Page 1: Biography
Suisted, Laura Jane
Writer, journalist, parliamentary reporter
This biography, written by C. C. MacLean, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Laura Eyre was born on 1 January 1840 in Greasbrough, Yorkshire, England, the only child of Abel Eyre, a plumber, and his wife, Mary Lee. In 1862 she arrived in New Zealand and settled in Dunedin, where she married James Samuel Suisted, a young station manager, on 28 November 1864. The couple were to have no children. James and Laura Jane, as she became known, moved to Waikouaiti, where James set up as a stock and corn merchant. When the business failed he left his wife and travelled north, intending to try his luck in the Thames goldfields. This venture was fruitless and eventually he went to live in Westport. There, in 1869, Laura rejoined him. Despite being flooded out of five different homes they persevered with life in Westport, and James eventually proved a successful businessman.
While her husband became a prosperous local dignitary, Laura Suisted gained success in a wider sphere. From 1878 her stories, poems and sketches appeared in the Otago Witness. Two of her stories, 'A ride for life' and 'A gallant rescue', won one-guinea prizes in 1895 and 1896 in a monthly competition run by Sharland's Trade Journal and its successor Sharland's New Zealand Journal. She became a parliamentary note-taker in Wellington during the session of 1884, and was probably the first woman to assume this role. In 1891 she became the first woman to be admitted as a member of the New Zealand Institute of Journalists. For eight or nine years she had regularly attended the sessions of Parliament, acting as correspondent to various newspapers, and was a corresponding member of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. She became a member of the British Institute of Journalists and the Incorporated Society of Authors, London, for whose journal, the Author, she wrote an article, 'The growth of literature in New Zealand', in 1891.
In 1893 Laura Suisted toured England and Scandinavia alone, and the New Zealand Mail published accounts of her travels. In London that year she went to the opening of the Imperial Institute, and obtained a viewing seat in the House of Lords. She also attended a labour demonstration at which the speaker, John Burns, spotted her among the crush and invited her onto the stage. There she was 'able to survey the animated scene and drink in the eloquence of J. Burns…in comparative comfort'. When visiting Sweden and Norway she spent time with Baron Nordenskjöld, the Arctic explorer. This journey inspired her book From New Zealand to Norway, written in 1894. When asked, on her return to New Zealand, if she thought it easy for a woman to travel alone, she replied, 'That depends upon the lady.'
Laura Suisted died in Westport on 7 September 1903 after a stroke. She had led an extraordinarily independent life for a married woman of that time. James Suisted married again and died on 2 July 1910. During her life Laura had close associations with many leading political and literary figures, including Sir Julius and Lady Vogel and Alexander Turnbull. 'The growth of literature in New Zealand', she acknowledged, was written with the help of 'my friend' Sir Robert Stout. Suisted made a considerable contribution to literature in general; as well as producing a book, during a 25-year period she had many of her stories, poems and articles published in newspapers and magazines in New Zealand, Australia and England. She wrote in a clear, direct style about the physical and emotional demands of life in pioneering communities in New Zealand and her diverse experiences abroad.