Elizabeth Yates (mayor)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Elizabeth Yates
Elizabeth Yates
Elizabeth Yates in 1894
Caithness, Scotland
Died (aged 78)
Known forFirst female mayor and Justice of the Peace in the British Empire
SpouseCaptain Michael Yates

Elizabeth Yates (née Oman, 1840 – 6 September 1918) was a New Zealand politician who served as the mayor of Onehunga borough for most of 1894. She was the first female mayor in the British Empire.[1] Outside the British Empire, she was preceded by Susanna M. Salter who was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas in 1887.[2] Onehunga is now part of the city of Auckland.


Yates was born Elizabeth Oman in Caithness, Scotland in 1840.[a] She came to New Zealand with her family in November 1852 aboard the Berwick Castle[5] and apparently lived in the Onehunga area from 1855 on. She married Michael Yates, master mariner, in 1875. He was on the Onehunga Borough Council, a councillor from 1885 and mayor from 1888 to 1892.


Yates was already involved in politics through her strong support of the women's suffrage movement, as well as participation in the debates of the Auckland Union Parliament.[6][7]

Earlier in 1893, after her husband had stood down from his post due to ill health in 1892, she had accepted the nomination for the office of mayor and in November defeated her opponent, F. W. Court, at the polls (also automatically becoming a Justice of the Peace) in a close race decided by only 13 votes.[8] Yates became mayor of Onehunga on 16 January 1894.[8] The election made international news and brought her congratulations from Premier Richard Seddon and Queen Victoria.[6]

She was met with strong opposition from a hard core of local councillors, town clerks and members of the public (four councillors and the town clerk resigned in response to her election),[8] and they often disrupted meetings and orchestrated opposition to her every proposal. It is noted by some critics that she did not help her own cause by being 'tactless' and 'dictatorial' in her manner. In November 1894, mayoralty was again contested. Yates ran again but was defeated at the polls by a significant margin.[9]

Yates later returned as a councillor to the Borough Council for two years between 1899 and 1901. Even her opponents conceded that she had been very effective during her short tenure, having liquidated the borough debt, established a sinking fund, reorganised the fire brigade, upgraded roads, footpaths and sanitation, and having personally lobbied the government to authorise the reopening of the Waikaraka cemetery.[6]

Later life[edit]

Following the death of her husband in 1902 and the decline of her political career, Yates suffered with dementia and alcoholism. She was committed to Auckland Mental Hospital in Avondale in 1909 until her death on 6 September 1918.[6][10]

She was buried with her husband in the cemetery at St Peter's Anglican Church in Onehunga.

Yates and her husband are the subjects in The World's First Lady Mayor, the second oldest surviving New Zealand film restored by Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision, which was shot by photographer Enos Pegler in 1900.[11]

Public Art[edit]

In 2019 a public mural of Yates was commissioned and installed by the Onehunga Business Association.[12] Located on the corner of Onehunga Mall Road and Pearce Street, the mural was made by two local artists, Bobby MacDonald, Karlee Hirovaana-Nicholls.[13]


  1. ^ An obituary in the Northern Advocate says she was born in 1840[3] but Devaliant's biography says the register in St Peter's Church in Onehunga records her as being born in 1842 and in an interview in 1894, Elizabeth said she arrived in New Zealand [in 1852] aged seven.[4]


  1. ^ King, Michael (2003). Penguin History of New Zealand. Penguin. p. 266. ISBN 0143018671.
  2. ^ "World's First Lady Mayor". Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  3. ^ "PERSONAL". Northern Advocate. Papers Past. 10 September 1918.
  4. ^ Devaliant, Judith (1996). Elizabeth Yeates: The First Lady Mayor in the British Empire. Exisle Publishing. p. 15. ISBN 0-908988-06-0.
  5. ^ "Diamond Wedding". Auckland Star. Vol. XLIV, no. 122. 23 May 1913. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Mogford, Janice C. "Yates, Elizabeth 1840–1848?–1918". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  7. ^ "The Onehunga Mayoralty". Thames Advertiser. Vol. XXVI, no. 7696. 1 December 1893. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  8. ^ a b c Atkinson, Neill. "Elizabeth Yates". NZHistory. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  9. ^ Martin, Hannah (30 September 2017). "Elizabeth Yates: The tale of the 'Lady Mayor' of Onehunga – the British Empire's first female mayor". AucklandNOW. stuff.co.nz. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  10. ^ "Auckland mural incorrectly states first female mayor Elizabeth Yates lived for 136 years". Stuff.co.nz. 4 July 2019. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  11. ^ "Meet the First Lady Mayor". Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  12. ^ "Elizabeth Yates Mural (136 Onehunga Mall) - Onehunga History Walk - PocketSights". pocketsights.com. Retrieved 21 November 2023.
  13. ^ Bhatia, Ripu (4 July 2019). "Auckland mural incorrectly states first female mayor Elizabeth Yates lived for 136 years". Stuff. Retrieved 21 November 2023.

External links[edit]