At the opening of the Colonial Parliament the Woman Sufferage Society, awakened to the publicity value of some kind of definite action, organized a demonstration, with banners proclaiming their more immediate desires borne aloft by stalwart members of the Society. Conspicuous among these was a not unreasonable demand for scholarships for girls.
The members of the Colonial Parliament regarded the rebellious ladies with widely diverse sentiments; some with affable approval, some with lofty disdain, others with tolerant and faintly amused indulgence, but most with a truly majestic indifference.
Close upon the heels of this public protest against their disenfranchisement came a series of law suits filed against several puissant Suffragists. Three were charged with refusing point-blank to pay the parish land taxes levied on all real, or private property. Their defence hung on the historic and hackneyed slogan “No taxation without representation!”
Public interest was attracted irresistibly to subsequent proceedings in court, but the morale of two of the defendants wilted and collapsed when confronted with confiscation or their goods, and possible jail sentences, and despite verbal objection they finally paid the required amounts. Not so Mrs. John Morrell however, who, composed of much more durable fibre, stoutly defied the law to take its course rather than submit to the injustice of being mulcted of property taxes while dis-allowed any representation in the public use and application of the Treasury funds.
Mrs. Morrell was ordered to produce the money before midnight of December 9th, or to suffer the consequences for contempt of court decrees.
On the afternoon of the 9th, the Woman Suffrage Society held their monthly general meeting during which their chairman and challenger of the law, Mrs. Morrell, discussed many signs and portents calculated to inspire any discouraged and vacillating members with renewed hope. She mentioned at length the rapid growth of membership; she reminded them that Mr S. S. Spurling, an active and vigorous member of the Executive Council, had openly declared himself in favour of the movement, even forecasting for it probably success in the early future. Furthermore, it was observed, another champion of their cause, Mr. A. C. Smith, had recently been elected to the Colonial Parliament as the new member for Paget.
Mr. Smith, unhappily, was in the position of having to pronounce sentence next morning against the leader of a movement which had his entire sympathy and support because she defied the law that compelled land taxes from disenfranchised women- a law that he palpably disapproved- but, as he doggedly pointed out, his function as magistrate was to enforce the country’s laws, not to reform them.
On the evening of the 9th, Mrs. John Morrell, faced with a jail term but still serene and unshaken, attended a lavish entertainment at “Cambridge” arranged for the Somerset Tennis Club, and flippant conjecture was rife among the irreverent as to whether she would be released on parole for Christmas dinner at home or remain in her cell while Yuletide viands were passed in to her by sympathetic supporters. However, by a process too complicated for a mere layman to follow, the execution of the law was deflected from her person and aimed at her personal property, and a sale of Mrs. Morrell’s goods was held on December 18th at the Somerset Police Station. The members chartered a bus which they adorned with banners and the colours of the Society and travelled by road to the sale, gathering a processional rearguard of enthusiastic well-wishers during the journey. Seven pieces of furniture had been taken by the police from Mrs. Morrell’s home. The auction commenced, with the Society standing by equipped with their banners and righteous indignation. The first article, a fine cedar table, brought more than double the required sum from Mrs. Sullivan, the wife of the Rector of the parish.
That day Mrs. Morrell received a cable from Mrs. John Scott, a veteran leader of the Suffrage movement in Quebec, which read: Good for you. Quebec women wish you all success and speedy victory.
Mrs. Morrell is a tried campaigner in the cause of Woman Suffrage and was associated with Mrs. Pankhurst under the banner of the National Union in England, when Parliament was being goaded and hectored into ultimate submission by the women of the Mother Country.
Main Photo: The law takes its course. Scene in front of the goal in Somerset where the Parish Overseers of the Poor auction off an historic cedar table with the constable attached.