Page 1: Biography
This biography, written by Roberta Nicholls, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Amey Hamerton was born in Yarwell, Northamptonshire, England, and was baptised there on 14 June 1829. She was the daughter of Amey Bonfield and her husband, Charles Hamerton, a farmer. Her mother died when Amey was about 12, and her father remarried; little else is known of her early life. She arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, with her brother, John, on the Caduceus on 11 October 1860. On 13 January 1865 in Auckland she married William Henry Smith, a shoemaker; the couple did not have any children. They lived in Shortland Street; William Smith also owned properties in Gundry Street, and in Karangahape Road where Amey ran a 'ladies' seminary' and William a bootmaking business. On 2 April 1879 at the age of 62 William Smith died at Wairoa South (Clevedon), near Auckland. Captain William Crush Daldy was authorised by Amey Smith to identify the body. Less than a year later, on 17 March 1880, Amey Smith married William Daldy at Otahuhu, Auckland. William, a leading Auckland merchant and politician and previously a ship's captain, was a 64-year-old widower.
William Daldy's daughter, Frances Wrigley, had died in June 1879 survived by her husband, James Wrigley, and nine children. In April 1882 James also died, orphaning the eight remaining children. The Daldys placed them in a house next door to their home in Hepburn Street, Ponsonby, and employed a housekeeper. The children always thought of Amey Daldy as their grandmother.
Both Amey Daldy and her husband were staunch Congregationalists, and their religious beliefs helped shape their egalitarian views. In 1885 Amey Daldy became a foundation member of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union. She soon rose to a position of prominence in the organisation. In 1892 she represented the WCTU at a meeting held to revitalise the Auckland tailoresses' union.
On 1 June 1892 Amey Daldy spoke at a meeting held in Auckland to consider forming a branch of the Women's Franchise League. She claimed that although women wanted the vote, they did not wish to enter Parliament. However, she later explained her statement to Sir George Grey, whose views were more radical than her own, by saying that she 'did not want to frighten the public'. In contrast to Harriet Morison of the Dunedin tailoresses' union, who was opposed to men joining the organisation, Amey Daldy declared that 'she did not think the women would be able to do very much without them'.
Amey Daldy became president of the Auckland branch of the league. Driving around Auckland in a buggy with her grandchildren, she collected signatures for petitions on women's rights, often entering into spirited but amicable debates with local businessmen. She also chaired large gatherings in the City Hall theatre. A stern-looking woman with a high collar and hair swept up severely under a white lace bonnet, she became the subject of cartoons in the New Zealand Graphic.
Amey Daldy was supported in her political activities by her husband. At a lively meeting in July 1893, William Daldy spoke in favour of women's franchise. His statement that men were cowards for not extending the franchise to women excited one 'well-known identity', who leapt up and expostulated at length with the speaker. A policeman had to remove him. After another opponent, J. S. Duke, had forced his way onto the stage, Amey Daldy exclaimed that she was not surprised that women were refused the franchise 'if that was a specimen of the mankind of Auckland'. Women won enfranchisement that year, and immediately before the November 1893 election she urged every woman to record her vote: 'Let not babies, the wash-tub, or even dinners prevent the women going.' She arranged for women to care for children at each booth while their mothers voted.
In April 1896 Amey Daldy represented the Auckland branch of the Women's Political League at the first convention of the National Council of Women of New Zealand at Christchurch. Thereafter she attended the sessions each year, and in 1898 she became president of the NCW. Her feminist opinions matched those of other leaders in the organisation in their boldness for that period. In contrast to her public stance in 1892, at each session she moved that 'all disabilities be removed which at present hinder women from sitting as members in either House of the Legislature, or from being elected or appointed to any public office or position in the Colony'. Conditions of divorce should be made equal for men and women, she contended, and she also supported the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act 1869. Speaking in favour of the widely unpopular NCW proposal that half of a husband's salary be paid directly to the wife to enable her to become economically independent, she argued, 'Is it right for any wife to be treated with less consideration than a paid housekeeper?' She also proposed that the law of coverture, which allowed men to treat their wives as chattels, be repealed.
Amey Daldy's Christian beliefs and sense of duty to others informed her opinions on other social issues. In her view the system of government in New Zealand should be reformed by introducing an elective executive, making changes to the Legislative Council, and establishing a board to appoint all public servants. The policy of the NCW was 'purification in administration of public affairs, and thence to the solution of great social problems', she stated. Together with Anna Stout, she opposed legislation restricting Asian immigration, arguing that it would be unjust to discriminate against other races. She supported the disarmament campaign and the principle of full employment. Independence of character ought to be developed, she believed, and she asserted that the true charity was to provide work. With regard to vice and crime, she thought that love and sympathy rather than fear and punishment should be used to reform the criminal. She proposed that it should become illegal to permit any person under 21 to enter a brothel, and that the age of protection of young persons be raised to 21.
Amey Daldy was contemptuous of the trivial concerns of ladies' columns in most newspapers and she urged women 'to educate themselves for the duties of life, and not for a round of frivolity'. Curiously, despite her democratic opinions, she opposed the extension of the municipal franchise to a residential qualification. Although she deplored the past conduct of local politicians, she believed that men who were used to dealing with large sums of money should manage municipal affairs.
The difficulties of travel and the poor health of her husband prevented Amey Daldy from attending the NCW sessions at Dunedin in 1900 and at Wanganui in 1901. She did, however, send a paper to Wanganui in which she expressed her opinion that girls should have equal advantages to boys in education, and that 'the choice of avocations…be equally momentous whether the youth be girl or boy.' She reappeared in Napier in May 1902, holding the office of vice president, but was quiet compared to previous years. She supported motions for equal pay for equal work for men and women and for the introduction of moral instruction in state schools.
In 1903 Amey Daldy was unable to attend the September executive meeting of the declining NCW in New Plymouth because she was nursing her ailing, aged husband. She sent instead a handsome donation. William Crush Daldy died on 5 October 1903. He had consistently supported his wife and had always accompanied her to meetings and conventions. She was disconsolate after his death: 'few, if any, of our women know how much they owe to his influence in keeping me up to my duty, for I acknowledge that I did sometimes shrink from the odium of publicity and an unpopular movement. What I can do without him I do not know.'
In the euphoric aftermath of the South African war (1899–1902) Amey Daldy attempted, unsuccessfully, to organise a meeting on peace and disarmament; but by this time support for reform was dwindling. In 1905 she wrote to leading suffragist Kate Sheppard: 'I have heard nothing of our women's movement for so long a time that I am wondering if the past has been all a dream and nothing more.…Why, oh why, do the women not rouse themselves from their love of ease and do something for the betterment of the race?'
Soon afterwards Amey Daldy suffered a stroke. Unable to speak or walk, she was confined to bed for 15 years until she died at Auckland aged 91 on 17 August 1920. She left legacies of £2,000 each to the New Zealand Congregational Ministers' Retiring Fund, the Salvation Army Rescue Fund, the Door of Hope Association, the Auckland YWCA, the NCW and the WCTU. Her bequest to the YWCA enabled the organisation to build a hostel in Auckland. A woman of radical views for her age and time, Amey Daldy campaigned fervently and fearlessly for women's rights and for social justice.