Monuments to the dead are often elaborate structures; from mausolea and sarcophagi to intricately carved headstones of crosses, winged angels, birds, flora, and all manner of other symbolic elements. Often the more prominent the person in life, the more magnificent their funerary art.
So it was something of a surprise to find — in the churchyard of St John’s Anglican Church Hororata – the spartan graves of Sir John Hall (1824–1907) and his wife Rose, nee Dryden, (1828-1900).
Both Rose Dryden and John Hall were born in England and arrived in New Zealand as young adults. John Hall came to farm in Canterbury, but entered politics quite quickly. He served as a Cabinet Minister in several administrations, and as Premier of New Zealand between 8 Oct 1879 and 21 Apr 1882.
Although a conservative, Hall is best remembered as one of the major driving forces behind women’s suffrage in New Zealand, championing the cause in Parliament.
I can find little information about Rose Dryden. Indeed she is not even mentioned in Hall’s biography in Te Ara — Encyclopedia of New Zealand. In fact, the only reference I can find for her in NZ historical sources is an entry in NZ History that she (probably) signed the Women’s Suffrage petition, alongside 32,000 other women. This petition was famously presented to Parliament by her husband; all 500 pages glued together to form a roll that stretched over 270 metres.
The Halls were prominent citizens of the Canterbury province, having their farm and homestead in Hororata. They were actively involved in the community — regularly attending church at St John’s (and apparently teaching in the Sunday School), as well as school prize-giving, sports days and other events. I know this because the Big T’s family also has strong roots in Hororata, and newspaper archives tell me that some of his ancestors were recipients of those school prizes.
The Big T and I spent well over an hour in the St John’s churchyard, searching for — and finding — headstones for a very large number of his ancestors. Amongst those memorials to the dead, the Halls’ graves stand out as perhaps the plainest and most spartan.
Perhaps their children believe that the best memorial to their parents lies in the ballot papers cast by women in each election.