would die in infancy.
James Caradus set up a rope-walk, where hand-wound ropes were made, in Hobson Street, but did not prosper. After unsuccessfully seeking work as a carpenter he went to the goldfields of Otago, Ballarat in Australia, and Thames. However, he had no luck and the family was often 'pretty hard up'. While he was away, Elizabeth ran a small shop he had built in front of their house in Freemans Bay. In later years James and Elizabeth Caradus achieved a more settled existence, renting out small cottages James built in the Freemans Bay area. The shop stayed in the family until 1910.
Elizabeth and James shared a common interest in temperance and social work, and the poor area they lived in afforded many opportunities. They attended the Pitt Street Wesleyan Church and ran the Freemans Bay Mission in Union Street for many years. Elizabeth also became involved with the Ladies' Christian Association. She held mothers' meetings in Freemans Bay at which women sewed, talked and prayed. In 1885 the association became the third New Zealand branch of the YWCA. Elizabeth Caradus was a founding member, a vice president until 1900 and one of the first life members.
Her interests in women and temperance led Caradus to the first meetings of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, established in Auckland in 1885. She quickly became a key member of the WCTU and the Auckland branch of the Women's Franchise League, formed in 1892. Throughout the franchise campaign, and later, in the Auckland branch of the National Council of Women of New Zealand, Elizabeth Caradus was a leading figure. However, she rarely took a prominent office, perhaps because of financial restraints or business or family commitments. Caradus differed from most of the suffragist leaders in that she was of working-class origins and upbringing and had a large family to care for. Although she became treasurer of the WFL in 1893, she turned down the post of president of the Auckland branch of the WCTU. However, she frequently spoke publicly, moved resolutions and took part in deputations.
There is little evidence from which to assess the political views of Elizabeth Caradus. She did not appear to espouse a broad, equal-rights feminist platform, although she did attend the foundation meeting of the Tailoresses' Union of New Zealand in Auckland and was elected an honorary member, and she believed that women should be able to sit on charitable aid boards. Caradus seemed primarily concerned with moral reform and social work issues, including temperance, opposition to gambling, and repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act 1869. On this last topic, she took part in a deputation to the Auckland City Council where 'she spoke so forcible [ sic ] that one member of the Council acknowledged himself converted'. She took strong positions at meetings, on one occasion speaking 'with accustomed zeal' and on another giving an 'excellent and pithy' speech.
Elizabeth Caradus continued to attend WCTU and YWCA meetings in the first decade of the twentieth century. James Caradus died on 23 December 1906, and after a long illness Elizabeth died in Auckland on 5 November 1912. She was survived by seven children.