Whangārei woman Olive Harris, an amateur historian who has written four books about the Hokianga's early days, has also written of her suffragist great-grandmother, Lucy Kate Figēs Hawkins.

A garden party atmosphere was far from an apt description on the day many women made huge efforts to vote in the Hokianga.

Unlike what their sisters were enjoying across much of New Zealand, the weather was dismal.

The dainty, French/Italian former stage actress travelled miles up-harbour by boat to the Motukaraka school house, ''in terrible weather, but she was determined to vote'', Harris said.

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''Lucy Kate Hawkins added her name to that historic electoral roll.''

For several years the Hawkins family had lived at Waitapu, inside the harbour near its north head, where they were the only European family.

Patriarch Thomas Bratt Hawkins was sole teacher at the Matihetihe Native School, Mitimiti, over the hills on the west coast.

His great-grand-daughter has pages of letters sent to and from Hawkins and the education department of the day, he complaining about the little school's condition, the fact the department would only give him one horse for the long journey every day, and his poor pay.

Olive Harris wondered if ''Great Nana'' had a sense of independence honed during her nomadic upbringing in Europe and England by parents who were well-known actors and entertainers.

Perhaps the Hawkins sat in their tiny roughsawn house in the backblocks musing on social justice issues and people's rights. Certainly, they had suffered alienation from society back home in England and were in a kind of exile.

The son of a wealthy steelworks family, Hawkins fell in love with the dancing, singing, melodramatic actress when he first saw her on the stage.

It was roses at the stage door and lines of flowery poetry after that, and he defied convention to marry her.

His family were aghast, Hawkins was disinherited, and the couple were cast out from the family pile, Hollow Estate.

The Hawkins emigrated to Auckland with four young sons in 1881, then over a couple of years made their way north, first to Warkworth and then Waitapu, where the well-educated Englishman got a teaching job. By then they had another son and a daughter.

Harris is very proud of her connection to the suffrage movement. She is not sure if her ancestor was one of the 200-plus Northland women who signed the mighty suffrage petition as it was toured around the country, but the election day itself would have been her second journey up-harbour to ensure her right to vote.

All women had only 12 weeks to get on their local roll between the new Election Act 1893 being signed on September 19 and the election itself only 12 weeks later.

Harris won a Genealogical Society award for her book about the Hawkins family's history, called From Hollow Estate to Hokianga. - Lindy Laird